Scientologists gaining a foothold in shattered Haiti

The Australian/February 4, 2010

It has Roman Catholics, voodoo spiritualists, Protestants, Rastafarians, Jews and Baha'is. Now Haiti, a nation brimming with piety, looks set to be endowed with another belief system: the Scientologists say they are here to stay.

With an operation called The Volunteer Ministry Disaster Relief for Haiti, the Scientologists plan to establish a permanent base in the country. Pat Harney, a spokeswoman for the operation, said: "I have no doubt that in some form or other there will be a church of Scientology here." Scientologists were already working to found an orphanage, she added.

An advance party arrived nearly two weeks ago but the big moment occurred when actor John Travolta flew his Boeing 707 from Florida to Port-au-Prince carrying six tonnes of military rations, medical equipment, baby food and nappies as well as doctors and volunteer ministers. "We have the ability to make a difference in Haiti," he said.

As well as providing more than 100 doctors and basic aid, Scientologists volunteered to work in Haiti's remaining hospitals.

Scientologists - all in yellow T-shirts bearing the slogan "Something CAN be done about it" - helped to bring medical supplies out of damaged buildings and distribute food and water. Ms Harney said they were able to offer their own healing method in the hospital and in the clinic established by the University of Miami. "A person can be hurting and medical assistance does not work," she said. "We help people to locate themselves."

The method, known as "assist", might involve touching parts of the body or asking a patient to stare at a wall. "It's a special Scientology technique developed by Mr Hubbard," said Ms Harney, referring to the science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, who founded the church in 1954.

Reports suggest many injured Haitians have been grateful but bemused. Other agencies in the capital were less enthusiastic. "I didn't know touching could cure gangrene," a spokeswoman for Oxfam said. Others wondered how Travolta obtained landing permission when many aid flights were diverted.

A spokeswoman for International Medical Corps, the main charity at the general hospital, said: "A small group of them showed up last week and wanted to help at a time when we needed every available hand. My understanding is they are missionaries, not medical personnel."

Other medical staff praised the Scientologists for arriving with equipment, food and water for the hospitals, apparently without seeking to proselytise in return.

The Church of Scientology was convicted of fraud in France. It denies accusations in Germany, Russia and Greece of tricking participants into making donations.

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