Haiti: The Enormity of the Struggle and the Sliver of Hope

Read my pre-trip post, Haiti On My Mind.

It is hard to visit Haiti and not feel a deep sense of shame, anger, and pain, and I’ve choked up a few times since returning home. Spending any time in Haiti’s Central Plateau, as I just have, is a gut-punch reminder of the privilege of being born with white skin; the privilege of being born in the Global North; and the privilege afforded by an uncompromising power structure that benefits the few at the great expense of the many.

The structural disadvantages facing Haiti, particularly when experienced first-hand, can feel paralyzing. As Paul Farmer of Partners In Health wondered on the eve of the election of Jean Bertrand Aristide, it’s hard to imagine “what even a government of saints and scholars could do in the face of such odds.” And yet, across the country, communities continue to find creative ways to survive and grassroots movements like UUSC’s partner, Mouvman Peyizan Papay (MPP) continue to support them and help give them hope.

Both the enormity of the struggle and the sliver of hope are on display in the EcoVillages and the EcoVillage School. On my trip, I found that Village 1, the first village supported by UUSC after the earthquake, is thriving. It has a functioning solar-powered well for drinking water, two cisterns to catch rain and irrigate the village’s gardens, and a pleasant stream nearby. The gardens produce moringa, manioc (cassava), peanuts, mangoes, and papaya. Goats, which the village owns, live in an enclosure on a hill. On the day we visited, bags of recently harvested peanuts and corn leaned against the community center’s walls, waiting to be taken to market. There are two community motorcycles for transport, an ox to help plow the larger fields, and a few houses even have electricity.

Kids play under a tree in Village 1. School was closed in observance of a national holiday.

Village 5, on the other hand, continues to struggle. As with Village 2, the well has not been able to produce any water for over a year and hopes that the rainy season might sufficiently raise the water table were recently dashed. The drought may be over, but water is still absent here. Villagers who want drinking water must walk 30 minutes to Village 6, where a UUSC grant recently repaired another broken well, and then carry it back home. Every village but Village 1 also lacks electricity, the absence of which prevents anyone from doing much of anything after the vast darkness blankets the area each night.

A girl carries water back from Village 6 to Village 5.

In spite of this, there are rays of light. A recent microloan project sponsored jointly by UUSC and our partners to support income-generating projects in the villages has begun to pay small dividends. With a loan from MPP, Village 5 planted a large field of manioc and peanuts, both of which can grow in harsh conditions. Despite failing to plant the manioc properly, the village succeeded in planting a large field of peanuts, which were nearly ready to harvest at the time of our visit.

The proceeds from the sale of these crops will not, in and of themselves, bring water or electricity to Village 5, but a portion will support the EcoVillage School. Hopefully, the village can use the remaining funds to strengthen their food sovereignty and incrementally improve their lives. In other words, some hope.

Students repeatedly told us of their passion for math. A few hoped to be engineers someday.

More hopeful still is the progress made by the EcoVillage School. Two years ago, the project was at a standstill: years behind schedule, students crowding into shared classrooms, nowhere for the students to eat lunch, and gardens suffering from the epic drought. When we visited last week, the student body had grown to 172 children. Four more classrooms had been built, allowing every grade from kindergarten through sixth to have individual space to learn. The school even has a separate kitchen, cafeteria, and food storage area now. Students repeatedly told us of their passion for math. A few hoped to be engineers someday.

Recently harvested peanuts dry in Village 4’s community center.

The vast gardens behind the school, once plagued by a protracted lack of rain, are now robust, growing moringa, pigeon beans, peanuts, and manioc. The school’s well delivers clean drinking water and virtually every student comes to school proudly wearing a bright green uniform. When we visited, Andraal, a parent living in Village 1, worked in the shade painting a new sign that would stand in front of the school, announcing the Institution Mixte Communautaire des EcoVillages de Colladere.

Of course, this being Haiti, there are still mountains left to climb. To qualify as a “government school,” thereby shifting hefty operating costs from MPP to the government, three more classrooms still need to be constructed. At least two more bathrooms must be built to accommodate the expanding student population. The school lacks a perimeter fence, which means that any equipment of value is at risk of theft. There is no system for irrigating the fields that support the school’s limited food program, and each of the food relief organizations to whom MPP has reached out for help has reported that they are too focused on hurricane relief in other parts of the country to worry about school lunches in the Central Plateau.

However, while the future of the school is still somewhat uncertain, it is surely a beacon. The community and its partners are committed to its future, and to the parents, children, and others in the Central Plateau, it represents hope. As the Haitian proverb goes, Lespwa se viv— “Hope makes one live.”

Thank you for virtually going on this journey with UUSC.

Kindergarteners welcome UUSC and the Atlanta Church Group to the EcoVillage School. 

Haiti On My Mind

I’ve started the packing list for my trip to Haiti next week to visit with our long-time partner, Mouvman Peyizan Papay (Peasant Movement of Papaye) (MPP), Haiti’s largest peasant movement. We’ll be returning to the EcoVillages and EcoVillage school, first-of-their-kind projects to which UUSC, MPP, and many others have devoted significant time, energy, and resources over the last seven years.

