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Haiti 12 years after the great earthquake: “People in church with machete”

from Michele Farina

Father Rick Frechette, project manager of the Rava Foundation: «A difficult moment. Who can run away. We must preserve civilization from barbarism. Thank you Italy “

You ask him for a reminder of the earthquake that exactly twelve years ago, on January 12, 2010, turned the city of Port-au-Prince upside down like a giant plow, leaving over 200,000 victims on the ground. And he replies that the first thing that comes to mind are the victims of the coolest earthquake, the one that crossed the country’s most rural south last August. “Those who survived and lost what little they had still live under the trees, in the rubble”. Aid? “Almost non-existent. There was some interest for a couple of months, and then that’s it. ” Because? “The road to the South, like many others, is almost always impassable due to gang violence. Even the rare aid struggles to reach those in need, it is necessary to use the barge, everything is more complicated, more expensive ».

Continuous emergency

Where are you? “On the street,” Father Rick replies. Natural. And where else: Rick Frechette, 68, American from the East Coast, doctor and priest, project manager of the Francesca Rava Foundation in Haiti, is (almost) always “on the street” when not in hospital. On 22 January he would like to be at La Scala in Milan, at the charity event organized for the Foundation’s projects (all information on www.nph-italia.org). But Haiti is in full emergency. Every day, every hour, is a race. A commitment to keep, something to bring: medicines for a clinic, oxygen cylinders for the infected in St Luc, dying children for St Damien hospital, an injured person to be rescued, a water tank for an isolated neighborhood from the violence, bags of flour to supply the Francisville bakery, the citadel of trades not far from the pediatric hospital that employs many children, bread rolls to hand to the victim of a kidnapping, a gang leader with whom to negotiate for the liberation of a priest or a little boy.

The gangs and kidnappings

Never before has it been a daily danger to wander through the streets of the capital Port-au-Prince as in these times. Suffice it to recall the last two news reports that have pierced the carelessness of the international community towards Haiti: last Saturday the prime minister escaped an attack-shooting in the street during the independence day. And the story of the 17 American missionaries kidnapped on a bus while on their way to visit an orphanage and then freed from the criminal gang that had kept them starving (including an eight-month-old baby).
But why be surprised, this is Haiti, the most devastated place in the Americas. The first republic of slaves to obtain freedom (and for a short time also power) at the end of the nineteenth century has long since become the country synonymous with chronic failure. “We are like Somalia,” says Father Rick. “Haiti is in the hands of armed gangs who rob citizens and fight for control of the territory.”

Bon Kombat

It was a whatsapp message that reminded us of Somalia in the Caribbean. A letter at the beginning of the year sent by Father Rick to the friends of the Rava Foundation who support his projects and that Maria Vittoria, Francesca’s sister to whom the Foundation is dedicated, sent us a few days ago. It ended with a greeting “from the street”: “This year – wrote Father Rick – people in Haiti do not hope as usual bon ané, this year use another expression: bon kombat“. We mentioned this in the America-China newsletter last Friday. Sad, to wish you a happy new year and a “good fight” in a country that, on paper, is not at war with anyone. «It is sad – says Father Rick – to think, for example, that there are churches in Haiti where pastors ask the faithful to go to mass carrying machetes to defend themselves from kidnappers. A crazy contradiction: the only way to go to church, to the temple of peace and mercy, is to go there armed. It’s sad, but people are terrified. Nobody is sure: they killed the President of the Republic, they shot the Prime Minister. There are gang leaders who put videos of their actions on YouTube, including the attacks on churches and the kidnapping of priests ».

The Great Earthquake

After the great earthquake of 2010 it seemed that the time of rebirth had arrived for Haiti … «But as it happened, you know, everything is documented: large international organizations have used the opportunity to earn a lot of money and do little. The slogan was: “Rebuild, better than before”. In reality they have not even rebuilt ». And now? “This is a very difficult time for Haiti. For us it is a question of preserving civilization from barbarism. History comes to mind, I think of the role that monastic communities played in the Middle Ages: they kept education, schools, hospitality for the weakest alive. We here today in our small way must do the same. We are putting time and energy to try to deal with emergencies: supporting internal refugees, freeing hostages, bringing help to those forgotten by the earthquake, saving coronavirus patients who find themselves without oxygen. We have become an emergency organization in the face of the barbarism of violence. Civilization falls in this way, if principals and institutions are not kept up. In the Middle Ages in Italy as in Haiti in 2022: hospitals, street schools, our shops in Francisville that give young people clean and dignified work ».

The importance of work

Are gang criminals recoverable? “I talk to them every day. And I’m sure: eight out of ten would quit violence if they had a decent job. I’m not talking about the exploitation of people who are offered 20 cents a day to work in a shoe factory ». How is the situation in St Damien and St Luc’s hospitals? “Very difficult. We are losing staff. Those who can escape abroad. People are terrified ». Do you still have the fish farm for the hospital cafeteria? “Yup. And also bees and cows. Chickens no, we had to close. The cost of food has doubled and we weren’t satisfied with the costs ». What about the little morgue in the containers behind the hospital? “We had to reduce the burials. The cemeteries are controlled by the gangs. We are no longer able to give the last farewell to the dead abandoned in the streets. It is a very difficult moment ». Every time we hear from each other, you say that Haiti is living a moment like this ». Father Rick laughs. “Psychologically it must be my way to move forward. To think that this perennial emergency is only a moment “.

Father Rick returns to his way. Which is not hers alone. A lot of people, in Italy through the Francesca Rava Foundation, support the principals of civilization (and humanity) who resist in Haiti. For a moment or a lifetime. Ordinary people and great artists. La Scala in Milan also continues its commitment to the Foundation. On the evening of January 22, the Corps de Ballet and the Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala stage La Bayadère, an impressive work with the choreography of the great Nureyev. There are still tickets. The proceeds will go to projects on Haiti, to Father Rick’s “perennial moments”, to the children of the pediatric hospital, to schools, to the centers of civilization along the streets of Haiti, Somalia in the Caribbean.

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