AKRON, Pa. – Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) medical teams and structural engineers are providing immediate assistance in Haiti now, and distributions of food and relief supplies are ongoing even as MCC plans the next steps in its multiyear response to the Jan. 12 earthquake.
A five-person MCC medical team from Canada is serving in Port-au-Prince March 7 to 20. A three-person medical team from the United States will be in Haiti from March 21 to April 3.
Short-term teams of structural engineers that began arriving in January have examined more than 250 buildings, and MCC is seeking additional engineers who are interested in serving in Haiti this spring.
MCC continues to provide rations of rice, beans, cooking oil, canned meat and spaghetti to nine communities, reaching at least 6,000 people who have been forced from home by the earthquake. It is likely that food is also being given to additional relatives and friends, echoing the strong emphasis on sharing in Haitian culture.
MCC is also providing materials for bamboo and cement-base showers for people living in camps of displaced people. Those living in the camps had identified the need for a private space to wash, especially for women, said Betty Kasdorf, MCC’s Food, Disaster and Material Resources program manager.
MCC relief kits, tarps for shelter, comforters and flat sheets are being distributed as soon as they arrive in Haiti, and additional shipments are on their way to Haiti. Because of expected Haitian government changes that might slow items coming through customs after April, MCC is striving to ship all its initial emergency material aid in the next three to four weeks.
An MCC assessment team visited dozens of people, including MCC partners and government officials, from Feb. 21 to March 6 – hearing from each the enormity of the tasks before them.
MCC’s response will not only address the needs of people within Port-au-Prince, said Ron Flaming, MCC’s director of international programs, but will also include significant efforts to improve the livelihoods and prospects of people who have moved to rural areas.
The assessment team recommends that MCC can meet significant needs in areas including shelter and housing, economic development, food security, education, peace-building and advocacy, health and trauma healing.
“What struck me most is the complexity of the situation,” stressed Kasdorf, who recently visited Haiti as part of the assessment team. “The whole country is affected by this.”
The assessment team found that while food was being distributed within Port-au-Prince, many rural areas had not yet received any assistance and were struggling to share limited food with new arrivals.
Kasdorf said the group heard from nonprofit organizations, from MCC partners and from government officials that what is needed now is for relief, government services, education and jobs to be made more widely available throughout the country.
The scope of this effort will be far greater than rebuilding in a single geographic location.
“It’s a massive, complex humanitarian disaster,” Flaming said. “Right now people are still focused on trying to clean up, on figuring out how to survive today, tomorrow and for the next few months.”
Even as MCC's response in Haiti continues, planning for the next five years is also well underway, says Flaming. Longer-term planning includes determining which communities to focus on and top priorities. He noted that in MCC’s response to the 2004 Asian tsunami, some projects that had the most lasting impact were not planned until a full year after the tsunami hit.
Paramount in all MCC efforts will be listening to the voices of Haitian people and partners and providing tools to help Haitians recover from the quake and build up their own communities, said Kasdorf.
To learn more about MCC’s response to the Haiti earthquake, go to mcc.org/haitiearthquake .