Conference prepares for work in Haiti



e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service
      
 

Conference prepares for work in Haiti

By Jenna De Marco | Jan. 12, 2009 {0961}

For more than a decade, the people of Haiti have been dealing with one crisis after another, from political unrest to food shortages to problems caused by hurricanes and tropical storms.

While visiting a school community in the mountain town of Carrenage, Haiti, during a fact-finding trip in October, team members from the Florida Conference were able to spend time getting to know area schoolchildren. Photo courtesy of Patience Nave. Photo #09-1082. For longer description see photo gallery.

Last year provided no relief. During a span of just three weeks during the tropical storm season Haiti felt the brunt of four hurricanes that killed hundreds of people and caused an estimated $180 million in damage to Haiti’s agricultural sector, according to news reports.

In late October, a three-person team traveled to Haiti to learn how the country is faring in the wake of those storms and ways the Florida Conference can provide tangible help to the Caribbean nation in 2009.

The Rev. Montreuil Milord, pastor of South Dade Haitian United Methodist Church in Leisure City and chairman of the Haiti/Florida Covenant, and Patience Nave, director of Christian education and ministries at First United Methodist Church in Homosassa Springs, were part of the team.

“There is some kind of improvement (in the conditions) … but people are still struggling for a living over there, due to the cost of living,” Milord said.

One of the greatest concerns, Milord says, is unemployment. People are also worried about having enough school supplies and book bags for the children and funding so they are able to have meals two or three times a week. There are places, Milord said, where children walk for miles for something to eat.

“Sometimes I’m really emotional about that,” he said. “We are going to do our best because we cannot help the whole country, but the little we can do to help our brothers and sisters I am going to do.”

The mission trip helped generate ideas and plans for future projects the Florida Conference can undertake in Haiti, specifically at a school community located in the mountain town of Carrenage. A team representing the Haiti/Florida Covenant will be traveling to Haiti in February to repair the school’s latrine facility and food preparation areas.

“We can restore the latrine that is there, and we can do that with guidance and with the help from the people in the community,” Nave said. “One of my guidelines has been that we include the people there in working on this. The plan now is to restore that latrine and modernize it somewhat. I say that reluctantly — remember, there is no water and electricity.”

Several areas of the school, which is located south of Petit Goave, need upgrading, Nave said. Currently, the school educates 160 children in eight classrooms that are bare except for a basic teacher’s desk and storage cabinet. Teachers live in school dormitories during the week in three small rooms outfitted with cots. In addition to a lack of electricity and water, there is no sewer system or adequate cooking facility.

Other goals for the February trip include painting the dorm rooms and some classrooms, providing mattresses for the dorms, and updating the grill and adjusting wall space in the kitchen. A generator has already been purchased through United Methodist contributions. Nave says it’s probably in use now. The team would also like to help nearby Olivier United Methodist Church restore a protective wall. During the trip, the team will reside in the United Methodist mission house in Petit Goave.

“We are going to buy paint and fix up half of the classrooms,” Nave said. “We are taking teaching supplies. And we took with us this past time about 100 outfits … some of the ladies (from Florida) have sewn little clothes, and they are so cute. I took a whole suitcase full of pants and shirts and dresses for the children in the school, and they’re beautiful.”

The children of the town charmed their visitors, Nave said, and the people seemed very pleased the team had returned after a visit last spring.

Patience Nave visits with a teacher from the school in Carrenage, Haiti. Photo courtesy of Patience Nave. Photo #09-1083. For longer description see photo gallery.

“The children were just everywhere, and they wanted to be with us and do whatever we were doing,” Nave said. “ … The people, the church, the teachers, the principals — they were so thrilled that I had really come back and that we are going to try to work with them to do something in these areas.”

Supplies needed for the latrine will be purchased in Haiti in an effort to support the local economy and avoid shipping expenses. An expert on public sanitation provided assistance with a list of what to do and supplies to purchase to complete the project.

Additionally, continued donations are needed to cover the cost of two meals per week for the schoolchildren, Nave said. These meals serve as their primary source of nutrition.

“(It’s) $215 a day to feed 150 children,” Nave said. “I took enough money with me to feed them through December, and I’ll send some more money before February, and then we’ll bring some more.”

From August to the end of November, the Florida Conference collected and donated $82,925 to Haiti, according to Craig Smelser, the conference’s controller. Those who would like to support the upcoming mission trip and other initiatives through the Haiti/Florida Covenant may do so by sending checks made payable to Florida Conference Treasurer and designated Haiti/Florida Covenant in the memo line to Florida Conference Center, 1140 East McDonald Street, Lakeland, FL 33801.

Churches and individuals may also contribute to the United Methodist Committee on Relief’s Hot Lunch Program, Special Advance #418790. Donations may be made via the Internet, telephone or mail. A list of Advance projects in Haiti is available at http://gbgm-umc.org/advproj/AdvProj_Search.cfm, and more information is available at http://www.gbgm-umc.org.

Nave said First United Methodist Church of Homosassa Springs is also accepting donations for food. Any funds collected will go directly to one of Haiti’s district superintendents, Maude Hippolyte, who will distribute it to the school.

First United Methodist Church in Coral Gables and South Dade Haitian United Methodist Church raised $7,000 to purchase coffee, sugar, beans, rice and oil, Milord said. Three members of his church traveled to Haiti recently to distribute the goods.

Nave estimates the February mission trip will cost $20,000, which will cover travel and lodging expenses for the12-person team, numerous supplies and funds to feed the schoolchildren through the month of May.

The trip will include a member of Milord’s church who serves as chairman of the trustees and general handyman. Other members of the team with specialized skills include a pediatrician and two nurses. Nave and Milord will also return, as well as Maggie Skidmore, 69, of Missouri. She traveled to Haiti for the first time last spring with a close friend to share the experience. Now, she wants to return.

“I just know that the Lord’s calling me to go, and at this time in my life it’s a good arrangement,” Skidmore said.

Skidmore’s hope is that all local United Methodist churches broaden their scope to assist countries like Haiti. Her own local United Methodist church provided scrub uniforms for the mission team last spring, as well as some funding. Additionally, Skidmore’s wide range of vocational experiences, including military medical specialist service, social service, farming and Christian education, make her eager to apply her skills where needed.

One of the biggest challenges in being a missionary, Skidmore says, is the language barrier, although it’s not insurmountable.

“ … We could not share the same language,” she said. “And yet the bond of love that we both have for the Lord and humanity was what made us able to communicate.”

In 2006 the Florida Conference established a formal link between the Methodist Church of Haiti and the Florida Conference by approving the Haiti/Florida Covenant. Through the covenant leaders of both churches hope to strengthen connections between the two and encourage sharing experiences and resources. They also hope the covenant will foster an equal exchange of ideas and a better understanding among Florida United Methodists about the plight of Haitians.

More information about the covenant is available at http://www.flumc2.org/page.asp?PKValue=972.
 
News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011,
tparham@flumc.org, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a freelance writer based in Nashville, Tenn.




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