A bit of background. After a 7.0 magnitude earthquake leveled much of Port-au-Prince in 2010, MPP used its headquarters in Haiti’s rural Central Plateau to shelter nearly 1,000 people who had been displaced from the capital. Despite their limited knowledge of agriculture, many people did not want to return to the city. So, with a significant amount of available land, an expertise in agro-ecology, and a long-term focus on peoples’ rights to healthy, culturally appropriate food, MPP asked UUSC to help create sustainable rural livelihoods for those who wanted to stay.

And so, the EcoVillage project was born!

EcoVillage #4 in June 2016.

What started as one village eventually grew to six, each with ten households practicing sustainable agriculture. As construction drew to a close, UUSC and a group of Presbyterian churches (the “Atlanta Church Group”), raised money to build a school to serve the many children now living throughout the EcoVillages.

When I traveled to Haiti in June 2016 the then two-year-old school served children from kindergarten through the fourth grade. Because of construction delays and limited space, two grades were sharing a classroom and another was using a storage room for classes. Since that trip, MPP has finished construction on two classrooms, and the school can now accommodate children through the fifth grade without sharing space.

The EcoVillage school in June 2016.

MPP has assured me that I will have ample time to visit with the students and their teachers on this trip. Frankly, I’m just excited to see how this school has continued to evolve—how the kids are learning both basic subjects and sustainable farming techniques. I’m also eager to see the uniforms that the Atlanta Church Group donated and the newly completed cafeteria that makes sure children don’t have to eat their lunch on the ground.

I’ll also be meeting with MPP staff, school administrators, and village leaders to discuss the projects’ sustainability and what more UUSC can do to ensure that the EcoVillages and the school are able to thrive.

It’s important to point out that, in the seven years since we first partnered with MPP, the EcoVillages and the school have faced serious challenges—drought, theft, inflation, growing operating expenses, broken water pumps, an absent national government. There’s no question that much of this work has been difficult and has required faith, patience, and innovation by our partners, their communities, and UUSC. But unlike so many international aid organizations that arrived after the 2010 earthquake, UUSC is committed to the long-term viability of these projects. The EcoVillages and school are models for future development, not reminders of how the Global North has failed Haiti.

Stay tuned!

UUSC Responds to Six-Month TPS Extension for Haitians: Not Enough

Yesterday, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) revealed its decision to extend Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haitian nationals in the United States for a mere six months, instead of the 18-month window normally granted. This announcement is in line with previous threats of Trump administration officials who have recommended terminating the program at the end of the six-month extension—potentially resulting in the deportation of the nearly 58,000 Haitian immigrants currently living with TPS in the United States. UUSC joins with Haitian and Black immigrant leaders and immigration advocacy groups, including our new partner the UndocuBlack Network, to demand an extension of TPS beyond January 2018.

The consequences of ending TPS status for Haitians will be swift and devastating—Haiti is still in the midst of a humanitarian emergency as it works to recover from a catastrophic 2010 earthquake, a cholera epidemic imported by U.N. peacekeeping forces, and a deadly hurricane last fall. Mass deportations of Haitians would cut off a critical lifeline for the Haitian economy, which currently receives about $1.3 billion a year in remittances from Haitians in the United States. The U.S. economy will also lose an estimated $2.8 billion in GDP over the next decade if this community is deported.

“Numbers cannot do justice, however, to the suffering that would be inflicted on thousands of families by a policy of expanded deportation and separation if TPS expires in six months,” says Hannah Hafter, UUSC Senior Program Leader for Activism. “Many Haitians with TPS have U.S. citizen children who were born in this country and know no other home. They are taxpayers, caregivers, parents, and employees whose loss would be felt by all.”

Our partners at the UndocuBlack Network have joined national efforts to renew TPS status for Haitians and, in alliance with the National Immigration Law Center, have helped to spearhead a recent push to uncover the truth about how the Trump administration made its TPS decision. Their recent refusal to renew TPS for three African countries impacted by the 2014 Ebola epidemic; reports that DHS has been requesting information on criminal offenses committed by Haitian TPS holders; and its renewed deportations to war-ravaged Somali, all point to a clear intention to stigmatize and expel immigrant communities of color.

The U.S. obligation to extend TPS for Haitians is more than a matter of humanitarian conscience. Meaningful extension of the TPS program offers a chance for the United States to do the right thing in a part of the world where, for too long, it has been complicit in generating the social problems that created a need for TPS in the first place. UUSC’s Haitian partners at the Papaye Peasant Movement (MPP), for instance, are working with communities directly impacted by U.S. trade policies and aid dumping, which in many places have devastated the local food economy, fueling the poverty and urban overcrowding that made the 2010 Haitian earthquake so deadly. MPP works to establish sustainable agriculture and recover food sovereignty so that Haitians can build a better future.

