”I was on vacation, and thought to myself, ‘Doing this is so worthless when so many need help,’” said 18-year-old Echo Brabenec, of Suttons Bay. “I felt like I could do better by doing something to help the people in Haiti.”
The mostly home-schooled teen (she studied at Suttons Bay High School for a year, and graduated a year early from Traverse City West), went to Port-au-Prince, Haiti as one of the volunteer ministers of the Church of Scientology on Feb. 14, and will be there until mid-April.
She and her fiancé, Shane Fasel, a TC West graduate from the Interlochen area, and the church group flew out of Miami on a church-chartered plane packed with donated medical supplies. They are working in tandem with other relief organizations, churches, and military units, operating under the overriding viewpoint of their church that “something can be done about it.”
Echo explained why she felt so compelled to help the people of Haiti, whose country was devastated by a massive earthquake on Jan. 12.
“I’ve been raised with the idea that you take responsibility for the things you see in your life,” she said. “And what I saw was that so many needed help.”
Her parents, Randy Gilmore and Elisa Brabenec of Suttons Bay, said, “Echo has wanted to do this type of work since she was a young child; she was one of the youngest members of the church to complete her volunteer minister training. With each opportunity presented to her, we said, ‘But Echo, you’re only 12′… we always thought she was too young to handle what she was trying to do at the time.”
NBC’s “Today” show reporter Kerry Sanders was in Port-au-Prince, and gave a report on the work of the volunteer ministers.
Sanders stated that groups from the Church of Scientology have helped at the sites of many of the world’s worst disasters, saying, “They were at 9/11, and at Katrina, and now they are here, doing the work that no one else wants to do.”
Sanders’ report included interviews with members of the group, and with a doctor working in a crowded, makeshift hospital, who said, “I am totally impressed with these young adults from the Scientology Church. They have just been so effective for us.”
A young volunteer named Nicole, who wore the bright yellow T-shirt that identifies the group, said that the Scientologists are not in Haiti to spread their beliefs. “We don’t even mention religion,” she said, adding that the menial work they were doing was unlikely to make people want to join the church.
Sanders reported on the value of a particular type of gentle touch therapy called an “assist,” saying, “In 20 minutes, we watched as Nicole took a pained little girl from frowns to giggles.”
Echo spent a week in a Christian school giving assists for physical pain and emotional stress, and has helped deliver seminars to aid people in refocusing their attention from the trauma of their situation to productive plans and activities. Her group has recently been cleaning a hospital to prepare it for reopening.
“Their work with the Haitians focuses on bringing each individual with whom they work to an improved state of mind, one in which they will be able to look at their situation with hope and certainty of their own individual ability to effect the changes that are needed,” said Echo’s mother, Elisa.
On a typical day in Haiti, Echo and the team get up at 7:30 in the morning and gather for a meeting at 8. The 50 to 60 people, including medical teams, decide where they are most needed that day, and then go out to help and deliver the simple and effective assists; the technique is also easy to teach, and those who learn it can then help others. The team has gone to orphanages and refugee camps, and has also given assists to members of the military and medical teams.
“We’ve been received with open arms here,” she said. “All the people are warm and friendly, and often give us big hugs and kisses. The Haitians are the craziest drivers I’ve has ever seen! But it feels really good when little kids give a huge ‘thumbs up’ when we drive by. The kids we’ve met are smart, and very fast learners.”
Echo described her experience saying, “This is one of the greatest experiences of my life; it’s wonderful to be able to deliver an assist and see the smiles come back on people’s faces!”
In spite of the devastation that surrounds her in Haiti, Echo said, “The people of Haiti really need help to get their homes rebuilt, but people are doing what they can to get back up on their feet and clean up … I feel a sense of hopefulness.”
Echo’s parents reflect the belief of many of those who have gone to Haiti to help in the aftermath of the tragedy: “We believe in people’s inherent ability to create beauty, do good work, and solve the problems that face them. If you relieve the immediate stress and focus them on that ability, they will respond to the challenges of life with renewed vigor.”
This article by contributing writer Kristine Morris appeared Monday, March 8, in the Grand Traverse Insider and is reprinted with its permission.