When the levees broke in New Orleans, our entire church felt called to respond.
Congregations from across North America contributed millions of dollars, and more than 1,100 mission groups have contributed 432,000 hours, and counting, in response to the ongoing needs along the Gulf Coast. Through the partnerships of Week of Compassion, Disciples Volunteering, the Great River Region, and many on-the-ground long-term recovery organizations, we have been able to rebuild more than 170 homes and restore hope to countless people in serious need.
Our work is far from complete, though. Most calculations estimate that the recovery process will take at least five more years, and some estimate as many as ten more years will be required to restore and repair New Orleans. Some of us have forgotten about the Gulf Coast. Our news reports celebrate a Saints Super Bowl victory as proof that the Gulf Coast is back, but simply ask anyone who has served with a work group repairing a roof or rebuilding walls, and they’ll tell you just how far we have to go.
Disciples congregations have likewise responded faithfully to the earthquake in Haiti. Often noted as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti has long received disaster- and development-related support from Week of Compassion. The January 12th earthquake compounded a tenuous development situation with a natural disaster. The ensuing displacement of thousands of people to the Dominican border and from the crowded metro area of Port-au-Prince to outlying rural areas with few resources to support such an influx of people has been another wave of the disaster.
The needs are immense. It will not only take many resources, but also much strategizing to put together the most precise, effective, and ethical response. Haiti cannot afford a “do-over” if we respond swiftly yet foolishly. We must distribute the resources we have received in a strategic, wise, effective and sustainable manner. Our partners on the ground have consistently asked us to accompany them for the long-term—which we know will be years to come. Funds have already been allocated for the initial emergency response phase. Your generous gifts have been put to work on the ground, through our partnerships with Global Ministries (CONASPEH and the House of Hope), Church World Service, the ACT Alliance, and IMA World Health. Vulnerable populations such as children and the disabled have been helped, countless hygiene and baby kits have been distributed, clean water service has been restored to many communities, psycho-social services have been offered, and displaced people have been welcomed, fed and sheltered.
We are, however, in this for the long haul—as we always are. Your faithful offerings will continue to make a difference. In any successful disaster response, a sustainable and effective response must also include a solid plan for the longer term rebuilding and development phases. For example, as a member communion of Church World Service, we are currently in conversation with Habitat for Humanity International on ways to respond to needs for shelter and housing. The Habitat initiative has three phases—emergency shelter, transitional shelter, and more permanent housing structures. The permanent housing will take seriously indigenous aesthetic and cultural concerns while employing architecture that is structurally sound and appropriate to Haiti’s climate. The initiative will employ Haitian labor and skill in as many ways as possible. Engaging such a problem takes time—much more time than simply throwing together cookie cutter shelters.
The people of Haiti are at the center of our response, just as the people most affected along the Gulf Coast are at the heart of our Hurricane Recovery Initiative. The trust that you have invested in Week of Compassion is likewise important—and we do not take it for granted. We invest your gifts in initiatives that will have a long-lasting, life-changing, and life-affirming effect on the people of Haiti. The contributions received in these few months must be used over the next several years.
Help us prepare for The Next Haiti or The Next Hurricane. We were able to respond directly to needs in Haiti within 48 hours because of your undesignated offerings to Week of Compassion. Your gifts to WoC allow us to respond to disasters when they occur. And they allow us to continue to be there for the long haul. That’s who we are as Disciples.