Haiti: Local know-how makes for an effective response

CWS's long ties to communities in Haiti have laid the groundwork for an effective response to the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that leveled the Haitian capital of Port-au Prince and surrounding communities.

Woman with blanket
Survivors in the quake-ravaged city of Leogane distribute emergency supplies provided by a CWS ACT  Alliance partner and Caritas Internationalis.  CWS and its partners are providing emergency supplies in Port-au-Prince and surrounding communities.
Photo by Paul Jeffrey/ACT

By Chris Herlinger/CWS

Church World Service's long ties to communities in Haiti have laid the groundwork for an effective response to the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that leveled much of the Haitian capital of Port-au Prince and surrounding communities.

"The fact that our local partners know their neighborhoods and, even as people are displaced, have the connections to locate them allows for (effective) distribution," CWS's Don Tatlock said from Port-au-Prince a week after the devastating Jan. 12 quake.

He noted that recipients of initial CWS assistance were clients "of our pre-disaster programs and in many cases their host families or others from the immediate neighborhood who are in need of assistance."

The initial CWS response included -- and will continue to include -- distribution of food and non-food items, like CWS Hygiene and Baby Care Kits; CWS Blankets; and medical supplies. Later programs will focus on assistance to those with disabilities, building on already-existing CWS work in Haiti, programs for "at-risk" kids, and on food security needs, particularly for those families migrating elsewhere in Haiti.

Soon after the disaster, CWS staff were in Port-au-Prince, assessing needs and helping distribute aid to survivors. Part of a planned ocean shipment of emergency kits was diverted to go by air, to be distributed by CWS partner Christian Center for Integrated Development (SKDE), which manages a small clinic in Port-au-Prince.

Church World Service has worked in Haiti since 1954, when it helped the churches there to found Service Chretien d'Haiti, and provided assistance in the aftermath of Hurricane Hazel.  CWS now works with local Haitian partners in the northwest to provide development and agriculture assistance. CWS has also assisted partners as they responded to hurricanes in recent years.

Partner relationships have also been important because of long-standing ties in the neighboring Dominican Republic. Relief items, including CWS Kits and Blankets, that had been pre-positioned for Caribbean disasters in a warehouse in the Dominican capital of Santo Domingo by longtime CWS partner Servicio Social de Iglesias Dominicanas, arrived in Port-au-Prince within days.

CWS has also been present for the partners as their staff  try to recover their own lives in the midst of chaos and a city laid waste by almost unimaginable devastation.

After accompanying Ernst Abraham of Service Chretien d'Haiti to the agency's offices which were destroyed, Tatlock said: "It was very emotionally wrenching as he talked about how the work they had worked so hard to build, such as programs to serve those with disabilities… felt like a victim of this disaster as well."

Baby taking a bath
A quake survivor gives her daughter a bath amid the rubble in the Port-au-Prince neighborhood of Belair. Water remains in short supply. CWS and its partners are helping to provide basics.
Photo: Paul Jeffrey/AC

It is not known yet how many of those affected by the quake might try to leave Port-au-Prince, but CWS is prepared to assist those who may go to other parts of Haiti. CWS is also concerned about the many challenges faced by those seeking entrance to the U.S.

"We're closely monitoring the displacement of affected Haitians, their exodus outside Port-au-Prince to other parts of the country, what their needs will be and impact to communities that receive them, as well as migration needs and challenges here in the U.S," said Erol Kekic, director of CWS's immigration and refugee program.

In the U.S., the Church World Service-administered Religious Services Program is responding to the particular pastoral needs of Haitian immigrants held in the four federal detention centers it serves, including the Krome Service Processing Center in Miami, Fla.

Oscar Rivera, CWS Miami Office Director, said, "Several inmates are very worried because they don't know what happened to their families.  RSP staff are making a difference by tending to the religious aspect, so the detainees understand we are behind them."

CWS welcomed the news from Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano that Temporary Protected Status (TPS) will be extended to eligible Haitians who were in the United States on the day of the earthquake, with Kekic noting this would be "an important component of a comprehensive U.S. humanitarian response to the current crisis in Haiti."

Temporary Protected Status, may be granted by the United States when requested by a foreign state that temporarily cannot handle the return of nationals due to an environmental disaster. There is a precedent for applying TPS following other natural disasters: The U.S. extended TPS to Honduran and Nicaraguan nationals following Hurricane Mitch in 1998, and to Salvadoran nationals after the earthquake in 2001.

Church World Service long has provided assistance to the Haitian population in the United States through its Miami Office. CWS's Miami Office along with 17 Board of Immigration Appeals-recognized CWS affiliate offices across the United States are prepared to provide immigration legal services and assistance with TPS applications.

How to help

Contributions may be made at www.churchworldservice.org/haiti or by phoning 800-297-1516 or by mailing to Church World Service, P.O. Box 968, Elkhart, IN 46515 (please indicate Haiti Earthquake).

Recognized as one of America's Most Efficient Charities, Church World Service has earned an "A" rating from the American Institute of Philanthropy and was named one of the Top 100 Highly Rated Charities by GiveSpot.com.

Carol Fouke-Mpoyo and Jan Dragin contributed to this report.

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