AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
The following story ran this week in "The InterMountain" a community newspaper covering Elkins, Buckhannon and other small towns in their area. InterMountain has granted me permission to rerun this story here.
I feel the story shows the heart of West Virginias not only in times of calamities, but year around. It also shows that people of faith are the ones that reach out to help the needy. Please see the link at the bottom of the story.
UPDATE: Link to related story
Locals recall missions to Haiti
By BEN SIMMONS, Staff Writer
ELVINS, W Va. - In what President Barack Obama is calling one of the largest relief efforts in recent history, thousands of troops and a massive array of civilian rescue workers have deployed to the earthquake stricken country of Haiti this week to begin relief efforts.
The magnitude-7 quake struck Tuesday at about 5 p.m. According to The Associated Press, at least eight hospitals in the nation's capital, Port-au-Prince, were severely damaged making it impossible to treat the thousands of injured or prevent the outbreak of diseases. More than 50,000 people are believed to be dead.
Although Elkins is a relatively small community, a significant number of residents have visited Haiti on missionary and humanitarian trips over the past several decades. Members of the religious and medical communities have traveled to the island to build clinics, orphanages, homes and other structures.
Dr. Samuel Roberts of Elkins has made nearly 20 trips to Haiti since the early 1990s. He's been responsible for helping build two medical clinics, one of which is located about 15 miles from the earthquake's epicenter. He doesn't know if it is still standing.
"It's hard to conceive how desperate this country was before, I can't imagine in my worst nightmare how bad it is now," Roberts said. "There is looting and rioting. It's basic survivalism and people are trying to help themselves and their families. It's devastating. I feel helpless being here and not being able to go."
Robert said each trip he made spanned one to two weeks. While there, he would stay in church compounds or in huts. He still has "very close connections" with students and orphans whom he has worked with over the years. He said he keeps in touch with many of them on a regular basis; however, he doesn't know if his friends are still alive because the communications have been knocked out.
"What little infrastructure they had is not there anymore," Roberts said. "There are no fire departments and no emergency squads. They only have a rudimentary police department. Now with the earthquake, it devastated what infrastructure they did have in place. There is just nothing in place to deal with this type of emergency. The only help the people would have would come through the United Nations, the U.S. aid or a church missionary project, and that's where most of the good is done, through the church missionary groups."
During his trips, Roberts worked closely with the Functional Literacy Ministry, a charitable organization with strong ties to Haiti. He said the organization is requesting donations and "every penny" is sent to schools, churches and clinics in Haiti. Roberts said he is planning to make the trip in a few weeks to assist with disaster relief.
Mark Talbott, co-owner of Elkins Builder Supply and Talbott Glass, has been to Haiti six times with Roberts. He's made trips to Port-au-Prince and Fort Liberte, among other places. He's done everything from helping build a clinic to handing out medicine.
"I helped do whatever was needed," Talbott said. "I did construction work, mostly. We built a clinic in Port-Au-Prince.
"To describe the place, it's a third world country. There is nobody in West Virginia as poor as these people. They have absolutely nothing. Here's the thing, they only have rich people and poor people. There is no middle class. It is very difficult for people to move up the ladder. I met people who have all kinds of ambition and no avenue to go anywhere with it. They can't even do anything with an education because there are no jobs.
"I'm sure that it's just devastated an area that is already devastated. This year they went through hurricane season without any hurricanes and then they have an earthquake, it's like they are doomed. The only thing that is nice there is the weather - it's a Caribbean island. There was only one storm when I was there. It was a tropical storm and even that type of thing, blows their shacks down," he said.
Talbott said the quality of construction is very poor because there are no building codes and people use whatever supplies they have to construct homes and other structures.
"The concrete is very sandy without much cement in it," Talbott said. "It crumbles easily and doesn't hold. They do use steel rebar, but that's minimal. They do construction as cheap as possible. The buildings that are built correctly are fairly nice, but the average person can't do that type of construction. Most people live in shacks or one story block buildings with dirt floors and a tin roof."
He said most Haitians would come to the clinic whether they were sick or not, just to get medicines to help them later. He said almost the entire population has high blood pressure or is malnourished.
