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A Church for the Future in Haiti

By Darren Hercyk with Tom Price

Three years ago on January 12, a massive earthquake shook Haiti and ended thousands of lives. That day also launched a wave of compassion and generosity for Haiti from Americans.

Students at Notre Dame Altagrace School

Students at Notre Dame Altagrace School learn about disease prevention through CRS partnerships with the Church and Haiti's health ministry. Photo by Rene Durocher for CRS

The 2010 quake devastated many parts of Haitian society. The Catholic Church, a constant in this nation's troubled history, did not escape damage. The ruins of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption in the heart of Port-au-Prince remain a monument to Haiti's loss. From the start of our emergency response there, Catholic Relief Services knew that reviving the charitable services of the Church would be fundamental to a brighter Haitian future.

Much work is being accomplished in Haiti in the name of Catholics in the United States. Two exciting partnerships with the Catholic Church in Haiti are not only enriching the lives of Haitians but building a stronger, more effective Church in Haiti.

Catholics Seek to Improve Education

The children of Haiti have long looked to Catholic education for their future, but these schools have few resources. For some time, the Haitian Church has planned to improve these schools, but needed to know what was going on in all schools, from Port-au-Prince to humble single-room schools.

This is where CRS, the University of Notre Dame and a bunch of iPods came in. CRS trained 76 data collectors to use an iPod Touch as a survey tool to record conditions and needs at every single Catholic school in Haiti. The results show just how important Catholic education is for Haiti.

More than 600,000 children attend 2,315 Catholic schools in Haiti. That is 20 percent of Haiti's school-aged children. With the data—which include numbers of teachers and information on school lunch programs and barriers to attendance—CRS launched a campaign with the Church to improve conditions across the Catholic education system. Solutions include teacher training, forming parent-teacher associations, and bringing more financial and material support to schools.

Catholics Improve Health Care

Catholic health care is another area in which CRS is working to equip the Haitian Church for the future. St. François de Sales Hospital in Port-au Prince was severely damaged during the earthquake. Yet, hospital staff members bravely salvaged anything they could and carried out lifesaving, emergency surgeries amid the wreckage.

Artist rendering of new St. François de Sales Hospital

St. François de Sales Hospital was destroyed in the earthquake that hit Haiti's capital city, Port-au-Prince, on January 12, 2010. CRS is rebuilding a new state-of-the-art hospital at the site. Illustration courtesy of CRS Haiti

Now a state-of-the-art Catholic teaching hospital is under construction and expected to be completed in 2014. The rebuilt St. François de Sales will provide doctors and nurses for Haiti's future while continuing to serve poor men, women and children. The hospital project is a partnership among the Archdiocese of Port-au-Prince, Catholic Health Association of the United States, Sur Futuro Foundation and CRS.

Catholics in Two Countries Join Forces

Working together, Catholics in the United States and in Haiti are making a real difference to the lives of people in need. At the One Table, Many Partners conference in Washington, DC, stories abounded about how ordinary Haitians and Americans are achieving extraordinary things.

Held in June 2012, this was the first national-Catholic-Haiti solidarity conference. Almost 400 people from more than 30 states attended, including representatives from every diocese in Haiti. Because of this meeting, parish-to-parish partnerships linking the two countries are now better equipped to succeed.

Still, much needs to be done. Hurricane Sandy brought terrible damage to agriculture in Haiti. In response, CRS is providing food assistance, repairing shelters and infrastructure, and is helping more than 50,000 people in the southern peninsula find temporary employment.

Three years after that terrible day, one message is clear: The Haitian Church is emerging with new strength and resources to care for its people.

Darren Hercyk is the CRS country representative in Haiti. He is based in Port-au-Prince. Tom Price is CRS' senior communications manager. He is based in Baltimore, Maryland.

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