Haiti pulls back from the brink

By February 21, 2019
Haitian Flag

Haitian Flag
(Photo cred: MNN/Katey Hearth)

Haiti (MNN) – After more than 10 days of anti-government protests, Haiti seems to have taken a step back from the brink of chaos.

There’s an uneasy calm this week, says Bethany Christian Services’ Kristi Gleason. “Things have calmed down enough to allow people to get out of their houses to restock, to get water, to take a little breather, but from what  we’re hearing on the ground and what we’re seeing is that it is a very uneasy break and people on the ground are very much expecting things to tick back up.”

The protests began on February 7, coinciding with the second anniversary of President Jovenal Moïse’s mandate. People spilled into the streets, frustrated that living conditions worsened, inflation soared, and there were shortages of food and fuel.

Demonstrations have brought all private and government business to a halt in the capital of Port-au-Prince and in the provinces. At some point, the demonstrations turned violent, and seven people lost their lives.

A reprieve, but uncertainty remains

On February 11, according to America: The Jesuit Review, the bishops’ conference of Haiti penned a pastoral letter that started with: “Save us, Lord; we are perishing!” (Mk 8, 25), adding that “The country is on the brink of collapse”.

Then, after a quiet weekend, the story fairly disappeared (except for the news cycle covering the arrests of five Americans). Yet, Gleason says that doesn’t mean it’s over. As people try to replenish their food and water supplies, the tension is fairly palpable. “It has become a situation not just of ‘how do you avoid these protests?’ It’s also a huge risk of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Organic protests are springing up everywhere, and it really has not been safe to be on the streets.”

When it’s not safe to be on the streets, how does Bethany continue operations?  “We have to draw a bit of a line to say, ‘if it’s safe for us to be in the car, for us to go out and visit families, then yes, continue to do so’”, Gleason says, adding that they balance that with keeping their staff safe. “We have staff that has not been able to yet get into the office because it hasn’t been safe to get into the office, let alone, get into the field and support the families that we normally support.”

(Map courtesy Wikimedia/CC)

Bethany’s mission in Haiti

For 12 years, Bethany Global’s focus in Haiti has helped keep children in families through foster care and family preservation services, and with the help of local churches and the Haitian government. What does that look like?

According to their website:

Foster Care: Since 2015, we have been partnering with the Haitian government to provide foster care to children who are highly vulnerable to unpaid child labor (restavek) or relinquished to the country’s many orphanages. To ensure these children are placed in strong and supportive home environments, we work with local churches to recruit and train foster families. This program is growing and proving to be a groundbreaking approach to care for the country’s 30,000+ children living in orphanages. 

Family Preservation: In communities surrounding Port-Au-Prince and Titanyen, Bethany Haiti helps vulnerable families by providing for their basic needs, including safe housing, food, water, medicine, and support for the children to attend school. Once a family has basic needs met, Bethany works to empower families to achieve self-sufficiency. We do this by providing skills training and access to resources. This empowers families to achieve long-term wellbeing and prevents them from relinquishing their children to orphanages.

Given that the populations they assist are among the most vulnerable in Haiti, a disruption in services is devastating, explains Gleason. “This is affecting the lives of families because they’re not getting the supplies that they need, but also the support that they need to keep their families together”, noting that everyone benefits from things calming down and going back to normal.

As of Wednesday afternoon, schools remained closed, even though some businesses and government offices re-opened and people were slowly ending their ‘shelter in place’.  When it’s safe enough to re-open schools, she observes, it’s a good sign.  “We are waiting to see when the schools are going to reopen, because right now, there is no sense of normalcy, which isn’t really good for kids or adults.”

(Photo courtesy of Bethany Christian Services)

What can we do?

In the meantime, there are two things she’s encouraging people to do.  First, stay on top of the situation. “Don’t let Haiti fall off the radar, so don’t get swept up into the next news cycle, but realize that there are people suffering in Haiti and that they need help.”

Second, keeping in mind Bethany demonstrates the love and compassion of Jesus Christ by protecting children, empowering youth, and strengthening families, “We need the prayer warriors to step up and really keep Haiti in their prayers. I think that, right now, is the biggest effort that can be done, from the US side.”



Headline photo courtesy Bethany Christian Services.

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