It’s been nearly a year since the devastating earthquake that leveled much of Haiti and left millions of people dead or homeless back on Jan. 12, 2010. On Monday morning, Elmira resident Marilyn McIlroy will be making her third trip back to the underdeveloped nation since the quake, joining a team devoted to helping the Haitian people pick up their lives and try to recover from the disaster.
When the magnitude seven earthquake struck, McIlroy, Deb Paton and Lois McLaughlin were standing on a third-floor balcony overlooking their guest house. They were part of a local mission group that had just arrived in Haiti. The other members of the group included Marilyn Raymer, Alice Soeder, Laura Steckley and the woman who would become the first Canadian confirmed killed in the quake, Yvonne Martin.
Next week, McIlroy will meet with Lou Geense, the director of global initiatives for the Evangelical Missionary Church of Canada to work on a plan to distribute and construct the pre-fabricated houses that were developed in the summer by Vancor Homes and delivered to Haiti back in October.
She will be in the country from Jan. 10 to 22. There’s much work to be done, as she notes the country has made little headway in the year since the earthquake.
“People are still living in the tent cities and struggling. There are students who aren’t in school yet, and there is just a lot of difficulties with moving forward, but it takes time to move forward. Basically, we’re in post-emergency state, but we’re not too much further ahead.”
Vancor Homes has created a prototype for homes specifically designed for Haiti. One home can be assembled by a four- or five-person crew in one day. They feature insulation that make them ideal for warm-climate countries, are maintenance-free, sanitary and termite resistant.
In the 12 months since the earthquake, local charity groups have worked hard to organize and send aid as well as money to the western hemisphere’s poorest nation. That includes the Mennonite Central Committee. Of the nearly $14 million MCC has raised for Haiti, $2.8 million has come from Ontario alone, with nearly half a million dollars more worth of material aid such as blankets, food, and relief kits.
“Most of it came in through direct donations from people who were impacted by hearing the stories and seeing the visuals from the earthquake and wanted to respond,” said MCC resource generation director Dan Driedger.
Of the $14 million, only about $4.6 has actually reached the country, leaving some to question why aid has not been delivered faster. Driedger said that in order to help the people of Haiti the best ways possible, the money must be carefully committed to projects that best serve Haitians.
“You can rush to get it done, but really it’s better to make sure that it’s well spent instead of quickly spent,” Driedger explained.
The recent political unrest in the nation has not had much of an effect on MCC delivering aid to the country, however, as the group avoids dealing with the government as much as possible and instead goes directly to the grassroots level to deliver aid.
“With the MCC approach, we’ve been there since 1958 and we already have long-standing relationships with local groups there, so it’s just a matter of working through them to continue doing work there.”
Driedger notes that the MCC was particularly impressed with the contributions of the people in the Elmira area. Floradale Mennonite Church, for instance, is holding a benefit concert to raise even more funds on Jan. 29 at 7:30 p.m.
“It’s nice to see that people haven’t forgotten about it and just said ‘yeah we helped out, been there, done that’ and have moved on.”
McIlroy agrees that the MCC approach to helping the people of Haiti is perhaps the most effective way of delivering aid. She said it’s better to understand exactly what the people need and where, rather than throwing money at the problem and hoping it will fix itself.
“I think that we are all part of the North American mindset that needs immediate results for what we’re doing. The bottom line is that, even before the earthquake, Haiti was an underdeveloped country that had huge needs,” she said. “But we need to look at what will happen in five years as opposed to ‘it’s been a year already and nothing has happened’.
“Today I am optimistic that things will improve with time, but we need time.”