At 4:53 p.m. Jan. 12, Zachary ’98 and Sharon Segaar-King ’98 were sitting down for an early supper with their four children when the floor began to rumble and the walls to wave. A geology major at Calvin, Zach, pictured at right, knew it was an earthquake and shouted for all to get out of the house. Sharon grabbed the baby while he herded their other three children outside. In the driveway, parked SUVs were bouncing.
“We heard this piercing cry—people crying out to God, people crying out in fear,” Sharon, pictured below, said. “I’ll never forget that piercing cry.”
Hundreds of Calvin alumni felt the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that devastated Haiti. Some, like the Segaar-Kings, felt it with their whole bodies. Others felt it in their hearts. These are but a few of those who continue to offer help to our Haitian neighbors.
Immediately after the quake, they and Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC) staff drew on connections established over the CRC’s 35 years in Haiti to quickly find food and water-filtration equipment for their Haitian staff and the staff of their seven Haitian partner organizations. They also located temporary housing for those who lost homes.
Soon joining them was Lee Mys ’68, one of three CRWRC international relief managers tasked with organizing a larger-scale emergency response. The team identified six villages in the Leogane area, near the earthquake epicenter, to receive tons of food and water and hundreds of tarps. The area is now the locus of CRWRC’s multi-year rebuilding and reconstruction program. Leanne Talen Geisterfer ’79, CRWRC’s Latin America team leader, arrived shortly after the quake and drew up plans to help the seven Haitian partner ministries get back on their feet.
At the CRC ministry center, Medical Teams International (MTI), headed by Bas Vanderzalm ’69, pictured above, organized a camp from which its doctors, nurses and other health professionals could fan out to hospitals, clinics and tent cities. In the first eight weeks after the quake, MTI sent over 70 professionals and more than $4.6 million in supplies and medicines. Lynn Schrotenboer Vanderzalm ’70, pictured at right, accompanied a trauma specialist into orphanages to help children draw out their grief. Now at a more long-term site, rotating teams of MTI volunteers continue to address health issues around Port-au-Prince and Les Cayes.
In the initial response phase, MTI volunteers went to Quisqueya Christian School where Daniel Wiersma ’08 was instrumental in establishing a computerized coordinating center for medical responders, including those from the U.S. military. A Seattle pediatric nurse fluent in Creole, Wiersma also helped transport the injured in helicopters and flat-bed trucks.
Orthopedic surgeons were especially needed to treat people injured by falling structures. Orthopaedic Associates in Grand Rapids has been sending teams since a week after the quake. Dave Bielema ’84 went in early February, setting fractures, performing amputations and even donating his blood both in Port-au-Prince and at a clinic east of the city. Fellow surgeon Robert DeMaagd ’79 followed in late March and found himself treating many chronic infections and injuries unresolved since the quake.
J. Taylor Haley ’88 was near Les Cayes with a Harvest International medical mission team from the church he pastors in LaCrosse, Wis., when the quake hit. Within hours, refugees from Port-au-Prince, many with serious injuries, had traveled the 90 miles to Les Cayes. Haley and his team extended their stay to help care for them and distribute emergency supplies.
Food for the Hungry sent David Curtis ’07 from its Florida headquarters to coordinate the transportation of food, water filters and medical supplies just outside Port-au-Prince in Siloe and in a region of rural villages called Bellevue La Montagne. There for three weeks, Curtis has found “lessons of perseverance and faithfulness learned from our Haitian friends” lingering with him.
Jonathan Fischer ’08 is teaching English classes and coaching a girls’ soccer team at The Haitian American Friendship Foundation in Pignon, about 70 miles north and east of the capital. Because of the number of refugees who streamed in from Port-au-Prince, the sizes of his team and his classes have swelled. Going to school, playing soccer, resuming routine as much as possible, he said, “contribute to helping people heal.”
The long-term physical need is to rebuild and expand infrastructure. Stuart Dykstra ’84, a hydrogeologist with V3 Co. in Chicago on loan to Haiti Outreach, has been back and forth since the quake helping to assess, install and repair urban and rural water systems.
Working with the Hope for Haiti Foundation, Lydia Shaw Dant ’05 had already conducted a health assessment in Bainet in preparation for the construction of a hospital there. She returns this summer to train midwives. Next January she will move to the Bainet area with her husband, Brian, whose work with subsistence farmers will help them feed families enlarged with earthquake refugees from the capital.
Arguably the most pressing long-term need in Haiti is sustainable employment. The country’s unemployment rate hovers at 70 percent. Since 1999, Partners Worldwide (PW) has helped grow small and medium businesses in Haiti by facilitating mentorships with American and Canadian businesspeople, training and access to capital. After the quake, staff in Grand Rapids, as well as PW business mentors around the country—like Nick Tuit ’65, Bernie Woltjer ’66 and Milt Kuyers ’57—were in quick communication with their Haitian business partners. Two structural engineers went to assess damages to shops and factories and to hear the owners’ needs. Then the Americans and Canadians began networking. In late March, Dave Genzink ’73, PW’s director of operations, arranged the shipment of cases of epoxy (for strengthening damaged concrete columns) and equipment to replace what business owners had lost.
Communications associate Jacqueline Klamer ’08 was with the first structural engineers from Partners Worldwide. The stories of resilience and entrepreneurial ingenuity in the rubble that she witnessed she wrote for media outlets and for a grant proposal that PW has submitted to major donors. The proposal offers a three-year business recovery plan that Haitian and their northern will tackle together.
“Small to medium business development enhances strong local leadership, who then can spark change in the foreign aid and trade policies that have hindered Haiti’s business sector for decades,” Klamer said.
In the years ahead, many alumni will join teams to help Haiti recover and be renewed. Dorina Lazo Gilmore ’99 and her family have decided to move to Haiti to host alumni and others volunteering through Christian Friendship Ministries, which helps support three churches, seven schools, three health clinics and an orphanage in and around Pignon, an area whose population has doubled with refugees.
For her family, and for many others, Gilmore said, the earthquake precipitated “an Esther moment: For such a time as this, we’ve been prepared.”
Gayle Boss is a freelance writer living in Grand Rapids
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