Solidarity Visit to Haiti: 14 December 2011

Thursday, December 15 2011

visite_museeArchbishop Richard Smith, President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), and the Conference’s Vice President, Archbishop Paul-André Durocher, arrived in Port-au-Prince, 14 December, beginning their solidarity visit to Haiti. The visit is being coordinated and sponsored by the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, which is Caritas Canada.

Their visit will involve meetings with Haitian Bishops, the Apostolic Nuncio to Haiti, and Caritas Haiti, as well as with other Development and Peace partners. It will also include opportunities to observe reconstruction and relief projects assisted by Development and Peace. Among these are an initiative to reclaim unused agricultural land, a program for protecting and educating marginalized young women, and a centre for educating rural children who have come to the city to seek employment and shelter.

“This is an opportunity to see the potential and the challenges of Haiti,” the CCCB President said about the visit. “It is important for us to be with the Haitian people and find ways to accompany them.”

The visit to Haiti began with a preparatory session at the Montreal offices of Development and Peace on 13 December. This included a video on the construction of 60 new homes as a pilot project involving Development and Peace with Caritas Switzerland, and which CCODP is now following up with its own project to fund the construction of another 475 homes. However, Mr. Paul Cliche, Assistant Director for Development Programs, explained how funding is only one element in CCODP assistance. Our emphasis is on developing local partners, he explained, not only so the projects belong to the local people but so their actual implementation teaches basic skills while helping to strengthen and rebuild their communities as well as the social fabric. Food security and legal reform are key elements in renewing the local community, he said, with community radio and the involvement of women a basic part of CCODP development strategy. Mr. Cliche emphasized that development is part of a three-fold continuum that includes emergency relief as well as reconstruction.

A second video shown during the preparatory session for the Haiti visit was of a group of peasant women from Grande Anse who are part of an organization known as OFTAG (Oganizasyon Fanm Tèt Ansanm Grandans – “Women all together from Grande Anse”), which receives assistance from Development and Peace. Most of its members took in displaced people following the earthquake. In the video they sing about how Development and Peace provides them with seeds, tools, a mill, and hope.

On arriving in Port-au-Prince today, the two Bishops and the other members of the Canadian mission passed through several “tent cities” with makeshift shelters which are still home for some 600,000 Haitians. Following the earthquake almost two years ago, about 400,000  people have been able to leave the rubble and either return to their reconstructed homes or move into newly built communities outside the city. The slow, jolting ride through the broken and crowded streets took the Canadian visitors to a series of paintings on display at the downtown Pantheon museum by four young Haitians. The artists, now in their 20s, participate in a program also funded by Development and Peace, which involves 800 families. The children are educated, study the arts, and learn to make a living, while also coming to terms with the trauma and violence of the earthquake.

“I am impressed by the resilience of the Haitians, especially the young whom we met today,” Archbishop Smith said after visiting the art display and meeting two of the young artists. “The circumstances of their lives are difficult beyond imagining, and yet they have both hope and vision for the future.”

Haiti is a land of paradox,” CCCB Vice President Archbishop Durocher said, commenting on his sights and experiences during the day. “Works of art surrounded by devastation, polite words in the midst of a chaotic crowd, and a kite flying over a slum! It is the Paschal Mystery.”

Archbishop Smith and Archbishop Durocher are accompanied on their solidarity visit to Haiti by Development and Peace Executive Director Mr. Michael Casey, its Latin America and Caribbean Programs Officer Mr. Normand Comte, and its communications officer Mr. François Gloutnay, as well as CCCB Assistant General Secretary Mr. Bede Hubbard.

By Bede Hubbard
Assistant General Secretary
Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops