Haiti update

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.

Update from Haiti Oct 27, 2020

Lilavois School where we help support an afternoon teacher.Haiti oct 27Churches were first to open in Haiti, about 2 weeks before the schools.  Most church buildings are reminiscent of the Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs and many people wear masks to attend services. Schools then reopened in August. Political instability in the fall and then pandemic closings in the spring caused a delay in the administration of the national exams.  The required classes just sat for the the 2019-2020 national exams in mid-October and schools are on break until the new academic year begins November 9th.  Lack of widespread electricity and technology did not allow for online learning during the shutdowns.  Even learning by television was impossible.
The school in Lilavois opened in August as well.  Sr. Cadet, the principal, reports that the children were so excited to return to school and see friends and resume studies that the students lined up in perfect rows to sing the national anthem without any direction from the teachers.  It is wonderful to see the activity return to the campus! All schools were allowed to open in August and as parents became more confident of their children’s safety, the enrollment in Lilavois slowly returned to pre-pandemic levels.  The children wear masks when they are in class.  Most of the classrooms are well-ventilated and/or three-sided due to the heat and the lack of electricity for fans or air conditioning.
The classes that take the national exam have been focused on studying and reviewing material from the previous academic year since August, trying to catch up from months of closures due to political demonstrations shutting down the country in the fall, followed by pandemic closings from March until August.  As the schools were allowed to open, but the new year had not officially begun, the Lilavois students dd not need to wear their uniforms to attend class.  PeaceQuilts donated masks they made so that any student without a mask could be supplied with one. Those classes not taking the national exam finished the prior school year before beginning their new classes in September.
Officially, the new academic year will begin in November and the state was not paying teachers for August, so the students attending schools with no instructors began to demonstrate and even ransacked one of Lilavois’ sister schools in Lalue in September, damaging desks and chairs, in order to draw attention to the inequality in their education.  They did not feel they could be as prepared for the national exams as students attending private schools where the teachers were being paid and children had been learning since August.
Sr. Cadet initially combined the afternoon school students with the regular school classes for those who were able to attend since the class sizes were smaller when everyone was not back to school.  The afternoon school will begin again in November with the start of the new school year with the help of the teacher sponsorship given by the Chilmark Community Church.  Sr. Cadet sends her thanks on behalf of the school for your support.
Haiti Oct 27 3Haiti oct 27

Haiti School Community Update 6/2020

IMG-20200601-WA0092.jpgIn Haiti, Mother’s Day is the last Sunday of May, so this year, it was last weekend on May 31st. Usually there is a big production at the Filles de Marie Reine Immaculèe school that the Chilmark Community Church sponsors in Lilavois, Haiti.  All the parents come to watch the kids put on performances that they have been practicing for weeks.

This year has been a very different year for everyone in the world, but it has been an especially challenging year for kids in Haiti.  Due to political unrest and threats of violence, schools were closed the first semester (Fall 2019) and though most opened by  the end of January, schools were again closed in March due to corona virus. By now, kids everywhere know how frustrating it is not to get to go to school and see friends and learn new things. The children in Haiti do not have free education.  Their families pay for them to go to school if they can afford the tuition, but if it is closed, there is no school online.  There is not reliable electricity, much less internet, and there are few families that can afford a phone or computer for the children to use for school. In addition to being home-bound by threats of a virus, people continue to be confined in their movements due to violence, gang activity, and political unrest.
The solar project installation was completed in October so the school campus has electricity when most of the country does not. The principal of the school, Sr. Cadet, has been able to keep the businesses open that sell clean drinking water and charge people’s electronics, using the solar energy, even as the school remains closed for classes due to Covid-19 for the rest of the year.

Mother’s Day was not the only event last weekend.  One of the children sponsored by the Chilmark Community Church was in her mother’s wedding on May 30th, along with two other girls that live on campus and attend the school when it is in session. (pictures attached)  Naverlie is in the green dress. Her mother, Charlene, was recently employed by the new water selling business on campus and they live near the campus in Lilavois.  The wedding reception was held in the auditorium where the Mother’s Day performance is usually presented, so the space got to host a celebration, even if it wasn’t the usual gathering..
April and May are usually rainy months in Haiti, but this year saw only a few days of rain during these months.  This isn’t good for the gardens and the farmers of the country. Hurricane season began on June 1st.  Haiti is one of the countries in the Caribbean that is very vulnerable to hurricanes. Hurricane Matthew devastated Haiti in October 2016. Recovery from natural disasters is a rough road, and has always been particularly difficult in Haiti.  The poor country was shaken in a massive earthquake in January 2010. Systemic corruption and poverty compound the problems of recovery from natural disasters and weathering the climate challenges in the region.
Covid-19 has not passed over Haiti.  Due to a lack of virus testing supplies and capabilities, misinformation, and distrust, it is hard to know how widespread the virus is in Haiti. In the past 2 months, the official cases rose from around 50 to over 2,500 and at least 50 people have died. Hospitals are not always open, affordable, or trusted. Face masks are hard to come by, but the artisan groups that I know in Haiti have all made masks for their communities and are chipping in to help whenever they can.
We are so lucky to live on Martha’s Vineyard and have the ability to go outside and to shop with other people in the community respecting the new social distancing norms. There is little choice about whether to go out of the house in Haiti. In a country as poor as Haiti, you take a risk if you go out to work or shop that you will contract the virus and you take a risk that you could die from the virus if you get it; but if you stay home without money, food, or water, you will surely die.




Peace Quilts “Pop Up ” at coffee hour.

Sunday, Sept 16 saw coffee hour  cheered up with beautiful quilts and hand made products from Haiti. 20180916_10071420180916_100719During the “Mission Moment” in the service, Carolyn Stoeber had described her work with Peace Quilts which offers women jobs and future economic stability as part of this co-operative. The work was received enthusiastically. DSCF0171DSCF0172DSCF0173

Carolyn is also our contact for the Lilivois School project near Port au Prince to fund afternoon instruction for children and adults  who cannot afford to go to school during regular tuition class hours.