Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Still Thinking About Haiti

My posts about Haiti have slowed down considerably since last week. On Friday we left home (our temporary home in Kentucky) for a one-month road trip. This is the first extended time I've had internet access since then.

I haven't forgotten about Haiti. It's been on my mind constantly and I've particularly been praying for Steve Hersey and the team at Quisqueya Christian Academy and all the folks that continue to work for the restoration of Haiti. For the last few days they've been updating their website and tell of the excellent work they're doing to coordinate medical teams and help patients find the right location for the help they need.(To contribute to the ongoing aid and recovery work based at QCS, go to their website and scroll down to the PayPal "Donate" button.)

It does seem that the news media are forgetting, as they are bound to do as our own attention span wanes and our eyes look elsewhere for news-entertainment. Troy Livesay tweets that the media row, so much in evidence for the first week and a half at Toussaint Louverture Airport, has now disappeared. The aid effort, of course, has not disappeared and in some ways is only now beginning.

I've followed my sister Ruth's blog for a long time. She's been mysterious about where exactly she was located, preferring to refer to her adopted country as Tecwil. But after the quake she outed herself as a resident of Haiti, where she has in fact lived and worked since 1993. Check out her blog for beautiful writing in general and specifically these days for her own reflections on the earthquake, being a mom in a crisis, and being evacuated.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Some Links

We're on the road for a few weeks and I'm not able to write a full post but I'd like to refer you again to the following excellent blogs:

Ben and Katie in Haiti, an excellent update on the goings-on at Quisqueya Christian School.

The Livesay [Haiti] Weblog, following the very hands-on relief work of missionaries Troy and Tara Livesay.

And the following interesting links: 

Satellite image of the location of the QCS campus. If you zoom out you'll find the nearby Montana Hotel and Caribbean Market.

Article about a lady who will be sending aid for the work at QCS.

Interesting news today from QCS director Steve Hersey: they are going to reopen the school for the few students who are still in the country. They'll resume classes in a very scaled-down way on January 27th.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

QCS Earthquake Command Center

"Our campus has been preserved for a purpose." That was the realization that Quisqueya Christian School's Plant Operator Ted Steinhauer came to just hours after the earthquake hit Port-au-Prince and the surrounding area on January 12th. Although there was great destruction around the school, the QCS buildings had not sustained damage.

Almost immediately the QCS campus began to become a center for relief efforts. Its most obvious resource was its physical plant--undamaged buildings and courtyards as well as fields and open areas. Director Stephen Hersey comments on Facebook about the structural soundness of QCS buildings:
It is amazing. Many people are using the word 'miracle.' Walls collapsed right across the street, and the house directly across from the High School building suffered huge damage, big pieces falling off. I really have no explanation.
But it also had a dedicated, compassionate team of administrators, faculty and staff who love the people of Haiti and feel a call to serve them. Many of them were already involved in ministry in orphanages and Haitian schools. An additional resource was the community of parents and alumni, both Haitian and expats, that QCS is connected to.

Many of these people responded to the call for help and have teamed together under the leadership of people like Steinhauer and Hersey, sometimes using their training and experience in administration, organization, technology, and medicine; sometimes reaching out to their connections within Haiti and beyond; sometimes simply doing the grunt work that needed to be done to make the relief effort work.

An example of the last category is Ben Kilpatrick, a North American teacher who had barely worked in Haiti for two weeks when the earthquake hit. Yesterday he volunteered to accompany a trip up the mountain to the Dominican Republic to search for a truck carrying relief supplies that had broken down. Reports say that Ben and others like him have been available to do whatever was asked of him, joyfully serving others and helping to ease pain.

Part of the extended QCS community are Troy and Tara Livesay who work with Heartline Ministries and World Wide Village. They have been working with missionaries John and Beth McHoul, John and Jodie Ackerman, and others to treat those injured in the quake. Using very basic equipment and supplies, they have sutured wounds, set seriously broken bones, and otherwise helped to relieve suffering. They've had to get creative, like using sterile gloves to provide drainage for wounds. The Livesays' blog tells an amazing story of how they found help for some of their most serious patients on the U.S. Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort.

The Livesays report that the larger Non-Government Organizations, better-supplied with water, food, fuel, and medicine, have not been heeding the call of smaller NGOs for help. The smaller organizations, many of which have invested in Haiti for years, are trying to band together to provide the support they are not finding in the large groups.

