On a mission in Haiti
By Parish Howard
When the earthquake hit, Wrens native Donnie Rogers, his wife Cindy, and two other Augusta-based missionaries were in a cab maneuvering the narrow streets of Port-au-Prince.
“We had probably been out of the Caribbean Market 10 minutes and were between it and the World Vision offices when all of a sudden the car started moving all around us,” Rogers said. “At first I thought we hit a pothole, which is not uncommon in Haiti, but it went on and on. The car kept bouncing and sliding. There was a kid on a bike crossing the street in front of us and it threw him off. It was instant chaos. When our car stopped, we looked up at this cinderblock church in front of us and it just collapsed completely.”
It was seconds later, in the street, the dust of powdered concrete mixing with the screams of the instantly homeless that they realized…earthquake.
The people of Haiti have been close to Donnie’s and Cindy’s hearts for around 26 years.
They first visited the country in 1984 and they moved there with their children as missionaries just two years later. For six years, the couple lived and worked side by side with the villagers of La Source on the island of La Gonave, just off the coast from Port-au-Prince, where they helped establish a church, clinic, school and children’s feeding program. They also helped sponsor a native of the island, Louis Abner, receiving Bible training. He has since become a pastor in La Palmist, a village near La Source.
The Rogerses returned to Augusta in 1992 and have since established Life Ministries International, a church which Donnie pastors.
But they are still heavily involved in mission work in Haiti and Donnie said they try to go back three or four times every year.
In October, during a medical mission trip there, Rogers said he met a group of people suffering from leprosy.
“We didn’t have any way to treat it with us,” Rogers said. “So we came home and arranged a follow-up trip to work with a Haitian doctor to set up a treatment program for these guys.”
The Rogers flew back into Haiti on Friday, Jan. 7, along with Dr. Marty Schnell and Lisa Adams, to address the needs for the lepers they had met and attend a few weddings performed by a pastor friend of theirs there.
“While I was scheduled to preach there Sunday, we felt led to leave the island on Saturday,” Rogers said. “I can’t explain it other than to say we all felt like we needed to get down the mountain and back across into Port-au-Prince. Our friends there were disappointed, but we all felt like we needed to go.”
The group caught a boat on Sunday.
“Monday morning, the day we were originally scheduled to leave the island, the ocean was ‘big’ as the Haitians say,” Rogers said. “There were swells 12 to 15 feet high and there were no boats running that day at all. They couldn’t handle it.”
Checking their schedule, they realized they had more time than they needed and though they were scheduled to fly home Wednesday, they attempted to rearrange their tickets to leave earlier.
“We tried everything short of paying more than $600 each to change our tickets, and nothing worked,” Rogers said. “We decided then that with leaving the island early and then not being able to leave the city, we were there for some purpose.”
They planned to spend the day checking out the prices for supplies for their mission house in area hardware stores and visiting with Haiti’s World Vision director. They were on their way to see him when their car started shaking.
After the Quake
In the street, he said, people were walking around dazed or yelling and screaming.
“At first we thought it was localized,” Rogers said. “As the streets started to fill up and the taxi driver was freaking out because he couldn’t get his family on the phone, we decided to walk the three or four blocks to our hotel.”
The group had considered staying in the Hotel Montanna and a couple of guest houses, all of which were either pancaked or otherwise severely damaged by the quake. Luckily, they were only a couple blocks from their hotel, The Kenam, when the disaster struck.
“There were some pipes broken between floors and stuff but, overall it was in good shape and had generators for its own power,” Rogers said.
While standing outside the hotel with other guests, they started hearing stories of wide-spread disaster.
“We were able to get through to our son Brandon and daughter Jamie and let them know that we were all right,” Rogers said. “Brandon started giving us the first real news, that it was a 7.0 earthquake.”
About that time people started showing up who had crawled out of the rubble from downed buildings farther into the city. Within an hour of the quake the sun went down and an elemental darkness descended adding to the chaos throughout the city.
“That’s when Dr. Marty Schnell said that he thought there was a Doctors Without Borders office less than a mile away,” Rogers said. “We made for that to see what we could do.
“It was an administrative office, with no beds or anything, but they did have some supplies, some pain meds, IV fluids, ace bandages and such, and so we all starting accepting patients there.”
Rogers, with 20 years of EMS experience and Cindy, a registered nurse, pitched in to treat the crowds of injured people who started to line up.
“The driveway became our triage,” Rogers said. “There weren’t a lot of supplies, so I started busting up pallets to get wood to make splints.”
There were a lot of broken bones, crushing injuries, cuts and gashes. There was one 5-year-old little boy who had been eviscerated. There were a lot of shattered pelvises.
“It was real frustrating having so many people who needed help that we just couldn’t provide,” Rogers said. “At one point one doctor said that we didn’t have time to stitch anything, that we just needed to focus on setting broken bones and stopping the bleeding. Anybody who could walk, we had to get them out of the way to make room for those who couldn’t.”
All of this they provided into the night with fairly frequent aftershocks rocking the dark city.
They got only a couple of hours sleep in the hotel’s courtyard, he said. With the aftershocks, people were afraid to spend any real time inside the buildings.
“There were people with bullhorns walking through the streets warning residents not to stay in their homes, that the aftershocks could bring them down and they could be trapped,” Rogers said.
The hotel was on the corner of a big park and at night, Rogers said, the common area there filled up with he guessed 10,000 to 15,000 people.
Tuesday they found out that the airport was closed and so they went back to the Doctors Without Borders office and worked with them while they tried to set up a field hospital.
“Tuesday night a rumor got started in the park that a Tsunami had hit the city and it was underwater and the water was rising,” Rogers said. “That was the only time I got nervous and a little bit scared. There was this energy running through that crowd and it felt like anything could happen.”
