Haiti Volunteers Already Looking to 2012


(United Methodist News Service, Nashville, Tenn.): So many UM Volunteer in Mission (VIM) teams are signing up for work in Haiti that a request already has been made for 2012. Through its Haiti Response Plan, the church is now rotating teams into the country to assist with earthquake recovery. “I’ve got weeks that are too full,” said Susan Meister, the U.S.-based coordinator. “The response has just been tremendous.”
In April, directors of the UM Committee on Relief (UMCOR) approved a $565,000 grant to support the pilot phase of a volunteer team project sponsored with the General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM). The next month, jurisdictional coordinators for VIM led three work teams to Haiti comprised of people who would eventually lead their own teams.
Leaders of the volunteer teams have VIM training, along with previous experience in Haiti, Meister said. No children under the age of 16 are allowed on the teams and youth ages 16 or 17 must be accompanied by a parent. “The teams that have come back say it’s physically exhausting and emotionally grueling,” she noted.
Most teams will spend seven to nine days in Haiti. The size of each team is limited to 10 people, who must all arrive and depart at the same time.
Scheduling is complicated by housing and transportation arrangements. “Usually, there is a pretty significant delay between when people request dates and when we can respond to them,” Meister explained. “Our goal right now is to have five projects open at a time in the field.”  Besides paying their own expenses, teams contribute $3,500 each, to which matching funds are added. The total is sent to Haiti to pay for workers and supplies. “One of the major goals of this grant was to employ
Haitians at a ratio of 2 to 1,” she said. “We take that very seriously.”
Meister, who did communications work for UMCOR after Hurricane Katrina, noted that this is a different type of volunteer experience. Volunteers in Haiti will witness a higher level of hunger and poverty, face language and transportation issues, endure oppressive heat and manage with a lack of infrastructure.  Some team placements are available for the rest of 2010. January and February of 2011 are essentially closed, Meister said, with 31 teams scheduled and several more pending. Twenty-five teams are awaiting confirmation on dates in March through July of 2011. More information is available in a newsletter at www.umvimhaiti.org.
Volunteers interested in scheduling a trip to Haiti can contact Meister (haitivolunteers@yahoo.com). Donations to support the work in Haiti can be made online at www.umcorhaiti.org or by checks payable to your local church with "Haiti Relief #4183" on the memo line and place the check in your church offering plate.