It's not clear whether the humedica team from Germany continues to lodge on the QCS campus now that they are no longer working in nearby Hôpital Espoir, but Els Vervloet reports that a Korean team will now be moving onto the grounds.

With access to communications equipment, motorcycles, trucks, interpreters, and runners, the QCS Earthquake Command Center has become a vital nexus in the ongoing relief and recovery efforts in Port-au-Prince.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

QCS--For the Long Haul

In the wake of a strong 6.0 aftershock early this morning, the administrators, teachers, and staff of Quisqueya Christian School are determined to be involved over the long term in the relief and recovery efforts in Port-au-Prince. Reports indicate that the campus was again undamaged this morning though other buildings in the neighborhood still standing after the quake a week ago have now collapsed. To give to ongoing relief efforts at Quisqueya, click here and donate through PayPal.

Teachers who have remained in Haiti this past week, some of them European or North American, have found ways of being involved. Ben and Katie Kilpatrick just arrived in Haiti at the end of December. Less than a month into their stay, they find themselves carrying makeshift stretchers, cleaning wounds, and comforting injured children at a temporary clinic established on the grounds of their church.

High school principal Tony Dekoter ended up on guard duty on campus one night. The Canadian missionary from the Christian Reformed Church plans to remain in Haiti as long as he's needed to help in any way he can. Sean Blesh, in Haiti with his family since August 2007, who found himself on the rescue team last Tuesday night pulling people from the collapsed Caribbean Market, has been working with other teachers to prepare the campus to be occupied by the U.S. Army Southern Command.

The campus now houses U.S. Army personnel including a high-ranking general, reports Crisis Response International. Director Steve Hersey writes that he had the opportunity yesterday to brief Army Special Forces troops that will base at the school. Teachers were asked to clean out their classrooms so that the soldiers could move in. Senior Jessica Ackerman helped her mother, a teacher at the school with the task.

The German orthopedic team camping on the grounds continues to offer its services at nearby Hôpital Espoir. [UPDATE, 11:35 am. A message has come from Els Vervloet that the team has had to be withdrawn from Hôpital Espoir due to damage sustained to the operating room this morning in the 6.0 magnitude aftershock. The orthopedic team will be redeployed to Diquini/Carrefour to the west of Port-au-Prince, nearer the earthquake's epicenter.]  Displaced orphans have occupied a classroom wing and the six-member CRI team from Kansas City has been camping on the soccer field.

The relief operation based at the QCS property continues to grow as administrators reach out to Quisqueya's community of students, parents, and alumni to participate. School registrar Els Vervloet of the Netherlands today requested volunteers to serve as telephone operators. She asked for people with skills in English, French and/or Haitian Creole, and Spanish if possible, to respond. These operators will be working around the clock in three shifts manning the high-tech Emergency Operations Center installed on campus.

This equipment, loaned and put in place by Quisqueya graduates Joel Trimble, Jr. and his brother, Michael, does not rely on existing telephony infrastructure but used satellite technology. The Trimbles are communications engineers and the specialized electronics come from IT Broadcasting. The brothers chartered a flight from their Florida base to Cap Haïtien on the north side of the island and transported it overland to Port-au-Prince.

This morning school director Steve Hersey sent out a request over Facebook for motorcycles and skilled drivers to be used in the relief effort. Facebook has been an important channel of communication for many in Port-au-Prince during this crisis as well as a means for those outside of Haiti to find loved ones and follow the relief efforts.

Hersey and school Chief of Operations Ted Steinhauer as well as other administrators have been working hard to coordinate with military and other relief organizations that are operating in their area, but they've also been meeting with school personnel to discuss how the relief operation will develop into a recovery and rebuilding operation. They intend to partner for the long term with their community to serve those who have been affected by the quake.

This investment in the community is not something QCS began after the earthquake. The school has a long tradition, sustained by compassionate teachers and energetic students, of investing in its community. Els Vervloet reminded alumni, parents, and students two days ago of the H.O.P.E. orphanage, this year's senior class's Community Service Project focus. The orphanage sustained damage in the earthquake and now "the H.O.P.E. girls and the family running it are living in 2 small rooms next to their clinic."

Many of those seniors, heartbroken, have now had to leave Haiti, unsure of if or when they'll ever return. A difficult decision has been made this week by QCS teachers, administrators and parents to send some family members out of the country. Torn between the desire to serve the desperately suffering and the need to see their families well, in some cases children have been sent to live with relatives or mothers of younger children have taken their children to the US, Canada, or Europe. Those not vital to the relief effort often felt they were using resources--food, water, cooking gas, power--that would be better used by someone else. Some expressed a sense that they were abandoning Haiti, their Ayiti cheri (Dear Haiti) that they love and mourn for. There are feelings of guilt and anguish for those who did not survive. Many will return as they have many times before, but for now they feel they ought to do more.

