Friday, September 18, 2020
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Haiti After Four Hurricanes

Sister Mary Alban Bouchard was settling back into her room in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. She'd just spread out some papers when she heard a roar outside her window. A moment later, her papers were strewn across the room and pictures from her walls had been smashed upon the floor.

"It was like a big hand had come in," she says, "and grabbed everything. Just unbelievably strong." Hurricane Gustav had come to town.

It was only one of the four hurricanes that struck Haiti in 2008. The first hurricane came in August and the fourth in September. In the aftermath, Haiti counted 550 dead and one million homeless. Sister Mary Alban had, over the last 15 years, purchased or commissioned 35 houses for Haiti's poor. The storm swept 10 of them away.

"Life here is tough," she says.

The four hurricanes devastated crops, homes and livelihoods. While storms often strike Haiti, this rapid succession of hurricanes in 2008 affected the whole of the country and not just the coast. Flooding washed away cities and formed lakes between cities. Sister Mary Alban saw people on their rooftops during the floods. Others evacuated.

"People were moved to tents in the mountains," she says. "They were up there with nothing. Some didn't even have clothes. Some are still living there." Many towns were swamped with mud.

After the hurricanes, Sister Mary Alban had 12 more houses built. But in addition to building, she also teaches. A major part of her relief work is a commerce project for women. This project teaches women how to earn small but sufficient livelihoods. She works on the program with Father Joseph Bonard, an Oblate priest.

"We gave training for 80 women," she says. "Some of them will sell staples like rice and beans and oil. Others sell clothing or fruit." She provides a small amount of starting capital.

The program also trains the women to save money for present costs and future expenses. "I'm not just going to keep giving money," Sister Mary Alban says.

She also devotes her time to her peace education project, Culture Of Peace. This consists of workshops and a series of 16 booklets, designed to identify parts of Haitian culture that are positive and others that are damaging.

"It's peace education, but I don't call it a course," she says. "I didn't want people to think it has to be in schools."

She designs her workshops to counteract the aspects of Haitian culture that encourage wishing harm upon enemies. She instead wants her workshop participants to consider conflict resolution and forgiveness.

A major example for Sister Mary Alban is how Pope John Paul II visited his would-be assassin and expressed forgiveness. "That impresses me," she says. She teaches the very same conduct.

By Ibrahim Ng


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