While we are basking in our riches this weekend, after opulent Thanksgiving feasts and amidst the “Black Friday” frenzy, I can’t help but ponder how our friends in Haiti are holding up. In the past few weeks, this beautiful nation has experienced heartbreak and trial and I wonder what they could possibly be thankful for right now?
On Tuesday, November 5, we learned of a tragic situation in St. Pierre that resulted in the drowning of four children under the age of 11. For several weeks leading up to this day, Grand Bois had experienced unusually high amounts of rain. It is strange there — it might be sunny and dry in the morning and within a few minutes, the skies can open like a movie, creating flash-flood conditions. So, one never knows quite what to expect from day to day. On this particular morning, the children crossed the river bed (for those familiar with St. Pierre, it is near the church, not far from where the weekly market is held) to go to school. It was raining a little that morning, but kids there are used to walking in the rain. Some walk more than an hour each way to go to school. And, while the kids studied, the skies continued to unload its fury. In the early afternoon, they returned to the river bed to head home. They crossed the first part cautiously, but the middle was deep with rapids, and swept six children down the river. Residents were able to pull two children out of the rapids, one with a lasso and one with a tree branch and under the tender care of Dr. Leo, they were fully revived. Three others drown immediately; one boy and girl from the same family. (Can you imagine having to tell a parent that two of their children were lost in one tragic event?) Another young boy also drowned that day, totaling four deaths, but wasn’t found for several days. As with every major event in Grand Bois, ServeHAITI provided support and solidarity for the families — as well as assistance throughout the burial process.
One week ago today, an elderly couple from the Dominican Republic was slain near the town of Neiba (which is near the border). Dominican police issued a statement saying Jose Mendez Diaz and Luja Encarnacion Diaz, 70 year old coffee growers, were killed during an apparent home burglary in which the killer got away with just two sacks of coffee. Detectives found a machete at the scene and a Haitian was blamed (likely someone who worked for them), because machetes are “Haitian weapons” (Dominicans typically use guns). He was not proven guilty, yet an angry mob of Dominicans violently knifed him to death, stirring riots among the town. That day, 244 Haitians fled the DR willingly or via “deportation” — the stories vary at the moment. Some had proper passports but many did not. And, many were from the Grand Bois area.
The Haitian’s fear of random brutality is real, as real as the horrific images some of us saw earlier this week of a mass Haitian murder along a quiet dusty road. That image will not be posted but will remain forever imprinted in my mind. Many men, women and children have had to run for their lives, leaving literally everything behind in the Dominican. Over the last few days, the number has increased to about 500. The Haitians initially migrated to the Dominican seeking work and a chance to provide for their families. As they crossed back over into Haiti last week, buses brought them to a center run by Haiti’s Office of Migration and they were given a meal and $22 to reunite with their family. Yes, $22.
It’s been tenuous for months, as the DR government is moving to discriminate against Haitians by tightening a 2010 law denying citizenship to people born to parents who are not Dominican. Without citizenship, they are unable to work or attend school. It applies the law retroactively to anyone born after 1929 and affects as many as 300,000 people — most of whom have roots in Haiti.
And, so as I sit here in my warm, dry, well-stocked condo, I wonder what my friends in Haiti might be thankful for just now. Only a few things come to mind: Their hope for a better future; their genuine love for one another; and very likely for organizations like ServeHAITI that are trying to create pockets of economic stability, improvements to the educational system and much needed medical support. Thanks to the good work of the organization and local teams, cholera seems to be somewhat under control again (3,000 “Gift of Water” systems have been distributed, thanks to many donors) and more good work is underway.
So, as we migrate from “Black Friday” into the holiday season, might you consider a small gift to ServeHAITI to fund an area of your choice?
- $31 buys a “Gift of Water” purification system for an entire family;
- $20 ensures enough iron and folate tablets to prevent anemia in 14 women for one year;
- $15 buys a hanging solar light bulb which is given to each new mother who delivers her baby at the health center; for many, this is their only source of light.
Each of us, every day, has an opportunity to instill a spark of hope in another. Might we collectively consider lighting the mountains of Grand Bois this season?? Let it shine