There will be much, much more to be done. International leaders swear they will rebuild Haiti but as always it will be individuals and families, serving in small ways, that will make the difference for the people of Ayiti cheri.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Day Seven

Although the seventy-two hour window that rescuers say is key to finding people alive following a disaster has long passed, Steve Hersey, director of Quisqueya Christian School in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, writes that people are still being brought out of the rubble alive in their Delmas neighborhood. Last night sixty people were rescued from a collapsed building. His wife, my sister, Ruth Hersey, speaking in a church yesterdat in Wilmore, Kentucky, advised the rescuers not to give up looking. Haitians are strong people, she said, "They don't know Haitians. They'd better keep looking, because Haitians can last longer than anyone."

Steve posted on his Facebook early this morning, "As I start out this day, I'm thankful that the school fuel tanks were filled just before the earthquake; that all QCS teachers are accounted for; that QCS has solid internet service -- and much more."

The school campus continues to host a number of relief efforts, including a US Army logistics team that has set up shop in a classroom. The Army is also helping to support and maintain generators and other equipment at nearby Hôpital Espoir.

Missionary and QCS teacher Els Vervloet reports on Facebook, "At one gate a DR medical team came asking to put them to work, at the same time at the other gate a truck arrived from Dan O'Neil with medical supplies and more, while at the front gate a truckload of wounded Haitians showed up begging for medical help. It's easy to do the job when God is in charge."

Supplies arriving through the Port-au-Prince airport and also coming in through the Dominican Republic are coming into the campus from where they are distributed.

The issue of fuel is becoming significant as smaller organizations and missions are unable to get diesel for their generators, their only source of electric power. Missionary Troy Livesay tweets that at one gas station prices as high as $14 US a gallon were being charged for gasoline.

Meanwhile, Quisqueya personnel continue to try to track down information on those students who have as yet not been heard from. Some of the elementary school students have already been reported to have died in the quake.

One student, Jessica Ackerman, is blogging about her own personal experiences following the earthquake, which shattered the final semester of her senior year in high school. She writes, "You might watch the news and think it looks bad, but I am living it. I am affected far less than many, and I am still living it. I am living it and it is hell."

She reports that besides being a temporary home to several teachers and Haitian staff, the campus has become a meeting place for students who gather to share their heartache.

Many of the Quisqueya students, who commonly speak at least English and Kreyol, are serving as interpreters for the international aid teams. Katie reports that several of them are interpreting at Hôpital Espoir.

With communication capabilities severely damaged, a group of QCS alumni have set up satellite communications equipment on campus and are using this to contact various groups and missions, in order to cooperate and coordinate relief efforts. Quisqueya personnel are also working with families that need to evacuate, helping to facilitate getting children out of the country and to safety.

God has made the QCS community a hub of hopefulness and healing in the Delmas neighborhood.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Relief Continues at Quisqueya

Medical and communications teams have made it to the campus of Quisqueya Christian School in the Delmas neighborhood of Port-au-Prince. News from missionary Els Vervloet says a team from Kansas City-based Crisis Response International has set up a medical base. The six-member CRI team came in via the Dominican Republic.

Another team has come from Cap Haïtien, in the north of Haiti, with communications capabilities. One of the biggest barriers to the developing relief operation is the lack of communications infrastructure. Pre-earthquake systems were meager and the earthquake knocked out many of the existing network including cell phones and many landlines.

An orthopedic team from Germany was directed to the QCS campus and are camping there while working at nearby Hôpital Espoir (Hope Hospital). The fact that the security wall around the campus is intact is a great comfort to those staying on the premises, including children from a nearby orphanage which collapsed.

Ruth Hersey of QCS reported that this hospital was completely out of supplies though the medical staff continued to work heroically. A doctor was dispatched to round up analgesics and dressings from the medicine cabinets of any neighbors who could spare them. Ruth reported she was surprised to find how many useful medical supplies she had in her own house!

An emergency team from the US Army also plans to set up operations on the school campus, reports Vervloet. Despite reports yesterday that the desperately needed emergency help had been largely held up at Toussaint Louverture airport due to logistics issues, the missionary writes on Facebook: "Still professional rescue teams working everywhere and getting people from under the rubble (dead and alive). Lots and lots of Dominican trucks with water and hot food on the streets distributing to the homeless. I saw lots of portable toilets set up. Encouraging!"

