Father Reginald Jean-Marie of Notre Dame d'Haiti Catholic church in Miami's Little Haiti community admits donations have significantly slowed down, seven weeks after the earthquake that ravaged Haiti on January 12. But he isn't discouraged - in fact - he is thankful for the generosity many have shown toward his native land. One day after the earthquake, the church, housed in a mustard yellow building, tucked behind an iron gate in the heart of "Ti Ayiti" mobilized to help survivors.
"It was a big shock for the community," Father Jean-Marie recalls. He says the church organized a memorial mass for the victims the next day. In addition, a "collection center" was set up for people to donate clothing, shoes, water and food items for the people of Haiti.
Father Jean-Marie has led three medical missions to the country since January and will head back to Port-au-Prince March 4 along with 16 doctors, nurses, counselors, three priests and nuns. He says his church partnered with the archdiocese of Port-au-Prince for this mission, which will focus on those whom assistance has not yet reached. After an assessment of the actual needs, the team will tend to earthquake survivors in the Notre Dame de Lourdes, St. Louis Roi de France and Carrefour parishes.
"This is a church-to-church effort," he explains, adding that the Haitian government is not involved. During the current mission, tent-camp residents will get badly-needed medical assistance, medicine, water and food. The aid is not limited to Catholics, Father Jean-Marie stresses, anyone in those areas who are in need of help can stop by.
"One of the most wonderful experiences I had as a priest was to find Protestants leading prayer inside a Catholic church," the priest said, " and everyone was praying together! You see, the terrible tragedy that happened, I believe is inviting us toward that kind of expression of faith."
In addition to food and medical assistance, the St. Francois des Salles church in Port-au-Prince and Gonaives hospital will receive ambulances. Two used ambulances were donated to the church by the city of Chicago, thanks to a joint effort by the city of Miami and Rotary Club. The Rotary Club has a boat that will transport the ambulances to Haiti March 4.
"Every two weeks, we'll be traveling to a different area," Father Jean-Marie explained. "We aim to reach the sports center in Carrefour next. We'll be rotating where we go."
Father Jean Marie says the Notre Dame d'Haiti mission aims to cover cities in the southern peninsula and then move towards the north and northwest where many earthquake survivors are now living.
Looking toward the future, the Haitian priest urges people to continue praying for Haiti.
"Stay positive and hopeful that something good can come out of this tragedy," he said. "Don't be afaid to give... think big and aim high."