Three Years Later, Salesian Leader Sees Recovery in Haiti
By CLAUDIA McDONNELL
Father Mike Mendl, S.D.B.
WORKING TOGETHER—Father Ducange Sylvain, S.D.B., superior of the Salesians’ vice province of Haiti, visited the New Rochelle offices of the Salesian Missions last week. Father Sylvain, left, expresses his appreciation to Father Mark Hyde, S.D.B., director, and Jaime Correa, international programs coordinator, for the efforts of Salesian Missions on behalf of Haiti since the devastating earthquake three years ago.

Three years after a catastrophic earthquake devastated Haiti, life is improving for the Haitian people, said the vice provincial of the Salesians’ Province of Haiti. He added that much remains to be done, and that the Salesians are doing all they can to help, especially through their schools.

Father Ducange Sylvain, S.D.B., spoke with CNY Jan. 17 at the Salesians’ Eastern U.S. provincial headquarters in New Rochelle, where he was visiting last week to attend meetings and to thank the Salesian Missions office there.

“They were the first to come to the aid of the Salesians in Haiti” after the earthquake, he said through an interpreter.

Most Haitians, he said, are “recovering from the trauma” of the 7.0-magnitude earthquake, which struck Jan. 10, 2010, about 10 miles outside the capital city of Port-au-Prince. More than 200,000 died, and 1.5 million were left homeless.

About 350,000 Haitians are still living in tents in settlements similar to refugee camps. Some await assistance from charities including the Catholic organization Caritas International, Father Sylvain said. Others have set up small businesses, selling such goods as fruit and candy on the streets.

Among the areas where the order works is Cité Soleil, which Father Sylvain described as the “poorest slum in the entire Caribbean.” Most people, he said, are simply looking for ways to survive. “We Salesians are close to them” in order to help them return to a normal way of life.

In the immediate aftermath of the quake, the Salesians focused on providing emergency relief, Father Sylvain said. Their next goal was to set up classrooms and resume teaching to restore as normal a routine as possible for the children.

There are 71 Salesians serving in Haiti. They work with youngsters and families, but mostly through the order’s schools and educational ministries, Father Sylvain said. Salesians in Haiti serve about 20,000 children and young people from ages 3 to 24 in preschools, elementary and high schools, and in nursing education programs and vocational training. They provide the students they serve with daily meals.

Father Sylvain said the mood among the youngsters these days is “joyous and happy” and reflects the Salesians’ educational tradition of fostering joy and optimism among students. He added that following the earthquake, Salesians in Haiti trained young people to help their peers in various ways, for example, by sympathetic listening, and by drawing them into such activities as sports and dramatics to foster community and prevent isolation.

Father Sylvain said that since the days following the earthquake he has seen a change in the Haitian people’s mentality—“a new way of seeing life.” Jan. 12, 2010—the date of the earthquake—is now “the point of reference in making decisions,” he said, and all of life seems divided into pre- and post- earthquake. He also said there is more “solidarity” among families “and also in education.”

“We have to educate in a different way now,” he said—not just through the use of memorization and recitation, but, equally important, by giving students practical ways to make sense of life and to understand what they need to do.

They are moving beyond the misery caused by the earthquake, and “they are taking responsibility for their own lives,” Father Sylvain said.

Serving as interpreter was Jaime Correa-Montalvo, coordinator of Salesian Missions’ international office.

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