“I UNDERSTAND THE frustrations, the disappointments so many of us feel. Yet we know that a spirit of vengeance will never lead us out of this crisis. Violence will take us nowhere. The hour is here to reconstruct our nation in a spirit of selflessness … as brothers and sisters in the same community.”
Bishop Zaché Duracin released a statement to the nation shortly after President Jean-Bertrand Aristide left Haiti. It included those words. As the leader of the one of the strongest institutions in Haiti – The Episcopal Church – his voice can make a difference.
The Episcopal Church, with its schools and clinics and development projects throughout the mountains and plains of Haiti, is a respected force. The church was called upon to provide a member to the Conseil des Sages (Council of Wise Ones) that selected the interim government (see interview, page x). Duracin himself has been asked to serve as mediator in negotiations.
The Rev. Ogé Beauvoir, a Haitian priest who serves as director of Trinity Grants, the multimillion-dollar funding arm of Trinity Church, Wall Street, N.Y., commends Duracin. “We have a history in the Episcopal Church of Haiti of not getting too close to power, to government, like other churches do.”
“It is so clear the Episcopal Church has a role to play. It has quite a voice in the sense that the Episcopal Church has more social ministries than any other church in Haiti.”
Beauvoir knows what will be necessary. In his travels overseeing Trinity’s worldwide development projects, he witnesses underdeveloped nations struggling to put their citizens to work, to rebuild their economies. He believes the answer is investing in local communities. “Capacity building … micro-finance will prevent people moving from their local villages to the big cities where they can get on a boat and go to Florida.” Knowing that such an exodus is what the U.S. government hopes to prevent, Beauvoir says wistfully that he wishes the money spent on Coast Guard interceptions and repatriations could be redirected to economic development projects.
“We have to find a way for the people of the countryside to be part of the society, provide development for them, growth of prosperity for them. … The biggest problem is making a society function when about 70 percent of the population is left out,” he says. “If a system of government in Haiti cannot integrate that vast majority, there will be no change.”
Seek church help
To effect such development, the new interim government “should use the opportunity to work with the churches that are everywhere in the country, -- the churches and the civil society, not the politicians,” Beauvoir says. “The politicians are passing. The churches and the civil society – the educators, the business people, the people who have a consciousness of what the country should be – they will stay there. The churches have the people.”
Dr. Jack Guy LaFontant, director of Holy Cross Hospital in Leogane, makes a similar recommendation. “My hope is to see the international community develop a Marshall Plan, like after the Second World War … to help us build the economy.
“Haiti is a country that is dying. We need a shock treatment like a patient who is dying. If we give just palliative treatment, the country will still die. We need really to mobilize a lot of resources. I think the church can play a big role. The church is in all communities. It has a lot of infrastructure. The church has the capacity. I think our church is in a good position to help realize a big Marshall Plan for the country.”
Episcopal Relief and Development sent Bishop Duracin $10,000, an emergency grant, at the beginning of the crisis. The agency is assessing how it might aid the church and nation on a long-term, more sustainable basis with development programs, according to President Sandra Swan.
A special appeal for Haiti, issued in March, is ongoing. As of March 25, the total had reached $80,000. To contribute or to order bulletin inserts about Haiti and the crisis, contact ERD at 800-334-7626, ext. 5129, http://www.er-d.org/; Episcopal Relief and Development, c/o Haiti Relief Fund, P.O. Box 12043, Newark, NJ 07101-5043. To contact Bishop Duracin’s office directly, call 011-509-256-4120 or e-mail Burton Joseph, the diocese’s program director, at firstname.lastname@example.org. He and many members of the staff speak English fluently.