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Episcopal Diocese of Haiti caring for 23,000 quake survivors

[Episcopal News Service] The Episcopal Diocese of Haiti is caring for close to 23,000 Haitians in at least 21 encampments around the earthquake-devastated country.

The information came Jan. 23 in a letter from Bishop Jean Zaché Duracin to Episcopal Relief & Development President Robert Radtke and posted here. In the letter, Duracin said that the diocese and the organization are working "hand-in-hand," telling Radtke he has "complete confidence in you and your agency."

"Please tell our partners, the people of the Episcopal Church, the people of the United States and indeed the people of the world that we in Haiti are immensely grateful for their prayers, their support and their generosity," Duracin wrote. "This is a desperate time in Haiti; we have lost so much. But we still have the most important asset, the people of God, and we are working continuously to take care of them."

The Haitian diocese suffered greatly with the quake. A number of the diocese's 254 schools, ranging from preschools to a university and a seminary, were destroyed or heavily damaged, including the Holy Trinity complex of primary, music and trade schools adjacent to the demolished diocesan Cathédrale Sainte Trinité (Holy Trinity Cathedral) in Port-au-Prince.

A portion of the St. Vincent School for Handicapped Children, also in the Haitian capital, collapsed, killing between six and 10 students and staff. Many of the students are living at the camp while arrangements are being made for them to be housed elsewhere.

More than 100 of the diocese's churches have been damaged or destroyed, Duracin has said.

As many as 3,000 quake survivors, including many members of the diocese, have congregated on a rocky field next to College Ste. Pierre, a diocesan secondary school that the quake destroyed. Duracin, who was left homeless by the quake, has led the effort to organize and maintain the camp, where conditions are described as grim.

Two Episcopal Relief & Development officials -- Katie Mears, program manager for USA disaster preparedness and response, and Kirsten Muth, senior program director -- have been in Port-au-Prince twice in the last week to assist the diocese. They have been operating out of the Dominican Republic, the country that shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti. Mears and Muth are also assisting the Episcopal Diocese of the Dominican Republic's efforts to aid its neighbors to the west.

The agency's efforts include coordinating shipments of medical supplies and food to affected rural Haitian communities and parishes, organizing air drops to isolated rural areas and the provision of satellite phones and solar power chargers. The latter will enable coordination of efforts between dioceses and increase the organization's ability to communicate with Duracin and his colleagues as they serve thousands of survivors both in Port-au-Prince and in other areas served by the Episcopal Church of Haiti.

The agency said Jan. 21 that its work is also helping to establish a response mechanism that can continue to operate efficiently as the recovery process gets underway in the coming weeks and months.

The bishop said in his letter to Radtke that the members of the diocese "have a vision and a plan for this relief and recovery effort."

"We know the situation on the ground, we are directing emergency relief to those who need it most, and we already are making plans and moving forward to help our people," he said, adding that he was aware that many people in the rest of the Episcopal Church want to come to Haiti immediately to offer their help.

"Please tell them that unless they are certified professionals in relief and recovery, they must wait," he asked of Radtke. "We will need them in the months and years to come, but at this point, it is too dangerous and too much of a burden for our people to have mission teams here."

Duracin also said in the letter that he had appointed the Rev. Lauren Stanley, one of the Episcopal Church's four missionaries assigned to Haiti, to work on his behalf with Episcopal Relief & Development. He also asked the diocese's many partners in the Episcopal Church to communicate with her to facilitate contact with the diocese.

Stanley was home in Virginia when the magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck outside of Port-au-Prince just before 5 p.m. local time. Another Episcopal Church missionary, the Rev. Canon Oge Beauvoir, the dean of the diocese's seminary, is still in Haiti and working with Duracin. Mallory Holding, 23, and Jude Harmon, 28, two Young Adult Service Corps missionaries, left the country the weekend after the quake.

"The world's response to this tragedy is overwhelming, the U.S. response is overwhelming, and our partners' response is overwhelming," Stanley told ENS on Jan. 24 via email. "Our priests and lay leaders know of the deep concern and incredible efforts that are being made on our behalf, and they are telling their people. Bishop Duracin's leadership is incredible … ERD's response, which was swift and direct and incredible, is what is holding everyone together. The Haitian people know they have not been forgotten, and they know they will be helped."

In his letter to Radtke, Duracin also said that he had asked the diocese's partners in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to work directly with Episcopal Relief & Development.

According to a posting on the Presbyterian Church's Haiti Mission Network website, the Episcopal Church's Hôpital Sainte Croix in Léogâne has been a "major focus" of the Presbyterian Church's work in Haiti for a decade.

The hospital provides outpatient treatment, a nutritional program and a de-worming research and treatment effort aimed at the parasitical filarial nematode and funded by the University of Notre Dame and the Gates Foundation.

Hunter Farrell, director of world mission for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), said Jan. 24 that the church had given $200,000 to the hospital and the diocese's nursing school, formally known as the Faculté des Sciences Infirmières de l’Université Episcopale d’Haïti in Léogâne (FSIL) (Faculty of Nursing Science of the Episcopal University of Haiti). The grant meant to help pay for electrical power and distribution needs, water and sanitation facilities, fuel for generators and vehicles, and salaries for local staff to clean up the hospital, Farrell said.

The quake and one of its major aftershocks damaged the nursing school's buildings, but it began operating as a makeshift hospital within a half hour after the quake which destroyed 80-90 percent of the buildings in the main part of Léogâne, the school's foundation said on its website.

Nursing school dean Hilda Alcindor reported that she, the nursing students and the incoming medical personnel have treated at least 5,000 people since the quake. A tent city has sprung up in the open fields around the school. The school's foundation also reported that the nursing students have set up 10 first-aid stations around Léogâne.

To donate to Episcopal Relief & Development click here; or call the agency at 1-800-334-7626 ext.5129; or mail a gift to Episcopal Relief & Development, PO Box 7058, Merrifield, VA 22116-7058. Please write "Haiti fund" in the memo of all checks.

-- The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is ENS national correspondent and editor of Episcopal News Monthly.

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