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Local Volunteers Prepare to Help Haiti After Earthquake

A woman sits amid the rubble after a 7.2 magnitude earthquake destroyed many buildings in the southwestern part of Haiti Aug. 14.  

By Karen Knight

COURT HOUSE – While the devastation of a 7.2 magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti Aug. 14 is nearly 1,400 miles away, the loss of people, homes and other buildings hits close to home, as many local volunteers have traveled there through various church ministries to build homes and teach Haitians how to be self-sufficient.
One such organization, the First United Methodist Church, in Court House, has been sending teams of volunteers there to help the International Christian Development Mission (ICDM), founded by the Rev. Yvan Pierre, in 1989, to educate children and train Christian leaders and pastors by providing food, shelter, clothing, education and literacy training, clean drinking water, health and healing ministries for the sick, work for the unemployed and micro-businesses for the financially dependent.
While much of the organization’s work is in the northern part of the nation, and the earthquake damage is mostly in the southwestern area, ICDM has a presence in eight of 10 states, with its portable Bible schools and Schools of Evangelism.
“Our main campus was not directly impacted this time,” Pierre, the organization’s director, said, “but many people connected with ICDM have lost their homes, died, are hurt, and in the hospital. Some of our churches have been destroyed. There are a lot of problems; it is really overwhelming.”
The organization’s main office was destroyed in the 2010 earthquake. 
“We have been through this before,” Pierre said.
“However, it becomes harder when facing these situations alone. Then, you feel helpless,” he added. “We have a good track record over 30 years, and people know us. I am reminded that we did not all fall at the same time. We are still standing, so we can lend a hand.”
The immediate need is to help people “digest what’s happening,” Pierre said. 
Members of his organization are going door-to-door in communities to help people. 
“We are providing counseling support, and then will provide psychological support,” he said. “At the same time, we are providing clean drinking water, medical support, food, and temporary shelter. We continue to work with each person, each family, to provide what they need now.”
Pierre said the Church of God in Fond-Cochon, Church of Haute Vodrogue in Jeremie, and Church of Deron in Bomon are destroyed. One-hundred church members and 100 families in two other areas lost their homes, and many are in the hospital. Most of the 48 students in a Bible school in Carrefour Charles lost their homes.
At this point, the “best way” to help, according to Pierre, is financially (https://icdm.us/ways-to-give/) by designating “disaster relief,” or by sending a check to ICDM, PO Box 762, Intercession City, FL 33848.
“We can buy everything we need in country,” he noted. “Despite the political environment, we are all over the country, so it easy for us to move from one area to another. We have workers everywhere.”
In addition, he said Haiti has had “very few Covid cases” during the pandemic, and they have been mostly in the larger cities and not the mountain areas.
Avalon Architect William Haryslak and Court House resident Susan Hellings, two local volunteers,are ready to help rebuild when possible. Both are members of the First United Methodist Church, and they have been part of teams of local volunteers who have visited Haiti to help train, educate and build through ICDM.
Haryslak has been there 13 times, taking his 40 years of experience designing homes to designing schools, medical campuses, single-family and multi-unit homes, to help improve living conditions. 
Pre-pandemic teams from the church went to Haiti at least once a year, and Haryslak is ready when the doors to the nation open again.
“We have raised funds and, in 2018, built our first house,” he said. “Our fifth house was just dedicated a few weeks ago, and two houses were built by the local people during the pandemic. One of our goals is to empower the local people to be self-sufficient, so we all train people as carpenters, masons, etc. The local church elders have really taken ahold of the effort, acting as a housing committee to find families who need a home.”
The homes are about the size of an American one-car garage, he explained, with two rooms. They have no plumbing or electricity in the mountainous areas, and cost about $10,000 to build. One local family raised the funds to build the last house, which was a three-room home for two families.
“A lot of the homes there are built with tree branches, mud, sand, stone, with mud floors, so when it rains, eventually they wash away,” Haryslak said, “so we have taught them to put river rock under the house to separate it from the ground. This way, the rocks absorb the tremors of an earthquake, and they can withstand it better. 
“Most of our structures are block walls, reinforced, with one floor. We will put a concrete roof on top, so if the family eventually wants to add a second floor, they can. We want to build a house that can withstand generations.”
Haryslak works with Pierre to understand his priorities and then, as director of ICDM Family Homes, works with other volunteers to figure out the best way to achieve those goals. 
“I welcome anyone to join us, and if they have ideas or want to help in any way, they can,” he said. “I tell them to help how their heart directs them since that’s what it is all about.”
One such person who came to help and has helped with schooling is Susan Hellings, who has been involved for over 12 years. She said they had over 800 students coming to school outside in several locations. 
There were no printed books; teachers used a blackboard, and students copied what was written. There was no written curriculum to follow.A school was built to plans drawn by Haryslak and now the students are indoors for their education. 
The Court House church’s Vacation Bible School and the congregation raised about $24,000 over two years to provide books and curriculum, at $30 per student, according to Hellings.
“We are hoping to educate and train the local people with skills, so they can have jobs and be independent,” Hellings said. “We had a group of teachers who were going to go there before the pandemic to train and mentor the Haitian teachers but had to cancel it for now. When things open up again, we will plan to return.”
In the meantime, her son, who is a software engineer, is developing a plan to bring technology to the schools and broaden educational opportunities through computer access. 
“There is no way to get things or people into the country right now, so the best way for anyone to help is financially,” she said. “We have made some friends over the years, but there is quite a language barrier for most people. 
“Some of the teachers have trained in English-speaking schools and we have made friends, so it is devastating to see the condition of the country now. It is very rural, with third-world conditions. We will help as we can.”
Haryslak noted they were talking about a plan for providing emergency supplies when a disaster hits, and that idea may be moved to the forefront after the earthquake. 
Another earthquake, in 2010, killed more than 200,000 people and caused extensive damage to the nation’s infrastructure and economy. Recovering from this most recent quake has been difficult after Tropical Storm Grace hit the nation, which is already reeling from the recent assassination of its president, Jovenel Moïse, last month.
“Now, they are facing fuel shortages,” Haryslak said, “so the most immediate needs have to be addressed first. Our idea is that we would build a storage area for non-perishable items. If they have a shelf life, then, when it is expiring, the items would be given to the local people, and we would refresh them. We’ve discussed this in the past, and this crisis may bring it to the forefront.”
To contact Karen Knight, email kknight@cmcherald.com.

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