Travelers can provide helping hands in Haiti and from afar

A Caribbean island is still recovering from what a Midwestern university calls one of the top five deadliest disasters in contemporary history. Media attention on Haiti has significantly diminished since a January 12, 2010 earthquake crumbled landmark buildings and killed tens of thousands of people, according to Northern Illinois University. Yet missionary travelers continue to help the area where NIU reports 325,000 people are still living under tents and more than 8,000 have died from a bacterial disease that, in developing countries like Haiti, is often caused by polluted water.

“It’s overwhelming to look out and see such intense need…and have no idea where to even start,” Help for Haiti missionary traveler Kari Uetz blogged. “So you just jump in. You hug, you love, you kiss, you hold, you sing, you pray, you smile, you cry…and you just hope that you’re making an impact.”

Haiti sits in an earthquake prone area of the island of Hispaniola to Cuba’s south. The 2010 earthquake, a 7.0 on the Richter scale, would be considered two points short of total destruction anywhere. But in Haiti, poorly constructed buildings are packed in like sardines.

Port-au-Prince Archbishop Joseph Serge Miot, opposition leader Micha Gaillard and United Nations Stabilization Mission Chief Hédi Annabi were among tens of thousands who died. Of 14 students and faculty members from Boca Raton, Fla.-based Lynn University who were on a mission to help the needy there, only eight returned. The bodies of many victims were buried in mass graves. The Presidential Palace and the Port-au-Prince Cathedral and other landmarks damaged to severely destroyed.

How did the Earthquake Happen?

The quake happened as a result of “plates,” or slabs of crust on which lands upon the earth constantly drift. Much of North America, along with Cuba and Greenland, sits atop a North American Plate. Central America, the northern portion of South America and most of the Caribbean are a part of a Caribbean Plate.

At one point, the North American plate slipped beneath the Caribbean plate along the northeast coast of Hispaniola, where the Dominican Republic sits. The plate dug itself into the earth, building pressure in an area near Haiti to the west, where the plates slide past each other on what’s known as a “fault” line. The pressure built for some 200 years until the epicenter of the 2010 earthquake struck 10 miles outside of the capital city of Port-au-Prince.

Cholera Outbreak

By October of 2010, an outbreak of cholera began to spread. Cholera is a bacterial disease that targets the intestines and can cause diarrhea and dehydration. In developing countries, it is most often spread through water that’s contaminated with untreated sewage or the shellfish that comes from it. Nearly 670,000 cases of cholera and more than 8,200 deaths from the disease were reported as of Aug. 4, 2013, according to Haiti’s Ministere de la Sante Publique et de la Population (MSPP).

How you Can Help and Get Involved

NIU’s Anthropology Museum (815-753-2520; www.niu.edu) in mid-November is to showcase a wind-and-sun battered tent, artifacts of tent life and reproductions of a typical Port-au-Prince residence. Attendees of the five-month exhibit titled, “Fragments: Haiti Four Years After the Earthquake,” are being asked to bring bottled water to help reduce the effects of the cholera outbreak.

By delivering water, assisting in orphanages and more, travelers who participate in Healing Haiti (www.healinghaiti.org) missions can help the survivors rebuild their houses and their lives. “Each place we went, I found the people overwhelmed with gratitude and full of love for us,” “Gary,” another Healing Haiti participant, wrote. “The difference made would stay with them and give them hope and more than a little light in their lives. . .”

Adventures in Missions (1-877-811-0210; www.adventures.org) is planning a 2014 “Race for the World” that includes Haiti on its $15,500 per person September itinerary. Peru, Ecuador, Thailand, Malaysia and other locales are also part of this route intended for travelers ages 21 to 35. The organization is based in Champlin, Minn., and charges $800 per person ($850 beginning Jan. 1, 2014) plus airfare for eight days of lodging, ground transportation, interpreters, meals and bottled water. Participants must be aged 15 or older or accompanied by a parent.

Naples, Fla.-based Missions of Hope, Haiti (239.791.8125; www.mohhaiti.org), offers mission travel excursions for medical professionals in addition to church partnerships and child sponsorships. In doing so, the organization reports that it feeds 54,000 children and students daily, helps educate 3,000 children provides long-term housing to 300 families.

Participants paying their own airfare meet at Mission of Hope’s Titanyen, Haiti campus, where lodging of $575 per person includes expenses, ground transportation, some food and a resort beach day.

“It’s not necessarily the missionaries in the world who do those crazy, life-threatening things who change the world,” Jessica Donaldson writes on the Adventures in Missions website. “The people who change the world are those who choose life and live to the fullest in every situation, every single day.

“You can change the world, even in a so-called ‘normal’ life. What’s stopping you?”

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About Author: Michelle Sheldone

Michelle Sheldone is an award-winning writer and the author of "Historic Walking Guides: Florida Keys." She launched her career at Family Circle magazine, where she worked as an entertainment editor. She has since contributed to newspapers, magazines and travel guides and handled marketing for government, education, travel, hospitality, fashion and conservation interests.