ROLLER-COASTER RIDE FOR HAITI GROUP
(Tillsonburg News) - By Jeff Tribe
The Angels For Haiti are looking forward to soaring with Karen Bultje on The Behemoth.
And while the director of the Coram Deo (Before The Face of God) community program in Port Au Prince, Haiti may or may not be 100% looking forward to a mile-plus ride at Canada's Wonderland featuring a 125-kilometre-per-hour 75 degree drop from 230 feet, it's safe to say she's already ridden an allegorical roller coaster in the six months following a devastating earthquake in her adopted 'home town'.
"It's still like the day after the earthquake," said Bultje Monday afternoon at Woodingford Lodge in Tillsonburg. There are still around 1.5-million displaced persons living in 1,000 tent cities, continued Bultje, essentially in a holding pattern until officials can figure out where, and construct permanent housing options.
"There is no solution yet," she said.
And while international emergency food, water and shelter aid has made a huge difference, billions of dollars are currently being held in part through challenges in infrastructure and legitimate concern around ensuring the money eventually gets where it is intended to go. Beyond that, there are inherent challenges of how and where to get rid of rubble, before reconstruction can begin.
"There has been a little bit (of reconstruction), but the effect is small compared to what is needed," said Bultje.
She has been in Haiti since 1996 and founded Coram Deo in 1998. A multi-tasking non-denominational Christian mission (Mission of Tears is the sponsoring agency) in the Delmes 13 district of the city, it features a dormitory and house which doubles as Bultje's residence and base of operations. She and associated volunteers provide services including housing and special education for roughly 20 handicapped (physical, in particular hydrocephalus; mental and financial) children as well as general medical care, and food and community outreach to an additional 15,000 persons annually.
"I always say it's an orphanage, but it's more involved than an orphanage," said Bultje.
Her sister Tanya Bultje is an employee of Woodingford Lodge and through this association, Angels For Haiti was formed, a five-member group including Teresa and Marlene Magashazi, Elizabeth Pais and Teresa Cisek. The angels have become a focus group for support of Coram Deo both at home and abroad. Members of the group (and friends) have made self-funded trips to the facility, bringing aid items and volunteering at a variety of duties from painting, construction and distribution of goods through to medical care including pulling teeth.
"The one thing I've learned is you can't really make plans," smiled Teresa Magashazi. It's one of those things where you have a basic idea."
The first trip was in 2004, with subsequent 10-14-day missions in 2005 and 2007, followed by a trio this year (January, February and June) in the wake of the quake.
"They work hard," credited Bultje of the Angels' contribution to a roughly 75-person effort (typically in groups of five to seven) since the earthquake. Because they have been there before, the Angels know the routine and are particularly effective, she added. "They are experienced."
Woodingford Lodge, both residents and management, have been "immensely" supportive throughout the process says Magashazi, in terms of finances, medical supplies and scheduling.
"A bit of everything," she said.
And so, with Karen Bultje on a three-week trip home to Canada, the retirement home was a featured stop to provide a timely update on progress, along with an opportunity to personally connect.
"Everybody can now put a face to Karen," said Pais.
As well as visiting family and friends, Karen is looking forward to a trip to Canada's Wonderland during her time in Canada. But she is also very aware the situation in Haiti is far from resolved following an earthquake some estimates suggest will set the country back 10 years.
"The tent camps if anything, are getting larger," Bultje said. Some expansion is due to people feeling there is better long-term opportunity there but largely, "they are still there because they have nowhere else to go."
Those looking to support Haitian relief through the Angels (they hope to return in January 2011) are welcome to call 519-550-2285 to donate cash (100% of which goes toward the effort) or other items. Interested persons can also receive updates through Bultje's blog: www.haiticoramdeo.blogspot.com.
"It's going to be years and years and years rebuilding," Bultje concluded. "If people get discouraged and step back, the country will be a lot worse off.
"We just tell everyone, keep Haiti in your prayers "