The Mennonite community has rallied together to organize relief and recovery efforts after a 7.0-magnitude earthquake destroyed the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince and beyond on January 12.  Paul Antoine Bien-Aime, Haiti's interior minister, estimates that between 100,000 and 200,000 people have died, with hundreds of thousands more injured.  Buildings all over the city have collapsed, including most hospitals and schools and countless homes.

Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) has worked in Haiti since 1958. In recent years, its focus has been on reforestation and the promotion of food security and human rights.  MCC currently has 14 staff members in Port-au-Prince and nine in Desarmes, a four-hour drive from the capital. All staff members are safe.  On January 13th MCC released $100,000 for immediate relief. It plans a multimillion-dollar, multiyear recovery effort.  As of Tuesday MCC has received about $3 million in donations, according to its director of communications, Cheryl Zehr Walker.

Gwen Gustafson-Zook, a regional associate at the MCC Great Lakes office, says that MCC workers in Haiti are assessing the needs of the situation, emotional as well as physical.

“There are many issues related to food and water right now, but issues about the soul of a human being that has been through this certainly won’t be resolved in the same way.”

“For the MCC workers there that are suffering from the trauma while trying to help others it’s been hard,” she notes.

Despite the devastating tragedy they and their neighbors endured, MCC workers see signs of hope.  Three days after the earthquake MCC worker Ben Depp of Waxhall, N.C., helped rescue a 6-year-old boy from the rubble. In the blog he writes with spouse Alexis (, Ben says, “There is a lot of solidarity among everyone here that is not captured by the news.”

For the past few days MCC workers have brought aid to people in Port-au-Prince, though on a small scale.  Large relief organizations are hampered by the requirement of a military escort to travel in the city; but small organizations such as MCC have no such restriction and are free to move about on their own.  Gustafson-Zook says the staff has been bringing food from surrounding communities into the city in backpacks and discreetly distributing it in the streets.  They’ve also been filtering water at the MCC headquarters and sharing it, and helping the overall relief effort by logging information about camps of internally displaced people.

Though these short-term efforts are helpful, MCC is better known for its long-term rebuilding.  The next step of its plan is to fly in 70,000 pounds of canned meat and 1,000 water filters, followed by relief kits, blankets and sheets.

“I appreciate the fact that you’re all willing to respond,” says Gustafson-Zook, “Sometimes people only have the desire to respond in the first week.  Part of the challenge is to continue to respond in ways that are life-giving.”

Goshen College, which had a Study Service Term unit in Haiti from 1968-1986, has been contributing to relief efforts as well.  Donation boxes have been set up around campus and there will be opportunities to contribute at Night at the RFC and Kick-off.  Also, on Saturday the Athletic Department donated all proceeds from the women’s basketball game to the MCC Haiti fund, which totaled $444.  Tim Demant, the athletic director, traveled with MCC to El Salvador for reconstruction following the 2001 earthquake there and believes that even small gestures can add greatly to the relief cause.

“I feel like while many of the things we've done are small in comparison to the enormity of the issue/crisis we face, Christ calls us to do what we can.  And so we do.  I believe if everyone did something, the sum total would be very significant.”

Goshen College students Rayna Pierre and Laurent Hudicourt spent their Christmas break at home in Haiti and only recently returned to Goshen.  Pierre notes that while she is glad to be able to help from the U.S. and to know her family is safe, it’s hard to hear about the situation at home.

“We were just there over Christmas, then we left and a few days later it was gone,” she says, “It’s mixed emotions.  We’re glad we can help from here but wish we could be there right now.”

Pierre and Hudicourt, who are cousins, have family working at the Haitian Community Hospital, currently the only hospital in Port-au-Prince admitting patients for free.  They say the hospital is overwhelmed with patients in need of treatment, food and water, and despite setting up a website to collect donations there is still a major need for money and supplies.

A Haitian proverb translates, “Beyond the mountains, more mountains.” Even before the earthquake, Haiti was the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere with a poverty rate of 80 percent, an unstable government and environmentally devastating deforestation.  It is estimated that the earthquake affected 3 million Haitians, about a third of its population. The mountains the people of Haiti must face are even more daunting now. Goshen College and MCC are small parts of supporting them as they rebuild.

How You Can Help Haiti

Donate to MCC at

Help with meat-canning at the Depot from January 19th-29th, weekdays until 5pm.

Donate to the Haitian Community Hospital at, or get updates on the hospital’s situation through their official facebook page.

Contact Tamara Shantz at to join a brainstorming group on campus.