How three Westmont alumni worked together to assist earthquake victims
by Jenise Steverding ’97
Gunshots and screaming woke me up at 2:30 a.m. Lying on the cold, rocky ground in the Haitian tent city, all I could do was pray for God’s grace and protection in the situation. A few hours later, I learned that security guards had stopped two men from stealing a baby. Ten days after Haiti’s horrific earthquake, children had become more vulnerable than ever. Those who were abducted could end up in forced labor or sexual slavery — or become victims of Voodoo rituals. The shortage of food also meant the unimaginable risk of cannibalism.
Much of the I work I do for Giving Children Hope takes place in my office in Buena Park, Calif. As director of advancement, programs and administration, I oversee the distribution of surplus medical supplies throughout the world sent in response to disasters or dire need. Each week we take in about 40 pallets of excess medical supplies worth about $300,000 that would otherwise end up in our limited landfills. Staff members and volunteers help us redirect equipment and medicine to communities in need.
All the crates and pallets waiting in our warehouse look alike from the outside, but each holds life-giving supplies that serve specific purposes. I rarely get to see them opened and distributed, so traveling to Haiti gave me a glimpse into this important aspect of our work. Handing out food to people living in the improvised tent city and visiting small Haitian clinics treating earthquake victims brought tears to my eyes.
When the Haiti earthquake hit January 12, 2010, Giving Children Hope (GCHope) focused our relief efforts fully on Haiti to bring assistance to those suffering the effects of the devastating quake.
Through the amazing, inexplicable work of God, Richard Branson received a call from a loosely-affiliated GCHope partner asking for assistance in shipping supplies to Haiti. Branson owns Virgin America, and within a few days of the disaster, we began sending up to 10,000 pounds a day on the airline’s flights from Los Angeles to Fort Lauderdale, Fla. From there we worked with private charters to move more than 25 tons of medical supplies, pharmaceuticals and food to the Port-au-Prince airport. Different GCHope partners received and distributed these products to their respective communities.
Our philosophy of relief and development centers on empowering local church and organizations. Rather than sending materials and setting up our own facilities overseas or at the site of disasters, we seek to work with the people already serving the community. Delivering aid allows these groups to earn trust and strengthen their ability to advance the gospel.
On January 18, I was surprised when my boss asked me to put together a team to travel to Haiti the next day and assist in delivering aid. I never suspected that three of the six would be Westmont alumni.
Norm ’61 and Cher Nelson were the first people I called because of their long history of amazing experiences in these situations and Cher’s work in Haiti. The Nelsons run Compassion Radio and travel the world telling stories about the persecuted church. They don’t just educate you; they compel you to do something to help and get involved. I wasn’t surprised that they committed to the trip without hesitation.
Dr. Cozzette Lyons-Jones from Cottonwood Church and Tom McCoy of McCoy Rigby Entertainment also quickly agreed to go. Filling the sixth seat proved to be a challenge. Four different people said yes and then had to drop out. At 8:30 a.m. Tuesday morning, I called Jason Friesen ’02 and asked him to leave for Haiti with us that evening. He immediately agreed. Jason and I had connected eight months earlier after the Westmont alumni office told me about the non-profit organization he founded. Trek Medics International provides emergency medical care in under-served countries. We had talked once on the phone but had never met. His background as a paramedic and instructor made him an ideal candidate for our team.
We met officially for the first time Tuesday at the Los Angeles airport. We boarded the plane with $25,000 of medical supplies and plans to oversee the distribution of previous shipments.
I have traveled extensively and twice moved to a new continent, and I have always felt well equipped for the challenges and obstacles international travel entails. But it was impossible to prepare for Haiti. In addition to the usual problems of sleep deprivation and exhaustion, this trip presented an endless list of herculean tasks typical of relief trips to developing countries. There were moments when the lack of sleep got the best of me and I melted in the face of problems with logistics and communication. While we all fell short at times, we soon realized that God had planned the trip and gone before us.
When we landed in Port-au-Prince Tuesday night, we learned we couldn’t travel the 10 miles to Grace International, one of our partners. The roads were impassable with thousands of Haitians sleeping in the streets, fearful of returning to their homes. Even during the day, the short journey could take hours. Our late arrival meant we stayed on the tarmac, inhaling jet fumes and covering our ears from the apocalyptic noise of the non-stop procession of military transport and cargo planes.
The next morning we finally arrived at the Carrefour campus of Grace International, which belongs to a network of about 250 churches in Haiti. The compound has two walls: the outer one encompasses a 10-acre area with a school, a church, a medical clinic and an unfinished children’s hospital. The inner wall surrounds the girls’ home, about an acre and a half in size. During the earthquake, the outer walls fell, leaving eight unprotected acres of the only open space in the area. Grace International soon became home to an internally displaced persons (IDP) tent city of about 17,000 people. Unexpectedly, the local church served as the hands and feet of Jesus in the midst of tragedy.
We arrived at the camp with 600 pounds of supplies and medicines to supplement shipments we’d already sent. Norm and Cher began interviewing people for their radio program, while Jason and Cozzette got to work in the make-shift clinic operating out of the large, open-air church that was still intact.
That day Jason did an amazing thing: He left 99 patients to care for one small child. A baby at the clinic had become septic from untreated pneumonia and was facing respiratory failure. Although the boy had little chance of survival, the staff gave him medicine, intubated him and sought transport to a hospital. As a paramedic, Jason knew what this entailed, so he volunteered to go with the child. It took him three hours, five vehicles (two of which broke down) and three hospitals before he finally put the boy on a helicopter to the Comfort, a U.S. hospital ship floating a mile offshore from the clinic in Carrefour. Jason says God was truly in control; miraculously, the tubing didn’t move the two millimeters that would have irreparably impaired the baby’s breathing . A week later Jason received an e-mail from the flight paramedic on the helicopter reporting that the child survived.
