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Leaders urge patience in meeting Haiti’s needs

Leaders urge patience in meeting Haiti’s needs

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Leaders urge patience in meeting Haiti’s needs

By J.A. Buchholz | July 24, 2010 {1201}

LAKELAND — Six months after the earthquake that killed more than 220,000 people in Haiti, recovery is slow.

More than 1.5 million people remain in overcrowded camps, and thousands still do not have enough food, water and medical supplies, according to a recent CNN report.

The Rev. Beth Fogle-Miller urges laity and clergy not to become “disaster cowboys” — people who are so eager to help Haiti recover from the earthquake they don’t go through established aid channels. Photo by Dave Summerill. Photo #10-1518. Click on picture for larger photo or view in photo gallery with longer description.

While the desire to help is great under such circumstances, the Rev. Beth Fogle-Miller urged laity and clergy attending the recent annual conference session in June to “give great care” to the process of helping the Haitian people.

Fogle-Miller is director of Florida Conference Connectional Ministries. She saw firsthand the challenges the country is facing after visiting there in February with a team from the conference.

“After having gone to East Angola, I thought I had seen some poverty,” Fogle-Miller said. “But the devastation was simply indescribable.”

Fogle-Miller cautioned against the urge to be what she calls “disaster cowboys” — those who are so eager to help they don’t go through established aid channels.

Those channels include the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) and United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM). UMCOR has trained disaster response specialists who help with relief and recovery work throughout the United States and around the world. UMVIM has a coordinator in each of the five jurisdictions.

Each annual conference identifies disaster response and UMVIM coordinators who work cooperatively on training and response with local churches and the denomination.

Using these ministries, Fogle-Miller said, ensures that efforts aren’t duplicated and there is suitable coordination and support for visiting teams.

A plan for Haiti

Paulette West, executive director of UMVIM, Southeastern Jurisdiction, also talked with members attending the session and echoed Fogle-Miller’s comments. She said there is a long-term plan in place, called the Haiti Response Plan, to address Haitian issues.

Leaders of The Methodist Church of Haiti, including its president, the Rev. Gesner Paul, are working with UMVIM jurisdictional coordinators and UMCOR representatives to identify priority projects for earthquake recovery and other church and social needs that could be addressed by UMVIM teams.

Projects will focus on rubble removal/deconstruction, medical assessments and vacation Bible schools. The plan also includes funding for an organizational structure that will schedule and support volunteer teams to Haiti and provide matching grants for recovery/rebuilding projects.

Paulette West tells laity and clergy about the experience of a non-Florida mission team that chartered a plane to Haiti soon after the earthquake, without notifying anyone of its plans. The team was not allowed to enter Haiti and required assistance from UMCOR representatives to return home. Photo by Dave Summerill. Photo #10-1519. Click on picture for larger photo or view in photo gallery with longer description.

Using Nehemiah 2:17-18 as the text of her message to members, West said the need is great in Haiti, but it is imperative that volunteers think through the entire process and not attempt to fulfill the immediate urge to serve.

Putting the connection to work

A number of guidelines for visiting teams are already in place.

All UMVIM teams must register through the U.S. Haiti Calendaring Coordinator and work on projects that are the priority of The Methodist Church of Haiti. Team leaders must have current leader training; members must have previous experience with The Methodist Church of Haiti and up-to-date immunizations. Additionally, teams can’t be larger than 10 members, they must purchase accident insurance, and they are required to enter and exit through Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital.

It is also recommended that each team include at least one medical person since some locations will be at least an hour away from a hospital.

The estimated cost of a mission is about $50 per day, plus airfare, or about $1,500 per person. That includes transportation to Haiti, food, housing and in-country transportation. Each team is expected to raise $ 3,000 in project money.

After the June 10 business session in which Fogle-Miller and West shared their remarks, West said she was pleased to be invited to speak about the importance of using the United Methodist connection, especially given the experience some well-meaning teams have had.

She said one group of non-Florida church members chartered a plane and tried to get into Haiti to assist with recovery efforts soon after the earthquake, without notifying anyone of its plans. The team was not allowed to enter and needed help from UMCOR representatives to return home.

The most pressing problem associated with such impromptu trips, West said, is the lack of a local contact to coordinate with the teams and arrange for necessities, such as food, water and shelter, all of which are not readily accessible.

Madame Paul gives a medicine-sized cup portion of strawberry soda to some of the 97 children she and three other women care for in a house Paul rents. It is one of several orphanages a group of Florida Conference leaders visited during a trip to Haiti in February that hopes to become part of the Global Orphan Project network, which helps build communities that sustain orphans around the world. Photo by Vee Stepelton. Photo #10-1457. Originally accompanied e-Review Florida UMNS #1178, 06/03/10. Click on picture for larger photo or view in photo gallery.

“We are trying every possible way to get the word out about going through our connectional system,” she said. “It’s not about telling teams who they can work with or what they can do.”

Judith Pierre-Okerson said the United Methodist connection will work in due time.

“Help is still needed,” said Pierre-Okerson, who serves on the conference’s Haiti/Florida Covenant task team. “It is just important that we respect The Methodist Church of Haiti and not go and do our own thing.

“I know people may be impatient with the United Methodist system, but this is the best way to focus and rebuild.”

A steering team of people from the Haiti/Florida Covenant task team, the Haitian ministry team and others familiar with UMCOR and UMVIM processes is being developed, Fogle-Miller said. Pam Garrison, manager of the Florida Conference Disaster Recovery Ministry, will lead the group. The goal is to provide comprehensive information about what various groups are doing and how churches can become involved. More information about connecting with Florida Conference efforts is available by contacting Garrison at

More information about the Haiti Response Plan is available at

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Groups begin preliminary work for long-term recovery in Haiti

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011,, Orlando
*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a freelance writer based in Seffner, Fla.