Havre native Fawn Stephens said the two weeks she spent taking part in the Haiti relief effort were at the same time wonderful and horrible. She saw human suffering at its worst, total destruction and city blocks where thousands of people lived in canvas and tarp buildings in the aftermath of a terrible earthquake. And she saw Haitian people who maintained their hope, determination and willingness to help others in the midst of devastation. Fawn, the daughter of J.D. and Nonna Cass, is a 1997 Havre High School graduate. Her husband, Michael, whom she met while working in Bozeman, is retired from the Navy. They live in Newberg, Ore., about 30 miles from Portland. Michael was asked by Switzerland-based Heli-Mission to help out after an earthquake devastated the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince. Heli-Mission brings missionaries, food and medical supplies into remote Third World locations and often helps evacuate injured and ill people from places not served by traditional, fixed-wing aircraft. Jan. 25, five days after receiving the request, he was in Haiti. Before long, he was involved with Samaritan Air, a group that operates an orphanage in Port-au-Prince. The orphanage opened a hospital to treat people who had undergone surgery in the city’s larger hospitals. Once the patients were stabilized, they were moved to one of the many smaller hospitals that had sprung up. Michael soon found himself operating the hospital and the orphanage as well as flying helicopters. The Haiti assignment was perfect for Michael. He had spent some of his high school years in Haiti, where his father worked for a toy company that had a manufacturing facility. He received emergency medical training in the Navy. Fawn was eager to join her husband. By Feb. 6, she was at the hospital, treating people and offering help and comfort to their families. Their three young children — Isaiah, 14, Kalem, 5, and Adria, 5 — stayed with friends from church while Michael and Fawn went on this Haitian relief effort. What Fawn saw inside and outside the hospital and orphanage will remain with her forever. She treated injured young people, Including some amputees. “I was putting love on them and helping be their mom,” she said. It’s hard to describe the effect of the earthquake. “When you drive through downtown Port-au- Prince, it looks like it was bombed. It looks like there has been a war,” she said. Homes and commercial establishments were leveled by the disaster, she said. Most, she suspects, will never be rebuilt. People in the city were “going about their business,” she said. Yet, the only business they have is trying to feed themselves. People would stop at the market where they always shopped, she said. “But now the market is on the streets because the building is gone.” Even if their houses weren’t demolished in the quake, people live in the streets because fear of aftershocks have scared people out of their homes. Fawn said she knows the feeling. “I was there for some tremors,” she said. “It’s unnerving.” The fear must be worse, she said, for those who lived through the original earthquake. Communication is difficult, too, she said. Cell phones are the most commonly used means of getting through to friends and family, she said, adding that pre-paid cell phones are available at many places in Port-au-Prince. Internet service is spotty, and electricity is out throughout the city. What power is available comes from generators. Fawn and Michael returned to Oregon this week — Michael had been in Haiti a month, Fawn for two weeks. But they long to return. “We will go back as soon as the Lord will allow.” Adria, their 5-year-old was recently asked what she wanted for her birthday — which is today. “To go to Haiti,” she replied. Since they returned to Oregon, Michael and Fawn have kept in touch with people at the orphanage and hospital. They are advocating on behalf of three people they met in Haiti. One person, a 2-year-old Haitian girl, is in need of heart surgery. Michael and Fawn are working to find a hospital that will agree to do the surgery at no cost. They have located three possible facilities — two in the United States and one in the Dominican Republic. “Without an operation, she will eventually die,” Fawn said. They are also trying to get two Haitian men they met — one 18, one 23 — into the United States to attend college. One wants to be a doctor, the other an engineer. Cutting through the red tape will be difficult from Oregon, she said, but easier than it would be from Haiti. Often people in need of such help would go to the U.S. embassy. “But the embassy is overwhelmed,” she said. There are lines of people waiting outside all day long, she said. She is also stressing to family and friends the importance of continuing to provide aid to Haiti because the country will be rebuilding for at least 10 years. She asked people to mark on their calendars to make a donation in three months. “That father who can’t feed his family today won’t be able to feed his family in three months,” she said. “There are no jobs for him to get.” She said there are many groups that are providing excellent assistance to Haiti. But faithbased groups are usually better at getting assistance to people quickly. “There is usually a lot less red tape,” she said. The medical attention she provided was important, Fawn said. But the most important thing she hopes she was able to share with Haitians was the hope her faith gives her. “It’s because of my faith that I have hope,” she said. “Without my faith it would have been easy to be brought down.” That kind of faith will be important as Haiti rebuilds over the next decade. “Before the earthquake, Haiti was a very, very poor country,” she said. Now, even those who had some material goods are poor, she said. “It’s going to be a long time rebuilding,” she said.
Havre native recounts efforts in Haiti
Published: Thursday, February 25th, 2010
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