GREENVILLE—Mary McNicholas has heard and read about the destruction Hurricane Matthew wreaked on Haiti, and now she can’t wait to travel back down there and help rebuild.
The St. Anthony of Padua parishioner wants to return to Les Cayes, a small village about 125 miles west of Port-au-Prince that Hurricane Matthew hit full force. Winds topping 140 mph and torrential rains heavily damaged the village, which is home to Pwoje Espwa — Project Hope — an orphanage started 15 years ago by Father Marc Boisvert, a retired U.S. Marine chaplain.
For the past eight years, Mary and her husband Mike McNicholas have volunteered at the orphanage, home to 350 boys and girls on a 125-acre farm on Haiti’s Tiburon peninsula.
Mary McNicholas said the farm lost all its crops and animals to the hurricane. The boys’ dormitory buildings were also destroyed, along with two school buildings, an administrative office and several “outbuildings.”
“Not much was left standing after the storm,” McNicholas said.
No one from the orphanage was injured, though nationwide 1,000 people died as a result of the hurricane, which struck Haiti on Oct. 4.
McNicholas, who is a Free the Kids ambassador for South Carolina, said the orphanage has placed a hold on visitors. The couple and a group from St. Anthony were scheduled to fly to Haiti on Dec. 5, though that date is now in jeopardy.
“I’m trying to get down there by myself a little earlier, but right now I don’t know when I’ll get there,” McNicholas said.
Haiti and other countries, including the United States, that were in Matthew’s path, are also receiving help through Catholic Charities and Catholic Relief Services.
CRS is distributing blankets, kitchen and hygiene kits, and other emergency supplies. It is also monitoring outbreaks of cholera and other diseases in Haiti and other hard-hit areas in the Caribbean. Catholic Charities is coordinating relief efforts for those affected in the states.
McNicholas said the orphanage has food and other supplies, and has moved the boys to a temporary shelter.
“Right now, the dire need is money,” she said. “They’re looking at in excess of a half-million dollars to rebuild.”
In recent years, St. Anthony parishioners have donated thousands of dollars to the orphanage, and McNicholas said special collections are being held at all Masses in response to the storm damage.
“St. Anthony has been tremendous over the years,” she said. “We had a second collection last Sunday that raised nearly $18,000.”
She said she has reached out to other Catholic churches in the Greenville area to raise money for the orphanage and is considering holding a dance at St. Anthony.
“Nothing is planned yet,” McNicholas said.
For more information on Pwoje Espwa, visit www.freethekids.org or write Free the Kids, Inc., 5704 W. Market St., No. 8947, Greensboro, NC 27419.
Top photo from www.freethekids.org: Hurricane Matthew caused extensive damage to Pwoje Espwa orphanage in Les Cayes, Haiti, and its grounds. Students had to move into the primary school with only two days’ worth of clothing. All of their remaining clothing, shoes, and school supplies were lost or damaged. The school had purchased new workbooks and uniforms just over a month ago.