Haiti is in crisis. There are zero elected officials in Haiti and no possibility to hold elections. The gang situation, risk of kidnapping, and insecurity has closed much of the capital of Port-au-Prince, including schools, but the crisis is affecting the entire country. There are 857 yearly kidnappings in Haiti, which is a country of 11.5 million people. In comparison, there are 650 yearly kidnappings in Mexico, which has a population of 130 million. That’s 20 less kidnappings in a place whose population is over 11x the size of Haiti! Imagine if you were risking your life to go to Cronigs and the idea of taking the boat off island was impossible. You would also be risking your life, or at least risking kidnapping, if you tried to leave the house for work. Keep in mind there is no regular electricity and the internet is spotty at best, so there’s no working from home either. How many of us would be fine without a job? The inflation rate in Haiti is 53%, so even if you are retired, if you are on a fixed income, it is likely not going to make ends meet. Imagine the financial stress on top of the risk of physical harm to your family as most Haitians have lost access to their work, markets, and health and nutrition services. Many have been forced to flee with little or no warning as gangs come to their house carrying out unspeakable violence and burning entire neighborhoods.
The police are outmanned, outgunned, and unable to respond as they are here in the US. There is no 911 to call or to rely on in Haiti. There are 9,000 National Police officers for the population of 11.5 million people in Haiti. In comparison, there are 36,000 police officers for the 8.9 million people in NYC. 78 police officers have been killed in Haiti in just the first quarter of 2023 and in that same time in the US with a population of 334 million people, 12 US police officers have killed.
Food is not moving around the country, and it is very expensive when it is available. It is not only an issue in cities, but in rural areas as well. According to the UN, a record 4.7 million people are currently facing acute hunger, including 1.8 million people in Emergency phase and, for the first time ever in Haiti, 19,000 people are in Catastrophe phase, the worst phase. In the rural areas, harvest losses due to below average rainfall and the lasting effects of the 2021 earthquake, are among the other devastating factors, beyond the political and economic crisis. There are 562 Haitians dying daily due to hunger.
In the past, members of this church and the Island community have supported the installation of a solar-powered drinking water project in Lilavois on the campus of
College Filles de Marie Reine Immaculée, so the residents of Lilavois are some of the fortunate few who have access to safe drinking water if they are within walking distance of the campus. Fuel has been stopped by gangs or is so expensive when available that the places that use generators to sell drinking water are closed. This has led to a sharp rise in Cholera.
There are plenty of complaints about the healthcare system in the US, but what would it be like if 85% of the healthcare facilities are reporting staff shortages and 100% of these facilities report difficulty maintaining key supplies like gloves, gauze, and bandages. Since the beginning of 2022, 30 doctors have been kidnapped. it is not hard to imagine why there is a shortage of doctors. Doctors are kidnapping targets who are forcibly required to assist injured gang members. When there is a possibility to leave the country, most do.
Priests, nuns, and ministers are also targets for kidnapping with gangs even coming into church services to kidnap their victims. The clergy are seen as more well-to-do than most others in Haiti; and international religious orders are known to have connections to money outside the country that may be able to pay the high ransoms that are demanded. You may remember our prayer requests as my brother-in-law was negotiating the release of his best friend, also a Salesian priest, just a few months ago.
So the struggle for daily living and a sense of normalcy are hard to come by. Any chance to go to school is a gift, especially on a campus where you can feel removed from the constant stress of living in these conditions.
School is not free in Haiti. Students must pay tuition, buy uniforms, and purchase school supplies. This means that not everyone can go to school. Not only is the cost of attending school a barrier for some people in Haiti, but there are many people, including children, who are forced by circumstance into domestic service that does not allow them access to school.
Knowing the importance of education and wanting to serve the most vulnerable in her community, Sr. Cadet, who was visiting last Sunday, created a program to offer education to those in the community who have never been able to go to school, especially children in forced domestic service known as Restavek. Restaveks are domestic slaves. They are often young girls who have been turned
out from their families by poverty. These children are not treated well and they certainly do not have the financial means to pay for regular school, never mind that’s when they are most likely to be working. Young boys are turned out of their homes as well. Rather than risk the entire family starving, they are left to manage on their own as young as 5 yrs old. You can imagine there is no shortage of young men to feed the pipeline of gang recruitment. Only the very luckiest of these boys are taken into a program like the one my brother-in-law runs in Cité Soleil, one of the most notorious slums in Port-au-Prince.
The regular students at the College Marie Reine Immaculée where Sr. Cadet serves as the principal, pay tuition, some of whom are sponsored through Haitian Outreach, the program that invited Sr. Cadet and Sr. Marlene to the US to celebrate their 25th anniversary. This tuition money from the traditional school pays for the campus and buildings, the desks, and the administration of the school, etc. School is held from 8am until 2pm, with younger students being dismissed earlier and only the high school staying until 2pm. Sr. Cadet, as principal of the school, knew that most of the classrooms are empty in the afternoons and this is the space that welcomes students who cannot otherwise afford to go to school or who have to work during traditional school hours. All she has to do is find funding for the teachers!
As part of our missions work, the Chilmark Community Church supports this afternoon program in Lilavois, Haiti that allows people who otherwise would have no means of attending school to learn in the afternoons. By sponsoring the teachers of the afternoon school, we are sponsoring an entire classroom of students.
Sr. Cadet knows that going to school provides some of the only hope for a bit of normalcy or perhaps a better life. Lilavois is in a suburb of Port-au-Prince and the school we sponsor wasn’t able to start this school year until November 28th, but they must close often due to risk of violence. The week before Easter vacation, the school closed two of the five days because of dangerous gang activity in the area that threatened travel to the school for teachers and students. Our support and encouragement for the students and teachers is very appreciated.
Sometimes places like Haiti can feel very far away. It is important for me to connect you in a personal way to the people in Haiti that we support. So you will
notice that our church not only sponsors the afternoon school program in Lilavois, but we frequently ask for prayers for Haiti and her people during the turmoil and crisis of this challenging time, and sometimes for individuals we know who are having a particularly difficult time.
After Sr. Cadet returns, on May 21, there is a group of students having their first communion. Mother’s Day in Haiti is two weeks after ours on May 28th. The reality of trying to carve out a life in a country where there are now 200 Individual armed groups operating continues.
Both Rolino and I will be very happy to talk to anyone wanting to know more about the situation in Haiti or wanting to help in a specific way. We can connect you to groups who facilitate student school sponsorships; Rolino’s brother works with street boys to offer a life outside of gang involvement and reconciliation with the family that put them in the street; and we know of Haitians who qualify to come to the US, but who need a sponsor to fill out a form online so they can come for 2 years through a program started for Ukraine and expanded to Haiti.