By STEPHEN O'KANE, Staff Writer | Published September 2, 2010
Representatives from nearly a dozen Georgia parishes met with Catholic Relief Services’ staff Aug. 19 to continue a discussion on how they can work together to increase the effectiveness of their partnerships with Catholics in Haiti.
Parishes from Savannah to Cumming gathered in the social hall at the Cathedral of Christ the King, eager to share their stories and to hear others’ experiences twinning with parishes in the Caribbean country, the poorest in the Americas.
The goal was to discuss ways the parishes have been working with and aiding Haitian parishes and to find ways in which CRS could aid them in their efforts.
“We can learn from you and then we can help share it,” said Joan Rosenhauer, executive vice president for U.S. operations for CRS. “In order to do this … we are establishing a Haiti partnership unit” in the United States and Haiti.
Heading this new effort is CRS program officer Simone Blanchard, who works in the Atlanta regional office.
“This is an exciting new effort,” said Blanchard. “We want to collaborate with you,” she told local parishioners.
Before the discussion got underway, Rosenhauer took some time to update the group on the continued efforts of CRS in Haiti in the wake of the catastrophic 7.0 magnitude earthquake that destroyed portions of the country, especially the capital of Port-au-Prince, in January.
Rosenhauer visited Port-au-Prince about a month ago and was shocked to see much of the area still covered in rubble with residents living in “tent cities” while the cleanup continues.
“When the earthquake hit, CRS went into emergency mode,” said Rosenhauer, saying that the agency, which carries out international relief efforts on behalf of U.S. Catholic bishops, has continued throughout the past six months to provide as much aid as possible.
“The challenges are huge,” she said.
One of the most important questions to ask, said Rosenhauer, is how does CRS maximize their impact? This led them to explore the possibilities of working on the parish level, sharing ideas and tactics with those parishes who have been involved with Haiti for some time.
“We can be more effective if we work with each other,” said Rosenhauer.
Building Haitian independence and leadership is critical, she said. Sometimes it isn’t enough to go into a struggling county and build new structures, but rather to equip people with the tools they need to take on the leadership role themselves, she said.
In this case, it is important to engage Haitians in relief projects and the projects in their own parishes.
“We have to work toward Haiti’s vision, not CRS’ vision,” said Rosenhauer.
Parish representatives were given the opportunity to tell the rest of the group about their experiences twinning with a parish in Haiti. Among the most seasoned parishes were St. Frances Cabrini of Savannah, which has been twinning with a parish in Bocozelle, Haiti, for more than 25 years, and St. Thomas Aquinas, Alpharetta, which has been working with a parish in Delatte, Haiti, for more than a dozen years.
Brenda Boutin of Savannah said her parish provides ongoing financial support to the town of Bocozelle, has built a church and assists with a school. Their parish priest has visited the community and the parish has sent a delegation to Bocozelle.
St. Monica Church in Duluth has twinned with Sacred Heart Church, in Hinche, Haiti, for 11 years. The St. Monica group supports day-to-day financial needs of the parish and their pastor from Haiti visits the United States occasionally. St. Monica also takes a medical mission group there twice a year and has established medical and dental clinics. The medical mission trips are supported by the parish, which also gathers donated medical supplies.
As each parish group approached the front of the room to place a marker on a map of Haiti where their twin parish is located, a few common themes emerged. For many, difficulty with communication has played a big part in their struggles to maintain an effective and prosperous relationship.
Rosenhauer added that many times the local Haitian bishop is unaware of which parishes have twinned and who is receiving aid, financial or otherwise. Also there are struggles handing leadership over to residents and having them maintain it.
Rosenhauer suggested that the more transparent everyone’s efforts are the more it will help everyone in the long run. When groups share their strategies and results, effective or not, CRS and other agencies are more able to help and guide those who need it, she said.
At the end of the meeting the groups complied a list of ideas on how to keep each other posted on their progress. The most common suggestion came with Internet connectivity, with many desiring the ability to log into a place online where each can track the progress of the other twinning parishes throughout the archdiocese.
Blanchard said this discussion will be ongoing and continue in the open so that other parishes, who may not be involved with a Haiti parish, can also find the information and resources they need to learn how to begin their own project or even help with one at a neighboring parish.
“The CRS luncheon with parishes in Georgia twinning with Haiti was a great opportunity for parish committees to network, share best practices, and learn about CRS’ relief and development work in Haiti and the advocacy and education work in the United States,” she said. “It was also a great opportunity for CRS to listen to the hopes and concerns of parishes as we develop our Haiti partnership programs.”
“Working together with Catholic Charities Parish and Social Justice Ministries, the CRS Southeast regional office will continue to provide updates on CRS work in Haiti, especially about how we are working to support the capacity of Haitians to lead their own sustainable recovery,” added Cullen Larson, regional director for the CRS Southeast region.
“We will provide these parishes with the information they need to advocate with U.S. policymakers on issues that are critical to the needs of our sisters and brothers in Haiti,” he continued. “As these Georgia parishes continue their important work in solidarity with their sister parishes in Haiti, they can play a vital role in helping our Catholic Church to speak up so that our nation will sustain its commitment to the long-term reconstruction and development of Haiti.”