By DEIRDRE C. MAYS
It came as no surprise to Bishop David B. Thompson that the people of his diocese would respond to victims of Hurricane Mitch when asked to become part of that humanitarian effort before Christmas.
“The people in South Carolina empathize with the people in Central America, because they know of the devastation caused by hurricanes,” he said.
The Diocese of Charleston held a special collection in December. The response was $165,229, which will be sent to Catholic Relief Services.
“I am overwhelmed to know how generous people have been,” said Sister Susan Schorsten, director of social ministry for the diocese. “It is also a credit to national media and other news sources that keep it in front of people, as well as Bishop Thompson’s willingness to ask for donations and the people’s generous response.”
Emergency distributions continue in all four affected countries. In Honduras, CRS is preparing for the large-scale USAID distributions that are scheduled to begin early this year. The organization is collaborating with Caritas Peru which is providing technical assistance to CRS/Honduras for two months.
CRS/Guatemala has distributed about 407 metric tons of food supplies, and cooking utensils, medicines, water purification supplies, mosquito nets and other items to 178,385 individuals to date.
In El Salvador, CRS is supplementing the funds it received and the food from the World Food Program with cash and in-kind contributions from the German aid agency Gesellschaft fur Technische Zusammenarbeit. GTZ’s support is allowing CRS to support rehabilitation efforts in the areas of agriculture and small animal husbandry, as well as water and sanitation, in conjunction with its Caritas counterparts.
The destruction caused by Hurricane Mitch in October was so immense that CRS has made a long-term commitment to the people of Central America. In much of the region, the Church is playing an outstanding role in the emergency response and is channeling funds for the recovery and long-range challenges of the reconstruction of communities.
The principal focus, however, has been in Honduras and Nicaragua.
CRS has also hosted a delegation of senior managers from various engineering and construction firms from Massachusetts, coordinated by the Massachusetts Emergency Management Authority with the support of the Archdiocese of Boston. The Massachusetts Damage Assessment Team is proposing a project to repair damaged highways, bridges and secondary roads in northwestern Nicaragua in coordination with CRS, the Government of Nicaragua and local municipalities. CRS/Nicaragua has also distributed approximately 550 metric tons of food, blankets, shelter materials and seeds.
The National Conference of Catholic Bishops agreed to provide the conferences of Central America, Haiti and the Dominican Republic (hit by Hurricane Georges) the sum of $400,000 in December and the surplus of all funds collected by the Secretariat for the Church in Latin American in excess of the annual average of $4.5 million for the next three years.