Haiti caught in grip of chaos

People walk along the street next to destroyed buildings following an earthquake in Jérémie, Haiti, Aug. 14, 2021. (CNS photo/courtesy Twitter @JCOMHaiti/ via Reuters)

By Michael Swan, The Catholic Register

When the 2010 earthquake hit Haiti, Jesuit Fr. Jean Frankcy went with his brother novices out onto the streets of Dumay, on the outskirts of Port au Prince. That night, the young religious men began digging through rubble with their bare hands. More than a decade later, Frankcy finds himself in Toronto, newly ordained, praying fervently for his nation, his family and his brother Jesuits back home.

“I woke up and I saw the images. I was really sad,” Frankcy told The Catholic Register days after a magnitude 7.2 earthquake devastated the Tiburon Peninsula in Haiti’s southwest on Aug. 14, 2021. “I called some friends. I really pray for Haiti. Haiti is my home.”

Haiti faces chaos on all sides.

In July the Caribbean nation’s controversial president Moise Juvenal was murdered in his home, sparking another political crisis. Before the earthquake hit, critical roads were controlled by criminal gangs demanding cash for passage. The country’s agriculture has been pushed to the edge by drought and climate change.

Now, as more than 500 aftershocks rumbled through the countryside, tropical depression Grace showed up to dump over 25 cm of rain on a population sleeping outside for fear that their houses would collapse on them. Nor has the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere been spared COVID-19. The nation of more than 11 million has vaccinated fewer than 20,000 people — less than one per cent of the population.

The earthquake killed over 2,200 people, damaged at least 136,000 buildings and left thousands of injured desperate for medical help. Water, tents and medical supplies are in short supply. Roads are fissured and flooded.

Frankcy remembers the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake as a time of paradoxical hope, when Haitians worked together and spoke of refounding the nation — building back better. But the billions that poured into a broken nation following the 2010 disaster were spent by foreign aid agencies on whatever priorities they set. The moment of hope passed and the politics of Haiti again descended into division, corruption and dependence on aid.

“The division in Haiti, I can’t really understand,” said Frankcy. “The only time we were united as people, as a nation, was to get independence against the colonizers.” (Haiti claimed independence from Napoleon in 1804).

Frankcy’s first assignment from his provincial superior in the Jesuit province of Canada and Haiti is to raise funds on behalf of about 70 young Jesuits who make up the Haitian Jesuit community. Right now, the money Frankcy collects will go to buying water and other essential supplies for desperate Haitians.

Where governments and aid agencies often fail in Haiti, the Church feeds, educates and cares for the poor. Near the epicentre of the quake the Jesuits run three “Faith and Hope” schools and are about to assume leadership of one of the parishes. Many Jesuits come from the region and know the needs of the local people. Canadian Jesuits International has begun raising money to support their work.

Like Canadian Jesuits International, Development and Peace/Caritas Canada has a long history in Haiti and has begun lining up aid for its partners in the country.

“Caritas Haiti is mobilizing,” said Latin America program officer Mary Durran.

While Caritas Haiti concentrates on the immediate, disaster relief side of the operation, Development and Peace is working on medium- and longer-term solutions for the people who have been left homeless. Since the last earthquake hit, and again after Hurricane Matthew swept away entire communities in catastrophic mudslides in 2016, long-term Development and Peace Partner ITECA (Institut de Technologie et D’Animation) has built hundreds of homes across the country.

A quick check of ITECA houses in the new earthquake zone found 13 of 14 undamaged.

Each house costs about $9,000 and are built to survive the frequent hurricanes and earthquakes of the region. But most of all, the ITECA houses represent an effort of the Haitian people for themselves and not a handout from a foreign NGO, said Durran.

“Our strategy is to reinforce the people’s own dignity and independence, rather than reinforcing dependency,” Durran said. “The response is co-ordinated with Haitians. It’s directed by Haitians. It takes a while to consult people, to find out exactly what the situation is and what their precise needs are. We involve people.”

Development and Peace maintains no office in Haiti, despite a half-century of work in the country. They trust and support their partners.

Durran understands that many people throw up their hands when they hear about another disaster in Haiti, but she’s convinced the slow, small-scale, community building work of Development and Peace’s partners is making a difference.

“There’s always hope that things can get better,” she said.

Canadian Catholic adopt-a-child agency Chalice has also ramped up a fund to help the communities of Latiboliére and Prévilé, where Chalice supports more than 480 children.

Chalice’s Haitian partner, Missionaries de l’Annonciation – Semeurs d’Espoir, is co-ordinating disaster relief.

The pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need has already sent an emergency aid package of $750,000 on to the dioceses of Les Cayes, Anse-á-Veau and Jeremie and is calling on donors to step up on behalf of the Haitian Church.

“At this difficult time, we cannot abandon this Church, which is fighting to support its people,” said Aid to the Church in Need executive president Dr. Thomas Heine-Geldern in a release.

“The Church in Haiti, in this specific moment, will need the support of the universal Church to really respond,” explained Frankcy. “We can’t really do that just on our own. As Pope Francis has said, we have to work as one body in good times and in difficult times so that we can respond to the needs of the people. We are one Church.”

Frankcy still believes in that hope that followed the 2010 earthquake. “Haiti is a place we build together. It’s not about our individuality in that sense. It’s about using our energies and our strength together, so that we can hope together,” he said.

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