BLOOMFIELD — On July 12 my phone rang. The producer from NBC30 asked if I could come to the studio for a live interview with news anchor Keisha Grant on the 5 o’clock news. The topic: Haiti, six months after the devastating earthquake. Of course I said, “Yes.” I was thrilled that they wanted to cover the story.
A few days ago I was talking with a nurse who had recently returned from Haiti. She confirmed that people still live in the streets, that most are hungry, have inadequate water and that progress is excruciatingly slow. She also said that it is the small organizations like Old St. Andrew’s Church and the Good Samaritain Rebuilding Fund that are having the most impact. “You’re local, on the ground and making things happen,” she told me. “I keep wondering where are the millions and millions donated to the big NGOs?”
A little background: For the past 13 years, Old St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Bloomfield has supported École le Bon Samaritain, a K-5 school in Carrefour, Haiti. The school was founded by retired Episcopal priest Jean-Elie Millien and his wife, Mona.
When the news broke on Jan. 12 about the quake at 4:53 p.m., I feared for the worst and soon this was realized. The pictures we all saw barely captured the ruined landscape and demolished buildings. They certainly could not depict what women and children, boys and girls, men and old men felt from the shaking ground…or afterwards from the pain of wounds and constant hunger gripping their bellies.
Our church started the Good Samaritain Rebuilding Fund on Thursday, Jan. 14, as a way to offer help to the community around the School. The church’s investment in the education of children was too important to abandon in the rubble of the earthquake.
For seven weeks a major medical relief effort was our focus. We were on the ground in Carrefour, 10 miles outside Port-au-Prince, 8 days after the earthquake, long before most others were mobilized. With volunteers from all over Connecticut, New York and even Canada, we set up a medical clinic in a discotheque that was still standing. Our doctors, nurses and volunteers transported literally tons of food, water, medicines, bandages, clothes, tents, condoms, diesel fuel, and other equipment. On a typical day, over 200 patients were served.
Since this initial emergency response, the pace has changed but the importance of involvement has not. The clinic continues to function with indigenous Haitian nurses while the Good Samaritain Rebuilding effort has built a storage shed and demolished the old school building. In addition, the land on which the school had stood was purchased with donations to the Rebuilding Fund.
Right now, our energies are directed at finding an architect and local engineering support to design and estimate the cost of a new school building on the original site.
Most important of all, we have recovered 131 of our students and teachers to serve them. Jean-Elie and Mona are directing these efforts. The children have been studying in a tent donated by the Stamford Police Department and in alleyways shaded by awnings. The Rebuilding Fund has also bought two 20’ x 30’ pole tents to serve as classrooms in the coming months.
The Good Samaritain Rebuilding Fund continues to be committed to rebuilding École le Bon Samaritain. The process is slow and sometimes frustrating. We always need more money. In the fall, we are planning a benefit concert with the Bristol Choral Society. We trust that people who have already shown their support will see what has been accomplished and want to contribute more.
By way of thanking the hundreds of volunteers who supported the emergency medical relief efforts, Old St. Andrew’s is hosting a Big Picnic on July 31 from 4 to 7 p.m. Everybody interested in this project is welcome and we hope you’ll come. For directions to the church, go to http://www.oldstandrews.net/directions.htm.
Please, please keep the children and people of Haiti in your hearts and especially our friends in Carrefour.
~ Puck Purnell, Rector, Old St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church