CRS official provides update on relief efforts in Haiti - Catholic Courier

CRS official provides update on relief efforts in Haiti

GATES — Two months have passed since a magnitude 7 earthquake devastated Haiti Jan. 12, but the Haitian people still face great challenges and still need help, according to Dennis Fisher, education and outreach program officer for Catholic Relief Services.


Fisher visited several sites throughout the Diocese of Rochester March 20-22 to provide an update on CRS’ relief efforts in Haiti. He spoke at weekend Masses and to the youth group at St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Scottsville March 20-21, and the next day spoke to groups at Bishop Kearney High School in Irondequoit and Rochester’s McQuaid Jesuit High School and at the diocesan Pastoral Center.

The Diocese of Rochester recently announced that a second collection held in January to raise money for CRS’ relief efforts in Haiti netted a total of $527,000. Fisher called local Catholics’ generosity "awesome" and said he’s traveling throughout the Northeast to show Catholics how their donations have been used and talk about the challenges Haitians still face.

This earthquake was particularly devastating because Haiti was a struggling nation even before the ground began to shake Jan. 12, Fisher noted. Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere, he said, so even before the quake more nongovernmental organizations were working in Haiti than in any other nation in the Western Hemisphere. CRS has had a presence in Haiti for 50 years, he added.

Food and water were two of the most immediate needs in the aftermath of the earthquake, and CRS was well-suited to respond to those needs because it had warehouses of supplies in the Dominican Republic and in Miami. During his presentation at the Pastoral Center, Fisher showed a video of Haitians lining up for one of CRS’ food distributions. Each family received a large bucket with CRS’ logo and containing protein-rich staples such as peanut butter, crackers and tuna fish.

"Each bucket is good for a family of four or five," Fisher said.

The agency uses a voucher system to ensure that food is distributed fairly, he added. Fisher said he expects CRS’ food distribution soon will begin slowing down, due to hopeful signs that are emerging in Port-au-Prince’s marketplaces.

"We just found out last week that there’s food starting to reappear in Port-au-Prince. People are setting up stands," he said. "We’re shortly switching gears to a program called Cash for Work."

Through this program, CRS will pay cash to Haitians who start working for specific programs, which involve such things as cleaning up and rebuilding the city and cleaning the local canal.

"Then they can take that money and buy food, and then all the money stays in the country," Fisher explained.

Haitians whose homes were destroyed or who fear going back into buildings have been taking shelter in makeshift camps since the earthquake, and the areas containing these camps have been divided into 16 or 17 zones. Fisher said CRS is responsible for three of these zones, and one of these contains the largest camp, which is located on the former Petionville Club golf course. More than 50,000 people are living here under makeshift tents, Fisher said.

Many of those tents were provided by CRS, which shortly after the earthquake distributed shelter kits containing tents, poles, nails and rope.

"The rainy season began in March. They needed to get these for some shelter," Fisher said. "A week and a half ago we began distributing Shelter Kit 2, which has blankets and mosquito nets."

Tents have been used to shelter makeshift medical facilities as well, Fisher said as he clicked on a photograph in his PowerPoint presentation. The photograph showed people lying on cots under a tent, where a cardboard sign tacked to the front of the tent read "Pre-op."

"One of the challenges with the medical care has been it’s almost exclusively been done outside, under tents," Fisher said. "In some cases they were doing amputations and they didn’t have a lot of pain medication, or medications to prevent infection."

Despite the challenges, the 313 CRS staff members in Haiti are working hard and making a difference, Fisher said. About 300 of those staff members are Haitians, so they’re familiar with the area and the Haitian culture. He said they complement the members of the CRS leadership team, whose members have years of experience helping nations recover after natural disasters, such as the 2004 tsunamis in Southeast Asia.

"We have an idea of kind of what the next two years will look like, and we’re working on a five-year plan," Fisher said.

Donating money is still the best way for individuals to aid the relief efforts, just as it was in the weeks immediately following the quake, he said. At this point CRS is only requesting volunteers who are medical professionals and speak French and Creole.

"There’s been a lot of goodwill and people want to do something, but we’re not in a position to do that at this point," he said, noting that individuals may still donate funds directly through the CRS Web site,

"I’d just like to thank Catholics in the Diocese of Rochester for their solidarity with the Haitian people," Fisher said.

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