Glen Mar church group brings hope to Haiti

The unpaved street winds up a steep, rocky hill to a "shell of a hospital." It's a concrete structure without any patients, said Shirley Matlock, a member of Glen Mar Methodist Church, in Ellicott City. Construction supplies, tile and paint occupy most of the rooms.

Members of churches and other community groups from Maryland and the Washington area are building Hopital de Miracia in Merger, Haiti. It began in 2005 through church donations, according to Jean Filostin, the founder of Institute of Grace, which has organized trips for many organizations, including Glen Mar, over the years.

A group of 12 people from Glen Mar United Methodist Church traveled to Haiti recently with the goal of building five bathrooms and a medical waste disposal facility, as well as painting doors and windows. First, however, they wanted to build relationships with the people of Merger.

The first days of the trip were spent doing just that. Volunteers drew pictures, made kites and played soccer with the town's children, who were eager to learn English and more about the United States, said Mary Maxey, a member of the church group.

The volunteers used hand gestures, pictures, and broken French to help overcome the Creole-English language barrier and get to know their hosts, Maxey said.

The Institute of Grace provides educational opportunities and health benefits to residents of some of Haiti's most impoverished areas.

"It's very difficult to live in Haiti," said Filostin, especially after the earthquake in January 2010. "All of Merger's water was contaminated after the earthquake."

"The need is pretty deep," said Rob Boyle, a volunteer from Glen Mar, which donated $10,000 to help the group travel to Haiti.

Though only 10 miles away, the trip from the airport in Port-au-Prince to the hospital took almost three hours, according to Maxey, because the road had only one lane in each direction for cars and carts to "inch along."

This same, slow-moving 10-mile distance is the reason Filostin believed that Merger desperately needed a hospital.

"The health system in Haiti is so decrepit; people really feel uncomfortable going to the hospital unless they have to," said Rob Boyle, a group leader from Glen Mar.

The construction process is a slow one, according to trip volunteer Melissa Holliday, because of a lack of supplies and not having the correct materials. Holliday said she was impressed with the people of Merger's resourcefulness despite their lack of funds and supplies

"There was quite a lot of improvisation," said Boyle.

Boyle said his group of volunteers "were having fun getting our hands dirty," but that "about 95 percent of the work (on the hospital) has been done by Haitians."

For painting the hospital's doors and windows, the volunteers only had small paintbrushes, Maxey said, which made the job take a lot longer.

"A little bit will get done in one room and a little bit will get done in another room," said Maxey. She said a lot of the time, the group would have to stop before a project had been completed and move onto something else.

The volunteers stayed in what Maxey described as "pretty good quarters" at the hospital. In a few rooms, the volunteers had a flushing toilet, beds and running water, albeit cold, which felt good to the volunteers at the end of a hot day.

Working in Merger was like being in "a whole 'nother world," said Maxey, remembering how the people of Merger often don't have clean water to drink.

Despite that, Holliday remembered how "eager to help" and "friendly" the people and children of Merger were during their trip from March 29 to April 10.

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