December 3, 2016
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Church Leaders Say Life In Haiti Still Rough

 

 
 Life still is not easy in Haiti nearly four months after a magnitude-7 earthquake devastated the country, but the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti is working on reconstruction plans and has begun again its long-standing education ministry.

That was the report April 29 from the Rev. Kesner Ajax, Diocese of Haiti partnership coordinator, during a day-long meeting at the Episcopal Church Center in New York City. Ajax, who holds a number of positions in the diocese, is also the executive director of the Bishop Tharp Institute of Business and Technology (BTI) in Les Cayes in southwest Haiti.

"It is not easy right now," Ajax said at a briefing for church center employees.

The diocese is dealing with the same problems of poverty that it tried to alleviate before the earthquake, he said. The earthquake damaged or destroyed most of the diocese's churches and other institutions, and shifted the country's population, with many Port-au-Prince residents now living in the countryside. Thus, the diocese, along with the nation, must make decisions about where and how to rebuild, he said, adding "life is supposed to continue."

To that end, a crisis committee convened shortly after the earthquake by Bishop Jean Zaché Duracin will release its master plan for rebuilding "very soon," Ajax said. The plan is expected to guide the diocese's efforts and give other Episcopalians opportunities to partner with Haitians in those efforts.

Meanwhile, he said, some of the 250 schools run by the diocese before the earthquake have re-opened in recent days and weeks. Many are in the countryside, but in Port-au-Prince they also include an elementary school and the College St. Pierre high school, the site of an earthquake survivors' settlement run by the diocese. The diocese's seminary has relocated outside of the capital.

Ajax told the briefing meeting that the Haitian government helped the diocese clean and prepare the elementary and secondary schools for the students' return, but "they did not care about universities and tech schools." While Episcopal University in Port-au-Prince remains closed, its nursing school campus in Léogâne and BTI in Les Cayes are operating again, Ajax said.

The schools reopened despite the fact that some of them have no desks, chairs, toilets or administrative offices. In addition, he said, school officials have been trying to locate the students and their parents. Some moved out to the countryside, while others have left for the U.S., Canada and the Dominican Republic.

In response to questions about the impact of the approaching rainy season on recovery efforts, Ajax said "we cannot talk about a season for disaster in Haiti" because another natural calamity seems to occur before the country has regrouped from the one just past.

Ajax said the work in Haiti is long-term. "We can work together, not to change our situation in one day, but step by step," he said. "Partners are welcome. We have to figure how to go forward with the partnerships. We want to do things right."

"We need your prayer, we need your presence. We would love your money," he said. "All of them are welcome … we feel that we are not alone."

Ajax told ENS later in an interview that "the kingdom of God is always in the process of being built. We have to continue to take care of his church -- take care of his people -- until Jesus comes back."

Alex Baumgarten, director of the Episcopal Church's Office of Government Relations in Washington, D.C. and its international policy analyst, told the briefing via an email that Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori earlier this week conducted a series of "advocacy visits" with the Obama Administration and congressional offices. She focused on U.S. funding for the rebuilding effort, expansion of trade preferences for Haitian exports to the United States, broadening and extending Temporary Protected Status for Haitians in the United States while waiving application fees, ending a backlog of 55,000 visas that have been approved, but not actually granted, to Haitians wishing to come to the United States and ending "the unfair interdiction policies of the U.S. Coast Guard, which place unique burdens on Haitians coming to the United States that are disproportionate to those placed on migrants from other countries."

Jefferts Schori also convened a dinner with Haiti experts from non-governmental organizations, academia, and the ecumenical and legal communities as "an opportunity to share experiences and trade wisdom among those supporting the relief and rebuilding effort," Baumgarten's email said.

One of the advocacy visits came April 26 with U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Haiti Task Team Coordinator Paul Weisenfeld and Deputy Director of the Department of Health and Human Services' Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives Ari Alexander

"The meeting touched on internally displaced persons and the short- and long-term strategies for developing permanent housing settlements, boosting economic investments and partnerships, and leveraging involvement of the Haitian Diaspora," an USAID news release said.

Weisenfeld and Jefferts Schori agreed that USAID and the Episcopal Church will "increase information sharing and outreach," according to the release.

At the end of the church center briefing, Canon Margaret Larom, Episcopal Church global partnerships team leader, told Ajax that "words really fail us to describe the sympathy we have to you and others trying to cope with this day by day. We hope that this day as you are meeting individually with people that you will feel affirmed in your ministry and that we will find more ways to be supportive."

 

-- The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is national correspondent for the Episcopal News Service and editor of Episcopal News Monthly.



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