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Catholic builder shocked by devastation in Haiti

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By Gery L. Deer

DAYTON DEANERY — With a death toll estimated near 230,000, the magnitude 7.0 earthquake that hit the Caribbean nation of Haiti on Jan. 12th is one of the worst natural disasters in history. Five months later, even in the capitol city of Port-au-Prince, thousands are still homeless, without medical care or clean water. The people of Haiti continue to need relief from the death and destruction that surrounds them in what was already a nation struggling to survive.

Church organizations throughout the United States have sent missions to assist the Haitian people however possible. Mission to North America (MNA) is one such organization currently dispatching disaster response teams to the beleaguered country. A joint interfaith effort is now underway to mobilize mission teams from Dayton and the surrounding areas through the MNA program. The project is being spearheaded by organizers at South Dayton Presbyterian Church located in Centerville. 

Among those involved is Marty Walling, a member of St. Helen Parish in Riverside. Walling had long considered missionary work as something he wanted to do after retirement. Following a discussion with a friend who had already traveled to Haiti, he made the decision not to wait until retirement, but to put his skills to work for the quake victims right away.

“I wanted to go and help out and make a difference,” Walling said. Since the next trip was scheduled during the week before Easter, he questioned the timing of leaving his family. Faith guided his decision, however, and he left for Haiti on March 27th. “I thought it would be a great time to walk with the Lord,” he said. “He spoke to me, and I answered.”

A lifelong resident of the Miami Valley, Walling has been employed with Beaver-vu Construction since 1982. He regularly volunteers his skills with Catch the Building Spirit, a collaborative effort between Dayton area Catholics and Presbyterians to build housing for low-income families through Habitat for Humanity.

Despite Wailing’s experience, the sheer magnitude of the damage and suffering was overwhelming. 

“I wasn’t prepared for what I saw, I mean complete devastation,” Walling said. “It was enough to bring anybody to tears, as it well did me. You hear about it and you see the pictures but until you get there it just doesn’t hit home.” 

Perhaps most startling was the sickening stench of decomposing bodies still buried beneath endless piles of rubble. “There are still as many bodies buried in the rubble as have been recovered and buried in the mass graves,” Walling said. “All of that cleanup effort is still a long time off.” 

Unsanitary conditions, stifling heat and a lack of fresh drinking water have taken a toll on the health of the Haitian people. “Malaria and dehydration are rampant there,” noted Walling, who was at one point overtaken himself by the effects of 97 degree heat and 90 percent humidity. “There is no readily-available drinking water so you have to use bottled water. The farther away you get from Port-au-Prince, the less of it there is.”

The focal point of the mission is the Oasis Compound in the town of Carrefour, 35 miles west Maof Port-au-Prince. Volunteers prepared the compound as a headquarters for future missions. “The idea is to start with the churches, that will give people a sense of community, then start working on housing,” Walling explained, adding that efforts are impaired further by limited electrical power supplied only from portable generators.

Situated on approximately one acre of land, the 2-story, 7,000 square foot compound building sits is walled and guarded by Haitian nationals for security. Once completed, the lower level will house storage, a kitchen and a medical office while the second floor will quarter mission residents working in the community. Medical teams are already working throughout the area, but the hope is to eventually provide local residents with a centrally located healthcare facility.

According to Walling international recovery assistance was not widely visible. “We saw two pieces of UN equipment, backhoes working close to the epicenter of the quake,” he said. “Most of the relief efforts seemed to come from missions. It’s going to be a long, difficult journey back for them and they will continue to need our help.” 

In the face of the awe-inspiring physical and emotional strain, Walling found a spiritual and emotional bond with the people of Carrefour. “The goal is to help them learn how to do these things on their own because when we’re gone, they will have to keep doing the work,” Walling said. 

He came home on April 3rd, but is eager to return to Haiti and continue to help however he can. 

“I would love to go back,” he said, noting the strength and resolve of the Haitian people. “I feel like I have an extended Haitian family there. These people are good, hard-working people who are looking for help — not a handout.” 

Deer is an independent journalist and copywriter from Jamestown, Ohio, who provides content to publications and business organizations throughout the United States.

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