Updated: Scientologists in Haiti: Volunteers or Vultures?
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A mixture of messages is coming out of Haiti regarding the real impact of Scientology's Volunteer Ministers.
UPDATE: Editor's Note - On Tuesday afternoon I received a phone call from Tommy Davis of the Church of Scientology clarifying that the Press Release on the web attributed to him was a fake. While we make every effort to confirm our sources, we wanted to make our readers aware of this clarification.
In further conversation, Davis indicated that he will be providing information regarding the support actions of the CoS in Haiti. We are awaiting that information and will publish it when it arrives.
WASHINGTON, D.C. (Catholic Online) - It has almost been a month since Haiti was rocked with a 7.0 scale earthquake that devastated the capital of Port au Prince and much of the country.
Since that time, support and volunteers have streamed into the Caribbean nation to render rescue and rebuilding support as well as medical assistance. Among the groups arriving to help, Church of Scientology Volunteer Ministers came and with them, a great deal of controversy.
Scientology's Volunteer Ministers are trained to use the techniques of dianetics, which involves ideas and techniques developed by L. Ron Hubbard, a science fiction writer and founder of the Church of Scientology, concerning the metaphysical relationship of body and mind.
According to a Press Release from Tommy Davis, head of the Church of Scientology's Celebrity Centre International in Los Angeles, California, these volunteer ministers played a major part of operations after the earthquake.
"THE SCIENTOLOGY Volunteer Ministers Disaster Response Team has taken the lead role in relief efforts after Haiti's devastating 7.0 earthquake. Flying in from Clearwater, Florida to the hideous rubble of Port au Prince, capital of Haiti, the Response Team hit the ground running and immediately took charge.
"The Volunteer Ministers' big yellow tent has become known as the place to visit for help with handling trauma, getting supplies, or just to find someone to talk to after grueling hours of arduous work in the disaster zone.
"The Volunteer Ministers are working closely in Haiti with the US Military, the United Nations, and many other agencies such as the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders and UNICEF, who are amazed by their calm expertise in the disaster zone. They are intensively training these agencies and organisations [sic] in 'Touch Assists'. This technology, discovered by humanitarian L Ron Hubbard, provides a gentle massage when someone is in the midst of a crisis.
"In addition to Touch Assists, the Volunteer Ministers have been offering free stress tests to rescue personnel and citizens alike."
The French news agency Agence France-Presse reported that one Scientologist from Paris who gave her name as Sylvie claimed that the controversial church's techniques were working:
"We're trained as volunteer ministers; we use a process called 'assist' to follow the nervous system to reconnect the main points, to bring back communication," she said. "When you get a sudden shock to a part of your body the energy gets stuck, so we re-establish communication within the body by touching people through their clothes, and asking people to feel the touch."
There are mixed message coming out of Haiti regarding the actual impact and work of these Volunteer Ministers, some good and some bad.
For example, a different account of the arrival is found at www.gawker.com, where a first-hand account provided the following details:
"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.
"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.
"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.
"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."
A different view was found in a blog entry on the Special Forces Association Chapter IX (http://sfachapterix.blogspot.com/2010/02/haiti-humanitarian-relief-covenant.html) by Tommy Buchino, a former Special Forces member and vice-president at Covenant Special Projects, who recalled the work of one such group in Port au Prince.
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"As my team and I worked to secure the University of Miami field hospital (in Port of Prince), we were approached by a group (no less than 20) of young people, all donning bright yellow t-shirts. Their shirts displayed their church affiliation. No, not a Baptist church, not a Catholic church, not even a Christian organization but instead they were all members of the Church of Scientology.
"...we had these young believers of a different power cleaning bed-pans, escorting patients between wards, stacking the endless ocean of relief surplus and simply doing some really tough work. With a smile on their faces and a warmth for the suffering, these young people executed each task in a manner all of us as Americans would be proud.
(H***, I really have no clue on what they believe in; only what I have read or heard about through media channels) these guy and girls are OK by me. They lived the selfless service motto; never questioning, always doing for others. Day after demanding day."
This account, along with a positive story by NBC's Today Show on Scientology volunteers at a Haiti hospital, was posted on pro-Scientology websites. The Today Show story can be viewed at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ap5ANJ42bso.
