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In Haiti's 'new era' Episcopalians around the world offer help

'I extend my arms to the thousands without shelter,' Duracin says

[Episcopal News Service] In a letter titled "One is in the wilderness but safe in faith," Episcopal Diocese of Haiti Bishop Jean Zaché Duracin says the destructive Jan. 12 earthquake began a "new era" in the history of that impoverished nation.

"This is also a new era in the history of humanitarian aid because the catastrophe has dealt a terrible blow to more than 10 million living beings -- inhabitants who have lost their homes and their way of life," the bishop wrote in a letter posted in French here (ENS received an English translation Jan. 24). "The capital [Port-au-Prince] is transformed into an immense refuge camp. They call desperately for water, food, and medicine."

Elsewhere in the Episcopal Church, dioceses and congregations are continuing to respond to the calls for help from the church's largest diocese.

"Most of our churches are destroyed," Duracin said. "Many schools are only piles of stones."

The bishop also reported that he had only seconds to escape his house when the magnitude 7.0 quake struck just before 5:00 p.m. local time. His wife, Marie Edithe, was trapped in the house and Duracin and others "were barely able to move her from the wreckage," the bishop wrote. Two of the Duracins' adult children were also home at the time; both escaped without injury.

The Rev. Kesner Ajax, head of the diocese's Bishop Tharp Institute of Business and Technology (BTI) in Les Cayes, drove from the school south of Port-au-Prince the day after the quake to the Haitian capital. Once there, he managed to take the bishop's wife, their children and two diocesan employees to Zanmi Lasante, the Partners in Health hospital at Cange on the central plateau outside of the Haitian capital. (The clinic has roots in the outreach ministry of the Diocese of Upper South Carolina.)

"If he had not been able to do that, Lord knows what would have happened to Madame Duracin," the Rev. Lauren Stanley, one of the Episcopal Church's four missionaries assigned to Haiti, told ENS on Jan. 25. "And, truly, Lord knows, because her leg wounds had them very worried about infection."

The school Ajax leads survived the quake but he has reported that the rectory of Saint Sauveur is not safe for occupation.

Duracin has been living in a makeshift camp on a rocky field next to the College St. Pierre since the night of the quake. He said in his letter that the camp, which reportedly includes close to 3,000 survivors, "is vulnerable due to the lack of water and food."

The camp is one of nearly 20 being run by the diocese in various locations. Duracin has said that those camps are now the homes of close to 23,000 Haitians.

"I extend my arms to the thousands without shelter and I offer my prayers," the bishop wrote. "Haiti already had profound problems before the earthquake with a population living in extreme poverty. Therefore, after the quake it will be difficult to recover without help."

Across the U.S.-based Episcopal Church from the Diocese of Virgin Islands to the Diocese of Olympia, Episcopalians have been organizing fund-raising efforts ranging from the practical to the creative, holding prayer services and vigils, and helping in other tangible ways.

In his Jan. 23 letter to Episcopal Relief & Development President Robert Radtke, Duracin made it clear that only professionals certified in relief and recovery ought to come to Haiti for the foreseeable future. Church officials have been encouraging monetary gifts through the agency so that it can assist the diocese in meeting its relief and recovery priorities.

The Church Pension Fund said Jan. 25 that it is using money in its Unrestricted Gifts & Legacies Fund to assist the Diocese of Haiti to match contributions made to Episcopal Relief & Development by Fund trustees up to $5,000 per trustee. There are 25 trustees.

It is also matching, dollar-for-dollar, contributions made to the agency by staff members of the Church Pension Group, who have already donated more than $22,000. The matching program is similar to what CPG offered in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina demolished a wide swath of the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Typical of the outpouring of help are the offers of all kinds that have flooded the Haiti Project in the dioceses of Milwaukee and Eau Claire in the nearly two weeks since the quake hit, according to Dr. Jan Byrd, the project coordinator for Milwaukee.

"One of the best offers was from an orthopedic surgeon, who wanted help getting to Haiti," Byrd said during a Jan. 23 telephone interview.

