Locals aid forgotten corners of Haiti
David Martin took a pen from the hand of a reporter and held it high in the air to make his point. If Martin had held the pen above his head in the rural countryside of Haiti, where he returned from a weeklong mission trip last week, he'd have ki...
David Martin took a pen from the hand of a reporter and held it high in the air to make his point.
If Martin had held the pen above his head in the rural countryside of Haiti, where he returned from a weeklong mission trip last week, he'd have kids crawling up his arms and hanging from his hair.
"This ballpoint pen was like $1,000 to the children there," he said.
Martin and Paul Aladin briefed supporters of their relief efforts Tuesday night at Golden Ridge Lutheran Church, a trip sponsored by United Hearts for Haiti, a local group that's done mission work in the Caribbean nation for two years.
Signs of the help that has flowed to the country after the devastating earthquake in January were abundant in Port-au Prince, the capital city. The urban center was decimated, but water trucks lined some roads and the airport was filled with foreigners pitching in.
But Port-au-Prince isn't where Martin and Aladin were heading. They spent their week working in a village near Chantal, about a five-hour drive west and south of the capital. The earthquake's damage there is felt by the influx of people, not piles of rubble.
Aladin, a native of Haiti who is chairman of United Hearts, said the Chantal area was home to 14,000 but has swelled to 20,000 in the months since the quake.
"They didn't have anything in the first place, so now it's even harder to survive," Aladin said.
Residents there eat what they can grow or raise and usually rely on emigrants for what money they have, Aladin said. United Hearts has been working to build a church there and hopes to open a school eventually.
The Rev. Exavier Saintal, a pastor with the local Tri-City Haitian Ministries Church of God, hails from the Chantal area. He said like many villages outside the capital, Chantal is often ignored by both relief organizations and its own national government.
"You see kids that for 10 years, 12 years, they never go to school," Saintal said.
Political infrastructure can be as vexing as the lack of physical infrastructure, Martin said. He showed a photo of a finished and brand-new hospital in Aladin's hometown that has stood unopened for two years, the delay unexplained.
In their trip to the area, Martin and Aladin helped finish the construction of a makeshift church. Plans for a basic school will run about $150,000, five times what United Hearts has raised in the past two years, Aladin said.
Having a U.S. group that works directly with local leaders and also follows up with mission visits is rare in Chantal, Saintal said.
"They want you to spend their money, but they don't want to go there," he said of most donor groups.
United Hearts wants to make another visit soon and hopes to take more volunteers, Aladin said.
When Martin returns, he wants to bring soccer balls and will gladly let children climb up him to get them.
"I just see the joy," he said. "They don't show me their heartbreak."
How to help
- To donate to United Hearts for Haiti, e-mail Paul Aladin at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at (701) 540-1383.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535