This year has already proven to be one of conflict, upheaval and increasing extreme poverty around the world. The island nation of Haiti is no exception and sadly continues to witness growing armed conflict as the central Government seems unable to quell fighting amongst gangs.
Each day we see the loss of life as a result of this violence, all too often innocent bystanders just going to work, school or market. These are indeed scary times for all Haitians, and nobody is immune to the violence, not even our staff and partners!
Staff & Partner Stories of Violence:
- Three members of the HRI team have been unable to leave their homes for the past two weeks, afraid to venture out into the indiscriminate violence engulfing their neighborhoods. Many of their neighbors are packing what they are able and leaving their homes as too many have seen friends and neighbors killed by gang conflict, slaughtered in the streets while trying to secure food for their children. The situation for our Program Manager and his family is so dire that in they have decided to abandon their home of just 3 years in lieu of staying and running the grave risk of being injured or killed. What makes their story so much more tragic is that just a few years ago his parents, living in a slum in Port Au Prince, were burned out of their home during a conflict between two gangs. They escaped with the clothing on their backs, while watching other friends and neighbors perish in the fires. Our staff member took in his parents, even though he and his wife were living in a tiny apartment, and finally were able to buy a small piece of land and build a small house for themselves, their new baby and his parents. And now, just 3 years later, he and his family face the trauma of abandoning their home again, searching desperately for some place to live that they can afford. This young man is so committed to his work that even in the face of this adversity he continues working from home using nothing more than a cell phone and a laptop, checking on all of our orphanages and making arrangements to ensure they get urgently needed food and other basic items during this chaotic time.
- An orphanage director, a partner of HRI, was kidnapped and robbed of his money, car, and telephone this month. He was headed back to the orphanage after a quick work-related outing, and was suddenly kidnapped. It seems they had been following him, targeting him as the director of an orphanage - a common occurrence now in Port-au-Prince. They threatened his life at first. But later he was thankfully released on the condition that he raise funds to “buy back” his belongings. The kidnappers kept his phone so they could call to negotiate with him about how much it will cost him to get his car back - likely a price he will never be able to pay. The director is very traumatized by the ordeal. HRI is supporting him in the form of psychosocial support, providing ongoing counseling. But as they still have his phone and call him to antagonize him, the trauma is now compounded and continues.
- The HRI supported orphanages have been able to pick-up their monthly food supplies, but it was very dangerous and great precautions were taken. Our security team is worked closely with them to plan the distributions as safely as possible. The food is being disguised, covered or hidden in vehicles to avoid the possibility of becoming a target and robbed, and possibly physically harmed. However one of our HRI supported orphanages called in a panic; they were nearly out of food and the orphanage surrounded by gangs. They'd been rationing the little food they had this last week in hopes the violence would subside so they could venture out of the orphanage to pick up their monthly supplies from HRI. But it's been too dangerous! Now that the children have nothing to eat - not even a morsel - they called us pleading for help. And of course, we made a plan, albeit very risky for all involved.
Even with these extraordinary challenges, we persevere as hunger and poverty grow and children suffer. Considering the increased dangers, HRI is in the process of adapting our procedures to this frightening reality and hoping it will be short lived. We pray for the safety of our staff, for the children and families we serve, and particularly for those children living in orphanages in neighborhoods ravaged by violence.
There is Good News Amid the Chaos:
- While ensuring nutritional support for the orphanages is a daunting task in the current environment, food for the month is on its way to the orphanages. No child will go hungry on our watch!
- Thanks to many of our donors, two children will soon get lifesaving surgeries.
- Five boys 17 years old and up living in an HRI partner orphanage, will soon be enrolled in accredited institutions where they will receive vocational and technical training. Thanks to wonderful donors this dream is becoming a reality for these young men! Each will learn marketable skills that they have chosen that will enable them to become self-sufficient.
- HRI continues conversations with five new, key partners that will be critical to our work with extremely vulnerable pregnant mothers and young children.
Many organizations are leaving Haiti as the “danger meter” is simply too high. However, with a 100% Haitian staff all deeply committed to the work we do, HRI will continue to grow and expand to meet the ever-growing needs of the most vulnerable in this fragile and perilous country.
The daily challenges we face make for very hard days but at the same time our teams persevere, and for that we are deeply grateful. When HRI was launched nearly 11 years ago, we purposely chose some of the most difficult places to work. Why? Because those are the people who need us the most. And thanks to donors like you, we are making a difference in the lives of hundreds of people every single week!