To donate through Paypal to ongoing relief work at Quisqueya Christian School, go to their website and click on the Donate button at the bottom.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Good News in the Midst of Bad

Good news this evening from the Delmas neighborhood of Port-au-Prince. The medical team that the Quisqueya Christian School campus had prepared for has arrived. They have gotten to work treating some of the very needy injured.

My sister, Ruth Hersey, posted on Facebook: "saw the first team right after they arrived at school this evening - doctors, etc. The campus had such a peaceful feeling - orphanage kids, staff on the field, team arriving full of purpose. Praise God!"

Her husband Steve was upbeat tonight about the progress being made--streets being cleared, some beginning the long process of putting their lives back together. After three days of overwhelming sadness and loss, there's a glimmer.

What a wonderful thing to have a sense of task and mission, something useful and meaningful to do in the middle of a mess of suffering. Something that really makes a difference in the suffering.

Ruth's Facebook quotes a Rich Mullins song: 
But for now we live on these streets
Forbidding and tough
Where push always comes to shove
And it's said love's never enough
Where a prophet in rags gives hope to a fearful world
Jesus, bless those who hold out hope in Haiti tonight.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

School Earthquake Plan

In the 2009-2010 Student-Parent Handbook for Quisqueya Christian School, in Haiti, they have included the following clause:
      2.  The school will always have emergency supplies of food and water.
            a.  In the aftermath of a disaster (whether an earthquake, political crisis, or a similar emergency) that occurs while school is in session:
                i.  Until a general “all clear” statement is issued, students will not be permitted to leave campus without administrative consent or being accompanied by a parent or guardian.
                ii.  No student will use the QCS telephone unless directed.  Cell phones may be used with permission.
I don't remember if any of the schools I've ever been to had an earthquake-preparedness clause in their Handbook.

In an emergency response vacuum, the Quisqueya campus has become a center for relief. The first night many people slept on the soccer field, with the security of the school's wall to protect them, and the knowledge of availability of water. There are still staff and national workers living on the soccer field and one of the playgrounds is serving as temporary housing for children from a nearby orphanage.

Immediately after the quake news came to the campus that a large grocery store nearby had collapsed. A group of teachers and staff went up the road and helped pull 34 people out of the rubble.

That first morning, one lady who had been injured in the quake, a relative of a school employee, passed away. My sister wrote that it was "the saddest thing I'd ever seen."

Tomorrow the school will host a medical team that will begin assisting the many injured people in the neighborhood.  There will be a temporary hospital/operating room in the chapel and a trauma center on the basketball court.

Steve Hersey, my brother-in-law, is the director of the school. He writes on the Quisqueya website: "We hope to be able to have a water and food distribution from our campus also."

My sister and her family have fourteen people sleeping at their house. Last night they slept outside for fear of aftershocks. But for some reason their house has not been damaged structurally. That's significant when you consider that Steve writes that at least one-third of the buildings in their area are already demolished or will have to be.

They are going to have many people relying on them over the next days and months. To donate directly to Quisqueya's happening-right-now expertise-on-the-ground community relief efforts, go to the Quisqueya website and click on donate at the bottom of the screen.

How to Help in Haiti

There are a number of large agencies that are sending or have sent teams to Haiti in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake. Most are probably taking huge amounts of relief supplies: tents, food, water, blankets, medicine and other essentials.

One missionary blogging in Haiti writes:

If you don't speak Creole/Kreyol and don't have the ability to work with injured people - you should NOT come. We cannot feed you and we don't have a place to house you.
Makes sense.

My brother-in-law Steve Hersey and my sister Ruth have lived in Haiti through coups, Marine invasions, hurricanes, and the daily crisis that is life for the 80% of Haitians that live in poverty. When many left the country, they have stayed behind to serve. I don't doubt they are even now doing everything they can to serve those in terrible need around them. They speak Kreyol, they know their community, and they are strategically placed to do real good, if in a small way.

If you would like to help them help others right now, you can give to their account at Free Methodist World Missions. If you don't wish to indicate a home church in the sign-in process, just select a location and select the "UNKNOWN" option. When you get to the donation page, select #4. VISA from the list on the left and then scroll down on the right to "VISA Hersey, Steve." [Update: Even better, give to the Quisqueya Christian School relief program by going to the Quisqueya website and clicking on donate at the bottom.]

