Hope and horror were among the emotions felt by many Christian Reformed Church members as news of the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake that struck Haiti reached North America. People felt hope that CRC missionaries and family members would be found safe, horror at the images beaming out of Port-au-Prince, and a desperate desire to help in whatever way possible.
Death toll estimates from the earthquake ranged from 150,000 to 200,000. Nearly a third of the estimated 9 million people in this island nation were said to be without food, water, and shelter.
Before the earthquake, Haiti was known as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. In the days following Jan. 12, the devastation was unimaginable.
Christian Reformed World Relief Committee Haiti staff member Ad DeBlaeij reported frightening scenes. “There are thousands upon thousands of people in the streets. Most of them slept outside [after the quake] because of fear of aftershocks. In front of the CRWRC offices, there are 400 people just sitting on the ground, and they’ll likely be there . . . until it is safe for them to return to what is left of their homes,” he said.
“The images of destruction are difficult to comprehend,” said Ken Little, CRWRC’s senior disaster response project manager, after visiting several communities in Haiti. “The damage is severe, and people are shocked and hungry. For survivors, the need for food, clean water, shelter, and medical care is becoming extremely urgent.”
As images of crumbled buildings and dead bodies in the streets crossed North American television screens, the denomination’s crisis management team restricted travel of personnel to Haiti, with the exception of those approved by CRWRC’s international disaster response director. That restriction has since been lifted.
Relief was widespread when word was received that all the CRC’s missionaries and their families were safe and accounted for (see list below).
“The earthquake that hit the capital city . . . was severe,” CRWRC-Canada director Ida Kaastra-Mutoigo reported. “But we have confirmed that all Christian Reformed staff are safe.”
Staff at the CRC’s media ministry, Back to God Ministries International, prayed and clung to hope that their two employees, Sem Hypolite and Marguelita Petion, would be found. Eventually word came that they and their families were safe.
Families such as Paul and Marisa Brinks clung to hope that the two children they were in the process of adopting in Haiti would be found safe http://www.thebanner.org/magazine/article.cfm?article_id=2550.
It was a terrifying time, but also a time of wonderment. Howard and Ruth Van Dam, who work for CRWM in Port-au-Prince, slept in their vehicle after the quake damaged their home. They reported that all night long they heard people who live in the ravine beside their home singing praises to God.
Help on the Ground and on the Way
With CRWRC personnel already living in Haiti, aid efforts commenced immediately.
In the days following the quake, despite the chaos reported from Port-au-Prince as governments tried to coordinate aid delivery, DeBlaeij reported that CRWRC was busy helping teams of medical workers affiliated with an organization that collaborates with CRWRC.
“The first group of doctors, nurses, and other personnel arrived on Saturday,” he said. “They are staying at the ministry center of the Christian Reformed Church of Haiti and are working in King’s Hospital to see and treat patients, many of whom still have untreated wounds and fractures from the quake.”
CRWRC supplied food, water, and shelter to as many people as possible. “We want to get survivors out of the sun, out of the damage, and hydrated,” said Jacqueline Koster, CRWRC’s disaster program manager.
Just as quickly, donations began flooding into CRWRC in both the U.S. and Canada. As of Feb. 3, donations had topped $2 million in U.S. dollars, with more church offerings still to be counted.
Since CRWRC has been working in Haiti for 35 years, partnering with local churches and community organizations, it was able to move aid quickly http://www.thebanner.org/magazine/article.cfm?article_id=2551 and http://www.thebanner.org/magazine/article.cfm?article_id=2547.
“During a disaster like this, it is hard to see anything positive,” said Little, “but one strength that we do have is local leaders and community connections who can quickly identify needs and help us distribute aid to those most in need in a timely and effective way.”
Individual church members also helped, like groups from Pella, Iowa, and Franklin, Mass., who happened to be there when the quake struck http://www.thebanner.org/magazine/article.cfm?article_id=2552 and http://www.thebanner.org/magazine/article.cfm?article_id=2549. A congregation from Hudsonville, Mich., sent a nurse along with a $13,000 cash offering for a small Haitian orphanage http://www.thebanner.org/magazine/article.cfm?article_id=2548.
What Happens Now?
CRWRC has focused its current emergency response efforts in Haiti on Leogane, a town of 175,000 people about 20 miles west of Port-au-Prince.
“Leogane is a community where 90 percent of the people have lost their homes,” said Jacob Kramer, CRWRC’s disaster response director. “[We] have ongoing programs in Leogane, and there is a Haitian Christian Reformed church there. The people already know us, and hopefully we can work with some local leaders as we carry out our relief response.”
The United Nations reported that Leogane was the area worst hit by the quake. Their local market was already dependent on outside food shipments, and this need increased after the disaster. “Currently, we are using cash to buy food locally,” said Kramer. What will help future food needs is that CRWRC has contacts who know the back roads in and out of areas hard to reach.
DeBlaeij and Little are leading CRWRC’s response efforts in Haiti. They were joined by George and Toni Fernhout from Edmonton, Alberta http://www.thebanner.org/magazine/article.cfm?article_id=2546, and Lee Mys from Fremont, Mich.
The leadership capacity and skills learned by Haitians before the earthquake didn’t crumble when the buildings did http://www.thebanner.org/magazine/article.cfm?article_id=2551. Those skills will provide the foundation for moving forward once again.
—Gayla R. Postma, with files from CRWRC
Gifts marked “Haiti Earthquake 2010” can be made online at www.crwrc.org or by phone. In Canada, call 1-800-730-3490. In the U.S., call 1-800-552-7972.
For continually updated information, see the CRC’s special Help Haiti webpage at www.crcna.org.
CRC Staff in Haiti
Ad and Cobie DeBlaeij
Anthony and Mary* DeKoter
Lesley Millar Touissant and Diego Toussaint
Rev. Zachary King and Rev. Sharon Segaar-King
*off the field at the time of the earthquake