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Southwestern

Holly McCrae

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HAITI RELIEF: 2 years of care, thousands of changed lives

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (BP) -- Smiling through her tears, Madam Maris thanks and kisses the Southern Baptist volunteers as they hand her the keys to her new home. For nearly two years, the 70-year-old Haitian woman has lived in a tent. She lost her husband, two nephews, her arm and her home in the Jan. 12 earthquake that rocked Haiti in 2010. Now, she and her niece have a chance to start over. Theirs is one of many new beginnings Southern Baptists have helped provide since the 7.0-magnitude quake, which killed 230,000 people and left millions more injured, homeless or both. To date, Southern Baptists have given more than $11 million in aid. Many have volunteered their time and skills to help Haitians recover. At first, Southern Baptist aid workers focused on the most pressing needs -- medical care, food and basic shelter -- that would serve as a witness to the love of Christ. But they also sought more long-term solutions to help Haitians break the cycle of dependency that keeps them mired in extreme poverty. Since the quake destroyed or damaged millions of houses, the vast need for housing captured the attention of Southern Baptist relief planners. They developed a project called "Rebuild Haiti," a joint effort involving Haitians and Southern Baptists. By the time the housing project ends this spring, Rebuild Haiti will have constructed about 2,800 houses in 30 communities. The International Mission Board, Baptist Global Response, the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief Network and Florida Baptist Convention all have contributed to the effort. "This sounds like a lot, and it is a lot in such a short period of time," said retired missionary Carter Davis, who has worked with relief efforts in Haiti since the earthquake. "But the real effect is seen when we recognize how many persons are now in substantial houses and not in tents or other shelters." Since the average Haitian family is six people, an estimated 16,800 Haitians are now in stable homes. Many of these were built on original foundations, keeping families who owned land from relocating and losing their property. These projects also revived local businesses and put Haitians back to work. "Almost all the labor was done by Haitians," Davis said. "This provided income for many and stimulated the local economy by purchasing the materials from local stores." "It was a cooperative effort," agreed Jeff Palmer, Baptist Global Response. "Haitian Baptists and [other] Haitian workers actually built more of the houses than the volunteer teams. But the teams were good for coming down and interacting, sharing their faith, as well as just giving encouragement to the local people that 'Hey, somebody cares, and they're coming from the outside to help us rebuild our homes.'" Florida and Haitian Baptists were able to make significant contributions, in part because of the 17-year partnership Florida Baptists have maintained in the country, Palmer noted. Just in the joint Florida-Haitian effort, 124 new churches were started, 56 church buildings were repaired and 1,000 homes will be built by the time Rebuild Haiti wraps up in March.