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Pagosans continue to respond to crisis in Haiti

It is no secret that Pagosans will go to almost any lengths to help a neighbor in need. Every day, locals extend a helping hand to those in need, from providing a meal to the hungry to comfort for the infirm.

However, when those neighbors are 2,500 miles to the east, on a small island in the Caribbean, recent efforts show to what lengths Pagosans will go to help out those most in need.

Over the past several weeks, two projects, independently conceived and run, have raised money for the victims of January’s earthquake in Haiti.

Fourth-grade students at the Pagosa Springs Elementary School have raised over $300 for the victims of the January earthquake. According to fourth-grade teacher Brian Abel, the students, “Looked at photos online after the first quake and realized we needed to do something.”

With over 200,000 dead, 300,000 injured and more than 1 million homeless in Haiti, the students flew into action on Jan. 13, soliciting donations from family, neighbors, fellow students and teachers.

According to Abel, the students selected Doctors Without Borders as the charity to support, “Because they have no agendas,” he said.

While revealing that care and compassion are certainly important in a child’s development, the project has also been useful as a teaching tool. Not only did the students learn a little about Haiti — its culture and proximity to the U.S. — but the earthquake itself was an opportune springboard for fourth-grade earth science lessons, specifically plate tectonics.

However, Abel felt the most important lesson was, “They learned about caring, to try to help people who need help.”

On a larger scale, the Community United Methodist Church of Pagosa Springs has been busy, not just with collecting donations, but in compiling health kits to ship to Haiti. The kits include basic hygiene supplies — towels and washcloth, soap, toothbrush and toothpaste, etc. — and cost about $12. Since Jan. 12 (the date of the first earthquake) the CUMC has put together almost 300 kits.

As of press time, the CUMC had raised over $7,000 for its humanitarian mission in Haiti.

CUMC member Karen Davison (and fund-raising organizer) said that the CUMC was continuing to collect donations for Haiti, saying, “We still could use money for toothbrushes (for the health kits).”

Davison also said the CUMC will most likely seek donations later this year to fly sponsors to Haiti. “In some form or fashion in the next six months, we’ll probably be asking for donations designated for those plane tickets.”

Davison said that plane tickets run about $6,000 and, “It’s pretty hard for someone to afford that and take the time off from work.”

Davison did point out that the $7,000 raised so far by the Pagosa Springs CUMC would be allocated to the mission in Haiti and would not be used for sponsor’s plane tickets.

The CUMC’s fund-raising activities (although ongoing), culminated on Sunday, March 14, with a potluck and service at the church hall. Like Abel’s class at the elementary school, the potluck was an opportunity to educate the public on the history and culture of Haiti, as well as why the January earthquake was uniquely devastating.

First and foremost, the country of Haiti has been dealing with crippling poverty, almost since its inception as the second independent nation in the western hemisphere (after the U.S.) in 1804. Although Haiti was the first country in the western hemisphere to abolish slavery, the system was replaced with a form of slavery that exists to the present day, keeping 80 percent of the country’s citizens below poverty level, with most Haitians making less than five dollars a day.

In fact, Haiti is the only Third World nation in the western hemisphere, and among the 50 least developed nations in the world (according to a recent UN report). A long history of corruption in the government and civil strife has done its share of damage, but recent U.S. economic policies have also crippled Haiti’s economy — last week, former President Bill Clinton said in a Senate hearing that he now regrets the free trade policies passed during his tenure, due to the negative impact those policies have had on Haiti’s economy.

“It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked. It was a mistake,” Clinton said during the hearing. “I had to live every day with the consequences of the loss of capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people because of what I did; nobody else.”

Several months after the earthquake, the focus on aid to Haiti has started to shift from purely humanitarian concerns to rebuilding infrastructure and helping Haiti become more self-sufficient. Unfortunately, due to deforestation (for fuel), overpopulation and massive soil erosion, Haiti’s agricultural potential has been badly damaged over the past century and the population subsists largely on food imported from other countries.

Despite the Herculean task ahead for Haiti — hopefully creating a self-sufficient economic environment and creating an infrastructure where very little existed to begin with — every little bit helps for a population that, by and large, exists on wages averaging less than two dollars a day. Thus, for every health kit delivered to a Haitian to meet basic hygienic needs, money that would have been spent on those supplies can be used to purchase other necessities, or invested in rebuilding a life from the rubble.

To those ends of meeting the most basic needs of the average Haitian, Pagosans continue to dig deep into their pockets, reaching across a span of several thousand miles to offer a hand, to help people get back on their feet again.

Local residents interested in donating to the CUMC effort for Haiti can leave their donation with the receptionist at the Pagosa Springs Community United Methodist Church at 473 Lewis Street. Checks should be made out to the Community United Methodist Church with ‘Haiti” written in on the note line.

“Checks need to be marked ‘Haiti,’” said Pastor Jarrell Tyson. “100 percent goes to Haiti, none of the money goes to administrative costs. That’s how the United Methodist Committee on Relief works.”

jim@pagosasun.com