Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières) works in difficult and insecure environments around the world, including Port-au-Prince. Over half the city is controlled by gangs and fighting amongst them has caused MSF to temporarily close its maternity hospital. Many health care facilities throughout Haiti have been negatively impacted by insecurity - to the detriment of their patients who need their services more than ever. The full Al Jazeera article follows.
Port Au Prince
According to the United Nations, over 470 people have been killed, injured or are missing in recent violence as gangs war with each other and the government. Government officials have been told to stay home and the violence is getting closer to key governmental institutions including the National Palace. This is not the first time that elites have used gangs as mercenaries and/or pawns for achieving their political or economic ambitions. What is new is the sheer scale of the violence, made worse by illicit shipments of weapons. The Haitian police are simply out numbered and out-gunned. Unless the Haitian government and its partners can develop sufficient numbers of well-trained, well-armed, sufficiently paid and reasonable accountable police officers with the right leadership, the situation will only get worse. The full NYT article by Maria Abi-Habib and Andre Paultre follows.
In the excellent New York Times article below, Catherine Porter states that death is a plentiful resource in Haiti given that the life expectancy of Haitian is 63.4 years - twelve years below the Latin American and Caribbean average. Dying in Haiti is expensive - families often take out loans at exorbitant rates to provide funerals for loved ones while other families are forced to abandon their remains. These bodies would be dumped like garbage, as was the case in the past, but for the efforts of St. Luke Foundation volunteers who transport them for simple, cost-free burials. Haiti is full of heroes, and the volunteers who provide dignity in death to those who lacked it in life, are amongst them.
Doctors Without Borders, also known by its French acronym MSF, has released a report on sexual violence in Haiti. Gender-Based Violence (GBV) is a human rights and a public health issue as it can cause mental trauma, unwanted pregnancies, and transmission of HIV and sexually transmitted infections. Stigma remains intense in Haiti due to lack of access to justice and survivor-centered health care. In 2015, MSF opened a clinic in Port-au-Prince that specializes in providing health and psychological support to GBV survivors. Take a look at the report (available in English and French with summary below), and if you would like to support MSF, you can do so here.
As the UN Peackeeping Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) winds down, it leaves a mixed legacy - less insecurit and better police along with an ongoing cholera epidemic and a number of Haitian women who became pregnant by U.N peacekeepers. Reuters journalist Makini Brice notes in her article below that while the United Nations has a "zero tolerance" policy on sexual exploitation and abuse, peacekeepers move on while their children grow up without any support. Haitian lawyers intend to file law suits although the timing is unclear. The United Nations has a long track record of promising but under-delivering on accountability in peace-keeping operations - how these women are treated will be an indicator of whether anything has changed.
Below is an article by the Evening Standard's Claire Dodd about her experience visiting Haiti - not as an aid worker, missionary, or Haitian visiting family - but as a tourist. Getting around Haiti may not be easy, but for those with a sense of adventure, it is well worth it. Haiit's history of resistance, rich culture, and artistic traditions make it a unique and rewarding country to visit. People often ask how to help Haiti - but as Jean Cyril Pressoir puts it, “...if you want to help...come as a tourist. Help us break from away from this pre-conceived idea, this prejudice that has us defined as a place where you come to help. Don’t come to help us. Come to enjoy yourself.”
Musicians from around the world performed at the eleventh annual International Jazz Festival in Port au Prince. This is a festival that has faced a great deal of adversity but gets better every year. Art, music, and history are key to both increasing tourism and showcasing all that is good about Haitian culture. Think about participating next year. Mark Sullivan (All About Jazz) provides a read-out of the festival below.
Haiti can be a rewarding but challenging tourism destination. Having an organization to help with logistics and orientation during the first visit can be helpful. The Kiskeya Guest House in Leogane, in addition to offering a nice place to stay outside of Port au Prince, now offers tours that celebrate Haiti's cultural traditions with an emphasis on Port au Prince, Jacmel and Cap Haitien. Haitian anthropologist Jean-Yves Blot an Professor Erold Saint-Louis will lead the various trips and Haitian Creole immersion programs. The agenda for their "Cultural and Mystical Haiti" tour follows. Note: The Kiskeya Guest House is associated with Kiskeya Aqua Ferme, a community initiative devoted to raising tilapia and growing cassava, hot peppers, and sweet potatos.
For me, Haiti will always conjure up sounds of rara music. Rara is Haitian street music, often celebrated during Catholic and Vodoun holidays, with a rhythm that is almost hypnotic. Rara can be both celebration and resistance. NPR recently reviewed RAM - a Haitian band that has long combined elements of rock and rara. Listen to the review here or read the transcript below. Better yet, go see them perform at the Hotel Oloffson in Port au Prince.
Solutions to displacement take time, coordination and resources. According to a recent update by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the total number of households living in camps has decreased by 92 percent compared to four and a half years ago. The government-led rental subsidy program, supported by IOM and donors, has been instrumental in helping households transition. For more information, view the full report.