On the second day, the Nelsons moved to a second GCHope partner, Mission of Hope, taking 200 pounds of hand-carried medical supplies. Although I tried to take the rest of the team to some of the other locations we were scheduled to visit, God intended for us to remain at the IDP camp, so that’s where we stayed.
I distributed food one evening in the camp and delivered medical supplies to small clinics in the area. As I watched, nurses and doctors gave crutches to patients who had lost limbs and could now begin walking again. Some of the sick were seeing a doctor for the first time 10 days after the quake, and I was glad we had brought medicine for them.
At times I felt absolutely powerless. Around 10 p.m. one night a young man began pounding on the gate of the inner wall, yelling for a doctor. He held a young woman, who drooped in his arms. Our physician got out of bed only to discover that she had already died. The couple had been married just a month earlier. There are no words that can ease the pain in situations like these. All we can do is hold the sufferers and silently pray for them.
After such an immense loss, this man could only go back to a tent made of sheets, lie on the dirt floor and cry himself to sleep. It seems wrong and inhumane, yet so many Haitians live with similar tragedies. What can be done? I still struggle when I remember the widower.
But in the midst of all the pain and tragedy, I found reason to hope for the people of Haiti. The children still ran around with smiles on their faces, laughing and playing. As I talked with different people, they consistently asked me to pray for them.
I hope the Westmont community will remember the people of Haiti in prayer and that we’ll take what we’ve learned about the disaster and move by faith into practical action. Each of us has received different abilities and resources from God. My experience at Westmont and the Urban program inspired my heart and passion for the poor. I pray that God will move the hearts of our great community of leaders and that each will do what they can for Haiti. This is the time for the church to be the hands and feet of Jesus to care for the poor, the orphaned, the vulnerable, and the widow. What part is God calling you to play?
For more information about GCHope and their work in Haiti, go to www.aidtohaiti.org and www.gchope.org.
Quake Assists Adoption of Haitian Orphans
When Paul ’83 and Susan Pond ’84 Yost decided to adopt two Haitian orphans from Port-au-Prince, they thought it would be two years before the children arrived at their home in Colorado Springs. But the earthquake that struck Haiti January 12 upset all their expectations. While the children survived the initial disaster, the Yosts learned four days later that the orphanage where they lived was running out of essential supplies such as water, food, formula and medicine. “We didn’t know if the kids would receive humanitarian parole visas and leave the country or if the condition of the government would delay our adoption indefinitely,” Susan says. “We wondered if they would die for lack of water.”
The plight of the orphanage soon received international attention from Fox News and CNN, who broadcast images of the babies in the back of a truck. This coverage helped bring supplies to the institution, and Susan spent hours on the computer and the telephone contacting government officials and aid organizations to line up assistance. Conditions gradually improved, and the U.S. government granted the orphans humanitarian parole to come to the states.
“Those 12 days were some of the hardest of my life,” Susan says. “It seemed like such a spiritual battle for us here and for those trying to get the kids out.” After endless rumors and uncertainties, a phone call Jan. 24 heralded the arrival of Yrederline (now Kayla), 8, and Prince (now Michael), 5. Governor Ritter of Colorado had arranged for the orphans headed to his state to fly to Denver International Airport, and the Yosts met them at a hangar there. “Yrederline pointed at the ground and said, ‘Daddy. Colorado?’” Susan says. “We could finally tell her yes, she had arrived in her new home.”
The Yosts, who have served with Campus Crusade for Christ as missionary staff for 23 years, found themselves unprepared for the sudden addition of two children to their family of seven. A friend helped them buy a 12-passenger van; a local car dealership matched the funds raised. Their church family provided clothes, gift cards and meals. “God’s ways are so far above ours,” Paul says. “I pray that God will bring beauty from the ashes in Haiti as he has done by getting all these kids to their Forever Families.”
Thrift Stores Help Haitian Children
Two years ago Lindsey Connolly ’07 co-founded Destined for Grace with Rebecca Costa to help children in Haiti become educated and improve their lives. The non-profit organization is building an eco-friendly primary school in Mirebalais as a refuge for poor children. The proceeds from thrift stores in Santa Barbara and Carpinteria support this work, which has become more important than ever. In addition to selling donated items, the stores carry fair-trade Haitian crafts. The organization depends on volunteers, and Erica Stetz ’10 worked as an intern with Destined for Grace during the spring semester. Volunteers will join Lindsey and Rebecca on a trip to Haiti this summer to work on the project and deliver medical supplies to a clinic. To learn more, see www.destinedforgrace.org.
Poetry Reading Aids Haitian Literacy
Daniel Galicia ’07, an English major pursuing his master’s degree, organized “A Poetry Reading for Haiti Soleil” on campus April 18 featuring Santa Barbara Poet Laureate David Starkey. Galicia says he was inspired at a February poetry reading and book signing by Starkey at Westmont. Galicia and Westmont Intercultural Programs co-sponsored the event. “A Poetry Reading for Haiti Soleil” included readings by Galicia and Starkey as well as Chryss Yost, Paul Lobo Portugés, Sojourner Kinkade Rolle, Alice M. Scharper, Perie Longo and Barry Spacks. A suggested donation of $5 or more raised funds for a non-profit library, building literacy amongst Haiti’s impoverished children who’ve suffered from the earthquake. For more information about the project, see www.haitisoleil.org.