A former Galway based nun who has been working in Haiti for the past five years has spoken of the devastation caused by the recent earthquake which has affected an estimated three million people in this the poorest country in the western hemisphere.
Sr Rose Kelly of the Sisters of Jesus and Mary who previously worked at their Salerno secondary school in Salthill as a catechist and later with the Travelling Community in Hillside, Ballybane, is appealing to the public to pray and offer support to the victims of this humanitarian disaster.
She is based in Jean Rabel, a small town in the north west of Haiti with a population of 25,000 people. Known as the “hungry town”, it is an eight hour journey by car/bus from the capital, Port-au-Prince, which was extensively damaged by the earthquake.
The Castlebar born nun says the house in which she lives with a Spanish nun, Sr Nazareth, “shook but held” during the earthquake on January 12.
“There were a few aftershocks but thankfully there was no damage in our area,” she says. “However, people here have family and friends in PAP and are naturally fearing the worst. Our phone here has worked only once or twice since the earthquake. We did not realise the full extent of the damage in Port-au-Prince [PAP] as we have no TV. However, we read news on the internet and information was gradually making its way here.
“The reality hit us when one of the teachers in [Sr] Nazareth’s women’s workshop came in and told us that five of her cousins died in the earthquake in PAP, aged 15 upwards. Three had come uncoffined in an open truck, accompanied by an injured uncle. I attended the funeral service this evening where the uncle broke down as he told of the awful happenings. The house the three students were staying in collapsed on top of them. There were two other cousins who were staying in a different house who also died but they could not remove them from the rubble. It was heartrending to hear that one of them did not die immediately and was calling out, ‘Save me, save me.’ Their cousin is a teacher in the workshop here run by Sr Nazareth.”
She says this is just the “beginning of the tragedies” that are unfolding. “A wounded young man, Morando, has made it back to his home here. He told us that he was studying on the top floor of a formation college when it collapsed. If he was on the other two floors below he would have been killed. Hundreds were on those floors. This is the scene here, waiting for news. We know that many will be buried in mass graves in PAP.”
Sr Rose had planned to go down to Port-au-Prince but is staying in Jean Rabel “because she is needed there,” explains Sr Angela Maughan of the Sisters of Jesus and Mary Order in Galway.
“So many people are leaving Port-au-Prince and going back to their hometown, Jean Rabel, where Rose is. There is a huge influx of people. They are also taking their injured back there. She is trying to get them into hospitals and organising medical supplies and funerals.”
Sr Angela visited Haiti last year and was shocked by the poverty but touched by the cheerfulness of the people. Her order has three houses there.
“The country’s infrastructure is virtually non-existent. The roads are so bad it takes eight hours in a car to get to Port-au-Prince. Our Sisters are responsible for pre-school education in the Jean Rabel area, training of teachers and construction of the buildings, food programmes and ongoing formation of teachers. Three pre-schools have been constructed since Sr Rose went there in 2005. We also have a workshop where women are taught to sew and develop crafts so that they can earn money for their families.
“In addition to the construction of pre-schools the Sisters try to fund the construction of many homes for the very poor of Jean Rabel. It costs €4,000 to build a two to three room house. Many families are living in sub-human conditions and the little shelters they have are often swept away by the heavy rains. The sisters have been able to fund the building of more than 120 homes for the very poor of Jean Rabel. All of this is made possible because of the fundraising of the Salerno staff and students.”
Sr Rose told this newspaper that supplies in her town are sporadic at the best of times from PAP but will be worse now.
“Already prices of everything have gone up and there is panic beginning to set in. Robbers are arriving - two were taken to prison yesterday, from here to Port-de-Paix. There are people of all denominations here and none - some are so poor their religion is to go to wherever they can get food.
“People are arriving everyday from PAP, in cattle trucks, buses and taptaps. Most are students who survived the earthquake but have nowhere to stay now. It is estimated that we may have at least 2,000 coming in the next week, three buses and the ambulance went to pick up people, those who are injured badly in the ambulance. We are giving money for their transport and will be distributing food, setting up some courses for the students and looking at building shelters/accommodation.”
She says everyone is very grateful for the “tremendous support” from Galway people.
“We hear the planes going over each minute and pray it [the aid] will get to the people that need it. Please pray for the families, the reconstruction of lives as well as buildings. We are most grateful for the prayer, concern and support of so many who have contacted us. Please continue.”
Donations can be made to the Convent of Jesus and Mary Haiti Fund account at the Bank of Ireland, Salthill. Account No 93287126 Sort Code 903840.