By MARY ANNE CASTRANIO, Staff Writer | Published January 21, 2010
The latest situation report from Catholic Relief Services describes the state of emergency in the island nation of Haiti following a catastrophic earthquake Jan. 12, including mob attacks on aid workers following the earthquake, information about evacuations out of the capital city of Port-au-Prince, news on partnerships with Caritas, food distribution, movement of goods and people, and more. And it’s Simone Blanchard’s job, as interim director of Catholic Relief Services’ Southeast regional office, to make sure that people around the Archdiocese of Atlanta and the Southeast have the latest information.
Blanchard, who took over as director of the Atlanta regional office for the CRS Jan. 4, said Jan. 19 that despite the difficulties in delivering aid to earthquake-stricken Haiti, “we’ve got to make it happen. … We are responding and we are poised to respond.”
“We need prayers, prayers, prayers … and cash,” said Blanchard.
Blanchard said that the role of her office is to communicate to diocesan directors and those working in dioceses around the Southeast on the situation in Haiti, providing updates from the detailed reports sent by CRS staff working in Haiti. Those situation reports are directly from folks in the field, she said. The latest describe the tons of food coming into ports, but the problems with getting the food to the people.
The situation is “still tenuous,” she said, “just trying to get aid to people.”
The main CRS Web site (www.crs.org) provides detailed information about ways to donate to the organization and includes a blog about progress in Haiti. The education unit of CRS has ideas for prayer services, lesson plans for educators, and practical information about how to help.
Blanchard said that Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory and chancery staff have been extremely “cooperative and supportive” in assisting with the efforts of CRS.
All parishes were asked to take up a special collection Jan. 16-17 for CRS Haiti earthquake relief.
In addition to the work of Blanchard at CRS, at least nine parishes in the archdiocese have established, existing programs in Haiti, including Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Atlanta; Sacred Heart Church, Atlanta; St. Brendan the Navigator Church, Cumming; St. Lawrence Church, Lawrenceville; St. Monica Church, Duluth; St. Peter Chanel Church, Roswell; St. Pius X Church, Conyers; St. Thomas Aquinas Church, Alpharetta; and Transfiguration Church, Marietta.
Cullen Larson is a CRS program director, but as a parishioner of St. Brendan’s, he is a major supporter of their Haiti outreach ministry. For the past five years, the parish has “twinned” with Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church in Bassin-Zim, Haiti, a rural town about 80 miles from the epicenter of the earthquake. The church has 1,500 to 2,000 members, though the area has a larger population and the boundaries of the parish are somewhat undefined.
He said that people in this little town appear to have escaped “without damage,” though some lost loved ones. Now the town, like other small towns in Haiti, is dealing with an “influx of people” and is affected “by hunger. … There is no way to get food, fuel.”
St. Brendan’s primary focus over the years has been building a “relationship” with the people of Our Lady of Fatima. “The projects flow from that,” Larson said, adding that the Cumming parish has helped with providing clean water, education, microfinance, a parish hall, and a computer lab.
He said they focus on helping the people there become self-sustaining.
“Our response as a parish (to the earthquake) is to encourage donations to Catholic Relief Services … to help with the immediate emergency response,” said Larson. Food is the big issue.
“We’ll continue with our projects,” he added. We remember that these are “full and whole human beings with talents and dreams and skills.”
The Health and Education Relief Organization, also known as HERO, has been providing aid to Haiti for several years. The nonprofit group, which grew out of a Haiti relief ministry at Transfiguration Church, has been directly involved with the building of schools, clinics and water and waste management systems since its inception six years ago.
Ted Waldbart, president of HERO, has been a parishioner at Transfiguration for 24 years and involved with Haiti relief for 13 years. However it wasn’t until 2000, when Waldbart made his first trip to the country, that he became aware of just how bad the needs are.
“I first got involved with our Haiti group (at Transfiguration),” he said. “I went to Haiti in 2000 for a school dedication … and saw the need to help the children.”
As the group began to grow, and Waldbart’s passion as well, he decided to create HERO, a separate nonprofit group.
This week, Waldbart has gone with a doctor and a nurse to Haiti to see the damage firsthand and form a plan of action. His hope is to return with volunteers at a later date, but he feels an initial trip to gauge the need for aid is first in order.
But for Waldbart and HERO, keeping the children healthy is one of the major goals.
“It’s all about the kids. The kids are worth it,” he said. “The way we change the future of Haiti is to keep the kids healthy and educated.”
St. Monica’s in Duluth has been twinned with Sacre Coeur Parish in Hinche, Haiti, since 1999, and Mark Coughlin is the dedicated chairman of that program. He said he had always been interested in Haiti, but after going on several trips there and making videos, he joined the St. Monica’s program and now makes trips there several times a year.
He said that the St. Monica’s group has a “terrific team of people,” with close to 100 people involved from the parish.
Coughlin traveled to Haiti over the weekend of Jan. 16-17, along with Jon Steele, who is the program director of klorfasil.org, which dispenses granulated chlorine for use in water purification. Dr. James Toth, a family physician who also works on the St. Monica’s program in Haiti, also traveled to Port-au-Prince to offer his expertise in caring for the wounded. They are staying and working at a former missionary house, now a makeshift hospital, called Matthew 25. Coughlin and Toth are sending updates back to Atlanta through the parish’s Web site, www.saintmonicas.com.
The group from Atlanta took water purification equipment and medical supplies to provide immediate assistance and will return home in the next week, with plans to travel to Haiti again in the near future.
While some are rightly focusing on the very immediate emergency ongoing in Haiti, as an advocate and CRS program director, Larson said that the ultimate goal of the combined and sustained relief efforts should be to “help Haiti become a developed nation.”
“If we only return Haiti to what it was, we haven’t done much,” he said.
Stephen O’Kane also contributed to this report.