Haiti Quake Seen Through the Eyes of Two Volunteer Ministers
January 12, 2011
Exactly one year ago, a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck 15 miles from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, collapsing homes, businesses, hospitals and schools, killing an estimated 200,000 and leaving some 2 million homeless.
Within hours of the disaster, the Church of Scientology began mobilizing teams of Volunteer Ministers (VMs) to help. Utah travel agency owner and VM Joava Good was one of the first to respond.
Good has been a VM since shortly after Scientology Founder L. Ron Hubbard created the program in 1973 and has served in many disaster situations. But Haiti was a catastrophe unlike any other.
“Port-au-Prince was decimated,” said Good. “No power, no communications systems, no landing lights on the runway, only one runway open and that one in awful shape. All the planes were parked in the dirt, and no civilian flights were landing.”
Using her 23 years in the travel industry, she found a company to fly first responders to Haiti. A private aviation firm provided the planes and the Church of Scientology paid for the fuel and expenses of disaster response personnel on those flights. Seventy percent of the passengers on the first plane were medical personnel, while the remainder were VMs trained in the organizational skills needed to enable doctors, nurses and EMTs to focus on saving lives as soon as they were on the ground.
Altogether, the Church of Scientology sponsored five medical relief flights bringing over 400 doctors, nurses and EMTs and some 200 VMs to Haiti.
On the Ground in Port-au-Prince
Midwife and Volunteer Minister Karen Farrell was one of the first to arrive in Port-au-Prince on a Church of Scientology-sponsored medical relief flight.
Farrell was assigned to General Hospital, where the medical staff, overwhelmed with casualties, could scarcely tend to women in labor. She and a Haitian-American obstetrician who arrived on the same flight set up a rudimentary labor and delivery room that Farrell described as “archaic” and started moving women in.
After 12-hour shifts, exhausted obstetrics staff left for the night. With no doctor on duty, Farrell decided to stay. She delivered two babies that night.
The first was a girl whose mother named her “My Love.” The second was born to a 16-year-old. Alone, without her family or the father, the young mother was exhausted and terrified. “I held her in my arms for a long time, rocking her,” said Farrell. “After eight hours, we were finally able to move her to a room with power. (Yes, we were in the dark all that time.) I had to show her how to push and get her to understand me.” With the help of a translator, Farrell told the woman, “Be strong and deliver this baby now!” It worked, and within minutes, a healthy baby was born.
Days later, in the early morning, another earthquake struck. Panic swept through the hospital. “People were screaming and the whole building was shaking,” says Farrell. The labor room and all the obstetrics patients were in the basement, and she knew that if the building collapsed, they would all be trapped.
Farrell scrambled with medical students and military personnel to evacuate patients from the basement and the other wards, carrying them outside and placing them on the ground away from the unstable hospital building. With some patients dying during the move, one woman started giving birth. Haitian women near the mother-to-be began to sing. When the baby appeared, someone shouted, “A baby has been born! There is hope in the world.”
After a week in Haiti, Farrell returned home and to her job in Boston. During that week however, she had delivered six babies with her own hands and helped deliver another. She says the experience changed her, and she will never be the same.
Her statement resonates with the hundreds of VMs who followed after Karen to minister to the people of Haiti. Once the life-threatening emergencies had been handled, some VMs chose to remain. They and others have continued training Haitians on practical tools to use in rebuilding their lives and their country. And with this, the people of Haiti are also learning the motto which VMs live by—the motto given to the group by Scientology Founder L. Ron Hubbard: “Something can be done about it.”