While a group of 10 American missionaries --led by members of a Meridian church--stole international headlines this week when they were accused of child trafficking in Haiti, Idahoans with deep ties to the devastated island have been working long hours to do whatever they can to help Haiti and its people.
Nearly three weeks since a devastating earthquake hit Haiti, killing some 150,000 to 200,000 people, international aid workers and peacekeepers are struggling to get food, water and other supplies to those in need. The Haitian government, still recovering from the shock, knows that international attention will soon fade.
"In disasters like these, people are good at responding in a big way immediately, but the focus stops long before a person has the sense that they're able to move on," said Nancy Casey, a Haiti activist from Moscow.
Casey has visited Haiti numerous times and works with a grassroots organization called Courageous Women on the Haitian island of LaGonave.
"The situation is amazing, in a mind boggling kind of way," Casey said. "The loss is immense. Whole family tree branches just disappeared."
Casey has been in e-mail contact with her friends on LaGonave and said that outside of the capital, Port-au-Prince, casualties are fewer, as life is lived mostly outdoors.
"The e-mails I get are touching," Casey said. "They start out well, asking how I am doing and then they start to list who died, who is injured or who is missing. While the damage was less, people are frantic for family members on the mainland, especially children going to high school in Port-au-Prince."
Casey said that the members of Courageous Women are doing what they can to help their community and the 10,000 children who were sent to them from the city.
"Right now, there are so many Haitians working so hard to prevent food riots, to deal with the fact that there is no cash, and deal with the injuries and sanitation problems. There are so many more Haitians being good to one another than there is aid from foreigners," she said.
In March, Casey will return to Haiti where she plans to stay indefinitely. "My heart is there--both pieces of it. And when the people you care about are suffering, you just want to be there," she said.
Meanwhile, Christina Crow-Cruz from the International Rescue Committee in Boise returned from Haiti last week. Crow-Cruz had been working for two NGOs in Haiti from September 2005 until last May. She was there for political unrest in 2004, for hurricanes in 2008 and for food riots last April.
When the earthquake struck, The Haitian Project asked her to come back for her leadership and support.
Located a few miles outside of Port-au-Prince, The Haitian Project is an NGO that supports and operates Louverture Cleary School, a tuition-free Catholic boarding school for middle and high school students who are academically gifted but economically challenged.
The school and its students were unharmed by the earthquake.
"The earthquake hit mostly downtown in a concentrated area and, generally, I was surprised how good things looked just a few miles outside of the city," Crow-Cruz said. "Walking around the town, it looked like any other day."
Still, in Haiti, "any other day" doesn't look good. Haiti is a country where, according to the International Monetary Fund, more than half the population survives on 44 cents a day, most people are illiterate and there's a huge gap between the wealthy and the poor.
"The rebuilding process is going to be a huge process," Crow-Cruz said. "But there were so many needs in Haiti before the earthquake. Things like food, sanitation and access to water has always been an issue," she said.
"Tragedies have been part of the Haitian culture for so long and the Haitian people are very strong and resilient," she added.
Seventeen civil engineers with the Idaho Air National Guard are also awaiting deployment to the island to help with infrastructure needs. And several Idaho families are welcoming Haitian adoptees to their new homes, a process not without controversy.
Abby and Scott Hoefer were in the last phase of the adoption process to bring their son Alex home when the earthquake struck. A judge in Haiti who was supposed to sign off on their adoption papers had been killed and most adoptions were halted.
"We had six to12 more months to go," Abby Hoefer said. "When the earthquake hit, we didn't know if we'd ever get him."
Then, on Jan. 20, they got the call to fly to Miami as soon as possible. Alex, along with 80 other children from the God's Littlest Angels orphanage, were granted humanitarian visas.
"The orphanage had swayed back and forth but held up," Hoefer said. "We are sorry that is what it took to get him home."
Along with other local families, they turned to Rep. Walt Minnick's office for help. Minnick spokesman Dean Ferguson said they are working to expedite the process for five more Idaho families. But that may be complicated by the actions of a group of 10 missionaries led by members of the Meridian-based Central Valley Baptist Church. The group took the Haitian orphans issue into their own hands when they tried to take 33 children out of Haiti last week. Haitian officials detained the church members and found that many of the children were not, in fact, orphans.
At press time, it had not been decided whether the missionaries would go before a judge in Haiti or the United States.