Haiti: MCC staff on the ground, waiting for larger relief efforts to begin

News and Press Release
Originally published
By Linda Espenshade

AKRON, Pa. - As Haiti's estimated death toll soars and people and images of utter devastation pour across television screens, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) workers are on the ground in Haiti.

"We didn't sleep last night as we were pulling and digging people out of crumbled houses in our neighborhood," wrote MCC worker Alexis Depp of Waxhaw, N.C., in an e-mail on Wednesday, Jan. 13. She and her husband, Benjamin Depp, then searched for missing friends and coworkers.

"We're definitely in shock and can't begin to describe what the last day and a half have been like here," Depp wrote.

The 7.0 magnitude earthquake, which is being called the worst in more than 200 years in Haiti, struck near the capital of Port-au-Prince on Tuesday evening, Jan. 12. The quake was followed by many strong aftershocks, with strengths as high as 5.9.

The Depps and other MCC workers are doing what they can to help until the massive aid efforts around the world are mobilized in Haiti - a response they have heard about but hadn't seen yet on Thursday.

On Friday, three MCC staff members, Kathy and Virgil Troyer, regional disaster management coordinators from Orville, Ohio, and Daryl Yoder-Bontrager, area director for Latin America and the Caribbean, will fly into Haiti to help the MCC staff there determine how MCC can be of assistance. Sylvia Dening, a former MCC representative from Edmonton, Alta., will arrive on Saturday.

MCC released an initial $100,000 (U.S.) or $103,420 (Cdn.) on Wednesday for immediate relief. Ron Flaming, director of International Programs, anticipates a multimillion dollar response over a number of years, focusing on rebuilding. MCC is appealing for donations to fund these efforts.

MCC is sending 1,000 water filters as soon as possible and will provide short- and long-term trauma care for Haitians and MCC staff.

"I'm sure water will be a significant problem," said Yoder-Bontrager. "Most people in Haiti are self-sufficient with water collection systems, but at this point those systems are leaking water and not working."

The need for trauma care is a given, considering the overwhelming loss of life and the experience of being in a large earthquake, he said. MCC has experience providing trauma care in many places around the world, including Haiti, as recently as 2008 when the island was hit by four hurricanes in one year.

"MCC's strength in disaster recovery is in the medium- and long-term," said Yoder-Bontrager. "We will do everything we can now and plan for what we can do later, the real focus of our work," he said.

MCC workers in Haiti include nine people from Colombia, the Netherlands and the United States; seven Haitian program staff members; and additional support staff. All program staff located in Port-au-Prince, the capital, are accounted for. Although the communications infrastructure in Haiti has been disrupted, staff members were able to send messages via the U.S. embassy and some on blogs.

MCC's work in Haiti over the past years has focused on reforestation and environmental education, human rights and advocacy for food security.

Donations to MCC's response in Haiti are welcome. They should be designated Haiti Earthquake. Donations can be made

* Online at mcc.org

* By telephone toll free - 1-888-622-6337 (Canada) or 1-888-563-4676 (U.S.)

* By mail - MCC and MCC U.S., P.O. Box 500, Akron, PA 17501 or

MCC Canada, 134 Plaza Drive, Winnipeg, MB R3T 5K9

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Linda Espenshade is MCC news coordinator.