There were two options for the 22-year-old engineering student who found himself half-buried beneath the remnants of his college with a crushed leg: amputate or die.
A Volunteer Minister on the ground—licensed as a practical nurse and emergency medical technician—promised the boy that he would save his life. Coordinating with an orthopedic surgeon in the US, the EMT arranged for transportation to a Connecticut hospital, where the young man was operated on. He is walking again today, with the help of a prosthetic leg. His story—the saving of a life that garnered TV and newspaper coverage—is but a small excerpt of the ongoing narrative of Volunteer Ministers in Haiti.
“I saw your Ministers,” said Raymond Al Cid Joseph, Haitian Ambassador to the US. “I saw the way they related to people, the way that they brought comfort to those who were in distress, the way they shipped things on their own ships to Haiti. These things we can’t repay. The only thing I can say is thank you for what they’ve done and for coming around Haiti in solidarity.”
The Volunteer Ministers’ contribution in Haiti began just hours after the first shockwave was felt on January 12th. As veterans of disaster response, they mobilized immediately. Arriving on a chartered jet from New York, sponsored by Scientologists, the first group touched down on the 17th of January.
What they faced upon arrival was almost unspeakable, with an estimated 300,000 casualties, and the bulk of all medical facilities wiped off the map. The magnitude 7.3 earthquake also destroyed anything resembling an emergency response network, confirming pre-quake evaluations that the country would be unable to cope with a natural disaster. Even the Presidential Palace, National Assembly building and main jail were wrecked.
The first round of Scientology Volunteer Ministers began by consolidating and organizing more than six tons of food, clothing and medical supplies. Soon thereafter, two more teams of Volunteer Ministers arrived—one from Mexico City and the other aboard a Scientology-sponsored flight from Los Angeles. Collaborating with regional military groups—including the Dutch Marines from the Netherlands Antilles—they assisted in the distribution of supplies to victims throughout the city.
On the 23rd of January, an even larger contingent of Volunteer Ministers arrived, bringing with them over 60 surgeons, nurses and EMTs on a flight from New York sponsored by the Church of Scientology. Teaming with the US 82nd Airborne, the VMs ran logistics for medical personnel and other rescue workers on the ground.
To compound matters, as aftershocks of 5.9 and 6.1 continued to rumble through the nation’s capital, Port-au-Prince, those hospitals still standing were forced to evacuate.
Medical personnel and the Volunteer Ministers assisting them were faced with patients in critical condition, lining lawns and sidewalks. Absent standard sanitization, doctors struggled to save lives. Working alongside the medics, Volunteer Ministers hydrated and fed patients and ran night shifts on hospital grounds.
Meanwhile, another team of Volunteer Ministers pitched in organizing, logging and distributing 60 tons of provisions at Miami University Hospital (named for the Miami University personnel manning the facility).
But more supplies were direly needed, as nearly half a million Haitians were displaced and more than 300,000 injured. Accordingly, on January 25th actor, pilot and Scientologist John Travolta flew in 8,000 pounds of high-end medical equipment on his personal jet from Florida. Mr. Travolta also transported nine doctors, including a reconstructive surgeon for the children maimed by the disaster.
Finally, also on the 25th, presiding physicians at Port-au-Prince Central Hospital declared that, for the first time since the quake struck, not a single life had been lost that day.
“The Scientology Volunteer Ministers were angels of mercy in a time of dire need here in Haiti,” said Abdul Alim Muhammad, Minister of Health for the Nation of Islam’s Haiti Relief Effort. “And so my hat is off to them. They’ve done a great job across the board making it possible for others to come in and then do their jobs.”
The Volunteer Ministers then broadened the scope of their efforts and continued to work alongside US agencies. With the support of the US 82nd Airborne’s 2nd battalion, Volunteer Ministers distributed just under 80 tons of provisions to almost 15,000 displaced Haitians.
VMs also assumed control of the 70 displaced children from a gutted orphanage, providing a makeshift shelter that was eventually dubbed, “The Future of Haiti Orphanage.”
And VM teams included their own medical personnel, from doctors to nurses and midwives. They worked through sixteen refugee camps, each bursting with up to 10,000 people in tents.
“No matter what we asked them to do—carry patients, guard the door, sort supplies, run errands, it didn’t make any difference,” said Vincent Gennaro, Assistant Chief of Surgery for Project Medishare’s Haiti Relief Effort. “They didn’t ask any questions, they just did it.”
From February 4th onward, the emphasis of their efforts shifted to training others in the full array of Volunteer Ministers’ technology. Included in that technology are assists for relieving mental and physical trauma, as well as practical tools for organizing and resolving conflicts, which VM teams relayed while others still handled the ongoing need for supplies. Everything from penicillin to baby food was lacking to keep the people of Haiti alive. In response, Volunteer Ministers employed a converted coastguard cutter, The Hornbeam, to provide 105 tons of provisions and equipment from 9 international organizations. Arriving on the 7th of April, the ship ensured Volunteer Ministers and other relief workers would no longer be hamstrung by supply shortages.
In the weeks that followed, renovations and repair kicked into high gear on a permanent base from which the Volunteer Ministers could assist residents of Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas. Their center, which opened on May 29th, not only provides temporary housing and other facilities for VMs arriving from outside the country, it also helps train Haitians in the Volunteer Minister technology.
While newly trained Haitians in turn started their own teams, the number of local Volunteer Ministers groups throughout the country has now exceeded 740, providing a powerful and widespread influence.
Haitian VMs are growing exponentially since the grand opening of a permanent center in a suburb of Haiti's Capital Port-au-Prince and now have 4,260 Volunteer Ministers active on any given week. This army of ministers also tours cities and villages 10 hours from the capital’s base, delivering seminars to civil protection workers, policemen and civilians.
All told, more than 41,000 per week are helped by Scientology Volunteer Ministers on average in Haiti, and upwards of 1,500 seminars are delivered in the same time frame.
Though the impact made by the Volunteer Ministers is created one individual at a time, at the end of the day the numbers say so much in the wake of this disaster. In the past nine months, VMs have aided more than one million people and trained 1/10 of Haiti’s population in Volunteer Minister tools, helping one in every 9 Haitians with VM technology. With Volunteer Ministers arriving from 22 different nations, the scope of this relief effort literally spans the globe.
It is the Volunteer Ministers’ hope that out of the rubble will arise a future brighter than any this impoverished nation has had to look forward to.
And the VMs have proven here—in the face of tremendous chaos, danger and devastation—that something can be done about it.