Haiti volunteers already looking to 2012

So many United Methodist Volunteer in Mission teams are signing up for work in Haiti that a request already has been made for 2012.

Through its Haiti Response Plan, the church is now rotating teams into the country to assist with earthquake recovery. "I've got weeks that are too full," said Susan Meister, the U.S.-based coordinator. "The response has just been tremendous."

Space remains for additional teams this year, she added. So far, 107 teams, including ecumenical teams, have been scheduled for 2010.

In April, directors of the United Methodist Committee on Relief approved a $565,000 grant to support the pilot phase of a volunteer team project sponsored with the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries. The next month, jurisdictional coordinators for United Methodist Volunteers in Mission led three work teams to Haiti composed of people who would eventually lead their own teams.

Meister is coordinating with the Rev. Mike Willis, the volunteer management coordinator based at the Methodist Guest House in Port-au-Prince. Doug Nagle is serving in Haiti as the finance and hospitality coordinator.

Leaders of the volunteer teams have United Methodist Volunteers in Mission training, along with previous experience in Haiti, Meister said. No children under the age of 16 are allowed on the teams and youth ages 16 or 17 must be accompanied by a parent.

"The teams that have come back say it's physically exhausting and emotionally grueling," she noted.

Limited to 10 members

Most teams will spend seven to nine days in Haiti. The size of each team is limited to 10 people, who must all arrive and depart at the same time.

On a typical schedule, a team would arrive in Haiti on a Monday, stay at the guest house overnight, be driven to a remote work location for a few days, return for an overnight at the guest house and fly home the next day.

Scheduling is complicated by housing and transportation arrangements. "Usually, there is a pretty significant delay between when people request dates and when we can respond to them," Meister explained. "Our goal right now is to have five projects open at a time in the field."

Besides paying their own expenses, teams contribute $3,500 each, to which matching funds are added. The total is sent to Haiti to pay for workers and supplies. "One of the major goals of this grant was to employ Haitians at a ratio of 2 to 1," she said. "We take that very seriously."

Meister, who did communications work for UMCOR after Hurricane Katrina, noted that this is a different type of volunteer experience. Volunteers in Haiti will witness a higher level of hunger and poverty, face language and transportation issues, endure oppressive heat and manage with a lack of infrastructure.

"Haiti was in a difficult spot before the earthquake," she added. "Now, the rubble is just everywhere. They don't have any place to put it."

Some team placements are available for the rest of 2010. January and February of 2011 are essentially closed, Meister said, with 31 teams scheduled and several more pending. Twenty-five teams are awaiting confirmation on dates in March through July of 2011.

More information is available in anewsletter at www.umvimhaiti.org.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service writer based in New York.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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