HJust before 5 p.m. on January 12, 2010, the earth shook Haiti with profound and devastating effects. Homes were destroyed, and life on the island was turned upside down, like a tropical snow globe.
The world responded with emergency aid. Presidents came together to bring awareness, money, and support in an effort that was the proverbial ‘feeding a person’ with emergency services.
But eight years later, there have been many disasters in other locales. Life and the world have moved on, and except for a few anniversary news pieces, we don’t hear much about the rebuilding efforts, how the country is coping, and what has been done to lift the affected back to some semblance of normalcy. For the most part, we have forgotten and moved on.
First United Methodist Church of Santa Monica has not forgotten though. Since 2012 they have been helping and rebuilding. This past Saturday they held a fundraiser at the Santa Monica Moose Lodge to support the team they are sending to Haiti to complete the medical clinic that they along with Hollywood United Methodist Church have been building in a small town two and a half hours from Port Au Prince.
As I entered the Moose Lodge, which is a classic old-school social club, the first thing I noticed was the 140 or so individuals enjoying the evening’s entertainment of steel drum musicians. I walked past the silent auction table and noted that many items had multiple bids – a good sign for sure. The goal of the night was to raise $8,000-9,000 so they could finalize a security wall around the medical clinic. The club itself is a very retro 1960’s style with a large bar area.
My friend John Pfister was working the room, as he does so well. His blond good looks and charming demeanor make him a natural social butterfly. It was his post on Facebook that led me to this event. He posted that he was seeking donations for his second annual trip to Haiti, and I was intrigued. I asked him how he got involved, “I’d been attending FUMC Santa Monica, and when I was asked to go last year, I said yes. I’ve been trained to just say yes and be of service. When I arrived in Haiti, the effect of helping was so overwhelmingly positive, I knew I was coming back this year.”
I spoke with Reverend Robert English, who has been the associate pastor with FUMC Santa Monica for 10 years, this past Saturday, about the efforts. “One of the things I know is that mission work often fails when we come in imposing our ideas on the community. In Haiti, we went in with a humble heart and asked what they needed. First up was a medical clinic, then a well, and finally a school and a church. So we’re just finishing up the clinic this year.”
It all started four years ago when “we partnered with Hollywood United Methodist at first, and then in 2014 we were able to send a full team, which is 10 people who pay their own way to Haiti. Once there, we use the funds we’re raising to build the medical clinic, and to fund tradesmen for three weeks after we leave, to help rebuild the economy also. For every one person we send, we employ three people. There are cooks, cultural ambassadors, and skilled tradesmen. We don’t do any of the skilled work because we want to rebuild their skills, not take from them.” English continued.
Expanding worldviews and going global is valuable not just for the tradesmen of Haiti, but for the volunteers. When I asked Rev. English about what cultural lessons he learned in Haiti that apply in Santa Monica, he said “We have incredible resources in our community, but sometimes those resources are hard for people to navigate. So one of the ways the church helps with that is to partner with those organizations like The People’s Concern, (The former OPCC), Step Up On Second and other organizations. Our church actually began a non-profit called Upward Bound House which provides transitional housing for homeless families. So because we have a good working knowledge of the agencies, we’re able to connect people with services, to build them up holistically rather than give them a band-aid. Which sometimes is needed, in an emergency situation, but our goal is to direct people to the organizations that do this work day in and day out better than the church can.”
If you want to help First United Method Church of Santa Monica in their Haiti efforts, you can donate here: https://santamonicaumc.cloverdonations.com/haiti/ and know that your donation is going to actually help people on the ground in Haiti.
David Pisarra is a Los Angeles Divorce and Child Custody Lawyer specializing in Father’s and Men’s Rights with the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He welcomes your questions and comments. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 310/664-9969. You can follow him on Twitter @davidpisarra