(MissionNewswire) Five years after the devastating Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake struck Haiti and reduced the Salesian Youth Center in Fort Liberté, Haiti, to rubble, Salesian Missions, the U.S. development arm of the Salesians of Don Bosco, rebuilt it. The reconstruction project, made possible by many generous donors, was part of a promise made by Salesian Missions to aid in the reconstruction of the country as well as provide relief to Haitians following the earthquake.
In the initial aftermath of the devastating earthquake, Salesian missionaries in Haiti were instrumental in emergency response and relief efforts. They were among the first responders, providing shelter, clean drinking water, medical aid and a means to securely transport, store and distribute relief supplies, as well as, perhaps most importantly, an understanding of how to get things done in Haiti. Having served in Haiti for nearly 75 years at the time of the earthquake, Salesian missionaries were not outsiders rushing in to help, they were trusted members of the communities they served.
First opened in 2002, the youth center in Fort Liberté offered a broad range of formal and informal educational programs for local youth. It housed an elementary school, technical school, vocational training center, teacher training program and one of the country’s only nursing schools.
“The reconstruction after the earthquake offered an opportunity to enhance the center’s programs and services beyond their original scope,” explains Father Gus Baek, director of Salesian Missions. “In addition to simply rebuilding the schools, youth facilities, dorms and missionary housing were added to provide more accommodations. A new water purification plant also provides clean, fresh water at affordable prices to residents of surrounding communities.”
Additionally, the Salesian Provincial House built on the property during the reconstruction includes several large rooms that may be used for and rented out as conference space, providing much-needed income for Salesian programs. All of the newly constructed buildings meet the standards for being earthquake-proof which ensures that funding for the projects has been utilized in a responsible, sustainable way.
Salesian missionaries began working in Haiti in 1935 in response to the Haitian government’s request for a professional school. Since then, Salesian missionaries have expanded their work to include 11 main educational centers and more than 200 schools across the country.
The 11 main centers each include a number of primary and secondary schools, vocational training centers and other programs for street children and youth in need. Salesian programs are located throughout Haiti including in the cities of Port-au-Prince, Fort-Liberté, Cap-Haïtien, Les Cayes and Gressier. Today, Salesian missionaries in Haiti provide the largest source of education outside of the Haitian government with schools providing education to 25,500 primary and secondary school students.
Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas ranking 169 out of 189 countries on the United Nations Human Development Index. Three-quarters of the population lives on less than $2 a day. The country also faces the highest levels of severe food insecurity in the world, according to the World Food Programme. More than half of the country’s population of 10.7 million people are undernourished. Nearly 100,000 Haitian children under the age of 5 suffer from acute malnutrition, causing irreversible stunted growth for close to 30 percent of all children in the country.