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Local aid groups build on long-term ties to Haiti

| Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2010

The four Bradbury children, ages 3 to 8, eat cornbread from shiny, metal bowls at an oak table in their Highland Park dining room.

Their parents, Doug and Cande, bought the bowls when the family spent six weeks in Haiti last summer.

"It helps us remember, and keep in mind our friends down in Haiti," said Doug Bradbury, a youth ministry pastor at Geneva College in Beaver Falls. "Haiti is a reference point for us. ... It becomes an anchor or reality that guides the rest of the way we interact."

In the two weeks since an earthquake devastated Haiti's capital, the Bradburys and other Pittsburghers with connections to the island have thought a lot about the people there -- and tried to find ways to help. Co-founder of a nonprofit called Haiti H2O, Doug Bradbury has worked with other volunteers planning an emergency relief mission to the island.

Despite millions of dollars in help flowing in for decades, Haiti even before the earthquake was a place without reliable electricity and roads, or even outhouses for sanitation in outlying areas. For all the talk about how the disaster could be a turning point, change must come from the Haitian people and their leaders, activists said.

"So much money has been raised," said Sarah VanderMolen, a co-founder of Haiti H2O who has traveled on mission trips to the island since 1992. "You've got to think it will make a difference, but there's a little cynic in me that says, 'Is this going to go in the wrong hands?' I start to get too depressed if I think about the whole thing too much."

As the initial search-and-rescue phase of Haiti's recovery starts to end, people with nonprofit organizations are making plans for the eventual rebuilding. Some believe that despite previous setbacks with political unrest and rampant street crime, the disaster could shake up Haiti's political establishment enough to lead to real change.

The country needs rising political leaders, said the Rev. Leon Pamphile, a Stanton Heights resident who grew up on the island and lived there until he was 28. The country started making progress with plans for a second airport, a hydroelectric dam and tourism investment.

"Haitians are the most resilient people, but what has been lacking in Haiti is the leadership," said Pamphile, who started a nonprofit called Functional Literacy Ministry of Haiti to run a school and medical clinic in his hometown. "Everything has been destroyed — the presidential palace, ministries, legislatures. There's been total destruction and chaos, but the president did step out and say Haiti will rebuild."

Pittsburgh maintains strong ties to Haiti, many forged in the half-century since Dr. William Larimer Mellon Jr. and his wife, Gwen Grant Mellon, started a hospital there on the site of a former banana plantation. Because the groups seek to provide aid directly to people in Haiti, without going through the government, they tend to work on disparate projects without coordination.

Even before the earthquake, members of the Pittsburgh Presbytery scheduled a meeting this week to encourage cooperation among Presbyterian churches with regular missions to Haiti. More than 40 people attended the North Side event Monday.

"We thought it would be a good idea to get them together," said the Rev. Karen Battle, director for Justice Ministries and Mission at the Pittsburgh Presbytery. "People have been focused on (Haiti) prior to the earthquake. The attention has been there, but it's more pronounced now."

Before the quake, Pamphile and his wife, Rozelle, planned a medical mission to Haiti that was supposed to leave last Saturday. They postponed the trip until they can get there safely and provide reliable accommodations for doctors, nurses and students.

"It's gonna be a long, longtime problem in Haiti," said Rozelle, who lost three nephews in a collapsed building. "They're going to need people forever to help rebuild and help the people."

Global Links, a Garfield nonprofit, has sent three shipments of medical supplies to Haiti since the earthquake, and it is making long-term plans to work with 400 Haitian doctors to keep them stocked, said Kathleen Hower, executive director. The group is asking the public to donate crutches, walkers and wheelchairs.

Near Latrobe, members of the Living Hope Church in Whitney raised $1,500 with a special collection for mission partners in Carrefour, near the earthquake's epicenter, said Dawn Hamm, a church member who traveled to Haiti last year. The group in Haiti has 400 people living in its church sanctuary and an ad hoc medical clinic on the second floor. The mission's well survived the disaster and provides fresh water.

"In the midst of that horribleness, we just hear great news every day of people doing well," said Hamm, who plans to return to the island when the crisis ebbs.

The key for continued recovery is to help local leaders provide for their communities, Doug Bradbury said. Haiti H2O measures the willingness of its Haitian partners by how much work takes place between missions, when the Americans are not around.

The group helped build a bread oven, a school, a church. A group going in March plans to help dig a well.

"When we go back or show up, there's always something going," Bradbury said. "It takes longer to try to develop relationships, but the end result when you pull out is that the community is still growing."

Additional Information:

Garfield agency's effort gets boost

The Atlantic Philanthropies is giving Global Links a $250,000 grant to provide relief in Haiti.

Global Links is working with Hospital Albert Schweitzer in Haiti and local doctors to get donations of medical materials, medicine and equipment. Global Links also is working with Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization to support Haitian doctors educated at the Latin American Medical School in Cuba.

Based in Garfield, Global Links is a nonproft group that recovers surplus medical material and gives it to hospitals abroad before the equipment ends up in landfills.

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