The site is a bit clumsy but it will work if you stick with it.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Family in Haiti

My sister and brother-in-law, Ruth and Steve Hersey, are missionaries serving at Quisqueya Christian School in Haiti. I've been trying to call them ever since I heard about the powerful earthquake last evening, but haven't been able to get through yet.

Today Steve was able to get to a computer briefly and sent the following update:

Quick message while I have email at a guest house.  Most communication
is down.  Little phone contact.  No internet at school or home.

This is terrible.  Spent last night outside on soccer field with
family.  We are OK.  House is structurally OK, but a mess.  School
will be closed indefinitely.

Dead bodies everywhere.  I've contacted all but 6 teachers.  Several
good friends are missing.  Many big buildings collapsed. Hopefully
we'll get communications back soon.

Many teachers involved in search and rescue.

We are OK, but please keep us in your prayers.
They will be dealing with an overwhelming amount of need over the next few weeks. They already live in a hugely needy place, and now the little that many people have has been taken from them.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Air Conditioners Make You Sick

Today's ABC Color, a Paraguayan newspaper, reports that the Paraguayan Ministry of Health has warned citizens of the danger of using their air conditioner too much. The cool air, they advise, can cause respiratory diseases. Doctor Margarita Ojeda, director of the Instituto Nacional de Enfermedades Respiratorias y del Ambiente (INERAM), the National Institute of Respiratory and Environmental Diseases, advises Paraguayans to turn on their air conditioners before lying down to sleep, cooling down the room, and then "maintain the temperature with the fan."

Keep in mind that night-time temperatures in Asuncion are expected to dip tonight to 88F, and that daytime temperatures are in the upper 90s and 100s.

A friend told me yesterday that they had resolved not to turn on their air conditioner but when their upstairs bedroom hit 108 they had to relent.

Interestingly, the same newspaper reports that ANDE, the national electric company, had the previous night reported a record peak in power consumption. At 10 pm last night Paraguayan consumers were using 1,830 megawatts, up from last year's peak of 1,713.

My understanding is that 100% of Paraguay's power needs are supplied by three hydroelectric plants, one of which, Itaipú, has the highest output of any power plant in the world.

But an aging distribution system means that Paraguayan consumers can't always get the maximum benefit from their dams. Transformers blow, switches fail, and inefficient power lines cause significant losses.

The coincidence of the two articles appearing on the same day was not lost on Paraguayan readers, several of whom commented that the government should just be honest about where the request for moderate air conditioner use was really coming from. A couple even challenged the Minister of Health to follow her own advice and try to get a good night's sleep.

Some New Features

I've added a link to our latest newsletter, which you can access at the bottom of the left column. And be sure to check out our photos by clicking on one of the slideshows in the right column!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Dos mil diez (2010)

Our New Year's Eve was pretty tranquil. Since we're in the US this year we're living near my family, which means we get to spend time with them. My parents and my brother and his family came over for dinner.

Lizet made salteñas. Salteñas are a delicious pastry from Santa Cruz, Bolivia, where Lizet's from. They're a version of the pan-Latin empanada, a flour pastry filled with chicken, beef, cheese, or other things, and often deep-fried. The salteña, though, is baked. It can be filled with beef, either fresh or in the form of charque, which is sun-dried. Or it can have chicken, which is how Lizet usually makes it, along with raisins, boiled eggs, onion, garlic, olives, cumin, salt, and pepper.

One unique feature of salteñas from Santa Cruz is that the pastry has an orange tint. This comes from the addition to the dough of the extract of the urucú seed. Urucú is the achiote plant, which grows in Bolivia and Paraguay, and from which the international food industry gets the natural food coloring anatto.

Lizet's salteñas are delicious and always a hit. In fact, she's really a talented cook, which is something I didn't realize until after we were married!

After dinner, Mom & Dad left, we put the boys to bed, and my brother and his family stayed until shortly after ten, playing 'Whoonu' which we had never played before. Anna and Lizet and I stayed up for a while watching the celebration in Times Square but Lizet and I were in bed well before midnight.

In Paraguay we would probably have been up adding to the cacophony of fireworks, though in our neighborhood, as rural as it is, the cacophony is pretty subdued. We shot some off last year but Timothy was pretty scared of them, and Oso didn't like them at all. Lizet's parents and her sisters were there to share the celebration with us.

Here's to a surprise-filled 2010!