Devastation In Haiti Still Astounds Relief Workers
CHICAGO -- Pictures of the devastation are distressing, but seeing earthquake-ravaged Haiti in person is far worse than what the Rev. Rafael Malpica Padilla imagined. "It is overwhelming," said Malpica Padilla, executive director for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's (ELCA) Global Mission.
As he described the piles of rubble where buildings once stood, and trash that has accumulated and continues to pile up in Haiti, Malpica Padilla told the ELCA News Service Aug. 24 that the process of cleaning up will be "a major affair."
Finding solutions for permanent housing for the more than 1 million people displaced from their homes and living in make-shift camps is also "a massive undertaking," he said.
During his Aug. 22-25 trip to Haiti, Malpica Padilla and two other ELCA Global Mission colleagues are meeting with Haitians to hear their stories. A woman from Carrefour, Haiti, told Malpica Padilla that what "we need in this community is work, people who will trust us and give us a chance to rebuild our lives."
Carrefour is an area where the ELCA is supporting the work of the Lutheran Church in Haiti in providing shelter materials, distributing food and water, and addressing sanitation issues needed for daily living, safety and security, said Malpica Padilla. He said the ELCA is also exploring opportunities to build "permanent houses in several communities in collaboration with The Lutheran World Federation and possibly with Church World Service."
The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) is based in Geneva, and Church World Service (CWS) in New York. The ELCA is a member of the LWF and participates in the work of CWS.
"When I met with members of the community, I told them that I would not take care of them but seek to empower the community. We need to move beyond the 'assistance approach' in relief and development to empowering people, so they can do their work. (Residents) need to claim ownership. Then together we can transform communities," said Malpica Padilla. He said relief and rebuilding efforts must be "complementary, focused and urgent."
In an Aug. 23 meeting with Haiti's chief economic advisor to the prime minister, Malpica Padilla said the ELCA's work in Haiti must complement others there. "There are tasks that the (Haitian people) should do, what the church will do, and what the government has to do," he said. Together "we can develop an integrated process to accomplish goals."
The second component in rebuilding is impact, said Malpica Padilla. "We do not want to be spread too thin by building here and there. We need to focus our efforts in the restoration of communities."
"We need to be urgent. Rebuilding should have happened yesterday, not for our sake but for the sake of people who remain displaced from their homes, who are without work and who have nothing," said Malpica Padilla.
At the heart of recovery and rebuilding is "internal solidarity," he said. "When the earthquake happened, people found themselves with dead loved ones and nowhere to go. Survivors turned to one another and offered help. What little they had, they shared and worked on together. We need to build on that, especially agencies and organizations coming from the outside. The resilience of the Haitian people gives me hope in the midst of many challenges."
Louis Dorvilier, director for international development and disaster response, ELCA Global Mission, and the Rev. Raquel E. Rodríguez, director for Latin America and Caribbean continental desk, ELCA Global Mission, are accompanying Malpica Padilla in Haiti.
Dorvilier and Rodríguez will return to the United States on Sept. 2.
Prior to his trip Dorvilier told the ELCA News Service that Lutherans "need to take the opportunity now to look at how we will work together to secure housing, access to health care and education."
Members of the ELCA have contributed more than $12.2 million in gifts to support disaster relief efforts in Haiti.