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JRS plans for long-term Haitian relief
February 20, 2010

(Washington, D.C.) February 20, 2010 – In the days following the January 12 earthquake in Haiti, Jesuit Refugee Service was able to provide emergency food relief to about 50,000 people, while JRS-affiliated medical teams treated about 4,500 people who were injured in the quake or became ill in the aftermath.

While continuing to serve the emergency needs of the affected people – three million, out of a population of nine million, were directly affected by the disaster – Jesuit Refugee Service is now, in collaboration with the Haitian people, planning sustainable projects to help the population recover and move forward.

“The humanitarian situation in Haiti is undoubtedly improving day by day. But we are under no illusion about the scale of the challenges still ahead for the next weeks and months,” United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes told the Security Council Friday.

In partnership with Fe y Alegria (a school system providing educational opportunities to underserved populations throughout Latin America), JRS plans to improve the infrastructure of at least 12 educational centers by building new classrooms or repairing school buildings damaged in the quake. This is another step in the JRS tradition making education a priority. Given educational opportunities, whether it is children in a traditional class setting or adults in vocational classes, people have the potential to rebuild their lives, to help rebuild their communities and thus to strengthen and stabilize their country for generations to come.

In the coming months, JRS will also provide psychosocial services to people recovering from the trauma of the earthquake and the destruction it caused.

A JRS staff member who “is a psychologist will coordinate the team of psychologists involved in post-trauma accompaniment,” said Fr. Mario Serrano, S.J., National Director of JRS - Dominican Republic. (The mission to accompany is the basis for the work JRS does around the world.)

“We will also be working in Toussaint Louverture, a displacement camp with more than nine thousand people. There are so many difficulties in working with other agencies: limited or no access to trucks, partner agencies needing more time to cut tarpaulins, security needs for the distribution. We have told these partner agencies that we could take care of everything if needed to expedite the delivery of aid: we can provide our own delivery trucks from Santo Domingo, community people from the camp can themselves cut the tarpaulins, we even can coordinate with friends in the Haitian police to help us with security (in fact most security comes from the same entity, but sometimes people from some partner agencies insist on having tanks for security ...),” said Fr. Serrano.

For many years Jesuit Refugee Service has had a grassroots presence in Haiti and has provided humanitarian assistance to displaced Haitians in both the Dominican Republic and along the Haitian border. In addition, JRS has responded to the needs of Haitians following successive natural disasters, a food crisis, and repeated hurricanes.

Because of the history of JRS on the ground in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, Jesuit teams already there and others throughout the world began responding to the overwhelming needs of Haitians when disaster struck on that January afternoon. The earthquake killed more than 230,000 people and has displaced about 700,000 from the Port-au-Prince area.

Jesuit Refugee Service in the Dominican Republic helped form a network of organizations —Ayuda a Haiti (Help for Haiti) — that has gathered and shipped more than 50 large container truckloads of non-perishable food stuffs, water, fruit juices, personal hygiene items, tents, medicines and medical supplies to the victims of the earthquake.

Jesuit Refugee Service established warehouses in key locations throughout the Dominican Republic (Santo Domingo, Santiago and Barahona) where emergency provisions have been stored and then transported to 12 key centers throughout the affected area.

The Jesuit novitiate community in Tabarre, on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, has become the center of JRS relief efforts. Although the community building suffered extensive damages, the Jesuits there have welcomed volunteer medical teams and Haitian family members who lost their homes in the quake to live in tents on the novitiate grounds.

“These past weeks the large grassy area behind the house has become the home and staging ground for many JRS team members, Jesuit family members, and visiting emergency medical teams from the U.S., Brazil, France and Puerto Rico.

“The normal tranquility of novitiate life was transformed overnight into a bustling, economy-scale hotel atmosphere. In the evening, after a long day of caring for victims of the earthquake, volunteers would gather together in conversations that transcended the boundaries of language and culture,” said Fr. Ken Gavin, S.J., National Director of JRS/USA.

Fr. Kawas Francois, S.J., the Coordinator of the Jesuit relief work, has formed a group of key representatives from Haitian society — educators, members of the clergy, human rights leaders, business people and students — to discuss the role of the civil society in the reconstruction of Haiti.

Leogane, a city west of Port-au-Prince devastated by the January 12 earthquake – some say 90% of the town is either rubble or uninhabitable – is one of the 12 centers where the Jesuits distribute food, water and medicines.

“We visited with the pastor of the Church of Santa Rosa, which was destroyed, said JRS/USA National Director Fr. Ken Gavin, S.J. “He spoke with sadness of the urgent need for food distribution in his city and among his parishioners. Fr. Louis Gabriel Blot, the pastor of the Church of St. Andre, came close to tears as he showed us the two shattered walls – all that remains – of his parish church.”

From the rubble of San Andre Church in Leogane parishioners have pulled a mangled crucifix, a statue of an angel, and the church’s bell, which is still used to call the neighborhood to prayer every Sunday. Mass is now celebrated under a blue plastic canopy that also serves day and night as a shelter for the some of the neediest families of the parish.

JRS believes strongly that the rebuilding of Haiti should be an effort led by Haitians, and not based on outside interests. "Haiti demands a reconstruction rooted in decentralization, diversification and specialization," said Fr. Regino Martinez, S.J.

“Planning meetings in various camps (with people affected by the quake) will help us develop ideas. We have proposed to begin as soon as possible providing care to vulnerable children and training teachers by using staff from the camps,” said Fr. Serrano.

“Careful planning will make a great difference in the quality of our ability to reach out in love to the struggling Haitian people as we accompany, serve and defend their rights,&rdquo

Press Contact Information
Mr Christian Fuchs
202-462-0400 ext. 5946