Saturday, February 06, 2010

Scientologists in Haiti: utterly useless and in the way

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Scientology symbol

There is little that is more decent and honorable than leaving your zone of comfort and heading off to disaster zones, usually very far away, to administer aid to those sorely in need in times of crisis. Conversely, however, this service can quickly turn into little more than a complete and utter waste of time and resources when you have no business being there.

Which brings us to the story at hand. As you may be aware, a group of Scientologists recently decided to do their part and flew down to the stricken island nation to … well, touching people, basically, to try and “reconnect the nervous system”. Who needs scalpels, scrubs and years of med school when you can just poke people to get that energy flowing?

So, what happens when you bring quackery and incompetence, in addition to inexperience in the face of disasters, to a crisis zone? Well, here’s a first-hand account from someone who traveled down to Haiti with some actual doctors and EMTs – along with 50 Scientology “Volunteer Ministers”.

I arrived at JFK last week, ready to go.

I knew we were traveling with doctors and EMTs, but I didn't expect to see 50 scientologists, in their yellow shirts with Volunteer Minister on them. They were completely unprepared for going to a third world country, let alone a disaster zone. One girl was in designer cowboy boots. I asked her if she'd brought any sturdier footwear.

"Oh no, these'll be fine."

I asked another guy what he'd packed and he said he hadn't bothered to bring soap or toilet paper or food, but that he'd just "buy whatever I need at Port-au-Prince airport." I couldn't break it to him.

They had no place to stay, and no supplies — their idea was to use the ton of money they had to buy food to distribute when they got there. But there was no food and no water. That was the point.

By the time we arrived in Haiti, after a stopover in Miami, we had missed three landing slots at the airport. Aid agencies — genuine aid agencies — from other countries were being turned away, refused permission to land. But we still got a slot straight away. The guy who ran our charter seemed to think that the Scientologists had some real influence with the US Government, who were assigning the slots.

The doctors and EMTs in our party headed straight downtown to start working. The Scientologists had nowhere to go, and nowhere to put up the big yellow tent they'd brought for touch healing people in. They went to the UN, and managed to get on to their list of approved NGOs somehow. That meant they could set up in the UN grounds.

But they had no-one who spoke Creole, and they brought the weirdness of touch healing into a very superstitious society. They'd leave the tent and come into the general hospital downtown, and try healing people. One of the doctors and one of the nurses told me that the wounded started coming to them to tell them they didn't want to be treated by the people in the yellow shirts.

One nurse told me that the Scientologists actually caused harm — they gave food to people who were scheduled to go into surgery. That then led to complications in the operating theater.

On the way back, the plane stopped in Miami and did not go on to New York, stranding all the doctors and EMTs and journalists who expected to get back. After much fighting, the Scientologist representative agreed to fly any of the EMTs that "absolutely couldn't afford the ticket" on Jet Blue from Fort Lauderdale. I heard there were complications but had bought my own ticket because I was fed up with their weirdness.

Pretty much exactly as you’d expect. Now, I can’t claim that this was no more than a publicity stunt on Scientology’s part, or especially that the “volunteer ministers” didn’t have their heart in their right place and weren’t actually trying to help, even if it’s with superstitious quackery. But really, you just can’t head down to a disaster zone if you have no preparation, experience, or even the slightest idea what the hell you’re doing. Designer boots? No real equipment or supplies, except what they hope to buy at the airport? How could they possibly have been serious?

If anything, this account does, at least, provide ample refutation to the claims made by the bunch of ignorant cretins currently infesting poor Jen’s own post on the matter. Sorry, folks, but if these kooks didn’t even bring their own food and supplies, much less for anyone else, then they really couldn’t have helped anyone at all.

(via Dispatches From the Culture Wars)