Struck down but not destroyed in Haiti
Long plagued by crisis — natural disasters, political turmoil, deep poverty, and waves of cholera — Haiti spiraled into chaos after the 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. Extreme violence and gross human rights abuses, including mass murder, gang rape, and sniper attacks, have sharply increased in places like Cité Soleil, on the outskirts of the Haitian capital, said a U.N. report published last Friday. “The findings of this report are horrifying,” said Volker Türk, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, during a visit to Haiti last week. “It paints a picture of how people are being harassed and terrorized by criminal gangs for months without the State being able to stop it. It can only be described as a living nightmare.”
Fear has rippled across Port-au-Prince. Parents hesitate to send their children to school, worried they could be kidnapped or raped by gangs. By night, the buzzing streets of the city are empty. For women especially, going outside the house is a risk. So is fleeing: Gangs use the threat of rape to stop communities from abandoning the areas they control.
Our Global Ministries’ Partners in the country have suffered the consequences of the widespread violence in the country. One of them is the Ecumenical Foundation for Peace and Justice (FOPJ), a Christian non-profit in Port-au-Prince. FOPJ has many programs, including a primary school, technical school, health services, and programs for young mothers and elderly individuals without families. FOPJ also runs the House of Hope (HOH), an educational program for children/youth living as indentured servants or “restaveks.” As most restavek children have minimal to no schooling, FOPJ provides primary education to children living as restaveks.
Polycarpe Joseph, FOPJ/HOH’s Executive Director, reported to the Office of Global Relations, Latin -America and the Caribbean that, through the end of 2022, Haiti’s general situation has been unbearable, especially in the area where they serve (Carrefour, Port-au-Prince). Since the founding of the school, they have never suffered so much. Indeed, after closing for the 2021/2022 school year and investing a lot of their energies in preparing for the 2022/2023 academic year, political instability and the war between rival gangs in the area have turned everything upside down. The band’s violence and cruelty have been so intense that thousands of families fled the area. Most families benefiting from FOPJ/HOH programs lived in places where the gangs’ cruelty has been even more intense. Some members of these families have been injured, beaten, and had their houses burnt down. Even some FOPJ/House of Hope employees haven’t been spared. So from mid-October to mid-November, they had to accommodate and feed around 30 families in the FOPJ/House of Hope space. It was not until the 3rd week of November that, like all schools in the country, they could resume our activities. After a week of psycho-social support and an enrollment of 178 students and 32 young people at the vocational center, the collaborators took inspiration from the accelerated program to fill in the gaps and make up for the lost time.
The leadership of the National Spiritual Council of Churches in Haiti (CONASPEH) shared the same concerns in Haiti. Last December, I talked with the Rev. Dr. Francoise Villier, CONASPEH’s General Bishop and President. At that time, she said, “we have lost pastors at churches, families, killed by gang violence. People are suffering. However, this is the moment to serve and to be for the people in a horizontal way, ready to live a new Gospel’s praxis.”
Currently, CONASPEH is working to raise awareness within churches and “church schools” (every congregation affiliated with CONASPEH manages to have a school). Amid the pandemic, CONASPEH organized an Association of Schools to provide materials and resources such as pencils, books, notebooks, and educational inventory. However, they share a message of peace with justice throughout the country (CONASPEH has 10,000 affiliated congregations in all Haitian departments). CONASPEH aspires to resist any temptation to succumb to the “war hawks” in Haiti and overseas as they promote military intervention. The other matter they are working on with their students and church leaders is encouraging scrutiny to seek leaders and proposals that can serve the Nation, not particular interests. Dr. Villier told me on that call that “many people want to lead, but very few have what is needed at this moment.”
CONASPEH has been participating in round tables organized by the protestant and evangelical sectors in the country. Dr. Villier has raised her concerns regarding how the actual Haiti administration promotes military intervention as a solution to violence there. She also seeks alternatives that respond to the best interests of the Haitian people rather than foreign, corporate, and private interests. Global Ministries have accompanied efforts to advocate for the well-being of Haitians, in close contact with our Partners there.
In times when organizations like the U.N. call on the international community to urgently consider the deployment of foreign troops, people could think that Haiti has been struck down. I’ve heard another testimony from our Partners. Of course, Haiti is living through a painful time and has been like that for years. But they echo the words of the Apostle Paul:
8 We are afflicted in every way but not crushed, perplexed but not driven to despair, 9 persecuted but not forsaken, struck down but not destroyed, 10 always carrying around in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. 11 For we who are living are always being handed over to death for Jesus’s sake, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our mortal flesh.” 2nd of Corinthians 4:8-11 (NRSVU)
Our Partners and the Haitian people continue educating, organizing, resisting, looking for alternatives, demonstrating in the streets, and speaking the truth to the powers that be. We, as Global Ministries, will continue by their side.
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