Greg Forrester, head of UMCOR's US Disaster Response unit, visits with a Cuban Methodist pastor whose house church was damaged by Hurricane Sandy.
By Susan Kim*
August 13, 2013—The UMCOR board of directors has released $500,000 to help rebuild homes in Cuba that were damaged by Hurricane Sandy. Part of the money will also go toward hurricane preparedness training for the storm-prone island.
The housing rebuilds will take place in two provinces, Holguin and Santiago, said Greg Forrester, head of UMCOR's US Disaster Response unit. “The Cuban Methodist Church, in collaboration with local Cuban officials, is already working to identify families in those areas who need a recovery plan,” he said. “The process is very similar to case management in the United States.”
Some of the most vulnerable people in the wake of Hurricane Sandy are single-parent households, as well as families that include an individual with health-compromising issues, added Forrester, who traveled to the island early last month.
About 150 homes will be rebuilt in Cuba over the course of two years, Forrester said.
UMCOR will also help facilitate hurricane preparedness training in the same two provinces. When the training is complete, Cuba will have teams of trained people similar to Early Response Teams in the United States. “We are thrilled to be able to kick off these training sessions to better equip our sisters and brothers in the Cuban Methodist Church to meet the needs of their neighbors,” said Forrester.
Working in Cuba is not without its logistical challenges, said Aldo Gonzalez, national coordinator for United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (VIM)–Cuba. Gonzalez was born in Cuba and now resides in Virginia.
“I think it is still a challenge to be able to travel to Cuba and to be able to gain access there because of difficulties we have in obtaining the entry visas that are necessary to do a certain amount of work,” he said.
For more than 18 years, Gonzalez has been working with VIM and in partnership with UMCOR to go through the channel of the church to help his native country in the wake of disasters. Gonzalez will play a key role in coordinating training and work groups for the response.
“We have had our difficulties trying to offer support, but when I look at it from a long-road perspective, I think that we've had quite a bit of help given to Cuba, because we send a group over there on a monthly basis,” he said.
When volunteer groups travel to Cuba, they have an impact not only on Cubans but also within themselves, said Gonzalez.
“That has been really a plus because the folks that go down there and experience the Cuban culture and the Cuban people, can see that we are one people, that we share a common culture,” he indicated.
Recovery from Hurricane Sandy in Cuba as in the United Sates will take time. Your gift to Hurricanes 2012, UMCOR Advance #3021787, will make a difference.
*Susan Kim is a journalist and a regular contributor to www.umcor.org.