Bishopstoke churchgoers learn of Haiti aid effort

Pic: L-R Victoria Jean-Louis. Local Christian Aid supporter Sheila Sebborn, Rev Richard Wise

Church members of St Mary’s Church Bishopstoke had a surprise Sunday visitor when a Christian Aid worker from Haiti dropped into the morning service to share details about the reality of delivering development projects in a country hit by hurricanes, storms and a devastating earthquake.

Senior Programme Officer Victoria Jean-Louis works with local partner organisations in Haiti helping provide storm-proof housing and climate-change resilient crops and called in at St Mary’s on March 4 as part of a whirlwind week-long tour visiting supporters across the South and South West.

Victoria gave her first-hand account of the stories and themes which will be highlighted in this year’s Christian Aid Week (May 13-19).  Last year, Bishopstoke-based Christian Aid supporters raised nearly £1,400 during Christian Aid Week through a combination of church offerings and door to door collections, overseen by Jeanette Neale, a worshipper at St Mary’s.

Haiti was hit by a catastrophic earthquake in January 2010 when an estimated 220,000 people lost their lives and 1.5million people were left without homes. Christian Aid helped build robust homes which have since stood through storms including Hurricane Matthew, which wreaked further havoc across the south of the country in November 2016 destroying up to 90% of property in some areas.

Some of Victoria’s earlier engagements had been cancelled or re-arranged due to the bad weather but she was delighted to be able to fit in an unscheduled visit to Bishopstoke. She said:

It was ironic to be caught in a snowstorm when dramatic weather systems and natural events are such a barrier to development in Haiti. Each rainy season we start to prepare mentally for disaster, for loss. Climate change has had a major impact on life in Haiti.

Not only have natural disasters increased and grown more violent, but Haiti remains largely dependent on agriculture and as the seasons have changed it is necessary to apply climate change adaptation techniques for agriculture to thrive.

Farmers throughout the country are suffering from these changes and food security is a major issue.  But at the same time there is encouragement. In many rural areas where we work, temporary shelters can be very far away and it is the hurricane resistant homes that Christian Aid has built that serve as shelters for the family itself, for children, the elderly and so many more in the community.

There is a saying in Haiti that says ‘piti, piti, ti zwazo fe niche li’ and it means little by little a bird builds its nest.

I have seen how a little can go a long way and it has been humbling for me to meet supporters such as those at Bishopstoke who help transform livesallowing for example, farmers to feed their family and sell their yield to pay school fees, medical bills and meet other critical needs.

Rector of St Mary’s, the Revd Richard Wise said:

I was really impressed by the sense of determination and hope that Victoria conveyed.  She has a very challenging job but I could see her taking this in her stride.

She told me that there is such huge need that the challenge is who to prioritise.  She is clearly an incredibly able person who could have done loads of things in life, and yet has chosen to stay in Haiti and use her skills in development.  It was very special to have her in Bishopstoke – it’s one thing to have a Christian Aid speaker from our area, but to hear first-hand from someone who does the work in a place like Haiti is very special and powerful.  I think it’s given us a real boost before we get to Christian Aid Week.

Local organiser Jeanette Neale said:

It was so important to hear these stories of transformation.  I am very grateful to Victoria for sharing them. Hearing Victoria speak was sobering, but also inspiring as we hear of the impact of our fundraising in Haiti where we walk alongside communities, listen to their needs and provide the urgently-needed tools to get back on their feet and thrive.