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Street-Level Compassion, Street-Level Delivery in Haiti

The problem is bigger than any one organization, any single government or universal remedy, but there have already been heroes amid the chaos -- heroes that may surprise some.
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The solution for a rebuilt and restored Haiti is proving to be every bit the challenge many predicted. One thing is for certain. The problem is bigger than any one organization, any single government or universal remedy. That doesn't mean, however, the situation is hopeless. There have already been heroes amid the chaos -- heroes that may surprise some.

I once read an article that cited a relief and development organization who said that they couldn't rely on churches to do the work they needed to do in the third world. They claimed that the needed expertise and skill sets simply weren't there. It made me scratch my head.

In my three decades of experience in developing nations with Compassion International, I have witnessed the opposite. In the midst of chaos and fear, it is local churches -- rooted in the neighborhoods and anchored on the side streets -- that are actually some of the most efficient, most compassionate delivery systems available.

For Compassion International, Haiti is the most recent case in point of this often overlooked and unsung channel of relief.

When the earthquake struck, 21,186 Compassion-assisted children were in the areas of Port au Prince that reported severe or moderate damage. Within hours, Compassion's country staff worked to locate their own team and begin to connect with local church partners to undertake a census. Where were these children? How did they fare? What were their needs and the needs of their families?

Amid their own shock and loss, pastors, child center workers and country staff went home by home -- often, pile of rubble to pile of rubble -- to find Compassion assisted children. These church partners knew their neighborhoods and the families who lived in them.

Amazingly, Compassion's census ultimately accounted for 98.8% of its sponsored children. Despite the logjams at the Haiti airport, clogged roads and communities reeking with the stench of death, these on-the-ground churches did the seemingly impossible task of finding the littlest victims and survivors of Haiti's biggest disaster.

It is probably safe to say that more census data and case files exist for these children in Compassion's child development centers than in any government office in Haiti. It's even more incredible to realize that these churches achieved this feat while they suffered their own family losses and carried their own personal grief.

Additionally, because Compassion's local church relationships have been functioning for decades, these Port au Prince churches provided safer distribution points for food, water and supplies. While 69 of Compassion's church partners suffered moderate to severe damage, a remaining interior courtyard or fenced perimeter still made the delivery of relief to beneficiaries more orderly than in clogged streets. Amid panic and confusion, control and safety are paramount. These local churches provided both, and did so while honoring the dignity of those in need.

But nowhere did the local churches excel more than in meeting the individual needs of children and their families. In the days following the quake, Port au Prince inhabitants were understandably loath to leave the streets. Sleeping in a building that had not fallen was simply a psychological and physical risk that residents were not emotionally equipped to face. Children felt the fear the most.

So, with children located and relief supplies beginning to flow, the next challenge was to implement crisis counseling for children who desperately needed it. Psychologists trained church workers to meet with children individually and spot signs of emotional distress. Camps were established where children could come with parents and siblings, spend time in a safe environment, and simply begin to play again. Compassion partner churches created a growing sense of routine coupled with post-crisis counseling.

There's more to say about these local churches. Tents and building supplies for shelters flowed through them to children and their families. Temporary school facilities were erected to replace classrooms that fell amid the temblor. And purification systems were installed at 50 church locations to provide safe water.

With so much remaining to be done in Haiti, it would be easy to overlook the work that has been accomplished. Compassion owes its success in child development globally, and especially during the Haiti crisis, to local churches that don't have the public relations or communications abilities in place to tout their own success.

So we will do it for them.

The faithful, hard-working, often unheralded heroes of the Haiti crisis are the ones who were there before the 7.1 earthquake and who will be there for generations after.

They are the local Christian churches -- the most efficient, most compassionate delivery systems you may never have heard of.

Compassion International is a global advocate for children in poverty and the world's largest Christian holistic child development organization. Compassion works exclusively through more than 5,500 Christian churches in 26 countries to release children from poverty. Compassion's whole-life ministry addresses a child's physical, economic, educational and spiritual needs. Founded in 1952, Compassion now serves more than 1.1 million babies, children and university students. Compassion is known for excellence in stewardship. Charity Navigator, America's largest charity evaluator, has awarded Compassion with its highest four-star rating for nine consecutive years.