Ecuador: Giving Comfort and Aid to Earthquake Victims
In the days and weeks after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake ravaged much of Ecuador, the earth continued to rumble — delivering a series of terrifying aftershocks that threatened to amplify the already heartbreaking devastation. Fortunately, despite significant damage to their own properties, our more than 200 Salesian missionaries across the country continued to assist the quake’s survivors.
For close to 130 years, these missionaries have served among the poverty-stricken population — establishing schools and vocational training programs, and offering new opportunities to thousands of marginalized youth and their families. In Manta, Guayaquil, Esmereldas, Machala and 23 other communities, they are known, trusted, and well positioned to respond to this crisis in ways that other organizations cannot.
So far, their task has been daunting. The earthquake caused tragic calamaties: over 650 people died, more than 16,000 were injured, and — as of this writing — countless others remained trapped under the rubble, many of whom are feared dead. Across the nation, homes crashed to the ground. Roads and bridges collapsed. Devastating mudslides, triggered by the quake and its aftershocks, knocked electricity and communications off-line and further isolated survivors from help.
Traumatized victims slept in the streets, praying the aftershocks would subside. Afraid to go indoors, and often with no family to return to, they huddled against the elements and their own shock. Stricken by grief, they hoped that their missing loved ones would be found alive.
Right away, missionaries in Manta offered desperately-needed material, physical and spiritual support to more than 7,000 area families hit hard by the disaster. And — in coordination with governmental and non-governmental partners — Salesian communities throughout the country have assembled a crisis response team that will ultimately assist 42,000 victims.
“The people are in great despair,” reports Father Jorge Molina, Salesian provincial of Ecuador, “and their pain is magnified at the loss of their loved ones. Entire families are homeless and unprotected. There continues to be a shortage of food and water — and the emotional strain of living on the streets with no basic services is almost too great to bear, especially for children and the elderly.
“In the future, we will have to repair the damage to our own property — but we must attend to the people right now,” he continues.
On April 21, Fr. Molina arrived in Manta accompanied by six buses, three trucks and three van loads of humanitarian aid donated by missionaries and parishioners in the provinces of Manabi. Initially, two volunteer physicians and two nurses arrived to begin tending to the injured and the sick — and more are on the way. Hundreds of current and past Salesian students and their families throughout the country have volunteered to collect and distribute critical necessities such as non-perishable food, clean water and medicine. Sadly, since many families cannot afford to bury their loved ones, vocational training students at the Don Bosco House in Guayaquil are also building and donating coffins for the deceased.
Despite these initial efforts, the victims’ needs — now compounded by treacherous flooding due to unusually heavy rains — remain vast.
“The people of Ecuador are still very much in crisis,” says Father Mark Hyde, director of Salesian Missions. “And the necessary assistance is beyond the means of our missionaries in the country to provide alone. We are now focused on raising the funds necessary to help them purchase and distribute the humanitarian aid required to move beyond this phase of the disaster.”
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