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Latter-day Saint aid to Haiti continues under 'huge, emotional, impactful' experiences

First Presidency appeals to Latter-day Saints to help people in Haiti

Mormon efforts to aid the earthquake-ravaged nation of Haiti will likely last a year or longer, the Church's area welfare manager for the Caribbean Area said Friday, Jan. 22.

"This is going to be, as you can imagine, a long-term process," said Bennie Lilly, who spoke from his office in the Dominican Republic to several news reporters on a telephone conference call arranged by the Church's Public Affairs Department.

Dr. Mark Rampton cares for an Earthquake victim  at a clinic set up in an LDS Centrale Ward Church  in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
Dr. Mark Rampton cares for an Earthquake victim at a clinic set up in an LDS Centrale Ward Church in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Photo: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

"Right now, of course, we're just trying to meet basic needs," he said. "I suspect that in the future, we'll be providing some help with housing and other kinds of reconstruction efforts. I suspect we'll be in Haiti maybe as long as a year to try to deal with the issues they're dealing with."

Brother Lilly said a "wonderful outpouring of generosity from people" has made possible the Church's efforts thus far.

Haitians walk the streets in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2010.
Haitians walk the streets in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2010. Photo: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

"There were already tremendous needs in Haiti before the earthquake, given the political situation and other disasters they've had, " he said. "This is going to be a long-term relief effort, and donations, obviously, are encouraged to help us be able to continue to work."

Church members my donate through their ward donations; otherwise, donations for the Church's relief efforts may be made with credit cards via the Internet at give.lds.org/emergencyresponse

Haitians girls play in the streets in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2010.
Haitians girls play in the streets in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2010. Photo: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Brother Lilly said that since the earthquake occurred, he has coordinated various activities that have been going on between the Church offices in the United States, the Dominican Republic and Haiti. The relief effort has entailed providing food, water, medical supplies, tents, mattresses and arranging communication and transportation.

"Frankly, we're in the early stages," he said. "Although we've been able to get some relief to people, we need to improve things. We're working hard to get better transportation, and better means for us to be able to meet the needs of the people."

He said that during the day, people go into the streets to try to find relatives and meet their basic needs, then, in the evening, they assemble at any of nine LDS meetinghouses in the quake-affected region in and around Port-au-Prince.

The buildings have been a refuge for some 5,000 people, he said. Only 20 to 30 percent are Church members, he estimated, explaining that in the Haitian culture, one person fortunate enough to have a job might be the sole financial support for a number of people, including family and friends.

LDS efforts are being coordinated with those of a number of other organizations, such as Healing Hands for Haiti, Food for the Poor, CARE and Islamic Relief.

About 20 Church members have lost their lives, Brother Lilly said, including a man who was airlifted out for hospital care in the Dominican Republic and succumbed to his injuries. His wife and children had perished earlier.

Haitians stand by the side of road in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Friday, Jan. 22, 2010.
Haitians stand by the side of road in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Friday, Jan. 22, 2010. Photo: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Brother Lilly said it is "a huge, emotional, impactful experience" for rescue workers. He told of one Church physical facilities employee who soon after the disaster spent five days visiting the Church meetinghouse sites to assess damage. He reported seeing bodies on sidewalks and roads.

"We brought him back into the office the day before yesterday," Brother Lilly recounted. "I walked into his office and looked into his eyes. You could just see the pain that he was feeling. I didn't even speak to him. I just came up to him and put my arms around him. We shed tears together, hugging each other."

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