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Friday, 03 January 2020 04:06

Haiti in Turmoil

Written by Renate Schneider
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Renate Schneider – Chicago Chapter

Renate, a Maryknoll Affiliate, has been living and working in Haiti for 22 years.

Roadblock in Jeremie on the way to the airport.

I just recently decided to return to Chicago, because life had become almost unbearable for me in Jeremie, Haiti. All of the constraints of living under the conditions in Jeremie have crept up on me gradually. But towards the end, it was becoming more than I could bear. The worst was to be a prisoner in my own house, hesitant to venture out.

Since I live on a hill, I have to use transportation to get into town. Before I could do that, I had to make several calls to friends to see what the situation was. Taking my car was not advisable, so I always went by motor bike. The market was either closed because the gangs were overthrowing the stalls and pelting the innocent marchands with rocks and bottles, or there was just nothing to be had. One day I came back with two carrots. So I had carrots and peanut butter to eat.

Roadblock between Jeremie and Port au Prince.

I found myself angry with the bandits, because they destroyed the livelihood of their mothers and grandmothers, and they hurt themselves in a way too, because when they went home, there was nobody who would cook for them. Roads to leave Jeremie were constantly blocked, and I was afraid that the road to the small airport in Jeremie would also be blocked. I wanted to be home in Chicago for Christmas. 

I volunteer at a breast cancer clinic in Jeremie, and we were expecting a medical delegation from the US to do surgery. But the state hospital did not have gas, nor nitrous oxide, nor oxygen. So they had to cancel the trip. Meanwhile the patients have to wait some more for life-saving surgeries. Yesterday two small children died, because they needed a blood transfusion, and there was no blood. The local Red Cross closed down some time ago. 

Children have been out of school, but we started an alternative school/study hall, and that has been a godsend for the children and also for the staff—it gives some hope and sense of normalcy. I have never experienced fear in Jeremie, but one afternoon I took the motor taxi home, and we ran right into a demonstration. The rocks on the road presented us with an obstacle course, and young men on the street with covered faces had weapons in hand. We were going so fast that we escaped thanks to an element of surprise. 

It needed my daughter to point out to me that living like that was not normal. Friends in Jeremie invited me to leave with them, and I took advantage of their offer. We went to the small airport in Jeremie with an armed guard. Who would have ever thought this was necessary? Maybe it wasn’t. 

How did it get to this? The causes of the uprisings, which have lasted since summer, are huge frustrations, because life is ever more difficult to live. Devalued local currency, skyrocketing inflation, increased malnutrition and widespread hunger, huge unemployment and massive corruption by political leaders of all parties have contributed to the current crisis.

In actuality Haiti does not have a government now, because elections that were supposed to take place October 27 have not happened. There is no Prime Minister, there is nobody in the Chamber of Deputies and only a third of the Senate is functioning. Armed gangs have stepped into this void, and are now terrorizing the population. They are barricading roads, attacking schools and hospitals.

Businesses and banks are frequently closed; in other words, the country is in lock-down. The opposition remains firm in their demand for President Jovenel to resign, and Jovenel has refused to step down.

Nonetheless, as I am writing this, there are some timid movements to open up the country and start it to function again. Schools are set to resume January 9, and the police have arrested several gang leaders and confiscated a number of weapons (There are approximately 500,000 weapons in Haiti). 

Alternative School

Haitian Connection, my NGO, continues to stand in solidarity with the Haitian people.

I am not abandoning Haiti; in fact, I realize how much that country has become part of the fabric of my life and how much I love it. During these troubled times in Jeremie, the alternative school we started provides Konparets—a Haitian sweet roll, to 450 students a week in the rural area of Jean Bellune. They are baked in our own bakery as part of the Jeremie Breadfruit Flour and Nursery business enterprise.

While my hope is not well defined, it is there. We are determined in the spirit of hope to continue our work, because we must.

To learn more about Haitian Connection’s many programs and how you can help, go to: HaitianConnection.org


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