Frank Penley spent all day trying to put his week’s worth of experiences in Haiti down on paper. He wrote and rewrote. Finally he threw it all away.
“I’m still really jumble minded … we’ve seen a lot of death,” he said. “It was an amazing experience to actually have been down there, not good amazing, but amazing.”
Penley and other members of Rehoboth Baptist Church returned from the country Wednesday, after checking on one of the church-sponsored orphanages, located four and half hours outside of Port-au-Prince.
The group flew into the Dominican Republic on Jan. 14, where they purchased supplies. As they were heading toward the Haitian border two days later, they received word that the children in the orphanage were OK.
Penley said the group delivered two months worth of supplies to the orphanage and checked the building’s structure after the earthquake. Penley said it wasn’t clear when the orphanage would be able to get supplies from inside Haiti, so the food and water will help tide them over.
Then it was a long, difficult trip to and through Port-au-Prince. Penley and the others spent five hours searching through the wreckage of the city and temporary tent villages that had been set up. They were trying to locate some of the Haitian orphanage staff’s family members and other contacts. They didn’t find everyone.
“Our immediate workers were safe, but some family members were killed. Where we were so many were dead. Not many families had remained whole,” Penley said.
Penley said the devastation was often overwhelming. Rehoboth Baptist has been taking mission trips to Haiti for several years and Penley said he’s learned more about the country.
He said Haiti is organized around Port-au-Prince and all of the villages surrounding the city, even those seven to eight hours out, receive their supplies from the capital. He said many of those villages aren’t fully aware of the destruction in Port-au-Prince, and they’re still eating food and drinking water normally — they’re not conserving. He worries the aftermath of the earthquake may be more deadly that the quake itself.
What started out as a check on the orphanage turned into a life-saving mission.
“It got to he point where were no longer thinking about safety, not because we were brave, but because we were overwhelmed about what we were seeing. We were just walking around trying to help people and talk to them. Limbs were sticking out of rubble, people stepping over bodies, all just a few miles from the airport.”
Penley said aid was still not being delivered rapidly as of last week, although Monday the pace was picking up. However, he said tensions among the Haitians were also rising as food and water ran out. He said the news has covered the crowded, temporary tent cities, but they haven’t mentioned how there are no public toilets or trash containers — no sanitation.
In an effort to help, Rehoboth planned to convert their recently-built bakery at the orphanage into a storage area. Penley said the country is in bad shape and he encouraged people to donate to organizations like Red Cross and Samaritans Purse.
“All of the infrastructure is down and many of the Haitian professionals, doctors, lawyers, bankers, have lost 50 percent of their staff. So many records have been lost. It could be several months before things improve,” he said.
To see pictures from previous mission trips visit projet127-haiti.com. Pictures from the latest trip will be up soon.
Several other local churches also have connections to Haiti and are trying to encourage people to donate.
Native Haitian Max Levy is the pastor of a small Haitian congregation of about 30 members at Renaissance Baptist Church, housed in Gateway Community Church. He and many of his congregation have family still in Haiti, and while many are safe, many others are still unaccounted for.
“We pray every day that they’re alright. That’s all we can do,” Levy said last week. “It’s been very difficult. We have cousins, sisters, brothers, aunts and uncle down there.”
Levy said he has is happy so many people are trying to donate to his church, both in terms of money and clothes. But as of now, nothing can be sent down, so he encourages people to donate to the Red Cross or Salvation Army.
Local residents can donate money to the local Salvation Army at 5193 Washington St., Covington. Worker Chrissy Busbee said the store was accepting clothes, but they were about at capacity as of last week. If you want to write a check to the Salvation Army, put Haiti in the memo and drop it by the store.
Mazie Davis has been working in Haiti for nearly 20 years. Trinity Presbyterian Church has helped fund, build and expand compound housing a medical clinic and school in the country for most of those two decades. Davis said the Haitians have a hard life and are constantly dealing with parasites in their food and water, leading to numerous maladies.
The compound survived the Jan. 12 earthquake and is now housing four doctors and one dentist who went to Haiti as part of the Flying Doctors of America medical mission group.
Another member of Trinity Presbyterian, Elwyn Newman, said the compound is in need of food, money and gas. People can donate to the compound by sending money or checks to the church at 11171 Highway 278, Covington and marking the money as being for Haiti.
Davis said the country was already in such bad shape following the hurricanes of last year, and many of its people were weak and sick before the earthquake.
She urged everyone to donate. She said it’s amazing how many different groups are involved in Haiti, with some estimates putting the number above 10,000. However, she said it’s important for donors to make sure they know and trust the group they choose.
Residents can also still donate to the cause of Sandy Creek Baptist Church, whose members were in Haiti during the earthquake.
Donations should be sent to the Bank of Madison, Social Circle branch at 1281 N Cherokee Rd., Social Circle, with checks made payable to the Sandy Creek Baptist Church Mission Rescue Fund.