The Caribbean nation of Haiti was once a port-of-call for cruise ships. These days it’s better known for poverty and disasters, both man-made and natural. But the country’s problems have roots that reach far back in its history.
In the mid-1960s a farm couple from Indiana visited Haiti during a holiday cruise and returned with a determination to help kids there. The faith-based Christian organization they founded, International Child Care, is now based in Kalamazoo.
ICC U.S. National Director Keith Mumma says the couple started a clinic to treat children in Haiti who were suffering from tuberculosis and other respiratory diseases. That eventually grew into Grace Hospital in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince, one of the largest and best-equipped in the country. Mumma says the couple’s friends tried but failed to talk them out of moving their own family to Haiti to launch that first home-based clinic. Mumma says one of their sons recalls that, “At one time we had babies all over the house; we had babies in the bath tub”.
International Child Care now has operations throughout Haiti as well as programs in the Dominican Republic, the other country that shares the large island of Hispaniola. Projects include construction of new wells to provide safe, clean drinking water as well as “micro-loans” to help women start small business to support their families. There are also clinics to treat people with HIV/AIDS.
In 2010 a devastating earthquake struck Haiti, destroying many homes and other buildings. ICC’s Grace Hospital was so heavily damaged that it had to be torn down. But Mumma says it never stopped caring for sick kids, even in the days immediately after the quake when many members of its staff were coping with the loss of the homes and the deaths of family members. A new, larger hospital is now under construction.
Mumma says Haiti is making progress as it slowly recovers from the earthquake but he admits the road ahead will be difficult. He says few Americans really have a good idea about the situation in Haiti. International response to the earthquake came under severe criticism for what some considered waste and aid that didn't achieve much. Mumma says ICC, unlike some other "non-governmental organizations" (NGOs), has been in Haiti a long time and knew how to respond to the disaster more effectively than some other agencies. Mumma says ICC is working with a media project called Relief Nation that's investigating the "philosophies and ethics" of international aid projects in countries like Haiti.
On September 21st, ICC will hold its second annual “Labou Pou Timoun” event. That’s Haitian Creole for “Mud for Kids”. The 5K (3.1-mile) run in Walker just north of Grand Rapids will raise several thousand dollars for the organization’s programs in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Mumma says ICC expects to raise about $65,000 during a major bicycle competition in Texas later in August.