She said she linked him with a group that works with the Episcopal Church's Hôpital Sainte Croix and 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) in Léogâne, near the epicenter of the earthquake. Byrd accompanied the doctor from Milwaukee to Fort Lauderdale, along with seven duffle bags of medical supplies and surgical instruments before putting him on a Haiti-bound chartered plane, she said.

Her office has been flooded with monetary donations, as well as offers of assistance, so much so "we had to create a structure to handle all the calls, messages and emails, everything from prayer requests to shipping and clerical assistance," she said.

The offers of assistance ranged from requests to adopt orphans to donations of food, supplies and clothing. Some medical schools and clinics offered to collect medicines as well as send teams to Haiti. There were offers of translation services and even knitting baby blankets as well as those who wanted to go assist in rebuilding efforts, Byrd said.

Along with many other bishops, Milwaukee Bishop Steven A. Miller urged diocesan members to contribute to Episcopal Relief & Development.

Other Milwaukee Episcopalians are raising money via an ongoing diocesan fundraiser: selling Singing Rooster Haitian Mountain Blue Coffee, Byrd said. The green coffee beans are shipped from Haiti and air-roasted upon arrival in Milwaukee.

The Haiti Project began in the early 1980s and has focused its efforts on Jeannette, a rural village of about 2,000 people who live in 250 homes made primarily of woven leaves and thatched roofs. The community is located about 70 miles west of Port-au-Prince and the project has helped to develop and support its St. Marc's Church and school complex. A Jan. 19 update posted on the diocesan website said that some of the secondary and primary school buildings sustained damage, along with the rectory.

The Rev. Kesner Gracia, interim priest of St. Marc's and other local parishes, said in the letter that "many in the community have lost family members living elsewhere, and food is in short supply throughout the country." He said damage assessments were underway but nonetheless clergy, staff and local residents were "working hard to receive refugees and will be opening any building that is safe."

In the Diocese of Minnesota, children as young as 5-year-old Elsie have helped raise money for Haiti relief simply with their crayon drawings through the "Color4aCause" project, which has raised about $653, to be given to Episcopal Relief & Development for Haiti relief, according to the website.

The site's slogan is "Make a donation. Get a picture." Children are invited to donate pictures they have colored. Grown-ups who donate via the site get one of the pictures in return.

On the website, Color4aCause creator Kevin D. Hendricks, a freelance writer and a parishioner at Messiah Episcopal Church in St. Paul, celebrated a crayon drawing titled "I Love Haiti" from 5-year-old Elsie, which depicted hearts and Elsie herself offering a flower to a child from Haiti.

Like many Minnesota congregations, Messiah has supported numerous projects and organizations in Haiti for at least a decade. Messiah's connections include Epiphanie School in L'Acul; Foyer Notre Dame, a home for older women in Port-au-Prince, associated with the Sisters of St. Margaret Convent that partially collapsed during the earthquake; and St. Vincent School for Handicapped Children and Holy Trinity School in Port-au-Prince, which both were heavily damaged if not destroyed. The parish has taken many mission trips to Haiti as well.

Hendricks added on his blog that his congregation's close connections with Haiti "made me realize something -- we need more personal connections. We need to be involved in more places -- giving of our money, our time, our compassion -- connecting us in a deep way to people all over the globe. So that the next time there is an unspeakable tragedy we won't be able to turn away."

Among the many recent fund-raising concerts offered by Episcopal Church dioceses and congregations was a Jan. 23 "Lament for Haiti" concert by the University of Colorado Music Department, hosted by St. Aidan's Episcopal Church and Canterbury Campus Ministry in Boulder. The concert in the Denver-based Diocese of Colorado, raised "about $16,000, and still counting," which will be matched by a gift from the diocese, according to the rector, the Rev. Mary Kate Réjouis.

"The musical quality of the concert was astounding -- faculty and students working together, sharing excellent music from every genre/department in the music school at the University of Colorado -- it was beautiful," said the newly married Réjouis, who met her husband while working on a diocesan mission trip to Haiti.