Robert Mackey, of the New York Times, wrote on the NYT blog "The Lede", "The (NBC Today Show) report, headlined 'Scientologists Make a Difference in Haiti,' shows volunteers working in a Port-au-Prince hospital alongside a doctor who pronounces herself 'very impressed' and is narrated by a reporter who gives an enthusiastic account of Scientology healing and organizational techniques.
"That assessment is quite different from the one given to the French news agency AFP by a doctor in Port-au-Prince last week, who reportedly laughed when asked about their touch therapy techniques.
"Not surprisingly, this rave review of the church's efforts in Haiti is now featured on a Scientology Web site documenting the work of its volunteer ministers in the wake of disasters. Another post on the Scientology "Volunteer Minister Disaster Response" Web site shows members of the church helping to distribute food in Port-au-Prince alongside members of the American military."
When the Today Show piece was aired, Anonymous, the internet-based group that actively opposes Scientology, both publically and on the net, released a letter.
"We wish it it were under more favorable circumstances that we have chosen to address the world. However, after the demonstrably inaccurate interpretation handling of the victims of the Haiti earthquake as per the work of the Scientology 'Volunteer' Ministers, Anonymous could not remain silent."
The letter, which can be seen on Gawker.com (http://gawker.com/5464902/anonymous-pledge-to-fight-scientologist-efforts-in-haiti), outlined a history of issues involving Volunteer Ministers at disasters then listed a number of concerns regarding their work in Haiti.
Among their objections, they wrote, "An untrained Scientologist was alleged to be assisting a surgeon, using tools that had not been sterilized. This is blatant medical malpractice.
"John Travolta has also left several trained medical professionals behind at an airport, instead making it his priority to bring untrained Scientologists into the country with the sole intent of disseminating L. Ron Hubbard materials to an already vulnerable and suffering population."
Natasha Ghoneim from NY1, a "24 Hour News Channel on the Web" in New York, filed the following report:
"A plane chartered Saturday by members of the Church of Scientology was supposed to bring a group of volunteers to Haiti via JFK Airport. Yet, due to a chaotic boarding process, about 70 doctors, nurses and translators were left behind.
"'I think they're doing a good thing. But it wasn't done right today and people have died in Haiti because of it,' said volunteer Jake Bevilacqua.
"'They need to help us get these pain medications and equipment and antibiotics to the people who are dying, literally,' said volunteer Doreen Evans.
"Doctors and nurses from as far away as Brazil arrived at JFK Saturday morning with thousands of dollars worth of medicine and medical equipment. They say they were confirmed on the Church of Scientology flight, but during the boarding process they say the passenger manifest was misplaced.
"A total of 119 people boarded then the doors of the plane closed, leaving about 70 people behind. The church was worried the plane would miss its landing slot in Haiti, but the volunteers complained the plane sat at the gate for at least another hour."
On the website, "Ask the Scientologist," blogger Just Bill noted:
"The Church of Scientology provides no money towards the victims in Haiti. None. Not one penny. The church supplies no food, no water, no medicine, no building materials, no personnel, no expertise, nothing for Haiti.
"But they claim, in their press releases, that their Volunteer Ministers are "a major relief agency" helping in Haiti. If they do nothing, how can they claim this?
"John Travolta supplied an airplane, not the church. Individual Scientologists volunteered to go using their own money. As usual, the Church of Scientology did nothing.
"Along with a few untrained Scientology "Volunteer Ministers," Travolta offered a lift to health-care workers from the Association of Haitian Physicians Abroad and from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Those other non-Scientology groups were sending trained medical personnel and the Scientologists were completely untrained."
Testimonials from personal encounters with Volunteer Ministers at such locations as the World Trade Center after 9-11 and in Israel after terrorist attacks, indicate that the motives behind their work is to establish a strong foot-hold for their unorthodox practices and beliefs among a people who are disoriented and in need to standard care. According to reports, the same thing is happening in Haiti.
Randy Sly is the Associate Editor of Catholic Online. He is a former Archbishop of the Charismatic Episcopal Church who laid aside that ministry to enter into the full communion of the Catholic Church. His reporting on Scientology has received global recognition.
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