By Kelly Di Domenico, Development and Peace/Caritas Canada
The church in the parish of St. Joseph Torbeck sits without a roof, completely exposed to the sky above. Inside, it is a hollow shell, all the benches removed to dry in the sun and remnants of the walls piled on the wet floor. This church was going to celebrate it 300th anniversary next year – that is until Hurricane Matthew came through. The hurricane has left nearly every church in the southwest of Haiti roofless and in shambles.
Even in this sad state, the St. Jospeh Torbeck parish still managed to organize a distribution of food and hygiene kits with support from Caritas. It was the first distribution to take place in this coastal community in the diocese of Les Cayes, one of the areas hardest hit by the hurricane.
With little government presence, people are frustrated by the lack of aid that has arrived and the Caritas distributions are welcome relief.
‘’This will provide food for my children,’’ says Eveline Jolivert, a mother of three. ‘’This is the first food that we’ve received.’’ Her food kit includes cooking oil, rice, pasta and peas, while her hygiene kit contains soap, toothpaste, sanitary napkins and toilet paper.
When Hurricane Matthew hit, she says that the sea rose by 2-3 feet and came gushing through the streets. Sheets of tin stripped from roofs came barrelling through the sky, as she and her family struggled against the wind and rain to make it to the local school to take shelter. She says that, although they were advised about the hurricane and were able to evacuate in time, it was too late to pack anything. She has virtually lost everything and is now living with neighbours, since her house lost its roof and suffered extensive damage. Out of 350 families in the parish, 270 are now living without a roof over their heads. And this is but one of 56 parishes in the diocese.
The parish distributed 250 kits that it received from Caritas Les Cayes. Father Mathieu, director of Caritas Les Cayes, explains that the needs are overwhelming. ‘’It’s catastrophic. People need roofs over their heads. There is lots of work to do to clean the fields. Planting needs to start. We don’t even know where to begin. These are problems that can’t be solved in one year. They can’t even be solved in two years. It takes a long-term response.’’
The Caritas network swung into action with a €250,000 euro programme to help hard-to-reach communities in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane. A month after the earthquake it extended the programme to last a year.
The €3 million longer-term programme will provide help to over 31,000 people. Caritas will provide tools and training to help communities relaunch their agricultural activities as well as replanting trees and promoting soil conservation. It will work with communities on the prevention of contagious diseases. Another focus will be the rebuilding of people’s houses.
Over 2.1 million people have been affected by the hurricane , of which 40% are children. Over 100,000 children under 5 are at risk of malnutrition.
Many people are trying to scrape together their next meal and collect debris to put together ramshackle roofs and fix their houses. Despite the extent of the damage and the grave difficulties suffered by people, the response of the international community has been relatively weak.