CHICAGO -- The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) continues to be actively engaged in Haiti, concentrating its efforts on a multiyear rebuilding effort there one year after a devastating earthquake struck. The church's efforts include meeting human needs by providing food, water, temporary shelter and medical supplies while focusing on longer-term efforts such as responding to housing needs, and providing educational and income-generating opportunities.
Members of the ELCA gave more than $12.6 million for relief and recovery in Haiti after the earthquake, said the Rev. Daniel Rift, director of the ELCA World Hunger Appeal. Through Jan. 12, about $4.2 million has been spent for work in Haiti and for Haitians who were sent to the United States for medical care, he said.
On January 12, 2010, a magnitude 7.0 earthquake hit the island nation, especially in the south-central part of the country near the capital of Port-au-Prince. The quake resulted in the deaths of nearly 250,000 people, injured 300,000 people and resulted in more than 1.5 million displaced people, most of whom are still living in camps.
The ELCA provided relief through partner organizations on the ground, including the Lutheran Church in Haiti; The Lutheran World Federation-Haiti; the ACT Alliance, Geneva; Church World Service, New York; and Lutheran World Relief, Baltimore. Funds provided health kits, mosquito nets, blankets, tents, tarps, quilts, clean water systems and sanitation equipment. Truck convoys brought in medical supplies during the first few weeks after the disaster.
In addition Lutheran Services Florida helped Haitian-Americans who had been delayed by the earthquake to return to the United States. Lutheran Services Georgia coordinated a care program for family members of Haitians brought to the United States for medical care.
As part of its long-term strategy today, the ELCA is working primarily through the Lutheran Church in Haiti and The Lutheran World Federation-Haiti, said the Rev. Rafael Malpica Padilla, executive director, ELCA Global Mission.
"We are committed to accompanying the people of Haiti as they rebuild their nation, their lives and their livelihoods," he said. "Given local conditions it will take us a little bit longer than we anticipated to accomplish the outcomes we set as a response to the earthquake."
He said the ELCA is working with its partners on a number of specific projects:
+ Rebuilding of homes: Working with the Lutheran World Federation, Malpica Padilla said the ELCA is providing funds to rebuild, but there are challenges with this project, particularly in Port-au-Prince. A significant issue that has emerged is lack of land titles and the right to build on that land, he said. Malpica Padilla met with the chief economist of the government of Haiti on this topic. "The money is there. The people in need are there. But we cannot build a house on land where the person is not the title holder," he said.
+ Skills training: Working with the Lutheran Church in Haiti, Malpica Padilla said ELCA funds are helping to fund training for skills in trades such as masonry and carpentry. Another project aims to provide income generation opportunities through agricultural production.
+ Education: In partnership with The Lutheran World Federation-Haiti, ELCA funds provided temporary schools to continue the education of youth and provide stability.
+ Health: The ELCA provided funds to help educate people about cholera prevention, and it has sent funds to provide clean water systems in response to the cholera outbreak. The ELCA continues to respond to cholera-related health concerns, working with partners to deploy four mobile health teams to treat those that are ill and distribute prevention materials.
Malpica Padilla said another possible project under consideration includes response to displaced people living along the southern border with the Dominican Republic. That effort involves getting people of both countries to discuss problem-solving with one another, and to address the needs of the displaced people.
"We want to be part of that effort," Malpica Padilla said. "We want to be part of a movement to bring people and political leaders of both countries together to address exclusion, poverty and hunger."
Malpica Padilla has been to Haiti twice since the earthquake. "The main challenge is how we deal with the ongoing 'earthquake' of poverty and the problems that emerged from that. Second, how do we address the issue of 1.5 million people living in camps to this day?" he said.
Removing rubble and trash from the city of Port-au-Prince continues to be a significant problem, as is cholera and a damaged political system. A second runoff in Haiti's national elections is set for the near future.
Several months ago the ELCA provided Louis Dorvilier, a native of Haiti and a churchwide staff member, to coordinate the work of The Lutheran World Federation-Haiti. Dorvilier is still there today, and has been a key link with the ELCA's effort, Malpica Padilla and Rift said.
In an interview this week with Ecumenical News International, Dorvilier said, "I thought the entire country was lost," as he recalled the events of January 2010. Dorvilier said he remains hopeful that if Haitians are given the opportunity to drive and lead rebuilding and reconstruction efforts, a new country can emerge. The efforts of humanitarian groups can only "fill in gaps," he said.
Another helpful ELCA link to Haiti has been through the companion synod relationship of the ELCA Florida-Bahamas Synod and the Lutheran Church in Haiti.
"The work in Haiti has been both challenging and inspirational," Rift said. "The witness of neighbors coming to one another's aid, of hope reborn, children returning to school and those left lame from the earthquake being able to reclaim life, are a living testimony to the goodness and fortitude of many and a witness to caring presence."
Rift added that the challenges ahead are monumental, and the ELCA churchwide organization, synods and partners are privileged to work in Haiti. "Giving for work in Haiti has been generous, and every penny given will be used for the response," he said.