Q & A with Sr. Valorie Lordi, keeping an eye on Haiti post-Hurricane Matthew

Sr. Valorie Lordi is a nurse and a member of the Dominican Sisters of Sparkill, New York, and, like everyone who has a tie to Haiti, she is deeply concerned and worried about the country following Hurricane Matthew.

Since 2010, Lordi and other members of her congregation have volunteered their time each summer ministering to children and youth who live in rural Haitian villages. The group of Sparkill Dominicans, along with Catholic sisters from neighboring Dominican congregations in New York and New Jersey, minister primarily in the district of Duval Roche, near the capital of Port-au-Prince.

Like a number of sisters drawn to Haiti, Lordi became engaged with work there following the devastating 2010 earthquake.

The group of sisters works in partnership with the Ministry of Presence, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of Haitian children. As leader of the annual delegation, Lordi also maintains contact throughout the year with a group of her Haitian partners in ministry — largely young people who participated in leadership and other skills training with the Dominicans and their partners.

Her contacts in Haiti are in touch with people in the areas most affected by Hurricane Matthew. Though Lordi is not physically in Haiti year-round, her connection to the Haitian people is, as her congregation said in a recent statement about her work, "part of her daily life throughout the year." And in recent weeks, concern about Haiti has become a consuming worry.

GSR: What have you heard from people on the ground?

Lordi: There is absolute desperation in Haiti. The people ... are crying out for help. I hear daily from our Haitian partners in mission through the WhatsApp app, where they send me photos, videos and messages. The roads are washed out in many of the more remote areas, including villages such as Cuvier and Ti Mache, where we minister in the summers in the town of Duval Roche, which is within the district of Croix-des-Bouquets, and in other extremely poor villages like Ville des Cayes in southern Haiti, where some of our Haitian mission partners are from.

The people there were already struggling, and then this hurricane came through, causing complete devastation. For the last several days, they've been getting more rain. The people I'm in touch with aren't getting any help from the government, and they are desperate. The Red Cross cannot get through to the remote areas, and people are in great need of food and clean water. Cholera and dysentery are running rampant now, which can lead to malaria. The area we are connected to is in a state of complete chaos.

Recently, I received a text from our friend and mission partner in Haiti, Meltone Bourgouin, who is studying to be a deacon. [The message] said, "Please sister if you can help us. We'll be very happy ... For us now we are under the rain ... it's a difficult life ... It is the first time in my life I've lived through something like this. It is worse than the earthquake. I'm breathless. Please do something for us." I get messages like this throughout the day. They absolutely break my heart.

Is the situation worse than has been portrayed in the media?

From what I've seen in the media, it's accurate in terms of the big picture. But what I'm hearing are in-depth realities from local people living in the more remote areas. Things are getting worse, not better, because there is very little help for these people who live in isolated places and also because the rain is continuing. At this point, Haiti's struggle with Hurricane Matthew is yesterday's news in our media, but I can tell you the images and details I'm receiving every day are still horrifying.

What will be necessary for Haiti to recover from this latest disaster?

Right now, money is needed in the hands of local people in Haiti who can put the funds immediately to use providing for the basic life-or-death needs of the people: food, water, blankets — general humanitarian relief.

There are many grassroots organizations who're right there with the people — hundreds of different groups are helping in Haiti all the time — and they can deliver hand-to-hand the money and life-saving supplies where they are needed. We are currently fundraising to help with emergency needs in Haiti, and the relationships we have built with locals there are key, as we have specific individuals to send these funds to who will be wise stewards of the relief funding.

Efforts are also underway to house refugees who lost their homes and belongings in the hurricane. Elizabeth's Place, an unfinished orphanage that we are helping the humanitarian group Ministry of Presence raise funds to complete, is located in Duval Roche and is being used as a temporary shelter for now homeless families. Much of the space is already built; however, the kitchen still needs to be completed — a $10,000 job. A finished kitchen will not only make the building fully functional, but also allow it to serve other needs during this crisis, such as offering a food pantry, mother/children nutrition projects, and emergency relief distributions.

There is also an increasing need for medicine and medical treatment to deal with the outbreaks of cholera and other diseases. A medical team that we help support made up of volunteer doctors and nurses goes to Duval Roche four times a year to provide ongoing community health outreach. This team is currently en route to Haiti for a well-timed visit.

What is the single thing that people in the United States most need to understand about Haiti?

Haiti is the poorest country in Western Hemisphere. This country needs massive assistance to create a society with dignity and social morality. There is a need for political will to effect change.

Much of the aid doesn't reach the rural and impoverished Haitian population. Help comes when people connect to local, grassroots groups — through churches, humanitarian organizations and others — and get money to help the people directly.

While our efforts on a variety of life-giving projects in Haiti are ongoing, right now, the most urgent need is to provide emergency assistance to the hurricane victims. We are working with our partners in ministry to do this in a number of ways, and we ask those who are able to please support our Haitian sisters and brothers who are suffering immensely from this natural disaster. The Dominican Sisters of Sparkill act as the fiscal agent for the Ministry of Presence and as such receive donations on its behalf.

[Chris Herlinger is GSR international correspondent. His email address is cherlinger@ncronline.org.]