The Episcopal Diocese of Haiti: Beginning the Long Journey to Recovery
“The grace of the Haitians I’ve met has been astounding,” said Katie Mears, Episcopal Relief & Development’s Program Director for US Disaster Preparedness and Response. Mears has been working on the ground with partners in both Haiti and the Dominican Republic since the devastating 7.0-magnitude earthquake on January 12, 2010.
“You encounter people who don’t even have enough food to take care of their families, and they’re so thankful that you’re trying to help them that they cook a meal in your honor. It’s truly amazing.”
As the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, Haiti was already suffering due to lack of a strong central infrastructure. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori commented on January 13 that “Even under ‘normal’ circumstances, Haiti struggles to care for her 9 million people.”
The magnitude of this was disaster overwhelming. The quake had a crippling effect on both the government and the other agencies that usually spring into action during times of disaster. As a result, the mechanisms usually employed to coordinate large-scale relief efforts in times of emergency were not enacted. Because of the damage, airports and seaports were ill-equipped to handle an influx of international relief workers. Rubble covering the roads meant that the aid organizations able to reach Haiti were unable to easily transport goods inside the country or quickly provide care to those in need.
“Thankfully, our pre-existing partnerships in the area enabled us to react swiftly to this catastrophe,” said Abagail Nelson, Episcopal Relief & Development’s Senior Vice President for Programs. “The Episcopal Diocese of Haiti, which is one of the largest and most socially-engaged dioceses in the Church, has been able to offer refuge and deliver assistance in the absence of other systems for the provision of relief.”
Immediately after the quake, the Diocese of Haiti used support from Episcopal Relief & Development to give assistance to survivors throughout the greater Port-au-Prince and Léogâne area, including the provision of food, water and shelter. Since that time, the diocese has expanded its reach and is now serving over 25,000 people at 60 sites throughout the country. Episcopal Relief & Development continues to work with the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti to expand its capacity to serve those in need.
However, as described by the Rt. Rev. Zaché Duracin, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti, the stress of the situation is unimaginable: “Dear ones were lost, houses, clothes, possessions, memories – lives are reduced to nothing.” Despite suffering great personal and professional losses in the wake of the disaster, including the destruction of the cathedral, clergy and diocesan staff immediately took up the mantle of caring for those who turned to the Church in this time of need.
Bishop Duracin has remained steadfast in his commitment to the people, refusing to abandon his post even when his wife was evacuated to receive medical care for injuries sustained during the quake. He has continued to work closely with clergy and with staff of the diocese and Episcopal Relief & Development to coordinate relief efforts. He commented, “We are taking care of so many people…we are in very, very serious need.”
Haiti’s Diocesan Development Officer and the diocese’s 28 development agents have been crucial human resources in the face of this tragedy. Prior to the quake, they were participating in an ongoing program run by the diocese in partnership with Episcopal Relief & Development. Established in response to the series of tropical storms that slammed the island in 2008, the program focuses on training in disaster response and community development. This training and the network of relationships created through the program have been invaluable in the wake of this most recent emergency.
“One of the most difficult things about this disaster is the ever-changing landscape of needs left in its wake,” said Nelson. “There are so many challenges to face – transportation and communication issues have greatly complicated relief efforts.”
One of the agents’ most important tasks has been to conduct needs assessments in their respective communities. They are collaborating closely with Bishop Duracin and his emergency committee to communicate their findings and set priorities for ongoing relief and recovery efforts. Bishop Duracin said in a letter to Episcopal Relief & Development President Rob Radtke, “We…have a vision and a plan for this relief and recovery effort. We know the situation on the ground [and] we are directing emergency relief to those who need it most.”
In addition to assessing needs, the development agents are assisting with the distribution of aid and coordinating the disbursement of supply shipments to communities in which they work. They have also delivered emergency water purification systems to 20 sites throughout the country and have trained community members in the systems’ proper use and maintenance.
“Many people don’t realize that there are immense needs not only in Port-au-Prince, which is receiving the majority of the media attention and focus from aid organizations, but also in communities around the country,” said Rob Radtke, President of Episcopal Relief & Development. “Getting food and water to remote areas has been a huge challenge that we’re working to address. We’re deeply concerned that not enough assistance is being provided to those living outside the nation’s capital.”
Reaching these communities continues to be a key priority for Episcopal Relief & Development and its partners. “The creativity and commitment of the Diocese of Haiti in getting supplies to the people that need it has been incredible,” commented Nelson. “In the absence of other reliable methods, donkeys have even been used to transport critical materials to remote areas. The flexibility of our partners in the face of such challenging circumstances has been a critical aspect of our success in dealing with an extremely complex disaster.”
While the rescue phase of disaster response has ended, the relief phase is still well underway. Haiti’s President, Rene Preval, has stated that it will take at least three years to clear the rubble left in the wake of the earthquake. With that in mind, one can only imagine how long it will take for Haiti to fully recover.
However, Episcopal Relief & Development is fully committed to supporting its partners in Haiti throughout this process. While needs are still being identified, initial discussions have indicated that activities in the coming months and years may include the rebuilding of lost houses, the construction of sanitation systems and the rejuvenation of livelihoods .
“During Lent, we are given a unique opportunity to reflect our commitment to self and community,” said Radtke. “The road to Haiti’s recovery will be a long one and we are immensely grateful for the continued support of the Church, which will be invaluable as we work with our partners to help these communities bounce back from this disaster.’’
For the most up-to-date information about Episcopal Relief & Development’s activities in Haiti and access to resources, visit the Haiti Crisis page.
To assist those suffering in the wake of this disaster, please consider making an online donation to Episcopal Relief & Development’s Haiti Earthquake Response Fund at or call 1-800-334-7626, ext. 5129. Gifts can be mailed to Episcopal Relief & Development, PO Box 7058, Merrifield, VA 22116-7058. Please write “Haiti Earthquake Response Fund” in the memo of all checks.