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Needs of Haiti brought close to home for Florida Haitians

Needs of Haiti brought close to home for Florida Haitians

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Needs of Haiti brought close to home for Florida Haitians

Oct. 3, 2008   News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011  Orlando {0921}

An e-Review Feature
By Jenna De Marco**

The Florida Conference and the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) launched relief efforts last month in Haiti after four tropical cyclones battered the Caribbean nation in the span of three weeks, weakening the country’s already fragile infrastructure.

In parts of Cite du Soleil, Port-au-Prince, Haiti, hungry people buy cookies made of dirt. In partnership with Stop Hunger Now, the United Methodist Committee on Relief funded an emergency shipment of packaged meals to Haiti during the summer, amidst food riots taking place there. Photo #08-1014. For longer description see photo gallery.

At least 425 people were killed in the storms, and crops, fields and irrigations systems were destroyed, causing an estimated $180 million in damage to Haiti’s agricultural sector, according to news reports. The United Nations’ World Food Programme says an estimated 800,000 people will need food assistance throughout Haiti over the next six months.

The desperation has been felt in Florida, as Haitians living across the state worry about their friends and family back home. The South Florida metro area alone is home to an estimated 275,170 Haitians, according to a September Associated Press article. There are 19 Haitian United Methodist churches and missions in the Florida Conference — six in the conference’s South East District.

In a report to conference offices after the storms, the Rev. Debbie McLeod, superintendent of the South East District, said every church in that district has friends, family or loved ones who were in the path of the storms.

“From what I can understand, it’s total destruction in a lot of places,” said Melissa Crutchfield, UMCOR’s assistant general secretary for international disaster responses. “A lot of the infrastructure was not that good to begin with — a lot of people have been sleeping in the schools and in the churches.”

The storms hit in quick succession. Tropical Storm Fay crossed Haiti to the south in mid-August, soon followed by Hurricane Gustav in the same area. In early September, Tropical Storm Hanna traveled the country’s northern coast, followed days later by Hurricane Ike, a Category 3 storm. Reports from survivors indicate severe residential flooding, roof damage to a multitude of structures and crop destruction.

The Rev. Jonas Milice, pastor of Sanctified New Jerusalem Haitian United Methodist Mission in Pompano Beach, said his brother Barthlmy barely escaped alive from the rooftop of his home when floodwaters overtook his residence.

“He (was) actually on the roof for three days,” Milice said. “He told me God had saved his life.”

The Rev. Jonas Milice leads worship during a district cluster service Jan. 27. Photo by Erik Alsgaard. File photo #08-0749. Originally accompanied e-Review Florida UMNS #0797/Feb. 13, 2008. For longer description see photo gallery.

Milice’s brother endured wind and heat alongside many others on the roof as they waited for help from some type of government rescuers.

“More than 20 people were with him because … they saw the water was coming. People who have smaller houses than him, they come to his house and they stay together,” Milice said.

Sanitary, electrical and other government services, such as police, in Haiti cannot cope with natural disasters of this magnitude, Milice said.

“The water is draining faster, but in Haiti they don’t clean anything,” Milice said. “That’s the problem … they have water, but no clean water for the people.”

Milice also said his brother told him that it is difficult to find food “even if you have money in your pocket.”

Processes in place to help

During the last week of September, Milice’s church held revival meetings all week to pray for Haiti and gather monetary and clothing donations.

Sending volunteers to affected areas during the next few weeks is not recommended, according to Icel Rodriguez, associate director of the Florida Conference’s mission and justice ministries. She said the devastation is so extensive there would be no way to house workers. Rodriguez also said it’s likely any material donations sent to Haiti would be held up in Haiti’s customs department for an indefinite period of time.

“What they are expecting is our financial contributions and our support in prayers,” Rodriguez said.

Material donations, however, pour into Haiti’s neighborhoods through UMCOR’s non-governmental organization (NGO) field offices, according to Crutchfield. The UMCOR Web site says the purpose of the NGOs is to provide “professional and highly skilled humanitarian response to crises.”

A baby receives a vaccination in an Action By Churches Together clinic near Port-au-Prince, Haiti, that is supported by the United Methodist Church. The Methodist Church has a long history in the Latin American/Caribbean region. More than 240 years ago in Antigua, a group of Afro-Caribbean slaves started the first Methodist congregation outside of England and Ireland. Photo by Paul Jeffrey/ACT International. Photo #08-1015.

“We are doing quite a bit because we have the field office in Cap-Haitien,” Crutchfield said.

That office sustained minimal damage, according to an UMCOR press release. Cities receiving assistance include Cap-Haitien, Port-au-Prince, Gonaive, Gonâve Island and Cabaret.

Food, water filters, school supply kits, health kits and cook stoves for heating food are being distributed through the NGOs. UMCOR is also providing funds that help people learn how to rebuild their homes themselves.

“It’s a way to employ them and engage them in their own recovery,” Crutchfield said. “UMCOR involves the beneficiaries as much as possible.”

UMCOR’s network of relief also includes working closely with churches in Haiti to provide them with resources that will help their communities. Additionally, UMCOR coordinates with Action by Churches Together, an international consortium of churches that respond together.

“We’re actually covering most of the country of Haiti through a variety of agencies,” Crutchfield said.

Crutchfield said UMCOR has spent approximately $130,000 since Hurricane Ike in Haiti disaster relief. There is at least that much or more funding pending approval. More financial donations are needed and welcomed, she said.

School children in Ibo Beach, Port-au-Prince, Haiti, eat food provided by Stop Hunger Now and funded by the United Methodist Committee on Relief. Founded in 1998 by the Rev. Ray Buchanan, a United Methodist minister from Virginia, the organization has provided more than $44 million in direct aid to more than 60 countries, including more than 5 million meals for the poor. A UMNS photo courtesy of Stop Hunger Now. Photo #08-1016.

“It’s a limitless opportunity for people to contribute because we have an ongoing program,” she said. “We have the Haiti hot lunch program, and it feeds school children. That’s an ongoing program, but it’s been refocused to address the most vulnerable (populations).”

Financial contributions can be made to the Haiti Special Advance #418325 through several channels. Individuals and churches may visit UMCOR’s Web site at to donate online; write a check payable to a local United Methodist church with the special advance number in the memo line; or write a check payable to ADVANCE GCFA with the special advance number in the memo line and sent to Advance GCFA, P.O. Box 9068, GPO, New York, NY 10087-9068.

“We certainly are not going to slow down in our response efforts,” Crutchfield said. “The funding goes through a couple of stages … and our NGO is active on the ground, and any contribution … is wonderful.”

Information about the Haiti/Florida Covenant is available at


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