That’s when he decided they really needed to try to get to the U.S. embassy and see what they could find out about flights out.
There they finally caught up with the director of the World Vision program they were going to meet that day of the disaster. He told them that after the quake he went straight home to check on his wife and two little girls. What he found was nothing but rubble. Their apartment had been on the bottom floor of a five story apartment building. He immediately got a flashlight and started wandering the rubble calling their names.
His wife, Rogers said, later reported that they had been in a bubble of air and that she kept holding the walls off of their girls. Eventually, she and both girls were able to crawl free with no major injuries.
Eventually Rogers and his group were able to fly out on a military C-17 and make their way home.
Rogers said they finally got word from the island, their former home, and while no one in the village there was seriously hurt, 13 homes were destroyed and 33 people are living in the church.
“All the former residents who had moved into Port-au-Prince have returned home without anything and now the island’s resources are having to feed and care for more residents than it can handle,” Rogers said. “I hope that this can be a turning point for the country. It’s not that I think it had to happen, that it had to come to this, but I have never seen this much help pouring into the country. Hopefully, they can use it to turn things around and combat some of the poverty that has crippled them for so many years.”
This Friday Cindy, Adams and Dr. Schnell, the Rogers’ son Brandon and daughter Jamie, along with two others will be returning to Haiti.
“Among them are two doctors, three nurses and a PA,” Donnie said. “They will be providing some medical work there, but they will also be doing some survey work.”
The group will be doing some reconnaissance on the island, deciding what supplies they really need and try to find out what is the best way to get those supplies to the people who need them.
“Right now, it just ain’t happening,” Rogers said. “We could easily fill up a container with supplies, water and food, but there’s just no way to get it there. That’s what we have to figure out on this trip. We have so many people who want to go and help out, but they’re going to have to take their own food and things with them. We don’t want to add to the problems there. We want to be part of the solution.”
Information on Life Ministries mission work to Haiti is available online at www.lifeaugusta.com.
“We’re still trying to decide what we need and what we need to try to accomplish first,” Rogers said. “We don’t really have a goal in mind. We’ll do what we can do with what God provides for us.”
Students disciplined for sale of handgun on school bus
By Carol McLeod
In a letter to parents, Jefferson County High School principal, Dr. Molly Howard, stated a student exchanged a handgun with another student for money while the two were on a school bus Friday, Jan. 29.
In her letter, Howard stated the exchange was made quietly and secretly but had been observed by other students one of whom told a parent. The parent reported the incident to school authorities.
“The matter was turned over to law enforcement and the case is being processed and the students are no longer in school,” Howard’s letter states.
The letter, dated Friday, Feb. 5, also states there was no altercation or threats during the exchange.
In an interview Monday, Howard said after the school was notified of the incident the student was called to the office.
Howard said the student admitted having a weapon on the bus and said it had been purchased for somebody else, a cousin in another town.
The student who was supposed to have sold the weapon was questioned and admitted to selling the weapon, she said.
“The parents were called. Two students were suspended,” Howard said, adding the tribunal process has been initiated and law enforcement was notified.
Howard said the students are restricted from all other students and cannot attend any school function in the county.
“They cannot come on any school campus in the county,” she said.
Howard said she appreciates the students who want to have a safe school and the parents who let school officials know when problems occur.
“It’s been through the cooperation from parents and students that we’ve been able to identify this as even having happened,” she said.
In her letter, Howard wrote, “We are so thankful that we have students who are observant and have the courage to come forward and report incidents like one with a weapon. … It is so important that our students know that there is a caring adult in the building they can trust and feel free to approach and report concerns or problems.
“Let’s all work together to make our schools the kind of places that we are all proud to be a part of, and most importantly, that our schools are safe and secure places to learn and work.”
The names of the students involved in the incident have not been released at this time.
Bethune announces plans for retirement
Jefferson County School Board Superintendent Carl Bethune announced his retirement to the county’s board of education during a work session Monday, Feb. 8.
Bethune’s last day of work will be Monday, May 31.
In a letter given to the school board members Monday, Bethune said his retirement was made with a bittersweet heart.
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“This community has great people and an outstanding board of education. It has been a privilege and honor to work here for 20 years with hundreds of wonderful people who are and have been deeply committed to the education of all students. The Jefferson County leadership team favorably compares with the best anywhere. It is difficult to leave the dream team of board, staff members and teachers that I have had the privilege to work with over the years,” his letter states.
Bethune said he will never forget the wonderful children of the community.
“They, as an inspiration to all of us, have exhibited a multitude of talents and have demonstrated the will to succeed. I wish for this school system much continued success. Those who have worked so hard will continue to do so because they do it for the children,” he wrote.
He also stated in his letter that the school board has been diligent in keeping a generous reserve that may be needed in the next few years because of future funding cuts expected to be made by the governor.
“Finally, thank you for allowing me to serve as your superintendent and for your contributions to making Jefferson County a better place for families and children to live, work and learn,” he stated in his letter.
Georgia Hunter, a retired Jefferson County teacher and a current school board member, said Bethune’s announcement was unexpected.
“It was a surprise,” she said in an interview Tuesday.
“I know the citizens of Jefferson County are going to miss him for his long years of service. We all talked about how we appreciated having him and working with him,” Hunter said.
“He’s going to be missed in Jefferson County. It’s been a pleasure working with him as superintendent,” she said.
“Carl has devoted much of his career to the students of Jefferson County,” said the school board’s chairman, Jimmy Fleming.
“He has offered sound financial and educational leadership through these often difficult times. I thank him for his dedicated service to our students and schools and for his friendship. His winning the Bill Barr Leadership Award this year is indicative of his service to our county and our state. We wish him much happiness in his retirement,” Fleming said Tuesday.