Log In


Reset Password
  • MENU
    Local News
    Wednesday, June 19, 2024

    Norwich-based human service agencies continue work in Haiti amid chaos

    Susan Wallace, executive director, and Father Frank Rouleau, chaplain and director of Parish Twinning, with the Diocese of Norwich’s Outreach To Haiti, talk to Ivlande, director of operations in Haiti, and Jude, past director of operations in Haiti, on Tuesday, March 12, 2024, during a Zoom call. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
    Buy Photo Reprints
    Clockwise from top right, Susan Wallace, executive director, and Father Frank Rouleau, chaplain and director of Parish Twinning, with Diocese of Norwich Outreach To Haiti, talks with Ivlande, director of operations in Haiti, and Jude, past director of operations in Haiti on Tuesday, March 12, 2024, during a Zoom call. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
    Buy Photo Reprints

    Norwich ― In her 11 years as country director in Haiti for the Norwich-based Haitian Health Foundation, Nadesha Mijoba has seen devastating earthquakes, hurricanes and political strife that have rocked the tiny half-island nation.

    “No question whatsoever that this is the worst I’ve ever seen Haiti and Jérémie,” Mijoba said by phone Monday in her temporary location in Dominican Republic. “Our little city of Jérémie, even just a few years ago, on a Sunday morning we could go to the beach or go to downtown Jérémie and have some goat. In Port-au-Prince, you could go to a jazz club.”

    The Haitian Health Foundation has been operating health clinics, nutrition and education programs since 1985 in Jérémie, a waterfront city in the southwest part of the country.

    Usually a bit removed from periodic political turmoil and violence in the capital city of Port-au-Prince about 180 miles away, Jérémie is no longer spared from the violence now ravaging Haiti.

    Violent gangs and protesters demanding the resignation of appointed Prime Minister Ariel Henry have dominated the country in recent months. Henry announced Tuesday he will resign once a transitional governance plan is in place.

    Henry was appointed prime minister in a controversial move following the June 7, 2021, assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. Henry has been abroad trying to enlist an international security force to help secure Haiti. Gangs took over airports and cities, preventing him from returning.

    People fleeing the gang violence of Port-au-Prince and other areas are arriving in Jérémie. Main roads are closed, cutting off shipments of desperately needed medical supplies and food. Protests and gun violence have arrived in Jérémie, Mijoba said.

    “There is really no food and very little health care available,” Mijoba said, “because the health care organizations are having quite a challenge in getting the health care equipment and supplies. They can’t treat the regular patients, not including the gunshots and violence we are experiencing in just the last week or so.”

    Mijoba and her husband are from the New London area and recently returned to the region for family matters. She could not return to Jérémie and now is trying to coordinate the foundation’s work from the nearby Dominican Republic.

    She said she is “extremely worried” about her staff. The foundation has about 300 Haitian employees serving the greater Jérémie area with a population of 250,000. The Jérémie clinic remains open, but mobile clinics into the countryside are closed.

    “Nobody knows what the future of Haiti will be and what will happen in in the immediate future,” Mijoba said. “You can imagine what that worry does to the psyche of people. It’s a massive psychological trauma for the people.”

    Diocese of Norwich Outreach to Haiti open, surrounded by chaos

    Susan Wallace, executive director of the Diocese of Norwich Outreach to Haiti, nervously launched her daily online Zoom meeting Tuesday afternoon from her Norwich office with her staff at the Outreach’s headquarters in Port-au-Prince.

    She asked that only their first names be used for safety reasons. Ivlande is director of operations at the Port-au-Prince facility. Jude, now in Quebec completing a doctoral degree in civil engineering, is immediate past director working as a senior consultant for the program during the current crisis.

    The diocese’s three-story building houses a medical clinic, nutrition and education programs and a chapel and is located in what is now the 20% of Port-au-Prince not controlled by the violent gangs, Wallace said.

    The clinic was closed temporarily last week but has reopened, she said. Most children in the immediate area still are able to go to school.

    The clinic on Tuesday served 80 patients, many of whom traversed lawless, violent streets to reach the clinic, Ivlande said during the Zoom call. Staff found spent bullet shells outside its walls.

    Ivlande said there were no cars in the streets Tuesday. She paid the expensive fee to take a motorcycle ride to reach the clinic.

    “It’s not really safe, but it’s an obligation to go to work,” Ivlande said in Haitian Creole, translated by Jude.