UUSC will continue to work with our partners to advance the human rights of Haitians at home and abroad, to call for a further extension of TPS, and to press for permanent legislative solutions that will allow all immigrant communities to live in safety and dignity.

Hurricane Matthew work on the ground

Background

In response to the devastation wrought by Hurricane Matthew in early October, UUSC is partnering with GARR (Groupe d’Appui au Rapatriés et Refugiés/Support Group for Refugees and Returnees) to provide humanitarian assistance, which includes cholera awareness and prevention, livelihood support, and human rights training to repatriated and stateless refugees living in camps at the Haiti-Dominican Republic border in Anse-a-Pitres, Haiti. GARR has long been a strong advocate at the national level, and we can expect the organization to be a leading voice on behalf of those most vulnerable if appropriate channels open in the future. 

The Situation at Anse-a-Pitres

The International Organization for Migration has previously attempted to relocate the camp-dwelling populations, but the sites have consistently been repopulated. When Hurricane Matthew struck, there were at least 750 individuals (including hundreds of children) living in tents and other temporary structures at Anse-a-Pitres. All of these individuals saw their shelters destroyed or severely damaged. Living conditions in the camps at Anse-a-Pitres, poor before Hurricane Matthew, have worsened since the hurricane – shelter, food, medical assistance, and drinking water are even more scarce than before. There is also an acute risk of cholera developing and spreading. Moreover, the scale of devastation following the hurricane, which has affected more than 1.4 million people, could lead to an increase in Haitian people attempting to cross the border into the Dominican Republic, which could in turn lead to further deportations and a swelling of border camps. 

About our Partner

GARR was formed in 1991 to provide more coordinated support and advocacy services for refugees deported back to Haiti. It is a highly respected, Haitian-led organization with deep experience responding to humanitarian disasters, including the 2010 earthquake and subsequent cholera outbreak. GARR also works alongside another UUSC partner, Zanmi Timoun, to support recently deported minors at the Haiti-Dominican Republic border in Belladere, Haiti. GARR currently runs the only shelter to which unaccompanied minors are given food, shelter, psychosocial support, and medical attention.

What you can do: The Haitian Immigration Crisis

We must act now to avert a U.S.-made disaster affecting thousands of Haitians

Background

On September 22, apparently in response to anti-immigrant political pressure, DHS revoked a policy that allowed survivors of the 2010 Haitian earthquake to enter and stay in the United States. Yesterday, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson affirmed that decision, stating, “the policy has not changed in light of Hurricane Matthew.” Although deportation flights have been temporarily halted, DHS officials are still arranging to deport Haitians from the United States. Haiti has said it does not have the capacity to receive them, even before the hurricane. Additionally, DHS policy puts families entering the United States at risk of being separated.

On Oct 12, 2016, the Department of Homeland Security announced that they will be temporarily suspending deportations to Haiti as a result of the damage Hurricane Matthew has done to the country. However, they stand behind the decision to increase deportations to Haiti and intend to keep thousands of non-criminal Haitian citizens in detention indefinitely until they renew deportations to Haiti.

With the loss in lives and property still being measured, this is no time to start deporting and detaining Haitians seeking to recover. Join UUSC in telling DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson:

  • Restore U.S. humanitarian policy that allows Haitians seeking refuge to enter the country.
  • Allow all Haitians already in the United States to stay and remain safe as the country recovers.
  • Keep families together in all cases.

How you can help

Support UUSC
UUSC is also working to strengthen our emergency response capacity—a capacity that can be a matter of life and death for the most marginalized and the most vulnerable. Help us respond to this humanitarian crisis and continue our life saving work around the world by rushing a generous gift to UUSC right now.

Take action
Let’s treat Haitians in the United States and on the border with the respect and dignity they deserve. Tell Secretary Johnson: We must restore U.S. policy that allows Haitians to enter the United States, allow those already in the country to stay, and keep families together. Sign and send a letter to DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson today.

Send a “Selfie of Solidarity”
Stand in solidarity with the people of Haiti by sharing a message of support in Haitian Creole. Make your own sign using the language below or click the message to print out a pre-made version, then take a selfie or group photo with your congregation while holding the message.

Send the photos to mobilization@uusc.org by Friday, November 4, 2016. We’ll compile all the images we receive and send all of them together to our partners on the ground. Please include your name and, if applicable, the name of your congregation or organization so we can share that information with our partners.

Join UUSC’s Refugee Rapid Response Network
Keep track of the latest news about refugee rights and how you can help protect them. Help the United States set an example that makes us proud by participating in actions and programs in your community, or by providing support for humanitarian assistance throughout the world. Sign up now.

Sign up to volunteer with UUCSJ
The UU College of Social Justice is in conversation with Haiti partners to determine whether volunteers from the United States can be of use in recovery efforts. As we engage in this discernment, we welcome potential volunteers to fill out this form, so we can begin to create a “skills bank” of those willing and able to assist. Add your name to volunteer here.

Congregational Resources

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