Father Serrano testimonial

Serrano describes how he and his colleagues delivered supplies to Haitians after the earthquake

Email received by Margarita Mooney from Father Mario Serrano, S.J., on January 18th, 2010. Father Serrano is from the Dominican Republic and is a member of the Jesuits, a Catholic men's religious order. He has worked with Haitians in the Dominican Republic and Haiti for the last decade. Mooney translated this email from Spanish to English.

Dear Friends,

It has been wonderful to read the emails of so many people reaching out in solidarity with the Haitian people. I am particularly happy that so many of you are mobilizing and thinking of long-term help. That will be very necessary.

At this moment, I am in Haiti coordinating efforts with Kawas and Miller [two other priests] and other Haitian Jesuits. I would like to tell you briefly what we have been doing.

Haiti map

1. In the Dominican Republic, we have worked with religious organizations and other civil society organizations to give coordinated and appropriate support to Haiti. We have divided ourselves into various commissions (health, volunteers, communication, relations with Haiti, reconstruction, contact with donors, collecting donations). We have created five geographical points for this work (Santo Domingo, Santiago, Dajabon, Elias Pina, Jimani, Pedernales and Port-au-Prince). From these points we organize help, coordinate the process, take care of victims, and gather relevant information.

The Jesuits have also begun working with other Catholic religious orders to offer help. One of my colleagues, Jorge Rojas, has come to Port-au-Prince with a commission that works with the other religious orders. The Jesuits all over Latin America are organizing to begin thinking how to focus the help we are receiving for Haiti.

2. I have established myself at the Jesuit novice home in Port-au-Prince with other Jesuits from Bono Center and the Poveda Center (two social service centers in the Dominican Republic). We all come representing the network of civil society organizations in the Dominican Republic. I work with the other Jesuits to coordinate our actions. This is my second trip to Haiti. I am helping them organize the process and channel all the help coming from the Dominican Republic. We are still in the phase of emergency response that consists of showing solidarity just by our presence, and also offering food, medicine, hygiene and a place to rest. We are working directly in eight places that have victims camps. We are also sharing our supplies with other groups who have come to us asking to collaborate with us. Little by little we are establishing a greater level of organization that will make the assistance more opportune and effective.

The emergency needs are very great. In addition to what I have already mentioned, we need toilets, tents, and vehicles to transport the aid. In the long term, we must think about how to focus help on some priority areas in which we can concentrate our efforts.

I think this should be education. We have to help so that all Haitian children can have good schools with good professors.

I have a lot of anecdotes to share with you. Let me just share this one. We left from Santo Domingo for Haiti, and on the way, we decided to ask the donation trucks to go to Barahona to be deposited in an industrial building. We arrived in Jimani, a town in the Dominican Republic on the border of Haiti, and we left some people from the Poveda Center and Bono there. The rest of us crossed the border with two big trucks of aid. We made sure that we were accompanied by the military. We arrived to the Jesuit novice house in Port-au-Prince at night and we didn't unload the trucks because we feared the reaction of the people. We no longer had our military security…. But we made sure to have police and security for the nighttime. The next day, in the morning, we unloaded the trucks and then we held a meeting to organize ourselves.

As we were meeting, a big group of people began to pound on the door asking us to distribute the food. We had to call the police but the people would not disperse. The police commander asked us to give everyone a bottle of water and we asked them to disperse again, promising them that we would give them some of the assistance we had. The people agreed and I promised I would go speak with them later.

That afternoon I went to see them. Our novitiate house is at the entrance of their neighborhood, which is a very poor neighborhood where many earthquake victims live. That afternoon we had a great neighborhood meeting. They understood that we needed time to organize the food distribution, and we understood that they had to be beneficiaries of our help. I shared with them our fears and feelings of insecurity, and they assured us that in their area, they would provide us security. They organized how they would receive the aid, and they promised to help us unload aid trucks.

You have no idea how happy this whole process made me feel. This happiness I feel is linked to a new understanding of the situation, to concrete memories of certain people, and to a new way of managing aid distribution. We have to involve the people in the aid distribution process as much as possible…. When they pounded on the door, I remember the voice of Soucet, a very brave woman who was demanding food, angrily and bravely. I remember my fear looking out at so many people. Now I see the same faces as friends, people with whom I share and work together for the same cause. Now we have even greater security and protection than what the military police can give us, as we have the participation of those who we are trying to help.

I will stop here for now. We continuously petition the God of life and love that he would renew us daily, increasing our hope in the possibility of a world with greater brotherly love.

Warmly,

Mario Serrano

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