    Wallace said many other non-government organizations have been forced to close their health care operations and evacuate their staffs. This has resulted in an 86% increase in the number of patients seeking care at the Outreach clinic during the first quarter of 2024 compared to the first quarter of 2023.

    The clinic and its two dozen local staff also are helping to serve more and more people seeking refuge in the less hazardous neighborhood of Christ Roi. The center has enough supplies “for the moment,” Wallace said, offering medical services, food and prenatal services to expectant mothers and children 5 and under suffering from malnutrition, the leading cause of death for young children in Haiti.

    Document

    Violence roils Haiti

    The impoverished Caribbean nation has been the scene of more than 500 demonstrations and acts of political violence between Jan. 1 and March 8, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project.

    Cap-Haitien

    HAITI

    Gonaives

    The Norwich-based Haitian Health Foundation has been operating health clinics, nutrition and education programs since 1985 in Jeremie

    Dominican Republic

    Jérémie

    Port-au-Prince

    The Diocese of Norwich Outreach to Haiti

    has its office in the Bourdon suburb of Port-au-Prince, the capital city where much

    of the recent violence (shown in red) is

    concentrated

    Jacmel

    Map: Scott Ritter/The Day | Data: ACLED (accessed March 12); OSM via Geofabrik

    Violence roils Haiti

    Cap-Haitien

    HAITI

    Gonaives

    Port-au-Prince

    Jacmel

    Map: Scott Ritter/The Day

    Data: ACLED; OSM via Geofabrik

    The diocese’s American chaplain, staff and volunteers have left Haiti, Wallace said.

    Father Frank Rouleau, outreach chaplain and director of parish twinning ― 15 Connecticut parishes are paired with parishes in the greater Port-au-Prince area ― joined the Zoom call at the Norwich office Tuesday.

    Rouleau said he is keeping in constant contact with parishes in Haiti, relaying messages of support from their twins in Connecticut.

    “People want to know what’s going on in their parishes,” Rouleau said.

    Tuesday’s Zoom call ended with Wallace and Rouleau saying they are praying for their colleagues in Haiti every day. Wallace said she is available by cellphone 24/7 for the Outreach staff.

    “The situation is horrendous in Haiti,” Wallace said. “I don’t think most people in the world have seen a situation like this in Haiti for 50 to 70 years.”

    Agencies work in Norwich to keep communication, services open

    At her office at 97 Sherman St., Norwich, Haitian Health Foundation Executive Director Marilyn Lowney said she was grateful for the many calls of concern and support she has received for the safety of the foundation’s staff in Haiti. She has heard from people who have volunteered to go to Haiti over the years to support the program.

    Lowney has been writing grant applications and speaking with donors. The foundation is still accepting cash donations, but shipments of supplies to Haiti have stopped. The agency is trying to buy needed food and supplies locally, but that is getting more difficult.

    “We still are very dedicated to our work,” she said. “We’re needed more than ever. What’s happening now is a lot of people are fleeing the city to come to the countryside. Many other places have closed, so they have even less choices of where to go. We’re still working and hoping there will be some resolution.”

    Outreach to Haiti Executive Director Wallace agreed.

    “It’s important for people to know the Haitian people are hardworking, creative and innovative,” Wallace said, “and want what we all want in life: to take care of their loved ones, put food on the table and not worry about being kidnapped or killed. They just want to live and be able to live a normal life.”

    c.bessette@theday.com

    How to help

    To donate and help provide healthcare and food to people in Haiti: Haitian Health Foundation accepts donations by credit card, PayPal and Venmo on its website, www.haitianhealthfoundation.org. Checks can be made out to HHF and sent to Haitian Health Foundation, 97 Sherman St., Norwich, CT 06360.

    The Diocese of Norwich Outreach to Haiti accepts donations by credit card at its website, www.outreachtohaiti.org. Checks can be made out to Outreach to Haiti and sent to Outreach to Haiti, Attention Susan Wallace, 815 Boswell Ave., Norwich, CT 06360.

    Mass for Haiti: The Cathedral of St. Patrick, 213 Broadway will hold masses to pray for Haiti at 5 p.m. Friday, March 15 and at 5 p.m. Friday March 22, at noon on Wednesday, April 3, Friday, April 12, Thursday, April 18 and Wednesday, April 24.

    Comment threads are monitored for 48 hours after publication and then closed.