by Amy Watts and Manuel Padilla
Haiti Project Co-coordinators
We just returned from Haiti, visiting our sister organization Pax Christi Port-au-Prince, and are happy to share all their progress since we visited them last year. As many of you know, Pax Christi USA has been collaborating with Pax Christi Port-au-Prince to support their work to expand capacities for peace in Cite Soleil, a neighborhood in the capital city. This program, called “SAKALA,” translates into English as “it could happen here.”
We know your prayers and thoughts have been focused on Haiti as you watched news coverage on the recent tropical storm Isaac. Many of you have written and asked about our friends in Cite Soleil and their safety. While the heavy rains and winds brought down some tents, flooded some homes, and destroyed some crops and livestock, we are thankful to report that the damage was mild compared to other storms of the past.
Pax Christi Port-au-Prince responded quickly to the needs of the neighborhood during and after the tropical storm. Many from the neighboring tent camp, SOHAMO, took shelter at the Pax Christi’s community center building and some remain living there because their tent shelters were destroyed. For the last two months, Pax Christi Port-au-Prince has been running a summer peace camp for the youth they work with in the neighborhood. In response to the storm, they engaged the youth in this day program to participate in community service to help repair and rebuild homes and tents so that those who are living at the program site can find support.
The program site in Cite Soleil is alive and bustling. The new buildings that were recently constructed are paving the way for even more activity. When we arrived our first day of this trip, we found some of the children playing a soccer game, others crowded into a small building to get a peak at a television showing the latest match between Barcelona and Madrid, some weeding in the large urban garden that is growing vegetables and trees for a reforestation project, and cooks hard at work in their new kitchen building to provide the free meal of the day to participants. Pax Christi Port-au-Prince’s new ‘peace tap-tap’ is running a route each day and spreading messages of peace while making a profit to support SAKALA. Recently, their peace tap-tap was featured on a radio program in Haiti.
The challenges remain great. One of the head staff members of Pax Christi Port-au-Prince, Herode, has lost two cousins to violent deaths within the last month. Just last week, his cousin was part of a group trying to keep gangs out of his neighborhood and was killed as a result. In the midst of these tragedies, Herode continues to show up each day to show the kids in SAKALA a path of nonviolence and community engagement.
With these challenges in mind, at the forefront of the work being done through our collaboration with PCPAP in Cite Soleil, former President Jean Bertrand Aristide felt compelled to contact us during our visit and wish our collaboration, and all the members of PCUSA, well as we seek to walk with our Haitian brothers and sisters.
We’ve had the privilege of spending time with the staff of Pax Christi Port-au-Prince these last two weeks as they serve the youth and wider community through all their programs in Cite Soleil. They are in a process of professionalizing their organization, which started years ago as a group of friends and committed individuals in the neighborhood who came together to volunteer their time. Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers as they work to discern and implement new organizational policies and procedures to increase the effectiveness of their work for peace.
The collaborative work between Pax Christi USA and Pax Christi Port-au-Prince which aims to: 1) support and expand their peace education efforts in Cite Soleil, 2) develop the network of sustainable financial and relational support for Pax Christi Port-au-Prince, and 3) provide mentorship for Pax Christi Port-au-Prince in organizational and programmatic development and capacity building. You can support these initiatives by contacting Manuel Padilla (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Amy Watts (email@example.com) to learn more about how you can become involved. If you’d like to make a financial contribution, you can make out a check to Pax Christi USA and put “SAKALA” in the memo line and mail it to Pax Christi USA, 1225 Otis St NE, Washington, D.C. 20017.
Are you headed to Haiti soon and will be in Port-au-Prince? Interested in contributing time or energy to Pax Christi Port-au-Prince? Planning a future delegation or service-learning trip? Last month, Kim Redigan and Therese Terns of Pax Christi Michigan visited SAKALA and guest-taught peace education and sports activities as a way to build further relationships with the youth attending the peace summer camp. Contact Manuel or Amy (email addresses above) to investigate the possibilities for your group! Through funding from a parish in Virginia, Pax Christi Port-au-Prince will soon have guest house capabilities on-site so keep this in mind for later this year.