Richard Girard, second from the left in yellow, talks with members of a relief team in Haiti last month. Girard went to the island nation as part of a six-week Church of Scientology relief mission. (Submitted photo)

By Ryan Hutton, North Adams Transcript
Tuesday April 20, 2010

ADAMS—After spending six weeks in Haiti, Adams resident Richard Girard is back in the Berkshires with tales of his trip.

The 63-year old building contractor departed for Haiti on Feb. 22 and returned April 5 after helping with a Church of Scientology relief mission in the earthquake-ravaged nation. Girard departed from the church’s Boston headquarters and first went to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic.

From there, he took a bus into Haiti with a Hatian-American woman whose family was still in Haiti and whom she had not seen in 25 years. Girard said they arrived in the middle of the night and met with the woman’s sisters and brother.

“They were incredibly hospitable,” he said. “They made sure I had food and water until I got to the mission. They were very friendly. Her sister was actually taking care of a 12-year-old girl who had to be given up by her family because of the earthquake.”

Girard eventually arrived at the church’s camp in Santos, a suburb of Haiti’s capital, Port au Prince. The church had set up an orphanage in Santos that had 60 children in it when he arrived and over 110 when he left. Girard left for Haiti with several soccer balls as a goodwill gift, and when he arrived at the orphanage, found the perfect use for them.

“I gave the soccer balls to them and they were really pleased to have them,” he said. “I’d go down there a bunch of times to practice with the kids. We also had about 25 Russians in our camp and about 20 Mexicans—and those guys had some really good soccer players. We wound up playing a couple really good games with the kids.”

Girard said the church had set up seven camps around the capital, and he and his fellow volunteers would visit each them providing whatever aid they could. He said they also visited two of the hospitals in the area, including one run by American doctors from Miami.

Girard said the volunteers would accompany medical staff and disaster relief specialists into the camps and hospitals and perform a Scientology-based physical therapy called touch assist—which is used to relieve pain—on the people of the camps.

He said they would also teach civil response training to the locals so they knew how to better cope with disasters in the future.

“Pretty much everyone is living in tents,” he said. “What we would do is go into the camps and give assists or help the people that were giving medical attention—really anything we could do.”

Not long after he arrived, Girard got to see the first school reopening in the entire country. The school, near the capital, had 3,000 children ready to attend on the first day alone.

While the school was rebuilt to better specifications than before, Girard said a lot of the locals still had lingering doubts left over from the quake about entering a building.

“At first, people were afraid to go into the buildings,” he said. “But after all the work they saw us doing with the assists and relief work, they had the confidence to enter the school buildings.”

Even though he is back in the States, Girard said he is still looking for ways to help the people of Haiti by working with some people he met on the trip to open a lumber yard in the country. He said that would provide much needed jobs and building material.

While he went there to help, Girard admitted he also went seeking adventure but, he added, he found a lot more.

“I’m really happy I went. I wanted to go there and do something to help, but I guess at the same time I was looking for a little adventure,” he said. “From time to time, your life can get stale, and I definitely had an adventure. The main thing I was impressed with was that down there, I feel like I found the bottom level of survival.

“Survival doesn’t get any tougher than it is in Haiti right now. There are people living under tarps and using sheets for walls. There were holes in the ground for toilets and you took a shower out of buckets. But I found that the people, as poor as they were, were always well groomed, they go to church every Sunday, and they were cheerful. It was amazing.”