Haiti Pilot Project Readied for Mission Volunteers
by Elliott Wright
Stamford, CT, April 14, 2010--Earthquake-related United Methodist mission volunteer service in Haiti will focus on housing, health, education, and pastoral services under a six-month pilot project expected to get underway soon.
The pilot, which could be extended for a longer period, 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 (UMCOR), United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM), and the Volunteers Office of the General 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 grant of $565,000 from UMCOR will support at least six months of the work. It was approved on April 14 by directors of UMCOR and affirmed by the General Board of Global Ministries, of which UMCOR is a part. Discussion of the project in committee indicated that teams can possibly be in the field by early May.
Since the earthquake devastated Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas on January 12, more than 3,000 persons have registered their interest in going to Haiti as mission volunteers on a website maintained by Global Ministries. secure.gbgm-umc.org/HaitiVolunteer
Family housing will be one of the initial priorities, said Melissa Crutchfield, international disaster coordinator for UMCOR. 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. Also included is 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 has 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 be made up of 8 to 12 members with skills appropriate to particular projects. US teams will come through United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM), 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 (calendared) through a central US-based office, which will assure that necessary paper work 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. Staff persons have been selected for those posts. A third position will focus on hospitality and finance.
Susan J. Meister of Belleville, Illinois, has been chosen as the calendaring consultant. She is a member of the Signal Hill United Methodist Church in the Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference, and has experience in mission, relief, and church communications. She is the mother of five surviving children. Her husband, the Rev. Peter J. Wehrly is pastor of Signal Hill Church.
The Rev. Mike Willis of Vestal, New York, 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."
Many details of the pilot project came into focus in a recent visit of three jurisdictional UMVIM coordinators to Haiti, where they met with the Rev. Gesner Paul, superintendent of the Methodist Church in Haiti, which is a district of the Methodist Church of the Caribbean and Americas. A possible three-year program, including the six-month pilot, was worked out with staff of the Mission Volunteers Office of Global Ministries, in collaboration with UMCOR.
The proposal to UMCOR was submitted by Jerald McKie, Global Ministries' interim associate general secretary for mission relationships, who supervises the volunteer office, and the five jurisdictional UMVIM coordinators: Lorna Jost, North Central; Greg Forrester, Northeastern; Debbie Vest, South Central; Paulette West, Southeastern; and Heather Wilson, Western. The Rev. Cynthia Harvey, the newly elected head of UMCOR, effective May 1, and other staff of UMCOR and Global Ministries were also involved in the planning.
The program will be evaluated as it progresses; as benchmarks are reached and viability shown, the sponsors are prepared to seek volunteers and matching funds for another 30 months.
The first critical step for volunteers is to register online (see above). In the US, 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 (MCCA), and the Council of Evangelical United Methodist Churches in Latin America (CIEMAL).
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 UMVIM network was placing approximately 100 teams per year in Haiti.
Elliott Wright is an author and consultant to the General Board of Global Ministries.