Salesian Missions director provides first-hand account of relief work and plans to rebuild
Port-au-Prince, Haiti – Just over one month ago, a magnitude 7 earthquake jolted Haiti, killing more than 200,000 people and leaving almost one million homeless. Humanitarian organizations such as Salesian Missions, which were already working in Haiti before the quake, took action to save lives even before the dust settled.
Salesian Missions lost 85 percent of its schools and buildings in Port-au-Prince when the earthquake struck, killing hundreds of students. A month later, Salesian Missions and the Italian Navy are still working to retrieve bodies from the ruins of the primary and secondary schools that were a beacon of hope before the disaster.
Fr. Mark Hyde, director of Salesian Missions in New Rochelle, NY – who toured Haiti last year and is there now helping with relief efforts – is quick to remind everyone that many of the problems that exist today were there before the quake. “Severe poverty, homelessness and lack of clean water and food were daily realities even before the earthquake,” he says. “That’s why we were already here in Haiti, working to make a difference by providing education and hope to children in the poorest slums.”
Homelessness – while compounded now – was already a major problem in Port-au-Prince, he says. In addition to the schools Salesian Missions operated, shelters for homeless youth and feeding programs also offered youth and families hope and opportunity for a better life. The youth housed by Salesian Missions are homeless once again, but they are still being cared for under very challenging conditions, adds Fr. Hyde.
The buildings that symbolized rays of hope are now all destroyed, Fr. Hyde says. “Our spirits, however, remain strong. We are working to tend to their immediate needs, in survival mode,” he adds. “But at the same time, we already planning to rebuild – and we will provide shelter and education once again to the homeless youth.”About 35,000 people have fled to Salesian Missions locations, where settlements are taking shape. The homeless are taking shelter in tents provided by the Salesians. So far, about 900 tents have been distributed, and 2,100 more have been ordered by Salesian Missions. Suppliers of tents (in the United States and around the globe) have been struggling to keep up with the demand. Additional shipments of tents purchased by Salesian Missions are due to arrive in Haiti any day now, according to Jessica O’Connor, Salesian Missions property and logistics officer.
Since the earthquake, Salesian Missions has been working hard to secure and deliver essential items. Although their administrative offices in Haiti were destroyed, the organization was still able to respond quickly to the relief efforts because of their nearby administrative headquarters in the Dominican Republic. Because of their strong relationship with the government there, Fr. Hyde says they were able to work in cooperation with the military to provide secure delivery of aid. Thus far, 27 trucks of food shipments have been delivered, with additional shipments scheduled twice weekly in an attempt to keep up with the needs of the homeless. A container of 270,864 fortified rice meals arrived in Port-au Prince on Feb. 4 with a second shipment scheduled for this week. Salesian Missions will fund and coordinate the distribution of these meals in Haiti.
Salesian Missions is also coordinating fundraising efforts in the United States to allow for such aid relief. “The successful coordination and delivery of essential supplies underscores why people trust us with their donation dollars,” says Fr. Hyde, adding that the organization’s long history of helping the people of Haiti is impressive and notable.
“We have been in Haiti since 1936, helping the poorest children and families,” says Fr. Hyde. “And we will be here long after the news cameras turn their attention elsewhere.” He also added that Haiti is one of the 131 countries around the world where Salesian Missions is giving hope to the poor.
Those interested in learning more or making a donation to support Salesian Missions’ work in Haiti or around the globe, should go to www.FindYourMission.org.