Travolta flies aid, Scientology to Haiti
PORT-AU-PRINCE — Hollywood movie star John Travolta flew a plane-load of aid to Haiti along with a group of "ministers" from the Church of Scientology who performed Tuesday healing rituals on quake survivors.
Travolta, along with Tom Cruise, is one of the leading proponents of Scientology, which some countries treat as a controversial faith but others say is a cult that tricks vulnerable members out of large sums of money.
The "Pulp Fiction" star, joined on the trip by his wife Kelly Preston, flew back to the United States after the drop-off from Miami to Port-au-Prince late Monday.
The plane, which Travolta flew himself, resupplied the Church of Scientology effort in Haiti with some four tons of food aid and medical supplies and brought along over 50 more of the faith's young, enthusiastic followers.
The Scientologists handed out water and medical equipment at the capital's main hospital and trained young Haitians to perform their "Touch Assist" technique that they claim can reconnect damaged nervous systems.
Travolta did a similar aid run in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina slammed the US Gulf Coast, destroying tens of thousands of homes and killing nearly 1,500 people.
Wearing bright yellow T-shirts with the US-based group's logo on the front, and the slogan "Something CAN be done about it" on the back, some 20 volunteers -- out of about 200 members in the country -- were at the overcrowded hospital, teaming with dozens of aid agencies treating thousands of injured Haitians.
"We fill holes, we're there where people need us," gushed perky 23-year-old coordinator Ellen Bennett.
After arriving on the ground two days after the killer January 12 earthquake practically leveled Haiti's largest city, the group is camped out by the airport, where they unload aid for other agencies and send their own supplies to hospitals in the city and at least six surrounding towns, Bennett said.
"And if people need a hug, then we give them that too," she smiled.
Bed-ridden earthquake victims looked on in helpless bemusement under a makeshift canvas shelter in the hospital courtyard's as followers did their rounds of "Touch Assists."A number of young Haitian men, desperate for work, and food, were being taught the technique by volunteers and were encouraged to make "touching" rounds themselves.
Carol Delva, 29, suffered a crushed knee when her house collapsed on her, and lay inert on damp sheets in the courtyard while LA-based Scientologist Dave McGregor touched her feet, legs and torso, thanking her with a "merci" after each poke.
Claudal Henry, a Port-au-Prince native, had been under Dave's wing since Saturday, and was now teaching the technique to other Haitians.
"Step-by-step, day-by-day, people feel better... yes, it works," he told AFP.
Delva's eight-year-old son was instructed to try out the method but McGregor, followed by Henry, shook their heads when he failed to understand.
"He's clearly still traumatized by what happened," said McGregor sympathetically.
Other aid agencies and doctors at the hospital were reluctant to criticize the group as they supplied them with medicine, drinking water, and sanitized water for operations -- and didn't appear to openly proselytize the stranger aspects of their faith in return.
Founded in 1954 by US science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, the Church of Scientology is recognized as a religion in the United States and claims a worldwide membership of 12 million.
Its teachings involve alien interventions in world history, among many other tales, reportedly including the galactic ruler "Xenu" who brought first humans to Earth 75 million years ago.
The faith is banned in France for defrauding members, while officials in Germany, Greece, Russia and elsewhere accuse it of tricking members out of large amounts of money.
New York radiologist Alan Greenfield, however, spoke in glowing terms about the new volunteers, especially after the Scientologists flew in an X-ray machine that has enabled him to examine desperate patients with crushed limbs and broken bones.
The Church "has been fabulous with logistics, they've been very supportive," he told AFP. "If doctors need water, they get water, if someone needs a blood pressure pump, they find one and bring it."