Boxes of canned meat and relief kits from Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) brought joy and relief to recipients who are struggling to recover from the Aug. 14 earthquake that devastated the southern peninsula of Haiti.
The supplies were the first of any to reach Saint-Jean-du-Sud, a southwestern municipality, made up of several towns, on Aug. 31, more than two weeks after the 7.2 magnitude earthquake occurred. Two thousand people died. It destroyed homes and buildings, leaving 650,000 people in need of emergency management assistance.
“Thank you for not leaving us alone,” one woman told Paul Shetler Fast, MCC’s health coordinator and former representative in Haiti who was present for the Aug. 31 distribution. “We’ve felt very alone these last days waiting after the earthquake, hoping someone would come, hoping someone would not forget us.”
Relief organizations, including MCC, struggled to get supplies to people because the main road to the south was unsafe. Gang activity and robbery of supply trucks as well as tropical storm Grace, which came three days after the earthquake, kept trucks grounded.
Gradually police have been able to establish more security on the road, so two members of MCC’s assessment team drove to Saint-Jean-du-Sud Aug. 29 to help set up for the distribution.
And two days later MCC sent its first shipment and two more assessment team members by a Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) airplane. MAF provided its services free of charge.
The distribution unfolded smoothly, Fast says, because MCC’s partner AVOREDES was organized and prepared. Fifty families received a relief kit and 12 cans of meat, which represents the maximum the aircraft could hold.
AVOREDES chose the recipients whose homes were damaged or destroyed and were especially vulnerable in other ways. They included pregnant women, people with disabilities and families headed by elderly persons or single women. About half were members of Mennonite churches in the area.
“All of them that we talked to mentioned, you know, a neighbor, who they knew was facing hard times ─ family member, cousin, someone who they knew needed help, who they would be sharing some of their cans with,” Shetler Fast says. “We weren’t telling them to do that. We weren’t encouraging them to do that. But they said, ‘You know, when God gives you a gift, then you give gifts to others.’”
Their generosity and compassion also sustained them before help arrived.
“Everywhere you look, people are doing what they can to rebuild, patching houses that can be patched,” Shetler Fast says. “Neighbors have been letting neighbors stay in their house, especially when it rains.” Otherwise, those without safe housing sleep outside.
About half of the vulnerable recipients were members of Mennonite churches in the area, which are part of Assemblée de la Grâce, a member of Mennonite World Conference. AVOREDES, the Creole acronym for Association for the Reform and Development of Saint-Jean- de-Sud, is associated with Assemblée de la Grâce.
MCC intends to send two more shipments to this area in the next couple of weeks with MAF. The assessment team will evaluate longer term needs this week. The results will inform MCC’s long-term response.
This same area is still recovering from Hurricane Matthew which caused a lot of devastation in 2016, says Shetler Fast. People remember how MCC helped them rebuild their livelihoods then and are asking for similar assistance this time.
The earthquake caused market women to lose their goods that were stored at market and in their homes. This year’s crops, which would be used to pay school fees, are gone. Farmland is destroyed, churches, houses, roadways, bridges and schools are damaged.
“And so people looking ahead, not just to … the need for the next plate of food. But beyond that,” says Shetler Fast. “How do they rebuild? How do they send their kids to school this fall? How do they rebuild a livelihood that’s sustainable?”
MCC anticipates that its long-term response is likely to include trauma healing and long-term livelihood recovery, says Raquel Conde Guevara, interim MCC representative in Haiti from Oakville, Ontario. The work may be carried out in cooperation with other nongovernmental organizations.
Conde Guevara says MCC also will work with another southern MCC partner, SOFA, the Creole acronym for Solidarity of Haitian Women. Its work is focused on preventing gender-based violence.
In the midst of a disaster, women are more vulnerable to abuse, says Conde Guevara. She expects MCC’s support of SOFA’s abuse prevention and psychological and social support to increase as part of the earthquake response.
SOFA staff in the town of Beaumont report that more than 300 houses were damaged and destroyed in addition to livelihoods, gardens and livestock. MCC is sending meat and relief kits there too.
MCC is accepting donations to support its response in Haiti. Visit mcc.org/Haiti-earthquake or call 717-859-1151. Checks may be mailed to MCC, 21 S. 12th St., PO Box 500, Akron PA 17501. MCC also welcomes supplies for relief kits. The list can be found at mcc.org/kits/relief.