MCC pitches in to help re­lief ef­forts in Haiti

The Woolwich Observer - - NEWS - FAISAL ALI

IT HAS BEEN WEEKS since the pow­er­ful cat­e­gory-five hur­ri­canes Irma and Maria struck in the At­lantic basin, but peo­ple are still tak­ing stock of the dam­age. Build­ings were flat­tened, fields were flooded and, ba­sic ne­ces­si­ties like clean wa­ter and food have be­come strained. With of­fices al­ready in some of the af­fected coun­tries, the Men­non­ite Cen­tral Com­mit­tee (MCC) was able to re­spond quickly to the dis­as­ter, whilst Cana­di­ans were amongst the first re­spon­ders on the ground.

“I want to say about 30 hours after Irma hit we were able to dis­trib­ute com­forters that a lo­cal MCC of­fice [worked on] at Kent Street in Kitch­ener, and re­lief buck­ets, to fam­i­lies whose homes have been de­stroyed by the hur­ri­cane or badly dam­aged,” said Re­becca Shetler, the MCC rep­re­sen­ta­tive in Haiti.

Speak­ing from out of the coun­try, Shetler, a Water­loo na­tive, de­scribed the MCC’s re­sponse in Haiti. She, along with 26 other staff in­clud­ing her hus­band, worked in the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math of the storm to reach iso­lated com­mu­ni­ties that were hit with se­vere flood­ing.

“It means going to the com­mu­ni­ties, wad­ing through the mud, hear­ing their sto­ries, help­ing to tell their sto­ries to a wider au­di­ence,” ex­plains Shetler. She es­ti­mated that the group re­sponded to about 23 ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties.

Ac­cord­ing to Julie Bell of MCC Canada, the group was able to reach about 90 fam­i­lies in a re­gion of the Art­i­bonite Depart­ment of Haiti, with re­lief kits, blan­kets and wa­ter tablets in those first 48 hours after the dis­as­ter. Bell adds that the “MCC is cur­rently the only NGO re­spond­ing in this area of Haiti.”

“Since that ini­tial rapid re­sponse, we mounted about five days later a longer term food re­sponse,” says Shetler.

“With fam­i­lies hav­ing their gardens de­stroyed, these are sub­sis­tence farmers. So that means they’re going to go hun­gry, they’re not going to be able to pay school fees . ... When that’s de­stroyed, that’s devastating to those fam­i­lies.”

While Haiti es­caped the worst of Irma and Maria, which dam­aged the likes of the Vir­gin Is­lands, Turks and Caicos and Puerto Rico, many com­mu­ni­ties none­the­less ex­pe­ri­enced sig­nif­i­cant flash floods that dec­i­mated crops and in­fra­struc­ture. The coun­try had al­ready been cop­ing with the much more ex­ten­sive dam­age of last year’s hur­ri­cane Mathew when Irma hit, as well as a cholera out­break.

“Haiti has the worst cholera epi­demic in the world,” said Shetler. “And so with flood­ing there’s no la­trines in most com­mu­ni­ties. The rate of in­fec­tious dis­ease trav­els very quickly and vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple, chil­dren, older peo­ple, die from cholera post-storms like hur­ri­cane Irma.”

The MCC, for its part, had al­ready been work­ing in Haiti to re­cover from hur­ri­cane Mathew and con­tain the cholera in­fec­tion, and so they were well poised to re­spond to the cri­sis, noted Shetler.

“So it’s ba­sic preven­tion that we found very ef­fec­tive after hur­ri­cane Matthew last year,” said Shetler.

“In Haiti that means build­ing la­trines, pro­tect­ing pub­lic wa­ter sources like streams be­cause these are not fam­i­lies with run­ning wa­ter. Giv­ing peo­ple fil­tra­tion buck­ets so they can pu­rify the wa­ter. Haitians want to be able to pro­tect them­selves and their fam­i­lies, they just don’t have the means to even build a la­trine or to get a fil­tra­tion bucket.”

Shetler notes in the com­mu­ni­ties where they were able to build la­trines after Hur­ri­cane Matthew, there were zero cases of Cholera. “So it’s a very ef­fec­tive, ba­sic preven­tion that we’re able to do.”

The MCC have also had long-last­ing part­ner­ships with other or­ga­ni­za­tions in the coun­try.

Be­sides its work in Haiti, the MCC has also been work­ing on re­lief ef­forts in Cuba, as well as re­spond­ing to crises around the world in­clud­ing in Syria, the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo, and Mex­ico fol­low­ing last month’s earth­quake. In Cuba, MCC Canada spokesper­son Julie Bell ex­plained the group are work­ing with the Brethren in Christ Cuba to re­pair homes, pro­vide emer­gency food as­sis­tance and pro­vide “sup­port for liveli­hoods re­cov­ery.”

With such a far-reach­ing projects, Shetler noted that funds for con­tin­ued sup­port in Haiti were quickly run­ning low and en­cour­aged peo­ple to give what they could, be it money or sup­plies.

“The Kent Street MCC of­fice is al­ways ac­cept­ing com­forters, re­lief buck­ets, [canned meats]. And we al­ways ap­pre­ci­ate prayers and the peo­ple think­ing of the peo­ple in Haiti, be­cause they’ve been through a lot.”

Shetler is cur­rently in her sec­ond year of a fiveyear term with the MCC in Haiti. She’s a clin­i­cal so­cial worker by trade, while her hus­band holds de­grees in In­ter­na­tional Devel­op­ment and Pub­lic Health.

“So for us, our call­ing for Haiti – it was kind of a con­flu­ence. There’s tremen­dous need both at a ba­sic health level for ba­sic in­fra­struc­ture. From a men­tal health per­spec­tive, there’s tremen­dous trauma after the [2010] earth­quake and with suc­ces­sive dis­as­ters. So we hope we found a place where are skills and our pas­sion met the need,” said Shetler.

“And the MCC is a won­der­ful or­ga­ni­za­tion that re­ally walks along­side peo­ple in the way that we want to help peo­ple in their lives. So it’s a great match for us, and it’s re­ally an hon­our to serve with MCC.”

Peo­ple in­ter­ested in con­tribut­ing can pass by the MCC’s Kitch­ener of­fice on 50 Kent Ave, or do­nate on­line at www.mc­c­canada.ca.

[SUB­MIT­TED]

Re­cip­i­ents of MCC aid in the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math of last year’s Hur­ri­cane Mathew. Pic­tured are Kasan­dra Lougen, Sarditren Dete, An­to­van Enit stand­ing where each of their homes was washed away by Hur­ri­cane Mathew. Be­low, the first la­trine in Wopisa [Haiti] as it was near­ing com­ple­tion.

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