On May 4, 2012, we can report that each of our 8 campuses in Cite Soleil, and the school feeding and elderly are all functional, but we are still in a period of change and restructering.
"We are still in a time of mourning for the loss of Nelson and Alexander, and for me personally, this year's Good Friday was extremely powerful. Really, a very big part of Hands Together, the work that I've been doing for twenty years, has, in effect died. And with the coming of Easter there comes a re-birth." - Fr. Tom Hagan.
Our mission and goals for the schools in Cite Soleil remain the same -- to provide a quality Catholic education to the poorest of the poor who otherwise would not go to school.
We are working to re-structure and essentially decentralize some of the way we do things. We have always tried to keep the projects in Haiti in the hands of the people themselves and we will continue to find ways to do this. Please pray that these new changes, however difficult, are embraced by the people.
On March 5th at 7:30am a vehicle containing 5 Hands Together staff members was attacked 25 meters from our Becky DeWine high school by a gang from the Brae Neuf section of Cite Soleil. The gang shot and killed Alexander Marcus (who evaluated the schools and helped with discipline) and Nelson Jean Liphete who was Hands Together Directeur General. Robert Nelson, our director of schools, was wounded in both legs. The other two staff members in the vehicle escaped unharmed.
The details surrounding the attack remain unclear and there are several versions on what happened and speculation on why -- and the incident is under investigation by the Haitian police. It is unclear whether the attack was a simple robbery (there have been many hold ups on that road in recent months) or if it was some kind of orchestrated plan to kill Nelson. What is common among all accounts is that everyone in the vehicle except Alexander exited the vehicle. Then, some sort of gunfight ensued and people ran away. Nelson did use his pistol in defense and shot at least 7 times.
In recent months, violence and theft has increased in Haiti and especially in Port-au-Prince. In fact, just 4 weeks ago, Robert Nelson was kidnapped and threatened. These horrific and despicable acts of violence, and the fallout and reactions to these killings and shootings, leave no doubt that it is unsafe at this time for our school children, teachers and staff. For this reason, we’ve suspended our outreach activities in Port-au-Prince until there is a more stable and secure environment.
"If we handle the worlds goods with one hand, we must hold fast to God's Hands with the other, often look to see if our actions please God." - St. Francis de Sales.
2012 is well underway for us in Haiti and Fr. Tom, as well as our core staff, feel the heavy weight of all that needs to be done if we are to truly run an excellent Catholic school system in Haiti's largest and poorest slum. This weight comes in the form of threats, kidnappings, angry protests from our teachers, pressure from local gang members for money or jobs, and constant arguments and fights among students and staff. The weight of stolen food and dishes, the frustration of broken down vehicles, the relentless pressure from hundreds of people wanting our help -- all these things we face as we consider our plans for "doing good work" in the year 2012.
Hands Together's agriculture and farming projects continue to expand and improve. 'In the 3 short months since my last site visit I've seen rapid growth and advancement at the Clarke Farm project and agricultural programs in Bassen attached to our Catholic Center for Agriculture and the Environment. Honestly, I was amazed. Our goal is to create a framework of good staffing and teaching, combined with methods for increasing the variety and the yield of crops planted by each village. We're just rying to produce a simple mechanism to help farmers all around Haiti be proud of working the land and be able to live a decent life that way," remarks Doug Campbell on his December 7 site visit to the agricultural projects.
Only a 16 months ago the land that now bursts with green and trees contained dusty cacti and small shrubs. Dozens of rural farmers come early each morning to work on their experimental crops and teachers from Earth Universtiy help them determine the best strategies for their paritcular plot of land. It seems like each month, more and more people want to join the work at the farm and we are excited about our plans for cultivating not only crops and produce, but cultivating vocations in agriculture as well.
Here are some of the recent highlights"
All of us at Hands Together wish our supporters and friends a most holy Christmas! May the peace of our Lord and the great hope that now fills the universe because God came to us as one of us, be part of your Christmas and inspire you to be a bright light in this world. We pray that God blesses you and your family!
In the true spirit of Christmas we held a special mass for the elderly and our Becky DeWine students and Fr. Tom encouraged everyone to "see Jesus in the face of those all around us." Modest gift bags filled with rice, beans and oil and some linens and towels brought great joy and smiles to more than a 1,000 elderly. Thanks once again to the DeWine family and their friends, who donated belts, make-up kits, beanie babies, toy cars and lots of nice, individual presents for students of all ages, we could throw a little Christmas party at each of our eight campuses.
"I'm always very moved whenever we give a small present to the children and elderly and see how pleased they are that someone thought of them and cares about them," said Fr. Tom. "We made an extra special meal with more sardines in the sauce and larger portions of rice and beans and they clapped and sang. Then as they were leaving they lined up and received their food kits and blankets. Some of the elderly could barely carry the stuff they are so weak, but all of them were beaming and signing and thanking god and Jesus. It certainly captures the real spirit of Christmas."