By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published September 13, 2007
Local advocates for the poor in hurricane-ravaged Central America and the Caribbean are gearing up for recovery efforts as the communities dig out from storm wreckage.
The Missionaries of the Poor order hopes to provide safe housing for 1,000 families with sturdy but inexpensive homes. An international monastic order of brothers started by Father Richard HoLung, Missionaries of the Poor works out of its international headquarters in Atlanta. The Mustard Seed Communities, USA, works in Jamaica and is looking at repair work stretching into 2008 as nine of the group’s 12 properties were structurally damaged. Mustard Seed has a Southeast office in Roswell.
The fall storm season in the Atlantic arrived with devastating results. Hurricane Dean, with winds of 165 mph, blew past Jamaica and other islands on Aug. 19. Eqecat Inc., which studies catastrophic damages for the insurance industry, estimated storm losses at $1.5 billion to $3 billion, mostly in Jamaica.
In the first week of September, Hurricane Felix gathered strength and blew into Central America. More than 100 people are feared dead after the storm whipped into rural coastal areas of Nicaragua and Honduras.
And the damage could be just the beginning as weather forecasters expect more hurricanes this fall than in recent years. The peak months of the storms run from August through October. “That is of particular concern because we are at the beginning of hurricane season,” said Judy Ellis, the Atlanta-based marketing coordinator for The Mustard Seed Communities.
Mustard Seed will work to repair nine homes in Jamaica that received flood damage and had undermined roofs and wrecked dormitories. More than 100 children had to be moved to makeshift shelters until the buildings are made safe again. No staff or children were hurt during the storm.
Mustard Seed, which marks its 28th anniversary this year, serves the people in Kingston, Jamaica. Its work focuses on young people living with HIV/AIDS and children who are handicapped in this impoverished country, which is slightly smaller than Connecticut.
Ellis said a special trip for people with home construction expertise has been organized for November. Laborers are available to do the repair work, but people experienced with managing repair projects are in demand, Ellis said. People with skills in carpentry, plumbing, electrical work, along with nurses, would be a great assistance. “That seems to be a very big problem, a need for skilled labor,” she said.
The goal is to get youngsters from the pediatric AIDS clinic back into their home as soon as possible, she said. Also the organization is reaching out to other neighborhoods in Kingston to be of service to others, Ellis said.
A fundraiser on Sept. 8 raised $12,000 for the cleanup, said Janice Givens, a former executive director of Mustard Seed USA, but now a volunteer.
Givens, who worships at St. Brigid Church in Alpharetta, helped organize the effort. “Everyone knew the need was great. Every penny is used,” said Givens.
The event was a combined project by a new group called Theology of the Body for EveryBody and veterans of Mustard Seed Communities. Half the money was made from a “15 minute dial-a-friend frenzy,” and the rest with a silent auction and goodwill donations, said Givens.
The Young Adult Ministry of the Atlanta Archdiocese is also scheduled to make a four-day trip to Jamaica in November to lend a hand.
The Missionaries of the Poor are committed to build housing for people in the ghettos of Jamaica after the storm’s devastation knocked down slums.
“The little homes, the little shacks, they were either gone or wells were missing,” said Jane Rodgers, who works in the Atlanta office for the religious community.
The priority was to simply provide food to people who lost everything in the storm, she said. The religious brothers and priests opened the food pantry to the hungry, she said.
The pantry is stocked with food items donated by Atlanta parishes during Lenten food drives.
The long-term goal is to help rebuild homes. At first, 400 homes was the goal, but the demand is much greater. The religious order doubled the goal to build 1,000 small, functional homes for impoverished people, said Rodgers.
These homes can be built for about $250, which provides a cement foundation, plywood, and a galvanized zinc roof.
Amigos for Christ, a Buford-based charity, watched Hurricane Felix make landfall with a sense of relief that the Nicaraguan communities where they work were spared.
The west coast of the country received a lot of rain, while the east coast faced the brunt of the storm, said Kristin Monacella.
The nonprofit focuses its efforts on the people of Nicaragua. Since 1998, the group has worked with the people in this Central American country to build simple homes, provide indoor plumbing, and operate grade schools.
Close to half the population of the predominately Catholic country lives below the poverty line. Nicaragua is about the size of New York State.
Amigos for Christ had a 22-person medical team in Nicaragua during the storm and they were able to continue their efforts, she said. Another group from Atlanta is making the trip in October.