Hurricane Matthew blew out to sea and off the front pages of newspapers weeks ago, but millions of people still suffer from the devastation it caused. Some of the most harshly afflicted are in Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas.
About 1,000 Haitians died because of the hurricane, and at least 1.4 million need help. Many lost their homes and agricultural livelihoods. Lack of supplies and sanitation has led to outbreaks of cholera. What makes it worse is that Matthew hit before Haiti had fully recovered from the earthquake of 2010.
Helping the Haitians to survive and cope are the Salesians of Don Bosco, who have served in Haiti since 1935. The order’s U.S. mission office is on the grounds of the provincial headquarters in New Rochelle. I spoke recently with Father Mark Hyde, S.D.B., director of Salesian Missions, about the suffering that Haitians are enduring.
“Just imagine all that the people of Haiti have been through, and yet another tragedy has struck them,” he said. “Jérémie [a city in southern Haiti] was pretty close to recovered from the quake, and now they are back to square one. They have to start all over again.”
The people desperately need food because one of the hardest-hit areas was the southwest, which Father Hyde described as Haiti’s breadbasket.
“It produced fruits and vegetables for the rest of the country,” he said, but the hurricane’s 145-mile-per-hour winds swept away crops and livestock. People who depended on small-scale agriculture saw their livelihoods washed away. Also destroyed were the trees that the people used to make charcoal for cooking.
The hurricane’s rampaging waters brought disease. Father Hyde said that before Matthew hit, there were a few cases of cholera in the mountains, but the flooding brought the disease down into the towns and cities. A tremendous effort is under way to contain it. The Salesians have a water purification plant at their school in Les Cayes; besides using the water at the school, they sold it to local residents at a low price. Now they are giving it away. People come with plastic jugs or buckets; they must carry whatever water they will use. The Salesians need donations to enable them to continue distributing water free of charge.
Also needed are medical supplies for Salesian-run clinics and hygiene supplies for the relief kits being distributed. The kits contain rice, beans, salmon, sugar, olive oil, milk and soap.
Father Hyde said that none of the Salesians’ buildings was destroyed, but they suffered water damage. It was especially severe in Les Cayes at the order’s school, offices and a large hall that was used as a church for Sunday services.
After the 2010 earthquake, the Salesians built a warehouse in Port-au-Prince where they store supplies for their Haitian houses and ministries. The warehouse survived the hurricane, and it is “a gold mine right now,” Father Hyde said, because food supplies can be received and packaged there for distribution.
There are 151 Salesians serving in Haiti: 60 priests and brothers and 91 sisters. The majority are Haitians. The order’s educational ministry serves about 25,000 young people from pre-kindergarten through professional school, including students into their mid-20s, Father Hyde said.
Teacher preparation is a key ministry, and the Salesians operate their own teacher training school in Port-au-Prince. Tragically, the school was destroyed in the 2010 earthquake, and many students died.
“We lost many of Haiti’s best and brightest,” Father Hyde said.
He posts extensive information on Facebook about events in Haiti, and he asks all who can help to “just open their hearts to the plight of our suffering brothers and sisters in Haiti who are lacking food, shelter and the wherewithal to take care of their needs—and facing a cholera epidemic. Please open their hearts to share with our suffering brothers and sisters.”
Financial contributions are needed most. Information and online donations: www.salesianmissions.org. Donations may by made by phone at (914) 633-8344, or mailed to: Salesian Missions, 2 Lefevre Lane, New Rochelle, N.Y. 10801.