reviewed by Jim O’Callahan, Downtown Brooklyn Pax Christi
We learn early in Cité Soleil: Sun, Dust and Hope, that Cité Soleil is the poorest slum in the most impoverished country in the Western Hemisphere. The majority of Haiti’s 10 million people, live on less than $2.00 a day. This country of 11,000 square miles is about the size of Maryland and only 700 miles from Miami.
What remains unsaid is that Cité Soleil has been plagued with the stigma of being a fertile recruiting ground for thugs, para-militaries and gangsters. Because of vast corruption in the judicial system the rule of law is applied politically and only when convenient. Thousands languish in jails, sometimes for years, without being charged or tried. Cité Soleil is also a convenient outlet for random and indiscriminate violence on the part of both government and UN peacekeeping forces at times of social unrest.
Daniel Tillias is the Program Director of Pax Christi, Port-au-Prince. He works in Cité Soleil, primarily with children. When we meet Daniel he introduces us to SAKALA, a Pax Christi project originally conceived by him to keep young men from Cité Soleil out of gangs and in school, using sports as an incentive. In a country where soccer is a national obsession, SAKALA and Pax Christi have created a sports program that reaches more than 240 school age children. Their teams are competitive on a national level. The hook – in order to play for SAKALA you must remain in school and avoid gang membership.
The SAKALA teams are widely known as the peace teams because instead of having the names of the players on team jerseys they have the names of prominent peace activists like Ghandi, Thich Nhat Hanh, Mandela and even Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, who has visited Haiti manyl times on Pax Christi fact finding and human rights delegations.
Daniel Tillias is no stranger to violence. He has seen colleagues disappear, never to be heard from again. Still, Daniel carries on the struggle for human rights and the elimination of violence, drawing hope under the sun and amid the dust, drawing strength from the collaborative spirit of the Haitian poor.
We learn that in addition to the sports program, SAKALA maintains a feeding program and a program to clean up garbage dumps and turn them into urban gardens, using compost from human waste and turning it into agricultural fertilizer. The agronomy program at SAKALA is substantial and adds a strong element of sustainability.
For stateside members of Pax Christi the work of SAKALA and Pax Christi Port-au-Prince can hardly fail to be inspiring. For Daniel Tillias the seeds of hope and the possibility of non-violent change are everywhere – today Cité Soleil, then all of Haiti and tomorrow the whole world. Cité Soleil: Sun, Dust and Hope communicates this hope and demonstrates how an island of community in a sea of adversity can enhance the lives of its residents.
We can support the work of Pax Christi, Port-au-Prince with earmarked donations to the national office. We can also provide speaking opportunities for Daniel when he is in the United States to help raise funds.