UMCOR is working with the Methodist Church in Cuba to rebuild 100 homes and 21 churches
By David Tereshchuk*
March 31, 2015—Warmer relations between Cuba and the United States may be news to international observers, but for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), close collaboration with the Methodist Church in Cuba has undergirded successful disaster recovery work on the island since 2012, following Hurricane Sandy.
The storm made landfall in Cuba on October 25. It damaged or destroyed 170,000 homes and killed 11 people in the provinces of Holguin and Santiago de Cuba, before charging up the U.S. east coast. UMCOR disaster response executive, Greg Forrester, visited the island soon afterward to see the extent of damages to homes and churches.
Bishop Ricardo Pereira of the Methodist Church in Cuba (Iglesia Metodista en Cuba, IMECU) arranged for Forrester to meet with Caridad Diego Bello, head of the Cuban Office on Religious Affairs. After their cordial meeting, UMCOR issued its first grants to IMECU to rebuild a total of 100 homes and repair or rebuild 21 churches damaged by Sandy.
Volunteer Cuban construction teams, or brigadas, were assembled by area churches and led by Rev. Norges Rodríguez Cascaret of the Methodist Church of San Luis in Santiago de Cuba. Forrester traveled back to Cuba this month to see the progress.
So far, 61 homes have been completed. Another 22 are under construction, and 17 await permits for work to start.
Each home typically consists of three rooms—living room, bedroom, and bathroom—and some also have an enclosed kitchen. Built of cinder block and concrete, the homes often are elevated above previous flood lines. They have concrete roofs and are earthquake-resistant.
“In many cases,” said Forrester, “they are the only homes in the community with the resiliency to withstand the next storm. They can, in fact, serve as shelter for several families.” Of the 21 damaged church buildings 20 are under reconstruction or have been fully repaired. The remaining single instance is waiting for a permit to be issued.
Many of the churches lost their roofs in the storm, and these have been rebuilt using concrete and steel to protect them against high winds in the future. These bigger buildings also will provide storm shelter for many people, pending agreement with the local Civil Defense authorities.
“I was impressed by the progress over the past 18 months,” Forrester said. “The team led by Rev. Rodriguez has done an amazing job of identifying recipient families, working with local authorities, procuring construction materials, and keeping everything moving forward.”
Growth and collaboration
Forrester was invited to observe IMECU’s General Conference while he was in Cuba. He learned there that the Methodist Church in Cuba has grown by 60 percent over the past four years.
IMECU has taken full responsibility for the post-Sandy housing and church reconstruction. United Methodist Volunteers in Mission and churches in Florida, through partner relationships, have participated in the rebuilding projects in the affected provinces.
Diego, of the Cuban Office on Religious Affairs, told Forrester that her office greatly appreciated the churches’ contribution to Sandy recovery, and hoped the collaborative work would continue.
*David Tereshchuk is a journalist and media critic who contributes regularly to www.umcor.org.