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One month after devastating earthquake, Mercy Corps brings relief and recovery to Haiti

Haiti, February 12, 2010

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Portland, OR - One month after the January 12th earthquake in Haiti, the global relief and development agency Mercy Corps is providing humanitarian relief and laying the groundwork for long-term recovery.

The agency, which had not worked in Haiti prior to the earthquake, quickly assembled a staff of 35 experts to help earthquake survivors access resources such as food, water and post-trauma assistance. Moving forward, Mercy Corps is prioritizing the creation of jobs, particularly in areas outside of Port-au-Prince.

“The needs in Haiti are immense,” said Mercy Corps’ Haiti Country Director Bill Holbrook. “It will take years to build back from this terrible disaster. We’re working to ensure that Haitians – in Port-au-Prince and the surrounding provinces – have the resources to make their country more prosperous, sustainable and just in the long term.”

Mercy Corps has been working to address immediate needs for food, water and shelter. The agency distributed high-energy biscuits and one month's worth of food to the General Hospital, the largest hospital in Port-au-Prince, and installed a high-volume water filtration unit to provide clean water to Lope Hospital, the city's only dedicated facility for plastic surgery. To help fill pressing needs for shelter, Mercy Corps has distributed 435 units of plastic sheeting at various camps for the homeless in Port-au-Prince.

Mercy Corps has already started promoting economic recovery. The agency is implementing Cash-for-Work, an approach that pays Haitians to clean up and begin rebuilding their communities, enabling them to earn income and get money back into the economy. The agency is providing short-term income to approximately 500 people, and anticipates scaling up to reach more than 8,000.

As a next step, Mercy Corps will focus on long-term economic recovery by supporting the creation of jobs, especially in the provinces around Port-au-Prince, in sectors such as agriculture, tourism and apparel manufacturing.

“Haitians need and want meaningful jobs more than anything,” said Holbrook. “Mercy Corps plans to work with a variety of private sector and government partners to help more Haitians find steady, licit employment. We’re focused on creating jobs in the countryside, where many earthquake survivors have fled and industry is practically nonexistent.”

Mercy Corps also expects to use cash grants to help people rebuild assets like small businesses, fishing boats and food carts. In addition, Mercy Corps is exploring options with microfinance provider FONKOZE and other partners to help small- and mid-size businesses grow using remittances and microfinance.

The emotional recovery of Haiti’s children is another priority for Mercy Corps. The agency is implementing Comfort for Kids, a methodology developed with the global childcare provider Bright Horizons to provide post-trauma support for children. Originally created after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City, Comfort for Kids includes trainings for adults to address symptoms of trauma in kids, carefully devised workbooks to help children process post-earthquake emotions, and distribution of “comfort kits” with soothing items such as blankets, stuffed animals and sippy cups.

Mercy Corps recently announced a partnership with Haiti's First Lady, Elisabeth Delacourt Préval, to implement Comfort for Kids trainings for adult caregivers. The First Lady and UNICEF will organize “safe spaces” in camps to run arts, sports and music activities for children, while Mercy Corps will run simultaneous sessions – in French and Creole – to educate parents and caregivers about child symptoms of trauma and how they can be addressed.

In the coming weeks and months, Mercy Corps plans to expand its work to include the provinces surrounding Port-au-Prince, particularly the Central Plateau area where approximately 500,000 people fled after the earthquake. The agency is striving to make these areas economically viable and provide critical resources to displaced families who have settled there. Mercy Corps has already conducted a food distribution in Mirebalais, one hour from Port-au-Prince, and is planning to take Cash-for-Work "on the road" to Mirebalais and other areas.