Jesuit Refugee Service in Haiti for the Long Haul says JRS/USA National Director

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Jesuits were in Haiti before the earthquake, and will be there long after the television network anchors load up their gear and head home.

That’s one point Father Kenneth Gavin, a New York Province Jesuit and director of the Washington-based Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS)/USA, wanted emphasized as he recounted the agency’s past, current and future efforts in what has become well-known as the poorest – and now earthquake-ravaged – country in the Western Hemisphere.

“We are going to be there for the long haul,” he said, noting that JRS, while coping with the current crisis is always seeking long-term solutions.

As generous-minded Americans wonder where to put their resources in assisting a crisis they see on their televisions played out every night, international aid experts caution that support should go to those agencies with a track record inside the country. JRS fits that description.

JRS has been dealing with refugee concerns along the Haitian border with the Dominican Republic for years. That connection has proven invaluable as the agency shifts gears to cope with an even greater crisis than even beleaguered Haiti is used to.

From the agency’s post in the Dominican border town of Dajabon, even before the earthquake, Father Gavin, a visitor to the region before the quake, noted how Haiti suffered.

“You cross the bridge into Haiti and you step into a country that has limited paved roads, little electricity, little potable water, and few jobs,” said Father Gavin. JRS had put its resources into building wells, a necessity to curtail disease from bad water, to creating small farming cooperatives, needed so that Haitians don’t feel a need to head into the Dominican Republic, where their labor is often exploited, or to the U.S., where traveling in rickety boats filled with refugees has long-presented a hazard.

In response to the current crisis, JRS is working through Jesuits in both Haiti and in the Dominican Republic. Jesuit Father Mario Serrano is coordinating truckloads of supplies going overland into Haiti from the Dominican Republic, bypassing the clogged airport runway in Port-au-Prince that Americans have seen on their television screens this week. Distribution of aid within Haiti is being coordinated by Father Kawas Francois, S.J.

Altogether, said Father Gavin, 17 Jesuits, supported by other religious communities and lay workers, are involved in relief efforts. They include Brother Jim Boynton, a Detroit Province Jesuit teacher, who arrived in Haiti in September. He’s been supported by Team Rubicon, an ad-hoc group of former U.S. military personnel who have brought their skills to the effort, as well as medical personnel from Chicago, at least some of whom were inspired by their Jesuit education.

Already JRS has raised more than $600,000 for Haitian relief. What the average person can do, said Father Gavin, is to provide more cash, which can be donated through www.jrsusa.org.

There is a human need to do more, to perhaps donate clothing and other articles that have some personal significance. Father Gavin cautioned to resist that temptation. “I understand the tension,” he said, “but it’s far better to put the money in the hands of relief agencies.” In that way, he said, resources will go directly to where they are needed, and donations will not be swamped by the high costs of transportation.

Hear more from Father Ken Gavin in the short video clip below:

National Jesuit News is urging people to give to the Jesuit organization Jesuit Refugee Service to help those in Haiti.

To support JRS/USA’s humanitarian response to the emergency needs of the Haitian people, please click here to be directed to their secure website and choose “Haiti Earthquake Relief Fund.”

Or you may send a check to:

Jesuit Refugee Service/USA
1016 16th Street NW Suite 500
Washington, DC 20036

Checks should be made payable to “Jesuit Refugee Service/USA.”
Please clearly note “Haiti Earthquake Relief” in the memo field on the check.

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