Four years after quake, strengthening Haiti’s institutions

The rebuilding of Haiti following the January 12, 2010 earthquake is either taking a lot longer than expected or is going reasonably well.

Darren Hercyk, Haiti country director for Catholic Relief Services, has found the perspective that prevails depends on who is visiting on a given day.

A girl sits outside a classroom at St. Anthony of Padua Church in the rural community of Petite Riviere des Nippes, Haiti, in this March 2011 photo. CNS/Bob Roller

A girl sits outside a classroom at St. Anthony of Padua Church in the rural community of Petite Riviere des Nippes, Haiti, in this March 2011 photo. CNS/Bob Roller

For newcomers, he told Catholic News Service recently, the country’s seemingly overwhelming disarray is a shock and they wonder where the billions of dollars in aid promised by the nations of the world immediately after the earthquake has gone.

“Others would be amazed by how much has been done,” Hercyk said.

He prefers to focus on what has been done, having been in Haiti for a year and a half guiding Catholic Relief Services’ largest country program.

For Hercyk and the hundreds of CRS staffers, the effort is more than rebuilding structures and facilities; it’s about strengthening Haitian institutions nationwide. Give Haiti another decade, he said.

“Haitians need to see the change coming from Haitians,” he said from his office in the Delmas neighborhood of the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince. “The road to sustainability goes through strengthening Haitian institutions.”

Those institutions include nongovernmental organizations and the Catholic Church.

“Strengthening Haitian institutions doesn’t mean just coordinating with them. It really means getting in there and having them do the project and you working with them while they’re doing them. That’s the commitment we’re seeing much more today,” he explained

“At CRS we realize we won’t see long lasting change unless we invest in the church,” he said.

Among the efforts getting attention are education, health care, safety and security, housing, food and nutrition and more.

But Hercyk stressed patience.

Nearly 172,000 people remained in more than 300 tent camps Sept. 30, according to the International Organization for Migration, even though hundreds of thousands of displaced people have returned to their neighborhoods or moved in with relatives. In many cases the housing that is available is subpar and expensive. People everywhere live in tight quarters.

Affordable,  safe housing is among Haiti’s greatest needs. In response, CRS has set out in developing a pilot program with U.S. Agency for International Development in the community of Caradeaux. It calls for building 125 units whereby people can develop a sense of home ownership. If it works, it will be a model for other areas around the overcrowded capital, where nearly a third of Haiti’s 10 million citizens live.

Two other programs also deserve mention.

CRS continues to develop a country-wide education program that takes advantage of the strengths of a particular school and helps others see where improvements are necessary. The program stems from a survey released in June 2012 that tabulated details on every school in the country including data on the obvious, such as teacher salaries and availability of technology, and the not so obvious, such as access to safe drinking water and waste removal.

The report is being used to identify shortcomings, roadblocks to improvements, teacher training needs and building needs so that resources can be funneled appropriately to Catholic schools, the largest provider of education in Haiti. For the record, Catholic schools account for 15 percent of schools in Haiti, while public schools number just 12 percent of schools. The remainder are run by other religious groups or private entities.

A bed is seen in a room at St. Francis de Sales Hospital in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Jan. 30, 2010, weeks after it was destroyed by an earthquake. CNS/Bob Roller

A bed is seen in a room at St. Francis de Sales Hospital in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Jan. 30, 2010, weeks after it was destroyed by an earthquake. CNS/Bob Roller

On the health care front, CRS and the Catholic Health Association in the U.S. have helped build a nationwide network of eight hospitals — with two others about to join — to share information, purchase equipment and medication, improve business operations and offer training programs. Hercyk credited CHA’s technical know-how for improving hospital operations.

“Our role is to create the network which can be a stand-alone institution,” he said.

Meanwhile, construction continues on the new St. Francis de Sales Hospital in the capital. The hospital was destroyed in the earthquake, but served as a triage center for some of the most seriously wounded people for weeks under tents set up in an outdoor courtyard. Hercyk said CRS plans to turn over the completed build on Oct. 1 with the goal of opening the state-of-the-art facility in time for the fifth anniversary of the disaster.

Fallout from the introduction of cholera in 2011 continues to plague Haiti, however. While incidences are down, any major rainstorm will continue to push the water-borne illness into new areas. Health care workers have done tremendous work limiting the disease in a country rife with health care challenges.

Through Dec. 19, more than 695,700 cases of the disease had been reported by the Haitian Ministry of Public Health and Population, with 8,515 deaths.

Papal calls to cloistered nuns are hit or miss

Nuns carrying an Argentine flag smile after Pope Francis leads Angelus at Vatican

Nuns carrying an Argentine national flag as they attended Pope Francis’ first Angelus in St. Peter’s Square March 17, 2013. (CNS photo/Paul Hanna, Reuters)

VATICAN CITY — It’s hit or miss — even for the pope — when calling a cloistered monastery. Pope Francis had much better luck today when he phoned a small community of nuns in southern Italy.

Apparently in today’s conversation with the Italian nuns, he joked about not reaching a real person when he called the Carmelite nuns in Cordoba, Spain, last week.

“My congratulations because you answered right away. When I called the convent in Barcelona (sic) I got an answering machine,” the pope reportedly told Sister Maria Gonzalez, the 48-year-old Guatemalan mother superior of the St. James Major monastery of Palo del Colle in Bari.

The Italian paper La Gazzetta del Mezzogiorno reported that the pope called the Olivetan sisters right when they were preparing lunch around 12:30. Seventy-year-old Sister Paula answered the phone in the kitchen while the others were at the stove, she told the paper.

At first they thought it was a prank call, but the pope assured them with his blessings and prayers for a happy new year. Sister Maria said she was so flustered she couldn’t even speak in her native Spanish with the Argentine pope.

The pope’s reported remarks today were referring to another instance of him poking fun during a call last week to the Discalced Carmelites of Lucena in Cordoba, Spain.

When no one at that cloistered monastery answered his call, the answering machine kicked in.

The pope left the following message which you can hear here:

“What are the nuns doing that they can’t answer? This is Pope Francis, I wish to greet you at this end of the year. I will see if I can call you later. May God bless you!”

He did call later and he spoke with the prioress for 15 minutes.