Friday, April 26, 2013

Valley church supports kids in Haiti

St. Thomas parishioners provide aid to earthquake victims


Children of the Haiti Micah Project orphanage show off the ball caps, shoes and skirts brought to them by members of St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Sun Valley.
Photos courtesy of Art Dahl

It has been more than three years since the island nation of Haiti was devastated by an earthquake that killed some 230,000 people and left millions homeless. Members of St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Sun Valley started an effort in 2010 to provide financial support for Haitians, using connections that the Rev. Ken Brannon made while studying at seminary school.
    Now, three years later, the church has provided about $75,000 to the Haiti Micah Project, a U.S.-based nonprofit organization that houses, feeds and educates about 400 children in the city of Mirebalais, Haiti.
    The Haiti Micah Project was formed eight years ago. It provides uniforms and tuition stipends, school supplies, shoes and basic medical care to children in the program. In 2009, the program opened a residential home that serves 24 children, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
    In November, a group of three St. Thomas members spent five days in Mirebalais to see where the money from Sun Valley was being spent.
    In recent weeks, the national news media has reported that more than $2.5 billion in U.S. aid has gone to Haiti, but with little of that money going to create jobs for Haitians, and little accounting of it overall.
    A report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a Washington think tank, described the delivery of U.S. aid to Haiti as going into a “black box,” citing a lack of audits and evaluations during USAID-sponsored reconstruction efforts.
    “We wanted to assure ourselves that the money was doing what we thought it was doing,” said Art Dahl, a retired business executive who joined fellow church members Sandra Willingham and Candy Walton on the trip to Haiti.
    Walton is a mother of seven children. Willingham is a passionate gardener, whose skills came in handy when the group plotted out a garden to be used by the school and orphanage on the project site. The garden will produce squash, cucumbers, melons, lettuce and other produce for the children.
    “Feed a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him to fish and you feed him forever,” said Dahl, quoting the Bible.
    The Haiti Micah Project is overseen by the Rev. Joseph M. Constant, an Episcopal priest from Haiti who is now based in Virginia. Brannon attended seminary school with Constant before coming to Sun Valley, where he now serves as rector of St. Thomas.
    Constant, who is Haitian, led the trip. He was accompanied by Ketchum resident Jim Snow, who is a Haiti Micah Project board member and treasurer of the organization.
    Dahl said he was pleased to find that the Haiti Micah Project was educating and feeding one meal per day to about 400 children. He said some of them were finding jobs, including one young man who works at a project-sponsored water purification system, which has limited the threat of cholera in the wake of the quake. Another is teaching art and woodworking to the students.
    “Everybody seems to be giving up on Haiti, but we saw our project in full swing with kids getting jobs,” Willingham said.
    The team brought to the orphanage skirts for the girls and brand new Crocs shoes and baseball caps for all the children.
    The $25,000 that the St. Thomas congregation sends to Haiti each year supports 60 to 70 children for a year, and provides support for infrastructure.
    “Port-au-Prince is dotted with tent cities of displaced persons, and the Episcopal cathedral stands in ruins,” wrote Dahl in a report from the trip presented at St. Thomas Church in December.
    “Although some 50 miles distant from the epicenter of the earthquake, Mirebalais is still dealing with its effects,” Dahl wrote. “The population of the city increased dramatically as did the number and needs of street children. Meeting the basic needs of the children for food, shelter, clothing and education is the challenge of our faith and the HMP. In the midst of the grinding poverty and the daily struggle for survival among the street children, the HMP and other non-governmental organizations provide glimmers of hope that the Holy Spirit is at work among us.”
    Dahl, who has traveled widely in the developing countries, said he was surprised in many ways by what he found in Haiti.
    “I expected it to be brown and devastated, but it’s green. When we were leaving Port-au-Prince during the morning rush, people were well-groomed and well-dressed and purposeful, all with bright eyes and ready for work. It’s a scene of energy. I can’t understand why this is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.”
    Dahl has read many of the news reports about aid money disappearing in Haiti, or never getting to the people most in need, in the form of jobs. He participated personally in a Micah Project food-serving session while he was there, using staples such as dry beans, rice and cooking oil.
    “The food we distribute comes from USAID,” Dahl said. “Our very small NGO is entirely staffed by Haitians to support Haitians. Zero percent of donations are spent on administrative costs,” he said, because it is staffed mostly by volunteers.
    Dahl said that despite the fatalistic tone of news reports about aid funding going to no avail in Haiti, he found many projects in the works using Haitian labor and expertise, including the new Mirebalais National Teaching Hospital, associated with Harvard University and funded by Partners in Health.
    “Doctors in training would be instructed by teleconferencing video from Harvard University and elsewhere,” Dahl said.
Dahl said there are no plans for St. Thomas to send another contingent to check in on the Haiti Micah Project, but that donations are being accepted at the church to continue relief efforts.
 “Mostly when people show up at relief centers they get in the way and distort things,” Dahl said. “But having a personal experience there helped me to understand that the children are really being fed and educated and are all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.”
Dahl also taught the children Sunday School lessons.
    “But that was for me, more than for them,” he said.
    To contribute to St. Thomas’ support for the Micah Project, call 726-5349, ext. 21.    

Tony Evans:

Those who assisted in the Haiti project included, from left, Sandra Willingham, Art Dahl, the Rev. Joseph Constant, Jim Snow and Candy Walton.

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