"Right now the important thing is since it's in the news everybody in the world is anxious to help and do something immediately and that's going to make an immediate impact," Talbott said. "But what's going to happen in a month or two from now, when it's not so much in the news? It's going to take a long time for them to rebuild."
Bonnie Woodrum, RN, strategic national stockpile coordinator for the Randolph County Health Department, returned from the northeastern town of Fort Liberte, Haiti, on Jan. 6. She visits Haiti each year and estimates she's made about 20 trips since 1990, including a few with Roberts.
"I spoke with some friends from Fort Liberte and they said they felt the aftershocks, and they live about 150 miles away," Woodrum said. "I belong to a group called Friends of Fort Liberte and we go to the same place each year. We've built a school and an orphanage and managed to get a clinic building built. We sponsor the clinic, so it's open year round. It has changed the whole health of the town and area in general."
While there, Woodrum said she typically works at the clinic. However, she said several projects often require everyone to help. Most recently, she said a footer was dug for a new orphanage and a farm was constructed to help feed the children.
"We have a program to feed the kids school lunches," Woodrum said. "We have a sponsorship program for nearly 500 children in that town. The little bit of money going in constantly has helped the economy of the whole town. Consistency is the reason we have made a difference. We don't do grandiose things, but we are persistent in it.
"A lot of people in the area have been supporting this mission for a long time," Woodrum said. "We have more to work within our clinic than they do in the hospital. This is from a bunch of volunteers. We pay our own way and we buy our own supplies. It's amazing what a few people can do."
Although there is a hospital in the town, Woodrum said the people have to pay up front and it often doesn't have the necessary supplies.
"We work in the clinic and people line up for miles because they know the Blancs are going to help them," Woodrum said. "We are probably more generous with our meds. We manage to keep that clinic open year around, so when people have cuts or burns they can get treatment. We see lots of burns because nearly everyone there cooks over open fire."
Bowden Family Worship Center Pastor Lynn Ryder said his church has three missionaries ready to make the trip. However, the effort has been postponed because many flights into Haiti have been cancelled. Rider said the missionaries, which include Davis Memorial Hospital nurses Luke Bucher and Charlene Simmons, along with a teenage student, are still planning to go as soon as possible.
"We have three missionaries ready to go, but they had to cancel because there are no flights going in," Rider said. "Now the two nurses are trying to find a way down now, but there is no use to go down there unless they can get hooked up with somebody because they will need a place to stay and food and water."
Rider said he will be talking with the church's board to see what else can be done. The church intends to help out financially.
Even before the earthquake struck, Bucher and Simmons were planning to head to Haiti this weekend.
"We were getting ready to do a medical trip," Bucher said. "We have a friend that already went. He's OK; he didn't get injured or killed. He was with us last year and decided to go down early. Now we can't get there, but we'll be going just as soon as we can. We want to help out anyway we can. It's just heartbreaking to see all the devastation.
"It's going to take a lot of coordination to get things set up. The hospitals were already overwhelmed, now they have even more to deal with. The big needs right now are food and water and addressing the big injuries. It's only going to get a lot worse over the next few months," he said.
Bridget and Charles Mauzy of Elkins made a few trips to Haiti with their sons in the late 1990s. Bridget Mauzy is a nurse and her husband works in construction.
Both were shocked after seeing the earthquake footage from the television news media.
"Even under their best circumstances, it's just horrible," Bridget Mauzy said. "It's hard for people to imagine what it's like if they have never been there. They are very good people and they are very welcoming and very grateful. We're just trying to figure out what we can do to help."
Bridgett Mauzy said having been to Haiti brought the experience "close to home."
While in Haiti, Bridget Mauzy worked in the medical clinic and her husband and sons worked on various construction projects including building a trade school and orphanage.
"They had a bucket brigade," Bridget Mauzy remembered. "The Haitians would help by passing buckets of cement down the line. They would go forever. They wouldn't stop. They didn't have rubber boots, so they would take inner tube tires and tie them around their shoes or feet to make boots."
Although several charitable organizations are raising funds for relief efforts, Roberts said anyone interested in donating money should consider making a contribution to the Functional Literacy Ministry.
Donations can be sent to FLM Haiti Inc., 1064 Premier St., Pittsburgh, Pa. 15201, or made on line at www.Flmhaiti.org.
SOURCE: The InerMountain