Haiti Unrest Update
Our mission trip started out like any team. Plans for the Northwest Mennonite Conference team of 24 representing 5 churches from Alberta had come together for the women to help Haiti ARISE host a women’s conference and the men on the team to work on construction projects on our third duplex in Arise Children’s Village from Feb 3-13. Eight out of the 10 days trip went all as planned with a 4-day conference hosting just over 100 women filled with powerful ministry and lots of fun, and the men completing electrical installation and tiling of the floors in the new duplex that will soon house two families for orphans, abandoned and rescued slave children in Grand-Goave, where our main campuses are just 60 km from the capital of Port-Au-Prince. Each night the team members shared stories of the impact their experiences & interactions with the Haitians were having on their lives. We began to notice there to be a common theme in what we were learning, which was “God Knows”. For us, the trip plans began to take a turn into the unknown on Sunday, February 10 and this theme would end up being a stilling peace for us as a team. Coincidentally one of the theme songs we had chosen for the conference was “Peace Be Still” by Lauren Diegel.
Since the last presidential election in Haiti, there has been tension and manifestations of protests on and off, usually planned and scheduled in certain areas for set days. The frustrations of the people are deep and complicated with roots being government corruption and overwhelming national debt that cannot be accounted for, which is bearing the poisoning fruit of skyrocketing inflation and a plummeting economy. The Haitian people have already been in suffering for years, most of the 11 million barely squeaking by on a meager day to day existence of less than $2 a day. The current situation has just continued to magnify their poverty by making basic daily goods and fuel so costly that the people are breaking under its weight. The protests this month were scheduled to be held on President’s Day, Feb 7 and to last for 3 days til the 9th in Port-Au-Prince. But with all of the stresses of the current political and economical situation, the unrest that erupted surpassed everyone’s expectations.
Since the riots & protests began on Feb 7, we’d been staying on our Haiti ARISE campus and within town away from the highway. The protests were supposed to subside by Feb 9, so we initially were not concerned about the team being able to head home on Feb 13. But as riots and roadblocks escalated past the 9th, we had to turn another team around that was on their way to Haiti as well as a third group that had already arrived but were stuck in PAP, unable to get out to us in Grand-Goave. Everything all over the country has been on lock down- roads, schools & businesses closed with risk of danger & violence if people tried to get through blockades. It became quickly apparent that this situation was getting bad. Reports of random cars and businesses being burned throughout the country and vehicles being attacked were unnerving. Fortunately, our team on the ground was safe in our secure campus and we had enough reserves of food, fuel & water, but as the days continued to stretch on with no one able to go out, resources began to deplete. We know that not everyone in Haiti has the luxury of having extra. Many Haitians that live day by day have already been suffering from no food, water, health care, power & fuel and we had heard that there had already been some deaths because of this. We had been in contact and advised by the Canadian Embassy to stay put til things opened up, since we were safe. There was no way to get to the airport until then. It was a rollercoaster of emotion for the days extended beyond planned as each morning we were up by 4 and 5am to find out any news we could. Marc would call his policeman brother and at least 3-4 other sources in hope for road blocks to open or for the police to be able to reach us & provide an escort out, but they couldn’t and the road blocks didn’t open. The national highway was blocked everywhere and riots continued to erupt from Miragoane in the west, through Petit Goave and Grand Goave, all the way to Jacmel in the south and up to Gonaives and Cap-Haitien in the north as it spread across the whole country.
It’s taken us five days from the day we had originally planned to leave, but on Friday we were able to coordinate an airlift from Colibri-Haiti, a local helicopter company to get our Canadian team of 26 from Haiti ARISE as well as a US team from Lifeline Christian Mission of 14 to the airport in Port Au Prince on Saturday. It would take 3 trips for our team and two for theirs. This company was really stretched with only two employees working, the pilot and the safety guy, as none of their other staff could get out from their homes safely. Once all of our team members got to the airport, we were disbursed on 3 different flights out to Miami on to home the next day.
The Canadian government did not offer any assistance except for the advice from the Embassy to stay put and to call the helicopter company to push them to move. But as far as we know they are not helping pay for our evacuation nor were they too interested in providing any means of evacuating our teams. The helicopter flights are very costly at $2,130 US per trip which was money beyond what the team had available. To secure the helicopter it required a direct bank transfer, which was impossible in Haiti since the banks were closed. Thankfully, Lifeline was willing to do the transfer for us from their US office to the company’s US bank. There are still four more teams just in Grand-Goave alone of another 25 or so Canadian missionaries from BC, Alberta, and Quebec that have not gotten out yet. One team from Hope Grows Haiti may be in trouble soon as one of their team members has health issues requiring daily medication that they have almost run out of. To be honest, we had hoped that our Canadian government would have been more proactive in providing assistance to its citizens here. I do hope they will up their action now for those still trapped in Haiti.
All of our Haiti ARISE missionaries have now been evacuated, and have safely arrived home. We have canceled any further teams indefinitely and we are watching things daily. My husband, Marc Honorat, who is a native born Haitian, but a Canadian permanent resident has chosen to stay in Haiti to assist the people as much as he can until things calm down. There’s a very large chance of people in our area that they will soon be in dire need of food and water. He wants to ensure Haiti ARISE can help in any way possible as he watches & prays and monitors the situation. He has called our churches in Haiti to pray and fast this week in special services for those that can get to the church. We ask you to join with us where you are if you can and let’s believe together for peace in Haiti.
I must say I am still grateful that our team was there and that we all had the experience we did. There is so much we can learn from the resilience, tenacity and faith of the Haitian people. In the midst of decades, actually centuries of turmoil, disasters and political insecurity, the Haitian, still find a tremendous joy and faith that stills their hearts in the middle of these storms. As Kevin Good, one of our team members shared with the news media today, “Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the presence of God.”