Residents volunteered in Haiti


Editor’s note: The following, submitted by the Mechanicsburg Public Library, is reprinted from The Telegram’s Feb. 2,

1983, edition.

By Virginia Fleming

“It really makes you appreciate how much the government of our country does help the people,” said Bill Runyan, Mechanicsburg area farmer, after his return from Haiti, where he spent a week with 11 other Champaign County church members.

Mary Ellen and Jim Mahoy, Rev. David Heistand, Herb Cordell, Diana, Nancy and Leroy Blazer, Dr. Dan Stowe, all of Mechanicsburg, Dr. Ramon Johnson, Urbana, Rev. Glen Herman, Rosewood and Rev. Brooks Nagle, Preston, Md., father-in-law of Rev. Heistand, landed in Port-au-Prince Jan 10.

A bomb exploded that day at the palace of “Baby Doc Duvalier,” despotic ruler of the island country. The visitors were stopped at gunpoint at the roadblock until they showed proof of their identity.

Diana Blazer, 15, and her sister, Nancy, 17, worked with Mary Ellen Mahoy in the Methodist Children’s Grace Hospital where tubercular children are treated.

The two sisters became fond of their small charges, as they bathed and cared for them. Diana said that the children were basically happy, but some in advanced stages of the disease were very weak. Lack of sanitation bothered the girls.

They enjoyed snorkeling in the clear waters of the Carribean Ocean. Diana commented, “Being there made us look at things differently, when we got home.

Mary Ellen Mahoy, whose husband, James Mahoy, an attorney, joined them later in the week, worked in the records department at the hospital.

She learned that many volunteer groups are trying to ease the plight of the Haitians, where 80 percent of the country’s wealth is controlled by 10 percent of the population.

Her knowledge of the French language, which she said “could use some brushing up,” helped her to communicate.

The United Methodist Core Overseas Relief contributes to the Haitian poor with some education in mission fields, medical care and also tries to help the natives learn to reclaim over farmed land.

She said that Tom Stickley, Champaign countian, working with United States banking in Haiti, reports that his company has 20,000 $100 farm loans out.

In some instances, three families occupy the limited acreage, on which the loan has been made.

Dr. Dan Stowe found that most of his and Dr. Ramon Johnson’s dental surgery required quad root surgery, where the teeth had rotted off.

Some of that decay is caused by eating too much sugarcane and the remainder by lack of finances and neglect. Stowe was impressed with the stoic attitude of his patients toward pain.

The dentists operated a two-day outdoor clinic a distance from Port–au-Prince, where they treated about 300 surgical cases under crude circumstances. Runyan, Heistand and Blazer held them against a tree trunk while surgery took place.

They stashed $1,500 worth of medical drugs in their clothing to get past customs.

The men were housed in barracks and did not have access to American food, as did the women who stayed at a motel. So the men ate a lot of peanut butter sandwiches and granola bars, according to Stowe.

Dr. Johnson had a problem in being allowed to return to the states, due to a clerical mix-up at the airport.

Runyan said, “I think I was pretty well prepared for what I was to see, regarding poverty. It wasn’t a bunch of laughs. It was sobering and definitely an eye-opener, but I enjoyed the fellowship of the group.

In comparing his Haitian trip to last winter’s visit to China, Runyan commented, “The Chinese are healthier, happier, cleaner and better educated.

Blazer, Cordell and Nagle rolled up their sleeves and worked at the Methodist Christian Farm Institute 30 miles from Port-au-Prince.

There, native boys come to school to learn better farming methods to take back to family farms. Cows and chickens are also raised as are tomato plants grown from seeds, sent by the Mechanicsburg United Methodist Church, which also sent a tractor and farm equipment to be used at the farm.

As for signs of improvement, Blazer said, “That’s like watching the hour hand turn on the clock. It’s slow, but the Methodist church has much to be proud of in its role there.”

Rev. David Heistand recalls the church services held on a mountain overlooking the Haitian countryside as being extremely moving, emotionally.

He said he was thrilled that Haitians joined in singing well-known hymns.

The appreciation of the Haitians for the tractor and seeds given by the Mechanicsburg Methodist Church was also gratifying, Heistand said.

The Champaign County visitors were pleased by having made their individual contributions to the Haitian people.

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Submitted by the Mechanicsburg Public Library.

Submitted by the Mechanicsburg Public Library.