HAVANA, Cuba — As Hurricane Matthew’s winds pounded Maisí, Cuba, a local church stood strong. Eighty people waited inside the church for the storm to pass. Men had to fight the storm by physically keeping the doors closed.
Many can only imagine the strife these people faced as they left their homes to seek shelter. Their homes were not sturdy enough to withstand the powerful wind and rain. Thus, the local church was selected as a place of refuge from the storm.
Those living in poverty in Cuba have been the most severely impacted. However, community initiatives have proven beneficial to the rebuilding effort.
Kasey Snyder, a volunteer who aided rebuilding efforts, told The Borgen Project “Luckily, all eighty people that were in that church lived. They all got out. None were hurt, but their homes were [destroyed].”
Snyder went to Cuba in March 2017, five months after Hurricane Matthew devastated portions of Cuba. At that time, many of the residents of Maisí lived in houses built of wood with no roofs. While there, Snyder helped to build tin roofs for multiple houses.
Snyder is a student at Campbell University in Buies Creek, North Carolina. She, along with six other students and a faculty member, went to Cuba to provide aid to those in need. The organization that she went with is Baptists on Mission, an organization that centers around disaster relief. While in Cuba, she did not encounter other relief groups in the particular village she visited.
Other Relief Efforts in Cuba
However, there are many relief groups that reach out to those affected by hurricanes, both in Cuba and the surrounding areas. Recently, CubaOne provided relief, through both cleanup and monetary donations, for those impacted by Hurricane Irma. UNICEF has also accomplished great things in Cuba. Prior to Irma, UNICEF partnered with The Ministry of Education to educate children about disaster risk. This information led to the safety of many, as evacuations were instituted prior to Irma’s landfall.
According to UNICEF, “Cuba is under permanent threat of natural disasters such as hurricanes.” Prior to Matthew, the people were still rebuilding from past hurricanes. With Matthew, their efforts to rebuild were halted and set further back.
Natural Disasters and Poverty in Cuba
Partially due to natural disasters, poverty in Cuba continues to be an issue. Allocation of resources to nearly continuous rebuilding is costly. For the municipality of Maisí, Hurricane Matthew was catastrophic. Residents had to rely on the government for the building materials to repair their homes. However, they did not always receive the materials necessary to rebuild.
Matthew was a strong Atlantic hurricane. As Matthew made landfall in Cuba, it was a Category 4. Consequently, many were left with homes that hardly retained their original composition.
According to the National Hurricane Center, “Across eastern Cuba, the highest winds measured were a 1-minute sustained wind of 108 kt at Punta de Maisí.” And as Snyder recalled, the poor households were the worst impacted. Snyder told The Borgen Project, “If you were wealthy, you had cement walls that kind of helped your foundations. But if you weren’t, it was probably just wood.” Weak foundations aided the intensity of loss to those already facing poverty in Cuba.
Organizations, such as the one Snyder went with, donated building materials that provided for needs of the region. And, importantly, the community also rose up in the time of need, with neighbors helping each other to pick up the pieces of leveled homes.
Recovery efforts were extensive and costly for both Hurricanes Matthew and Irma. However, with the efforts of the community, both locally and globally, the burden is much lighter — especially for the poor.
– Carolyn Newsome