By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer
Gerry Delaquis’ first thought when he heard of the devastation caused by Hurricane Matthew in Haiti was disbelief and anguish.
“I thought, ‘Oh no, Haiti cannot take anymore disasters,’ ” said Delaquis, a parishioner of St. Bernadette Church who was in Port au Prince, Haiti, as the category 4 hurricane pummeled the small Caribbean nation. As of Oct. 21, the storm’s death toll in Haiti had reached 546 and an additional 128 people remained missing, according to an ABC News report.
The Haitian capital, where Delaquis experienced the storm, escaped the brunt of the damage. Other parts of Haiti were not so lucky, including Jérémie and Bonbon, two cities that have ties to the Archdiocese of Louisville.
Jérémie is home to St. Louis Cathedral, the sister parish of the Cathedral of the Assumption, and Tek4Kids, a non-profit organization that teaches computer skills to children founded by Cathedral parishioner Gary Boice. And Bonbon is home to St. Louis De Gonzague Church, which has a relationship with St. Bernadette Church in Prospect, Ky.
Delaquis, a native of Jérémie, said seeing images of his home-
town “really hurt.” Two of his sisters-in-law and a half-brother lost their homes during the hurricane.
To make matters worse, Delaquis said, the Haitian government is having difficulties managing the humanitarian help.
Delaquis had hoped to visit St. Bernadette’s sister parish in Bonbon, but was unable to; instead he sent a friend to assess the damage.
“The parish in Bonbon, they don’t have a church anymore. The priest doesn’t have a rectory anymore; he cannot use it. He is just trying to cover a small corner of the rectory for him to live in.
“The school lost everything: chalkboard, all the books are destroyed, the benches are damaged,” he said.
Mary Jo Mugavin, chair of St. Bernadette’s twinning parish committee, said that its first priority is to repair the rectory for Father Jean Bernadin Paul, pastor of St. Louis De Gonzague, to ensure the priest’s safety.
“We’re going to try to repair one room of that so he can store a generator,” which the parish also plans to purchase, Mugavin said.
Father Paul visited St. Bernadette in September and the parish gave him $8,000 at that time “to minister to his people as a shepherd of the parish,” Mugavin noted. St. Bernadette plans to send an additional $8,000 for Father Paul to spend as he needs it.
Since the storm, Mugavin said, heavy rain has continued to fall in Bonbon and cholera is beginning to spread. St. Bernadette parishioners have donated funds to purchase 180 water filtration systems for the area. Water With Blessings, the Louisville-based organization that provides water filters around the globe, has already distributed them.
In Jérémie, the lunch program at St. Therese Montessori School, St. Louis Cathedral’s parish school, received aid from the Cathedral of the Assumption’s sister parish committee on Oct. 6, just two days after the storm hit.
The Jérémie Cathedral’s pastor, Father Marc-Arthur Emile, described his parish as “very damaged” in an email acknowledging receipt of the funds and offering his gratitude to his Louisville benefactors.
“We need to repair the roof … to replace the leaded-glass windows, to replace the doors and the benches,” he wrote.
He also described difficulties in celebrating Mass.
“On rainy days, there is no way to go in the church because it’s without roof. It’s for us a big test,” Father Emile said in his email.
The Louisville cathedral’s sister parish committee plans to send more aid as it assesses needs, said Dave Puckett, one of the organizers. He said he anticipates the Cathedral sending additional money in the next month or so for a new roof for the church.
“Some people are asking, ‘What can I do to help?’ Money. That’s the way to help,” Puckett said in an interview last week.
Tek4Kids staff here in the United States were unable to reach teachers in Jérémie for several days after Hurricane Matthew hit, said Antonia Mudd, the outreach director of Tek4Kids. As it turned out, the majority of the program’s 18 teachers lost their homes.
Gary Boice, Tek4Kids’ founder, traveled to Haiti earlier this week to assess the damage and determine what needed to be repaired. In a phone interview before his trip, Boice said the first priority was to provide shelter for the staff of Tek4Kids.
Tek4Kids provides computer technology education in six schools in Jérémie. Recently the organization opened the St. Francis School of Technology, a job-training program for post-secondary students.
Boice said most of the schools had concrete walls and withstood the storm better than structures made of wood. All of the program’s iPads were secured and escaped damage. But, most of the laptops, many of which were new, had significant water damage.
Tek4Kids also provides water-purification systems, and several of their water tanks were affected by the storm. All in all, Tek4Kids estimates there was about $100,000 in damage, including the damage to teachers’ homes, computers, generators, batteries and water supplies.
“You can’t work in Haiti without having problems and obstacles. This is a major one. We plan on getting all schools opened up as fast as we can,” Boice said.
By re-opening schools, Boice said, people will regain some semblance of normalcy.
To learn more about this relief work in Haiti, visit www.cathedraloftheassumption.org, www.tek4kids.org and www.stb2008.org.