There are few times when words fail me. This is one. Regular readers may remember that my first mission immersion trip was to the beautiful country of Haiti. While there, I worked in the schools and health clinics of Port au Prince, run by Hands Together. I also served in a wound care clinic and HIV/AIDS hospice run by Saint Mother Teresa's Sisters, the Missionaries of Charity.
To say that the people of Haiti, with their strength and perseverance amid great poverty, left an indelible mark on me is an understatement. They have helped to form much of what I do in my mission ministry.
As I write, the death toll is approaching 1,500 from the 7.2 magnitude earthquake that struck the island country on Saturday August 14th. Surely, that number will rise. Thousands more are injured.
The southwestern cities of Jeremie and Les Cayes were devastated. Survivors are living in the streets for fear of further tremors and building collapses. Most churches in the area have also been destroyed. This is not only a blow for the obvious faith implications; many people who were receiving aid prior to the earthquake were doing so under the auspices of the Church and her social services.
Tropical Storm Grace adds insult to injury as she pounds the island with rain.
While the people in Port au Prince "only" felt the earth shaking, the traumatic memory of the 2010 earthquake still simmers just below the surface. And yet, those who minister in that city with Hands Together are mobilizing help. They know from firsthand experience what is needed and how to avoid delays and wasted resources. The needs are tremendous: potable water, materials to create temporary shelters, basic food supplies, and fuel for cooking is just a start.
East of the earthquakes' epicenter, the Saint Boniface Hospital has geared up to receive casualties. Co-founded over 30 years ago by our Director, Father Jerry Osterman, and parishioners of the now closed Saint Boniface parish in Quincy, the hospital has grown into a state of the art 180 bed facility. Their parent organization is now Health Equity International.
With hospitals in Jeremie and Les Cayes overwhelmed, Saint Boniface is working to evacuate patients to be cared for by orthopedic and trauma teams.
What can we do? First, pray. Ask Our Lady of Haiti to hear the cries of her people and bring them to the altar of God. Then, act. The two organizations mentioned here are good places to start as they are already on the ground and in action: handstogether.org and healthequityintl.org.
- Maureen Crowley Heil is Director of Programs and Development for the Pontifical Mission Societies, Boston.
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