Hope in Haiti: Members of two Cape Girardeau churches go to earthquake-ravaged country to build homes

Thursday, November 4, 2010
Tent cities near Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where thousands still live as the country continues to recover nearly 10 months after an earthquake killed 200,000 and left some 2 million homeless. Members of the First Church of God and Cape Community Church, both of Cape Girardeau, were in Haiti last month helping build homes. (Submitted photo)

As her plane flew over Haiti, Robin McCollough was astounded by the number of blue tarps, temporary homes in the tent cities of a country in ruin. When she stepped off the plane at the Port-au-Prince International Airport, the Cape Girardeau woman said, she was struck by the Haitian heat and the overpowering stench of sewage and decay.

But nearly 10 months after a magnitude-7.0 earthquake destroyed much of the poor Caribbean country, killing an estimated 200,000 and leaving another 2 million homeless, there are signs of relief, rebuilding and hope -- even as a powerful tropical storm promises to add more misery.

McCollough was among seven members of her church, Cape Community Church, and sister church First Church of God, both in Cape Girardeau, to travel to Haiti last month on a mission trip to build six homes. The effort was organized by the national Church of God in Indiana, which, with the help of Haitian construction crews, has built dozens of homes in the earthquake-ravaged nation.

The volunteers did much of their work in the village of Dumay, not far from Port-au-Prince, and helped dedicate several more homes in a nearby community. McCollough said homebuilding in the Haitian humidity is draining work but well worth the effort. She said she was impressed by people who have nothing and are willing to give of themselves.

"I just fell in love with the children. They're like little sponges," McCollough said. "Many grandmas or aunts are raising five children or more, because mom and dad were killed in the earthquake."

Robin McCollough

Despite the devastation, the Rev. Jeremy Clayton of Cape Community Church said he's amazed how life goes on in Haiti.

"One of the things I was blown away with is how happy we found everyone we met," he said. "With everything they went through, you would think their spirits would be crushed, but we found people thankful for what they had as they were working to have a better way of life.

"I found there to be a lot of hope there in Haiti."

Still, progress is slow in coming.

While the global response to the crisis has generated hundreds of millions of dollars in relief, logistical and regulatory roadblocks have often stifled the distribution of supplies and funding. About 2 percent of the rubble has been removed and 13,000 temporary shelters have been constructed, according to The Associated Press.

Dr. John Ackerman, a missionary with the Indiana-based Church of God, attends to a Haitian girl at a clinic. The church, with a long history of missionary service in Haiti, has stepped up its efforts since January's earthquake.

Not-for-profits and churches are handling much of the relief and rebuilding efforts that governments can't get to, Clayton said. The Church of God, which operates more than 100 churches in Haiti, has built 57 homes in the town of Prospere alone, Clayton said.

The American Red Cross, according to its website, has signed agreements to spend $183.5 million, providing clean drinking water, emergency medical care and housing to hundreds of thousands of Haitians -- including one-third of all the tarps in the tent cities.

"Haiti is filled with signs of hope and progress, but there are lots of reminders about needs that remain," said Red Cross spokesman Mathew Morgan.

As Haiti continues to bury its dead, the country is dealing with a cholera outbreak that has killed at least 330 people and sickened another 4,700, according to the latest government information. Now Tropical Storm Tomas is bearing down, expected to hit Haiti on Friday. More than 1 million people were advised Wednesday to leave earthquake homeless camps in Haiti's capital.

"We are using radio stations to announce to people that if they don't have a place to go, but they have friends and families, they should move into a place that is secure," said civil protection official Nadia Lochard, who oversees the department that includes Port-au-Prince.

Concerns are even greater in the western reaches of Haiti's southern peninsula, where heavy flooding is predicted.

Clayton said his church is planning another homebuilding mission in Haiti in April and May. He said the experience has profoundly affected the members of the Cape Girardeau congregation.

"All of us that went came back forever changed," he said. "Haiti is a beautiful place with beautiful people."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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