Durham ministry in Haiti focuses on relationships amid need

Posted July 27, 2011

— The first images of the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake in Haiti were unimaginable. Up to 250,000 people died, and more than 1.5 million were left homeless.

Eighteen months later, progress has been slow and jagged. Even at the collapsed presidential palace in Port-au-Prince, there's debris and destruction. Residents say that it is as if time stood still.

Pam Saulsby in Haiti Blog: Pam Saulsby visits Haiti

Haiti is still in pain, but there are also signs that the country is healing, and Family Health Ministries of Durham has been a part of that.

Kath Walmer is the executive director of the ministry, which operates several projects all over Haiti and has worked in the country for nearly two decades.

"It's really about relationships," Walmer said. "Over the 17 years, we've built significant relationships in the community. It's great to build buildings, but it's really the people that we're here for. It's really the relationships that we've built that we're here for."

Dr. Nicole Larrier from Duke University is one of a number of volunteers at a clinic in Blanchard, near Port-au-Prince.

"The reason I stick with this group is because … they don't come in with a preconceived idea of what to do," Larrier said. "They come in and work with the people here and say, 'What do you want? What is your vision for the community?' and then decide how we can help."

Among those with her on a recent medical mission were a dermatologist, college students, a public health department consultant and a retired bank executive from BB&T.

Durham ministry in Haiti focuses on relationships amid need  Durham ministry in Haiti focuses on relationships amid need

"The most interesting thing is that we see a wide range of all ages," said Dr. Russell Hall. "We've seen people from their 70s (and) 80s to 2-month-old children to grandmothers to grandchildren – all together in large families. The things they've had have ranged from the things people would have anywhere – gastroesophageal reflux disease … arthritis and high blood pressure."

The tragedy, Russell said, is not what the people have but what they don't have to be able to treat common health problems.

Elsewhere in Haiti, in the town of Leogane, FHM runs a clinic for cervical cancer prevention. The disease is the leading cause of female deaths.

Dr. Delson Merisier, who runs the clinic, says that, in the 10 years that FHM has been in Leogane, women's attitudes about cancer have changed.

"A lot of women – before – came here when they got cancer," Merisier said. "Now, it's really different. They come before they get cancer, and now, we can treat them."

Beyond public health and women's issues, FMH also supports children and education. It's rebuilding a three-story school destroyed in the earthquake.

"We have our architecture plans drawn up. We have an engineer," Walmer said. "They were out here surveying two weeks ago, and the hope is to break ground in the next four weeks."

Fifty orphans who live in the small mountain community of Fondwa wait for that day. Living conditions have not been good since the earthquake, but they are much improved.

Walmer said it is the friends they've made in Haiti that allow them to deliver all of the much-needed services.

"The Haitians are smart. They know what the priorities are. They know what the problems are. They know what the solutions are, but it's the resourcing," she said. "Family Health Ministries comes in, and we're the resourcing, and we work in partnership with the community leaders to do whatever the need might be."


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  • ICTrue Jul 28, 2011

    They have historically been one of the most helpless and needy nations on earth. I can feel sorry for them but I would never donate a cent. It's hard to help people that won't help themselves.

  • 68_dodge_polara Jul 28, 2011

    This is a charity which directly supports the wellness of women and children through charitable contributions and volunteering . Which is opposite of the government forcibly taking money from us to give to corrupt foreign governments to disperse into their own pockets. Family Health Ministries provides information to all donors indicating where the money is going. The government couldn't do this even if they wanted to.

  • ladywarrior Jul 28, 2011

    Thank you Pam and WRAL for running this story. They have made much progress with more to came. Thank the Lord for groups like Family Health Ministries.

  • warbirdlover Jul 28, 2011

    Haiti has to be one of the worst places on earth. Why spend all that money on a groverment that is so corrupt. I think it might have been better off, if all the politician in Haiti would have got swallowed up by the earthquake. Why do all these Charities run to other countries, instead of using there money in their own town?????? And it is not my duty to serve God. It is my duty to take care of my family first and formost. To many people hide behind the Bible!!!!! If God is so powerfull, why does he let so much suffering go on in the world, like letting babies starve to death, wars that kill people, the genocide of million of people.

  • kermit60 Jul 28, 2011

    I spent a week inhaiti doing medical work as a volunteer. We can do these missions until Jesus Christ returns and won't make anything better. Billions have been spent on haiti from countries around the world but most of it goes to corrupt ploiticians ans payoffs to criminals. Don't waste your time or money.

  • abylelab -BT- Jul 28, 2011

    Abylelab, because God loves everyone everywhere it's our duty to serve God. This is a very well and efficiently run charity.

    HA!!!!! Only some people believe that helping Vodouisants is somehow serving God. I'm all for well run and efficient charities, I just don't see any purpose in going overseas.

    I didn't care when the earthquake rocked their island, and I most assuredly will not be wasting any money on them, EVER.

    Somehow people have gotten Christian and American mixed up, its not the duty of Americans to make every single place on the planet "better."

  • 68_dodge_polara Jul 28, 2011

    Abylelab, because God loves everyone everywhere it's our duty to serve God. This is a very well and efficiently run charity.

  • abylelab -BT- Jul 28, 2011

    why do we care anything about haiti?

  • miketroll3572 Jul 28, 2011

    I do believe alot more people would help out if the goverment of Haiti was not so corrupt.

  • 68_dodge_polara Jul 28, 2011

    I have a wonderful niece and nephew from Haiti in part because of this ministry and I provide for a child's education and well being for $300 year through this organization, which is an awful lot for the money! Durham has it's problems but no Durham doesn't need more help than Haiti. All it needs to to is keep repeat violent offenders locked up and stop electing officials just because there democrats.

    Durham resident.