Poor governance from the 1960s onwards led the country into the economic and social decline that it experiences today. The population explosion has had serious consequences for living standards in Haiti. The population has doubled over the last 25 to 30 years, but over the same period, the economy has not grown. Violence of different kinds has led to insecurity. As a result, senior business people and the well-educated have left the country and Haiti has lost the opportunity for internal and foreign investment that could have broken the cycle of poverty and brought stability.
For a considerable time now, Haitians have been surviving rather than truly living. The sense of solidarity that used to be central to Haitian identity is falling apart along with the majority of traditional values. The reputation of the institutions, such as the church, schools, the family and the government, is getting worse. Although about 40 per cent of the population now attend Protestant churches, the boundaries between Voodoo practices and Christian practices are no longer well defined and are becoming increasingly blurred to the point where people are no longer shocked by the overlap. Corruption has become a way of life. It seems that nobody is willing to challenge the unlawful activities that are starting to become normal.
DETERIORATION OF THE ENVIRONMENT
Another major challenge in the last 20 years has been the deterioration of the environment. There has also been an increase in natural disasters. Despite warnings given by experts, neither the decision-makers nor Haiti’s citizens have taken adequate steps in time to prevent the situation that they are now experiencing. Even relatively small natural disasters are sufficient to create catastrophes with the most appalling consequences. In 2004, Cyclone Jeanne killed more than 3,000 people and destroyed more than 4,000 homes in the city of Gonaïves. Last September, hundreds of people lost their lives in four successive tropical storms and the cost of the damage ran into several million dollars. Ever since that time, the most vulnerable members of the population have been living in a state of terrible fear every time the rain comes.
At the beginning of the 1980s, the AIDS pandemic hit the world. Haiti became the worst-affected country in the Caribbean. For more than ten years now, AIDS has been one of the leading causes of death among both men and women. In some places, the spread of HIV has been considerably reduced as local organisations, the government and the local church have been working together to educate young people about the risks, their vulnerabilities and the need for safe behaviour. However, people living with HIV are suffering from stigma and discrimination, particularly in churches.
Role of the church
It is within this difficult context, and with limited resources, that churches and organisations are fighting a daily battle to offer a Christian response to these challenges. Churches have never been as engaged in all aspects of daily life as they have been in recent years. While maintaining biblical values, they have adapted so that they can serve and support the community.
The church is still respected by the population despite its faults. It remains a strong voice that speaks out against injustice and shows people the right path. Para-church organisations need to continue to mobilise churches and support them so they can continue to carry out their role in the community. Alongside development programmes which help the community, Christian NGOs (non-governmental organisations) should finance projects that can strengthen the churches and build the capacity of church leadership. Stronger and better-organised churches will be in a position to take responsibility and guide society towards the vision of a world that is more just.
The church in Haiti is also working to bring hope to the people and is sharing the message that God loves everybody and faith in him brings purpose and direction. There is an alternative to losing hope, and to looking at our circumstances and getting drawn into the ‘fight for survival’ with an attitude of ‘everyone for himself’, which destroys mutual support and community living. Many initiatives across the country demonstrate the church’s desire to help people and relieve despair. For example:
- training church-based volunteers to help the most vulnerable
- supporting those living with or affected by HIV
- providing hospitals and community health programmes
- setting up traditional schools and vocational schools for underprivileged young people
- running micro-finance projects.
In 2003 and 2004, most leaders from the Evangelical church community met together to discuss the impact of HIV and to talk about the role the church needs to play in addressing the situation. Last year, they were invited to meet again to discuss the Millennium Development Goals. Committees were set up to enable the Evangelical leaders to play their part in finding solutions for problems affecting our society.
In 2007, for the first time in Haiti, church alliances worked with Christian organisations to hold a workshop looking at environmental issues. The presentations were shared with the whole of the Christian community. The emphasis was on ‘creation’ and respect for ‘nature’. Resolutions were drafted, discussed and voted on so that Christians could work against deforestation and promote the use of alternative energies instead of wood and coal. The church is at the heart of efforts to address the issue of environmental decay.
Over the last 20 years Haiti has been faced with many serious challenges. In spite of this, many continue to hope that all is not lost. Haiti, once the pearl of the West Indies, can regain its place and shine again in the community of nations. Haiti still has a powerful weapon for its recovery: the church. Christians need to wake up and make these words of Jesus Christ their own so that over the next 20 years Haiti can continue to change and develop:
‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor, to heal the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ (Luke 4:18-19; Isaiah 61:1-2)
Dr Hubert K Morquette is the Country Director of World Relief Haiti
World Relief Haiti
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