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Project redoubles concern in congregation about earthquake damage in Haiti

Last year, Outreach Committee supporters at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Spokane initiated a project to educate children at a village church school in Cazale, Haiti, in the mountains 30 miles northeast of Port-au-Prince.

In January, they were devastated by news of the 7.0 earthquake in Haiti and renewed in their commitment to help.

Trish Newton in Haiti 2009
Trish Newton with children at school in Cazale, Haiti

In May 2009, Trish Newton, chair of the cathedral’s outreach committee, and the Very Rev. Bill Ellis visited the village and the small congregation of St. Andre Episcopal Church to explore how the two churches could work together to provide quality education to village children through the sixth grade.

“Work was underway on repairs to the school building for preschoolers through fourth graders, when the quake toppled the capital city and threw the country into chaos,” Trish said.  “Enrollment had reached 88 students when everything came to a halt on Jan. 12.  Since then, we have not heard how much damage the current building sustained, but are thankful to know that the students and staff are alive.”

The pre-quake classrooms were in what Trish described as “a dilapidated building in a space with three walls divided into areas by old chalkboards.”  The children had no books or other materials.  Teachers were paid only when students’ parents could afford to pay the tuition.

During their week in Haiti, Trish and Bill met with leaders of the Episcopal Diocese and the priest, Fr. Irenel Duveaux, and agreed to fund a long-term project to repair the current classrooms, complete a new building, install a clean water system and lavatories, and pay salaries of staff and teachers.

The Episcopal Diocese of Spokane learned that the Haitian Episcopal Church complex—its cathedral, offices, convent and school—in Port-au-Prince was destroyed, but without loss of life.  The Cathedral of St. John, which has had to wait to hear what happened in Cazale, held a candlelight vigil the first Sunday evening after the earthquake.

Bill Ellis in Haiti
Bill Ellis at school in Cazale, Haiti in 2009

The cathedral and diocese in Spokane are raising funds through the national Episcopal Relief and Development program for earthquake relief in Haiti, as well as for the cathedral’s commitment to Cazale.

While there, Trish and Bill met Baptist medical missionaries who have run a clinic in Cazale since 1995.  Because they have a generator and  satellite so they can use their computer and cell phone, Trish said she learned that the clinic is treating people coming from Port-au-Prince and also learned that although the village suffered significant damage, there were only two deaths.

In mid January, Trish and Bill showed slides of their visit, focusing on the people with whom the cathedral is forging a relationship.

“No matter how much damage the school may have had, the outreach committee will continue to raise funds for the school because its commitment to St. Andre’s and the children remains unchanged,” Trish said.

The cathedral has a team of six people coordinating the relationship and efforts to raise funds.  They have about 40 regular donors so far.  Since the May trip, they had raised $6,000.  Their goal is to repair or rebuild the existing school to provide a structurally safe building.  The first stage will require $75,000.  The unfinished church building also needs a roof.

“Beside funding construction, we need to provide money to pay teachers so they will stay there,” Trish said.
“Early phases include adding new doors, new benches and blackboards, plus building clean water and sanitation systems, so they have latrines.  We seek funds to provide a hot meal each day, vitamins and immunizations,” she said.

When the cathedral was looking for a global partner connection, it became interested in Haiti after Judy Biller, an Outreach Committee member, accompanied her son to Haiti to bring his newly-adopted child home from an orphanage.

Trish, who began attending the cathedral when she and her husband came to Spokane in 2006, said she has long worked in outreach in Presbyterian churches she attended in California and New Jersey.

“I believe that involving a church in outreach builds the congregation and changes members’ perceptions of the world,” she said.

Commenting on the Cathedral’s response, Bill said they had raised $2,000 for relief in addition to the fund raising for the project in Cazale. 

For information, call 838-0121.