By Ben Le SVD
On April 19, 2016, I went with the Father Provincial Navil D’Silva SVD to the town of Muisne to talk with the people and document the destruction there. With the April 16th earthquake so recent, there have been a lot of donations to help the people here. But, as with past disasters, most help comes only once and dries up quickly. That is when we Divine Word Missionaries step in and continue assisting people.
We have two parishes in the Province of Esmeraldas: one in the city of Esmeraldas and the other in Muisne. We were spared in Esmeraldas with very little damage, just a lot of shaken nerves. Muisne, on the other hand, is one of the worst hit areas with more than 50 percent of the houses severely damaged or fallen altogether. What is miraculous about this is that there were no deaths on the whole island. Muisne is also one of the poorest areas of Ecuador. Unfortunately, throughout the earthquake zone more than 480 people have died (and counting) and several thousands are hurt. News reports have been showing funeral after funeral with family members weeping and wailing from each loss.
To get to Muisne, we have to take a ferry across a channel of water. The worst hit areas of Muisne are along the waterfront as seen in the picture above.
People here have a great devotion to the little child Jesus, Divino Niño. Here, a statue of Jesus stands inside the little shrine amidst the falling buildings.
Only one-third of this house is still standing after the earthquake.
Owners of these fallen houses returned to salvage whatever they can. Most homeowners have been robbed or do not have anything salvageable.
The floor collapsed under this house. The lady on the right is cleaning some tool parts while the men inside try to lower a refrigerator down into the mud and up to the sidewalk.
This lady thanks God for keeping her and her family safe. She is standing next to her house. The house is structurally unsafe so will likely be knocked down. Like her, most people in Muisne do not have the money to rebuild their houses. Many do not even have money to buy food if help does not come. The story is the same for many residents; they are hoping that someone will come to help them. We walked past a family with three children sitting in front of their house. They asked us if we can give them some water since they hadn’t had water for more than two days. They literally have nothing inside their house. They lit up when they saw us; they needed someone to listen to their needs and worries.
This large statue of Jesus (left) used to stand in the center of the city, overlooking our Divine Word parish. The Divine Word parish is not too badly damaged, thanks be to God! Like the people of Muisne, this Jesus is broken and shattered.
A makeshift shelter is made in one of our chapel where 400 families stayed inside and around the chapel grounds. Donations are received here, and food and water are provided free of charge to the many earthquake victims who come.
People wait for food. A police unit supports us and keeps order, especially when donations arrive. We have to coordinate everything very carefully to avoid fights and looting. Two Divine Word priests and a candidate, who coordinates this makeshift shelter, have been sleeping in a small car for the past three days so they are close to the people. When the meals are ready, they made sure everyone eats first before they begin eating. I have to confess that I ate before them.
These innocent children are oblivious to the difficulties facing their parents. They play, laugh and run around carefree, as they should be. We are working hard to help them with their education and maybe break the cycle of poverty and violence that surrounds them. Their families have no place to return to. Reconstruction will be the priority for many of them. We will help as much as we can.
Frater Benjamín Le SVD professed vows with the Society of the Divine Word in 2012. Before becoming a Divine Word Missionary, he worked as a professional photographer. Currently, he is fulfilling his Cross-Cultural Training Program (CTP) in Ecuador. When he returns to Chicago, he will continue his formation and complete his academic studies at Catholic Theological Union. If you would like to support the efforts of Divine Word Missionaries who are helping to restore hope in Ecuador, please visit www.svdmissions.org.