By Kim Redigan
Pax Christi Michigan
This past August, fellow Pax Christi member Therese Terns and I (St. Leo’s Bishop Gumbleton PC) were invited by Haitian peacemakers from Pax Christi Ayiti to help out at peace camp in Cite Soleil, the shantytown that sits in the shadow of Port-au-Prince and the Toussaint L’ouverture Airport.
What to say about Haiti? A place of such contrasts. A place of both heartbreak and hope.
The Haiti of abject poverty and disease. The Haiti that has suffered centuries of political and economic oppression. The Haiti that has had to deal with unrelenting natural disasters from floods, mudslides, and famines to the monster earthquake of 2010. The Haiti that is often referred to as “hopeless,” “helpless,” “forgotten and abandoned,” or simply as “Haiti-the-poorest-country-in-the-Western-Hemisphere,” a cliché that, for Haitians, has worn thin.
Why is it this way? Perhaps the answer is found in Ephesians which speaks of “powers and principalities.” Conditions in Cite Soleil, in Haiti, in Detroit do not need to be the way they are. The grinding poverty is not a result of laziness, voudou, determinism, or simple bad luck. Things are the way they are because of structural violence and injustice borne of human greed.
Although it would take hours to unpack Haiti’s incredible history, I will summarize by saying that since its inception as the first black-led republic in the world, Haiti has been made to pay a price for its presumption and audacity. In other words, this is what you get if you’re black and you dare to free your people. The injustices heaped upon this country are legion, a sick litany of social sin that would break the back of a lesser nation: beginning with Columbus’s slaughter of the indigenous Taino people who inhabited the island to $20 billion in reparations paid to France to a 19-year U.S. military occupation to our nation’s support of coups and dictators. Mix in the World Bank and odious debt, sweatshops, the dumping of subsidized rice in Haiti’s rural areas, the use of the country as a sexual playground and one begins to get a sense of why things are the way they are in Haiti. These are the fruits of powers and principalities run amok. Of what Walter Wink called a domination system based on an “entire network of powers integrated around idolatrous values.”
And yet there is another side to Haiti that is too often overlooked. A Haiti that greets the dawn with a pulsating swell of songpraise. A Haiti that is proud and prayerful and has much to teach us about faith, courage, and peacemaking.
And this is what our visit to Haiti was all about. We were invited by our partners at Pax Christi Ayiti to participate in summer peace camp in Cite Soleil. To learn from their skilled peace educators and urban gardeners. To learn from the SAKALA sports program that offers peace education through soccer.
SAKALA peace soccer jerseys worn by the Haitian youth (and by students at U of D Jesuit in solidarity), bear the names of peacemakers whose stories the Haitian youth are sharing with others. Some of the soccer stars from Cite Soleil include: Franz Jagerstatter, Dorothy Day, Jean Juste, Mahatma Gandhi, Ghasson Andoni, and Bishop Gumbleton.
In addition to cheering on Rosa Parks as she dominated the soccer field and playing volleyball with Cesar Chavez and Martin Luther King, Jr., we sang songs (a variation of “Peace, Salaam, Shalom” that we rewrote as “Peace, La Paz, Lape”) and taught the kids the rap written by Detroit grassroots artist, Invincible, “If you wanna see the change, you gotta be the change.” We made peace flags and watched a local dance troupe perform, and promised to learn at least a little Kreyol by next summer. We learned a great deal from master peace teacher, Daniel Tillias from Pax Christi Ayiti whose pedagogical skills and vision undergird the great work for peace being done in Cite Soleil.
Most importantly, we shared with the children of Cite Soleil the fact that their work for peace is having an effect far beyond Haiti. Pax Christi USA has made a wonderful documentary detailing the good work for peace being done in Cite Soleil that deserves to be widely shown as a counter-narrative to the grim and disempowering images of Haiti that are usually shown. A film that highlights hope rather than despair. A film that celebrates creativity and community. See http://paxchristiusa.org/programs/sakala/ for details.
Therese and I returned from Haiti with many new ideas about peace education. We came home heartened and hopeful and anxious to partner with our Haitian friends and apply what we learned in Haiti to our work for peace here at home.
Kim Redigan is a member of Pax Christi Michigan.