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Salesians in Haiti: Update PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Wednesday, 20 January 2010 10:47

This came to me through the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, the leadership conference of male religious in the U.S. This gives a graphic sense of the total devastation in parts of Haiti, especially Port-au-Prince. Please continue to pray for the dead, the grieving survivors, and for those desperate enough to loot damaged and destroyed buildings. And pray - and financially support - the relief efforts.

At the time of the earthquake, there were 66 Salesians in the Vice Province of Haiti. The Salesians worked in six houses that served the poor in a variety of ways: technical education, job training, primary education, food distribution, care of street kids, outreach to the unemployed.

The Salesians in Haiti have reported the death of three of their confreres: Bro. Hubert Sanon, aged 85 and the two young Salesians in formation Atsime Wilfrid, aged 28 and Vibrun Valsaint, 26.

The most tragic news is the death of the Salesian pupils. After a first estimate which was of over 200 youngsters buried under the ruins with some of their teachers, the latest figure has now been out at about 500. The Crisis Committee of the UNO has confirmed a report from the National Police in Port-au-Prince and from the Central Headquarters of "OCHA" who in spite of everything are continuing the search to try to find some survivors still alive.

(At least 500 students are believed to be buried in the rubble of the compound that houses the renowned "National School of Arts and Trades" and other schools operated by Salesian Missions. Salesian Missions not only operated schools for thousands of students in Port-au-Prince, but services of all kinds for 25,000 of Haiti's poorest children.)

The other Salesians in Port-au-Prince are safe and well, although some were injured; some of them have lost family and friends.

The Enam centre has been razed to the ground; the Provincial House at Drouillard is damaged; the work of the small schools of Father Bonhem (OPEPB) is completely flattened; the dormitory at Gressier has collapsed; at Thorland the Salesian community house has been damaged, the chapel split in two and the retreat house totally out of commission; the house at Fleuriot has also been damaged with people sleeping outside in the courtyard.

To most readers, these names mean little. The CNN site has a helpful collection of short clips about the activities undertaken by the Salesians in these sites before the earthquake. [along the right side of the page]

A crisis team at the New Rochelle Mission Office is working on the logistics to send material and to coordinate the work of volunteers. They are also collaborating with the "Federal Emergency Management Agency".

In the past few days, an overall plan has emerged for the Salesian response to this tragedy. The relief efforts of the Salesians will include:
Saving Lives: Salesian Emergency Relief
Rebuilding Lives: Salesian Empowerment and Education
Rebuilding Salesian Educational Infrastructure
The first of these phases (i.e., Saving Lives) has already begun. Fr Victor Pichardo, Provincial of the Salesians in the Antilles, has succeeded in reaching Port-au-Prince with a military helicopter and spent a night there. While there he was also to gather practical information for the next stage of the relief work. The Salesian houses in Santo Domingo and Barahona will have a strategic role to organise this. Already a convoy of ten trucks loaded with food and medicine has left La Vega.

The first stop was at the "Saint John Bosco" community of the Enam, the most seriously affected of the Salesian works in Haiti. Here they met Fr Wim Boksebeld and Fr Olibrice Zucchi Ange. "Silence, suffering and sadness reigned," the four visitors said. Most of the pupils and their teachers are still buried under the ruins. At 16.53, local time, when the earth began to shake the pupils of the primary school were on the first floor of the three storey building which is now a heap of ruins. Unfortunately here too, as in other places in the city, there have been cases of looting, as persons unknown have carried away what remained, desks, chairs, and school computers used for teaching.


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