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Jewish Federation takes lead role in next phase of Haitian relief

The rescuers are gone, but the torrential rains that deluge Haiti each spring have come early.

The rescuers are gone, but the torrential rains that deluge Haiti each spring have come early. With more than a million people homeless, or sheltered only by plastic sheets, the risk of mudslides, disease and even greater disaster looms large.

But amid the sprawling camps of displaced, traumatized Haitians, you can hear words of hope and help. Words sometimes uttered in Hebrew.

See a comprehensive report on a recent fact-finding mission to Haiti by David Sherman, Chairman, and Steven B. Nasatir, President of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago. The purpose of their visit was to assess the impact of assistance already provided by the Jewish community, and to begin to assess areas where the community can continue to help alleviate Haiti's dire situation.

IsraAID, a coalition of Israeli and Jewish agencies that responds to disasters all over the world, remains in Haiti, and has expanded its efforts. It was one of the first groups on the ground offering help after the earthquake. Now, with the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago’s Earthquake Relief Fund providing the lead support, IsraAID is focusing on what many believe will be the even more critical – and lengthy – next phase of the recovery.

“From the moment we launched the Earthquake Relief Fund, just hours after the quake hit, we knew we had to provide much more than just immediate response,” said Federation President Steven B. Nasatir. “Our community responded with hundreds of thousands of dollars in support within days. But the scale of the disaster is immense, and recovery will take a very long time. We are committed to continuing our help.”

The Federation’s Earthquake Relief Fund has raised nearly $753,000 to date, with most of the money allocated supporting the relief efforts of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and IsraAID.

IsraAID teams staffed with specialists in psychological trauma, public health, education, child rehabilitation and more now are helping Haitians in the camps rebuild their lives and their nation. Virtually everyone in the camps lost relatives, a home and/or their job. Local government and civic groups are nearly non-existent.

To re-establish those critical support structures, IsraAID has launched an integrated three-part program directed at children, youth and women, and families.

One part of the program is establishing community centers in tents at the Petionville, Da Da Du and Juvinat camps, creating a place for meetings and programs that encourage residents to take initiative and responsibility. A second dimension is the formation of youth groups – nearly two-thirds of Haiti’s population is under 20 – offering the basic skills needed to deal with camp life.

The third piece, for which the Chicago Federation Earthquake Relief Fund is providing $80,000 in support, is creating schools in each of the three camps, along with kindergartens to provide safe space for younger children and babies.

The schools are open two shifts a day, for different ages, and use local staff that IsraAID has trained in teaching techniques and psychological and social assistance. As local staff run classes, IsraAID focuses on strengthening the schools’ connection to the community, providing specialized training for the teachers, and creating a curriculum relevant to camp life.

This integrated community approach builds communal structures, helps residents deal with the emotional and psychological aftermath, and provides the tools they need to assume more active control as the nation rebuilds itself.

The effort involves 20 Israeli professionals, all volunteering their time, from the Israel Center for the Treatment of Psychotrauma, Alyn Hospital for child and teen rehabilitation, and Tevel b’Tzedek (The Earth in Justice), which has extensive experience building multicultural cooperation in developing countries.

After three months, IsraAID will gauge the progress being made by the Haitian government, the United Nations relief teams and other organizations to determine whether programs can be combined.

“Intervention in this stage is crucial for dealing with people with trauma and providing a sense of empowerment and optimism for the future,” said IsraAID Founder and Chairperson Shachar Zahavi. “Efficient intervention can enable Haitians to take a central and active part in the long-term rehabilitation of their country.

“The support from the Chicago Federation and Chicago’s Jewish community is helping the victims of this catastrophe every day,” he said. “We are extremely grateful for this commitment and partnership.”

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