Pilot Project to Begin for Haiti Volunteers

April 22, 2010

By Elliott Wright | Stamford, Conn. (UMNS)

United Methodist mission volunteer service in post-quake Haiti will focus on housing, health, education and pastoral services through a six-month pilot project expected to get under way soon.
 
The pilot program, which could be extended, will involve both Haitians and volunteers from outside the country. It is the outcome of consultations among the representatives of the Methodist Church in Haiti, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, United Methodist Volunteers in Mission and the volunteers office of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.
 
The program is open to qualified volunteers from the United States and from Methodist churches in the Caribbean, Latin America and other parts of the world.
 
A $565,000 grant from UMCOR for the project was approved April 13 by UMCOR directors and affirmed by the Board of Global Ministries, of which UMCOR is a part. Discussion of the project in committee indicated that teams could possibly be in the field by early May.
 
Volunteer registration
 
Since a Jan. 12 earthquake devastated Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas, more than 3,000 people have registered their interest in going to Haiti as mission volunteers on a Web site maintained by Global Ministries.
 
Family housing will be one of the initial priorities, said Melissa Crutchfield, UMCOR's international disaster coordinator. While earthquake-resistant housing will be the long-term goal, she indicated, an immediate need is for transitional housing. Facilities for schools and health services are also priorities. In addition, the project includes training for Haitian pastors to become better equipped to deal with earthquake-related stress.
 
Infrastructure challenges -- such as transportation for people and materials, and housing for visitors -- have slowed the use of mission volunteers in post-earthquake Haiti, according to UMCOR staff.
 
In the pilot stage, volunteer teams will work on projects selected as priorities by the Methodist Church in Haiti. Each team will comprise eight to 12 members with skills appropriate to particular projects. U.S. teams will be coordinated through United Methodist Volunteers in Mission, a grassroots movement that operates on annual conference and jurisdictional levels.
 
Each team of volunteers will provide from $3,000 to $5,000 per qualifying project, amounts that will be matched by funds from the UMCOR grant. Team contributions will go through The Advance, the designated mission-giving channel of the church. All priority sites are expected to be identified by mid-June.
 
A central calendar
 
Teams will be scheduled through a central U.S.-based office, which will ensure that necessary paperwork covering insurance, finances and travel is appropriately handled. An office in Haiti will provide links to the church there and coordinate logistics and materials on the ground for teams.
 
Susan J. Meister of Belleville, Ill., has been chosen as the calendaring consultant. She is a member of Signal Hill United Methodist Church in the Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference and has experience in mission, relief and church communications.
 
The Rev. Mike Willis of Vestal, N.Y., who is fluent in conversational Creole, the language of Haiti, will be based in Port-au-Prince. He and his wife, the Rev. Mary Ricketts, are pastors of the Vestal United Methodist Church. He has been involved in Haiti mission work since 1995 and has visited there some 20 times, leading work teams in construction, microcredit and clean water projects.
 
Haitians will be involved in each undertaking. The proposal states that "substantial numbers of Haitians can be hired to work with team at a suggested 2-to-1 ratio of Haitians to Americans."
 
The first critical step for volunteers is to register online at http://secure.gbgm-umc.org/HaitiVolunteer/. In the United States, these names will go to the jurisdictional and annual conference coordinators, who will assist in assembling teams and coordinating with the calendar office.
 
Teams from Latin America and the Caribbean will be organized with the assistance of Global Ministries, the Methodist Church in the Caribbean and Americas, and the Council of Evangelical United Methodist Churches in Latin America.
 
The United Methodist Church has been sending volunteer-in-mission teams to Haiti for more than 30 years, and has strong links to congregations and institutions there. Prior to the January earthquake, the network was placing approximately 100 teams per year in Haiti.
 
*Wright is an author and consultant to the Board of Global Ministries.