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Healing in Haiti
Local relief efforts continue 1 year after the countrys deadly earthquake
APTOPIX Haiti Earthqu boae
A woman holds a rosary as she prays Wednesday during a mass at the Cathedral in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Wednesday marks the one year anniversary since Haiti’s magnitude-7.0 earthquake that devastated the capital and is estimated to have killed more than 230,000 people and left millions homeless. - photo by Ramon Espinosa

Heather Allen just returned from Haiti, where she scoped out locations for prebuilt homes for TEAMeffort, a Gainesville-based missionary group.

"It was a little overwhelming," said the Alabama native, working for TEAMeffort the past year. "But I can see hope in the future."

Gainesville First United Methodist Church on Thompson Bridge Road has teamed up with the organization to send 8-foot-by-12-foot homes costing about $600 each to the island nation, which was devastated by a 7.0-magnitude earthquake nearly a year ago.

The shipment is projected to take place before summer, Allen said.

Such relief efforts are still ongoing one year after the earthquake, which caused widespread damage and killed some 300,000 people. Many Hall County area groups, including missionaries, have been involved in the work.

Conscience International, a humanitarian aid organization founded by Jim Jennings of Gainesville, is building houses in Haiti to help those displaced in the catastrophe. Jennings came up with the idea of building them out of gabions, or wire cages that hold stones to stabilize building projects.

After setting up the gabions, workers cover them up with several inches of cement.

"You have an earthquake-resistant house that uses their rubble and their labor, and it costs $3,500 to $3,600 to build, including the overhead," said Jennings from New York, where he just returned from a trip to Sudan.

"And that's the size the Haitians are most happy with - the people who are living in the tents."

Conscience International has put together a coalition of groups involved in the effort to build "maybe thousands of houses," Jennings said, adding that Discovery Channel has filmed a piece about the initiative.

The organization has had teams in Haiti since November, he said.

"I'm planning to go back in February for a series of meetings with the churches," Jennings said.

Helping Hands Foreign Missions, another Hall County-based relief organization, went to Haiti soon after the earthquake, taking medical supplies and other needed items.

"We went there fairly quickly," executive director Stan Bell. Government officials "were saying, ‘Don't go,' when we carried our first couple of teams (to the country)."

At one point, "we had almost the entire basement of my house completely full of medical supplies and donated items," he said. "We had people down there working 10 hours a day just sorting things. ... It was kind of a major ordeal for a while."

The Christ-centered organization ended up taking six or seven teams.

"Our contact there was a pastor who ran an orphanage," Bell said. "We helped their children get up to a place up in the mountains that was safer.

"None of the children (at the orphanage) were killed in the earthquake, but they were sleeping outside. At that time, people were afraid to go back into buildings."

Helping Hands since "has done a few things with that pastor to start repairing and rebuilding the orphanage, and we're about to send a small team of folks there to look things over and see how things are at this time.'

Even though Haiti "isn't one of the countries we deal with on a regular basis, we're thinking that because of all that went on (there), we will kind of have a presence there," Bell said.

Other area residents and organizations are planning trips, as well.

Tim and Karen Shoda, who serve as missionaries for North Carolina-based Jesus Way Ministries, are planning a trip involving dental teams.

"So many people are living in tents. ... They have no sanitation, poor water systems and limited access to food," Tim Shoda said.

Jesus Way sponsors Hope Orphanage in Fontamara, Haiti. The home, housing 60 children, was destroyed in the earthquake, but "thankfully, no children (at the orphanage) were hurt," Shoda said.

Randy Puckett of Flowery Branch is planning to return as part of Sandy Creek Baptist Church in Madison.

The church intends to build a structure that will serve as a church, community center, school and hurricane shelter.

And Bill Lightfoot, dean of Brenau University's School of Business and Mass Communication, who worked last year with two sisters on a fundraiser to benefit Haitian schoolchildren, has met with students about future endeavors.

One Brenau student, Kathia Laguerre, recently went for a brief visit to Haiti to see her family.

"Our plans are to see if we can support further efforts to have Kathia, and possibly one or two other students, to work with the school we provided funds to (and) to identify ways in which we can assist them further," Lightfoot said.


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