The Colorado diocese has set a Feb. 14 goal of raising $75,000, which will be matched by the Anschutz Foundation, a local charity, according to Beckett Stokes, diocesan communications officer. The money will go to Episcopal Relief & Development and the Colorado Haiti Project, which has been engaged in community development work with the people of Petit Trou de Nippes, Haiti, since 1989.

Philip Mantle, jubilee officer from the Diocese of Chicago, said Jan. 21 that the Illinois Department of Family Services had resettled as many as 174 Haitians in the Chicago area, "including many teens pending adoption," he said.

"There are 43,000 Haitians living in Chicago and efforts are underway to establish a task force to address some of the short- and long-term issues with Haiti beyond this emergency recovery," he said.

Mantle and others expressed concerns about the availability of clean water. He said a three-member team was standing by to take a chlorinator to Haiti when necessary.

Chicago's efforts are echoed elsewhere in the Episcopal Church. Episcopalians Molly and George Greene, founders and leaders of the Charleston, South Carolina-based Water Missions International, report that the group has installed nine water treatment systems in Haiti since the quake. Another 10 were supposed to have been delivered on Jan. 25 but have been delayed, according a report on the group's website. Twenty more are in transit.

Diocese of South Carolina communications director Joy Hunter reported in an email sent Jan. 21 to a listserv run by the Episcopal Communicators that Water Missions is working with the dioceses of Haiti and the Dominican Republic and has installed one of the treatment systems at the Haiti-Dominican Republic border.

In the days just after the quake, Haitians in various stages of health began fleeing into the Dominican Republic. In addition, because the nation was the closest place where the infrastructure is intact, it became an important relay point in the wave of assistance for Haiti.

Katie Mears, Episcopal Relief & Development's program manager for USA disaster preparedness and response, and Kirsten Muth, the agency's senior program director, have been operating out of the Dominican Republic, the country that shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti. They are assisting the Episcopal Diocese of the Dominican Republic's efforts to aid its neighbors to the west, as well as the Haitian diocese itself.

The Diocese of Long Island's Episcopal Community Services has found a way to help Haitians living in its part of the U.S. On Jan. 22 it offered the first of a series of planned clinics to assist Haitians in applying for U.S. Temporary Protected Status (TPS). Extension of the status had long been sought by the Episcopal Church and was granted Jan. 17 to Haitian nationals living in the U.S.

TPS allows Haitian nationals were in the U.S. on Jan. 12 to continue living in the country for 18 months. The Rev. Charles McCarron, executive director of ECS, told ENS that offering the thousands of Haitians who live in the diocese assistance with their TPS application "seemed like a natural."

The process requires people to prove that they are Haitian, were in the U.S. on Jan. 12 and that they plan to stay. Some Haitians may have difficulty proving their status, as they do not have the required national documents such as a passport or birth or baptismal certificate, McCarron said, adding that those documents could now be nearly impossible to obtain from Haiti. He said the clinics will help people create affidavits to prove their status.

In addition, the application process costs roughly $400 per person to cover fees for the TPS application itself, a required employment authorization document and fingerprinting fee.

 The very old and the very young will not have to apply for the employment card, McCarron predicted. He said the clinics can also help people apply for a fees waiver if they do not have the money for the application package.

The clinics ask for a free-will donation, he said, adding that other reputable assistance centers typically charge a fee of $50-60 but that he has heard reports of others charging as much as $5,000.

"The more places like us who try to do this work, the less people will be sucked in by crooks," he said.

Meanwhile, Leslee Sandberg of the Diocese of Iowa reported via email that a couple of diocesan congregations, including Christ Church in Cedar Rapids "just sent 20 chlorinators, motorcycle batteries and 1,000 patient records" to Haiti. Another congregation had donated 19 pairs of crutches and 13 walkers from its Jubilee Medical Lending Closet.

"We are locating solar panels to send as soon as we can," Sandberg added.

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

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