Chances are that the first voices you hear in post-earthquake Haiti will have that self-assured twang of Southern Baptists from Houston, Atlanta, Tallahassee or Nashville. They land in bunches at Toussaint Louverture International Airport wearing T-shirts that read “Healing Haiti” and other rather proud claims.
They’ve come to be with the people of Haiti in whatever way they can. Many of them have real skills, from engineering to medicine to construction. They may be mostly unilingual and perhaps culturally tone deaf, but we should remember that the first Bible translated into Creole was a mostly Baptist effort.
Haiti is 80-per-cent Catholic, but Catholic visitors are rarely seen.
Catholics are there however, said American Dr. Peter Kelly.
“We need to do a better job of educating the world about all that Catholics are doing in Haiti,” he told The Register by e-mail.
Kelly is the president of the board of the Crudem Foundation which founded the Sacré Coeur Hospital in Milot. The hospital is supported by three American associations of the Order of Malta, and the board works closely with the Maltesers, the Knights of Malta’s international aid organization.
“There are many Protestant groups in Haiti and they are doing a good job providing health care and education,” said Kelly. “However, the Catholic presence in Haiti is much greater but doesn’t seem to get the publicity.”
Some of that may have to do with a preference for deferring to Haitian leadership and expertise whenever possible.
“Our philosophy has always been to teach the Haitian medical personnel to provide the best care possible for the Haitian people. We have been very successful in our goal and now have 20 Haitian physicians on staff as well as 90 nurses,” said Kelly. “We bring volunteers to our hospital to work side-by-side with Haitian staff providing care to the patients as well as teaching the Haitians and learning from them.”
The cholera outbreak in November was a case where Haitians took the lead. Volunteers simply couldn’t get into the country quick enough to help.
“Our Haitian administration developed an emergency plan for treatment of the cholera patients and became a cholera treatment centre,” said Kelly. “They did this without any volunteers present in the country, although we provided guidance. When the (Atlanta) Centre for Disease Control inspected our centre we were told that it was the best in the northern part of the country.”
When volunteers got there, it was Haitian staff who told them where to be and what to do.
“The challenge for the many countries and organizations that are willing to help Haiti is to understand that they need to work with the Haitians, and not dictate the way things need to change and improve.”