Catholic college president describes ‘difficult times’ in his native Haiti

Harry Dumay, president of the College of Our Lady of the Elms in Chicopee, Mass., is seen in this 2017 photo. (CNS photo/Fred LeBlanc, courtesy Diocese of Springfield)

By iObserve staff, Catholic News Service

CHICOPEE, Mass. — Harry Dumay, president of the College of Our Lady of the Elms in Chicopee and a native of Haiti, said everyone throughout his homeland is “devastated by what happened to their brothers and sisters in the south of Haiti,” hit Aug. 14 by a magnitude 7.2 earthquake.

“I have been in touch with my family and friends; they are all safe, away from the south where much of the effect of the earthquake was felt,” he said in a statement sent to iObserve, the media outlet of the Diocese of Springfield, Massachusetts.

Writing ahead of the major tropical storm that hit Haiti a couple of days after the quake, he said the people there also were “bracing for the hurricane season, which has already started to hamper the rescue and recovery efforts and will undoubtedly make things more difficult in the days ahead.”

Some tens of thousands of residents of southern Haiti are living out in the open following the quake, centered about 80 miles west of the capital, Port-au-Prince. The cities of Jérémie and Les Cayes were most affected.

On Aug. 16, Haiti’s civil protection agency raised the death toll from the earthquake to 1,419 and the number of injured to 6,000.

Tropical Storm Grace dumped heavy rain on Haiti Aug. 16 and 17. It was upgraded to a hurricane as it passed near the Cayman Islands on its way to the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Hurricane Center.

Dumay said the College of Our Lady of the Elms, or Elms College for short, has students in Haiti. In 2020, just prior to the start of the pandemic, the college partnered with the Episcopalian University of Haiti to set up a Haiti Nursing Continuing Education program.

Elms nursing faculty teach Haitian educators in nursing from various parts of Haiti, via Zoom, “so that they can better prepare — and educate — their students,” he said.

Following the earthquake, the college has been in contact with its Haiti program partners to see how they fared.

The Episcopalian University of Haiti’s School of Nursing is not located near the epicenter of the earthquake and “did not sustain any damage,” Dumay said, adding that the university “will most likely participate in relief efforts.”

The continuing education program in nursing “draws students from all geographical areas in Haiti by design,” he said. “As a result, some of our students are in the areas affected by the earthquake. Our partners in Haiti are compiling an updated report on students and we will determine whether and how we can be of any help.”

He expected that at the very least Elms College’s School of Nursing “will adjust schedules to accommodate our students in Haiti during these extremely difficult times.”

“Many friends from the Springfield Diocese have already reached out to express their solidarity with the people of Haiti and to indicate that they hold the earthquake victims in their prayers,” Dumay said.

“Thank you for all those expressions of compassion and support. The prayers of the western Massachusetts Catholic community for their brothers and sisters in Haiti are much welcome in these difficult times,” he added.

Dumay recommended a number of organizations accepting donations to assist with their emergency response in Haiti:

— The Haiti Earthquake 2021 Fund at the Boston Foundation. (Dumay is a member of the board of the foundation’s Haiti Development Institute.): https://www.tbf.org/donors/forms/haiti-earthquake-2021-fund.

— Health Equity International’s St. Boniface Hospital (Dumay described this as “perhaps the best-equipped hospital in that part of the country right now and which is taking in many of the earthquake victims.” He also serves on its board): https://healthequityintl.org.

— Grand Anse Health and Development Association provides health care and economic development activities for one of the three departments affected by the earthquake: https://www.gahda.org.

— Friends for Health in Haiti provides health care and runs a hospital in the area affected by the earthquake: https://www.friendsforhealthinhaiti.org.

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