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Salesians in Haiti Recovering, but Much Work Remains
Source: Catholic News Service
Published: Sunday, August 1, 2010
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NEW YORK (CNS)—Describing the devastation in Haiti after last January's earthquake, Salesian Father Mark Hyde compared the scene to what he had witnessed a year earlier.

Visiting Salesian schools in February 2009 as director of Salesian Missions, based in New Rochelle, Father Hyde saw "thousands of children all over the place, having fun, going to classes." Older students were enrolled in teacher training and other professional programs.

Having seen campuses bursting with life last year, he said that when he returned shortly after the quake, it was all the more difficult to look upon "all that rubble, no children around, the desolation."

Salesian Missions has been given responsibility for coordinating all Salesian mission efforts for Haiti worldwide. Father Hyde went back to Haiti in April and again in July, and he's about to return for another visit. There is still an enormous amount of work to do, but the scene is more hopeful.

Several Salesians are living in a temporary residence that was under construction in April but is now finished. Temporary classrooms have been completed and painted, and "they're looking very spiffy," Father Hyde said in an interview with Catholic New York, archdiocesan newspaper.

They have been equipped with chalkboards, desks, stools and wooden benches, and 3,000 children are attending classes, he said.

Those classes are part of the Salesians' Little Schools of Father Bohnen, a network of small, tuition-free schools begun by Salesian Father Lawrence Bohnen in the 1950s.

Before the earthquake, more than 20,000 impoverished children were attending 132 Little Schools -- some not much more than a tent or other temporary shelter with a few seats and a chalkboard. Now there are 20 of the schools, so there's a distance still to go before the Salesians' educational mission is fully restored.

But the progress is a solid start, and it reveals the faith, hope and hard work of the Salesians and the Haitian people. Father Hyde remarked that on his April visit, he saw Haitians chipping away at the rubble of a four-story building.

"They were breaking down the concrete into little pieces that could be moved," he said. "They had totally demolished the top two floors with little sledgehammers.

"They have a tremendous spirit of work and determination, and also of carrying on in the midst of obstacles," he added. "They keep on plugging away."

The Salesians began educating the poor in Haiti at the invitation of the Haitian government -- the Salesian Sisters (the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians) in 1935 and the Salesians of Don Bosco (priests and brothers) in 1936.

Salesians in Haiti now number about 85 sisters and 70 priests and brothers. Father Hyde said the Salesians are the largest providers of education in Haiti after the government.

Father Hyde said Salesian Missions and the Salesians in Haiti developed "a three-pronged plan" after the quake; their goals are "saving lives, rebuilding lives and rebuilding the Salesian educational infrastructure in Haiti." Work is continuing on all three.

The Father Bohnen schools have a new, temporary plywood office. The schools used to serve bread for breakfast and a lunch of rice and beans. The children now get breakfast only, but new kitchens are being built by Salesian teachers and the students in Salesian professional programs, so that the lunch program can be restored.

In Petionville, the College Dominique Savio, a Salesian high school, sustained only "cosmetic damage," Father Hyde said. It's now in session for 500 boys and girls.

A Salesian youth center in Thorland has been turned into a temporary camp for 8,000 refugees whose homes were destroyed in the quake.

The youth center had a three-story building that collapsed in the quake; no one was inside. A large, multipurpose building—used as a gym and auditorium—lost its front and back walls, but its sidewalls still stand; Father Hyde said that under its roof, children were playing soccer and dancing on the stage.

Some of the refugees in the temporary camp are growing corn outside their tents, he added.

"Haitians are resilient," he said. "They are going with the flow, and they make the best of the circumstances."

Funding for reconstruction is coming from Salesian nongovernmental organizations worldwide. Salesian Missions in New Rochelle has pledged to fund the rebuilding of the youth center at Fort-Liberte, and will soon launch an appeal for donations.

"It is my hope that a new Haiti will rise, much better than the old Haiti," Father Hyde said. "But it's going to take time."
Editor's Note: Contributions designated for the work in Haiti may be sent to: Salesian Missions, 2 Lefevre Lane, New Rochelle, N.Y. 10801-5710.

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