In an effort to express solidarity and learn of the churches’ work in providing support and relief to victims of the Haiti earthquake, the Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), is visiting Haiti accompanied by an ecumenical delegation of six church leaders from different parts of the world.
“I feel honoured to be here”, said Tveit. “For me, it is important to see and listen to the Haitian people and to see how the churches can respond to their needs in a meaningful way.”
Aid and international solidarity have been flowing into Haiti since the earthquake in January.
“The presence of the ecumenical delegation here in Haiti is one sign of that solidarity,” observed Mr Sylvain Exantus, the president of the Haitian Protestant Federation.
Local people involved
The ecumenical delegation began visiting some of the projects directed by ACT Alliance in the Port-au-Prince area on Monday 14 June.
“It is significant that the Haitians themselves are involved in all reconstruction work,” said Tveit after visiting the Norwegian Church Aid’s (NCA) project in the red zone area of Bel Air on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince. The red zone marks those regions that were most severely damaged by the earthquake.
Environmental activities, such as rain-water harvesting , bio-gas digesters and planting of trees, are some of the specialties of the NCA project.
“Since Bel Air is considered a red zone area, we have started our green roof projects to change this to a green area,” Bruno Nadalutti, assistant manager of Viva Rio, the local partner of NCA, told the delegation.
So far, Haitians have planted approximately 30 000 trees to address the concern of the deforestation of Haiti. They are hoping to plant one million trees next year.
“They are not just receivers of aid, but they have taken the responsibility on themselves. Even in a situation like this, they continue their lives,” pointed out Tveit.
Change will take some time
The delegation was able to see that even five months after the earthquake much devestation remained. People living in the camps are still under plastic sheeting, vulnerable to rains and the upcoming hurricane season.
“It will take a long time until we can see the change,” said the Rev. Bernice Powell Jackson, president of the World Council of Churches from North America and a member of the delegation.
She compared the situation with the devastation in New Orleans where Hurricane Katrina hit five years ago.
“It looked like the damage was so bad that nothing could be done. But now, five years later, you can see the progress,” she said encouragingly.
Haitian people themselves have not lost their hope as they try to survive in a variety of different ways.
“We met several people in the camps who try to earn their living with their small businesses so they can afford their food and school fees for the children,” said Mrs. Victoria Kamondji, a delegation member and vice-president of the French Protestant Federation.
The delegation visited the camps in Petion Ville together with representatives of the ACT Alliance member Church World Service and their local partner Service Chretienne d’Haiti. These organizations work together to support people with disabilities.
“Before the earthquake, there were approximately 800 000 people living with disabilities. Now there might be a million,” Powell Jackson said.
Solidarity from near and far
For the Haitians to be able to build their lives again after the earthquake, they will need mental and spiritual healing as well as material aid. This healing is an area in which churches and church-related organizations can assist.
The neighbouring Dominican Republic has shown extensive solidarity towards Haiti after the earthquake. It also provides one instance of the many Southern partners involved in the work in Haiti.
“It is important that churches and church-related organizations provide their input in this situation. The projects carried out by ACT Alliance members, for example, are important,” said Tveit.
The ecumenical delegation continues its mission Tuesday 15 June by visiting church buildings of different denominations that were destroyed in the earthquake. They also will pray together with leaders of churches in Haiti and discuss with them what it means to be the church together in Haiti today.
(Maria Halava, from ACT Alliance, reported from Haiti)