As Hurricane Irma barreled through the Caribbean and toward southern Florida, our missionaries in Haiti, Dominican Republic, Cuba*, Puerto Rico, Tampa and Belle Glade prepared for catastrophic destruction. Thankfully, the Salesian-run programs in Irma’s path -- and the children and families they serve -- were not hit directly, but there is still much to do now to rebuild shattered lives.
“Thank God,” says Father Mark Hyde, director of Salesian Missions. “We are immensely grateful for the unexpected de-intensification of the storm, which spared countless lives -- and livelihoods.”
This is not to say, of course, that no damage occurred. In the Dominican Republic, Salesian missionaries report that flooding continues, and more than 20,000 people are displaced from their homes. In Cuba, Puerto Rico and Florida, millions have lost power. In Haiti, flooding in the northeast and central regions of the island remains the most pressing concern, as it affects sanitation and access to clean water. And, the loss of agricultural fields throughout the islands and Florida means that food shortages may yet occur. Field workers will likely be unable to return to earning a living until the farmland dries out -- which may take several weeks.
In response to the imminent threat posed by Irma, Salesian Missions proactively established an emergency fund to assist in relief and rebuilding efforts. All donations received through the Hurricane Emergency Fund will support Salesian-led programs in countries affected by Hurricane Irma, which include Puerto Rico, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Cuba -- as well as Tampa and Belle Glade, Florida.
In Tampa and Belle Glade -- where Salesian missionaries serve hundreds of disadvantaged children and families -- donations helped purchase food, water and ice for the affected community, and also helped those with limited resources travel to safer locations. Over 120 people took shelter at the Mary Help of Christians Center in Tampa during the hurricane. Once missionaries on the islands fully assess their needs, donations will help provide immediate humanitarian relief -- including food, clean water and shelter -- as well as longer-term reconstruction assistance.
“Salesian missionaries are a trusted resource in times of crisis, with the logistical capabilities to ensure crucial humanitarian aid reaches those who need it most, as quickly as possible,” says Fr. Mark. “Around the world, our missionaries are proactively preparing for impending storms like Irma, by helping people secure their homes, relocating them to safe shelters and gathering as many supplies as are available. The generosity of our donors helps make this possible.”
In Sierra Leone, where a devastating mudslide killed hundreds of men, women and children on August 14th -- and traumatized thousands more -- such generosity is offering meaningful comfort to the victims. According to Father Jorge Crisafulli, director of Don Bosco Fambul in Freetown, Sierra Leone’s government has asked Salesian missionaries to care for more than 300 women and children affected by the disaster for as long as three months. Thanks to the compassionate support offered by our many friends, Fr. Jorge has been able to house, clothe and feed these victims -- as well as offer them ongoing medical care and psychosocial support. He also plans to offer each of them an “exit package” of additional food and clothing when it’s time to return home.
“Even after the television cameras are gone, we are committed to remaining with disaster victims for as long as they need us,” concludes Fr. Mark.
As of the writing of this update, Hurricane Maria is pummeling through the Caribbean and Mexico has just been struck with a deadly earthquake. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with all the victims of these recent natural disasters.
*Any goods, services or funds provided by Salesian Missions to programs located in this country were administered in compliance with applicable laws and regulations, including sanctions administered by the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control.