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Despite earthquake and political turmoil, sister Félicien says Haitians are still ‘the people of hope’




Sister Marilyn Minter was “sitting in my chair praying a word” when it all began to “shake crazily” on the night of August 14. Screams and screams of villagers around them. Incredibly, another major earthquake shook Haiti.

At 7.2 on the Richter scale, this event was stronger than the devastating 7.0 earthquake in 2010. Although the damage, deaths, and injuries were much lower this time, it was still significant. More than 2,200 people were killed and thousands injured. Haitian authorities reported that 329 people are still missing.

Weeks after the earthquake, Haitians are still moving to emergency shelters, and relief efforts are bogged down by damage to already weak infrastructure and the pre-existing problem of roadblocks on Haiti’s dangerous roads.

Hundreds have had to endure amputations due to the severity of their injuries or in the context of efforts to extricate them from the collapsed structures. More than 130,000 homes were damaged or destroyed. Les Cayes, the third largest city in Haiti, was closest to the epicenter and suffered severe damage. Adding to Haiti’s problems and further complicating the recovery, Tropical Storm Grace followed a few days after the earthquake.

Weeks later, Haitians are still moving to emergency shelters, relief efforts stymied by damage to already poor infrastructure and the pre-existing problem of roadblocks on dangerous roads in Haiti, where criminal gangs often have more power than the police. Sister Marilyn said that the same people often stop relief trucks, explaining that their needs had become so great that despair had set in.

“People just need care,” she said. “You have trucks coming, but people are waiting on the side of the roads, and they are in such a state that they are attacking the trucks, and they can’t pass now.”

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported on September 7 that disaster response continued to falter due to access restrictions along the main supply route to deliver aid to the hardest-hit areas of southern Haiti. According to the United Nations, more than 800,000 were affected by the disaster, and more than 650,000 needed emergency humanitarian aid three weeks after the earthquake.

It is a troubling fact for Haitians that their struggle appears to have drawn wider attention only in the wake of disasters such as the August earthquake.

Sister Marilyn and the other Felician sisters began working in Haiti in response to the devastation in 2010. They have since been providing medical, social and employment assistance. Sister Marilyn was organizing the recent relief effort of Felician Sisters of the Mother Monastic House in Lodi, New Jersey, as the summer ended.

It is a troubling fact for Haitians that their struggle appears to have drawn wider attention only in the wake of disasters such as the August earthquake. Sister Marilyn has worked in Haiti long enough to watch a number of relief efforts come and go without making much of a long-term impact. The latest disaster may begin that familiar episode in which interest in Haiti’s problems wanes as headlines detailing the recent crises fade.

Sister Marilyn is determined that Felician’s service to the people of Jacmel does more than just first aid for the problems of Haiti. Even before the recent political and natural disasters, Haiti faced profound challenges.

UNICEF’s Humanitarian Needs Overview, released in March, estimated that 4.4 million people in Haiti are food insecure, 217,000 children are severely malnourished, and 2.95 million people, including 1.2 million children and 400,000 pregnant and adolescent women She needs emergency health care. . The effects of the recent earthquake will exacerbate these vulnerabilities.

But she said discerning a way to respond to the urgency without contributing to the cycle of individual and national dependency is an ongoing and difficult balancing act.

Sister Marilyn Minter: “People just want to have jobs. They want to eat. They want to have gas to drive their cars or motorcycles.”

And some problems are simply too deep for the sisters to attempt to address. She said government corruption and incompetence remain major issues. Felician focuses on listening to the people themselves to find out what needs are most pressing, whether it’s creating jobs or financing a mobile health clinic, and then crafting those responses to maximize personal autonomy and build civic capacity.

In addition to the high unemployment rates and natural disasters that have surrounded Haiti, the nation has also suffered from decades of political dysfunction. Its most recent culmination was in mid-July with the assassination of President Juvenal Moss. Sister Marilyn allowed that Haiti’s chronic social turmoil had proven to be a heavy burden on its people. Many are severely depressed. “More people are coming [to the Felician house]desire to speak and share, [asking], “How can we improve things?”

Felician’s mission is just one of many church-based efforts in Haiti that include Catholic Relief Services, the Catholic Medical Mission Board, and Caritas International. Although some efforts have been made to coordinate these church initiatives, Sister Marilyn believes that cooperation can be stronger to avoid duplication of services.

Sister Marilyn said the current economic situation in a country where “80 per cent of the people live in poverty” is a clear injustice. “People just want to have jobs. They want to eat. They want to have gas to drive their cars or motorcycles.”

Every day people know they have to tackle systemic corruption but “how do you do that?” Sister Marilyn reports that activists have begun speaking out calling for new presidential elections.

To outsiders, the situation can seem completely irreparable, but this is not the reality I came to know in Jacmel. “People need to hear that Haitians are surviving,” Sister Marilyn said. “They are the people of hope.”

She emphasized that the Felician Sisters remained determined to listen and build relationships with the people of Jacmel to help guide their efforts. Sister Marlene is planning to return to Haiti and to Felician’s expedition there this month, and she is full of optimism about a plan to create a new bakery that will provide jobs for the residents of Jacmel.




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