One Year after Hurricane Matthew

Haitians continue to recover from the devastation and find hope sprouting in the garden

By Cindy Correl | Mission Co-worker, FONDAMA, Joining Hands Haiti

Marie Jean stands in front of the fragile structure where she lives after Hurricane Matthew destroyed her house in Bolame, a small coastal community near Port Salut, Haiti. Photo by Cindy Corell.

When the storm had passed, dazed survivors looked out from broken houses to count the cost.

More than 500 people dead, by some counts as many as 1,000. Livestock killed. Gardens flushed by the roaring waters. Groves of trees laid over by the fierce winds.

Hurricane Matthew arrived on the southern coast of Haiti on Oct. 4, 2016, leaving heartbreak, death and misery that would last for months. In many places, every bit of produce was destroyed by wind and rain.

“Some people only had coconuts to eat for weeks,” said Dieumene Jacques of Port Salut. “One woman I know spent five days in the same clothes. It was not a way that a human should live.”

One year later, the impact of Hurricane Matthew clearly is visible in the South Department of Haiti.

The storm rerouted streams and left cavernous ditches on hills, encouraging landslides with any measurable rainfall.

In a community called Bolame not far from Port Salut, a once-smooth brick road still is broken. What remains of concrete houses sit still with walls crumbled, roofs gone. Several families in Bolame have rebuilt with help from family or friends.

Marie Jean, 52, lives in a tarp-covered fragile structure on a concrete slab. She said her brother helped her get that much, but any heavy rain means water pours inside and everything she owns is soaked.

Before the storm a year ago, she sold fish from the nearby sea, but now she has no money to stay in business. She collects rocks and cement blocks for the day she can rebuild her house that was destroyed in the hurricane. The pile of rocks might not look like much to a passing visitor, but to Marie Jean, it’s a pile of hope.

Enel Oscar is an elected local leader of Babois, a community high on a hill along the road between Port Salut and Torbeck. He also leads an organization of 20 farmers who took part in a Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) grant to provide seeds and training for farmers affected by Hurricane Matthew.

The grant is administered through FONDAMA, the Joining Hands network in Haiti. Its primary objective is to aid Haitians to plant and harvest healthy food, but the project goes further toward recovery by training recipients in agroecology, best practices in farming and finally, how to prepare the produce into nutritious meals.

It’s no surprise that severe weather has brought disaster to Haiti. This small, poor country is ranked most affected by climate change by Germanwatch Global Climate Index Risk list published in November.

In 2018, FONDAMA, the network of 11 grassroots organizations from around the country, will kick off its campaign to combat the effects of climate change by training farmers in conservation, restoring degraded soils and agricultural biodiversity.

Beans sprout in a field at Babois, a community near in the South department of Haiti. The beans were distributed as part of a Presbyterian Disaster Assistance recovery project coordinated through FONDAMA, the Joining Hands network of grassroots organizations in Haiti. Photo by Cindy Corell.

In October, a delegation from Presbytery of the James visited with some of the farmers who lost family members, crops and livestock in Hurricane Matthew. The delegation also met with Julio Forges, consultant with the PDA project providing seeds and training to hurricane survivors,  and Fabienne Jean, coordinator of FONDAMA administering the PDA grant.

Along with FONDAMA and Saint Saveur Episcopal Church in Les Cayes, the delegation offered a worship service to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the massive hurricane.

“If today some of us are still here, we say thank you to God,” Dieumene Jacques of Port Salut said.

Jimmy Brutus of Les Cayes described the powerful howling wind and the thrashing of the rain against his house that night. “Everyone was afraid,” he said. “I was the only man in the house. I could not show that I, too, was afraid.”

In Torbeck, though, the fear and hopelessness is lifting as gardens begin to produce. In Babois, sturdy young bean plants are sprouting from the soil. And yet, the optimism will last only until the next massive storm strikes this vulnerable country.

The delegation returned to Virginia more able to talk about the effects of disastrous storms and climate change in vulnerable places like Haiti. As part of FONDAMA’s 2018 campaign to combat the effects of climate change, we ask that our U.S. partners protest climate injustice.

Because the United States is the only nation that has not signed on to the Paris Climate Accord, U.S. Presbyterians can help assist especially vulnerable countries like Haiti by encouraging Congressional leaders to join the worldwide effort to combat climate change.

In other, more personal ways, FONDAMA asks Presbyterians to stay abreast of climate change news, consider using energy efficient appliances, conserve water and use of fossil fuels in their every day lives.

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