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Haiti: Learning How Diaspora Organizing In The U.S. Can Strengthens Local Organizing In Haiti

Haiti: Learning how diaspora organizing in the U.S. can strengthens local organizing in Haiti

As organized pressure from diaspora communities moved the United States to send vaccines to Haiti, OPODNE is paving the way for distribution in the Northeast Department.

With COVID spiking, and continued uncertainty and political instability following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, ordinary Haitians are struggling to stay safe and feed their families. During all of the struggles, thirteen OPODNE leadership teams have taken important steps to protect the health, sustain economic development activities, and build the sense of trust among their families and communities. These and similar efforts by civil society organizations across Haiti to create a path forward for the country are a great source of hope.

Yet, repeatedly the U.S. and other countries have intervened in Haiti to support a small circle of elite and often corrupt politicians, sidelining grassroots and faith-based organizations. To change this dynamic, we are learning how to organize faith communities in the U.S. to lift the voice of the million strong Haitian diaspora to influence the United States Congress and the Biden Administration. The Haitian diaspora is a significant political presence in Florida, New York, and Massachusetts, where Faith in Action federations are partnering with Faith in Action International to engage Haitian congregations in finding a new way forward for Haiti.

Our work on COVID provides one example of how this partnership can work.  In June, with COVID cases surging in Haiti and hospital beds filling up, OPODNE re-launched its grassroots education and prevention campaign. OPODNE’s director, Florcie Tyrell and health team were interviewed by eight radio stations in Northeast Haiti. With generous support from the Conrad Hilton Foundation, they contracted with local residents to sew more than 2,000 masks and printed and distributed 6,500 flyers on how to prevent COVID.  They trained 130 grassroots leaders, who each reached out to a minimum of ten other households, reaching a total of 1,300 families and 6,500 people. They also distributed buckets with masks, hand sanitizer, soap and bleach to churches, police precincts, and markets in 13 towns and villages where OPODNE works. This work is continuing.

During this same period, more than 2,000 people signed our petition asking President Biden to send vaccines directly to Haiti. In conversation with the Executive Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships we learned that 500,000 COVID vaccines would be sent to Haiti. Those vaccines have been delivered. OPODNE is working with the Public Health Director in the Northeast Department and other organizations to develop a plan to distribute vaccines effectively and equitably.

We are pleased to report that OPODNE staff are safe and no one has contracted a serious case of COVID. Click here read our statement about the assassination, our position in support of the Haitian people, and to read more about the progress we are making to find “A Way Forward in Haiti”.

We are pleased to report that OPODNE staff are safe and no one has contracted a serious case of COVID. Here is more of what OPODNE doing and our diaspora organizing in support of the people of Haiti.

Background: As we are all painfully aware, the social, political and economic environment in Haiti continues to spiral downward, especially with the tragic assassination of President Jovenel Moise. While families in the Northeast struggle with rising inflation, spiking COVID cases, and growing political instability, violence is less rampant than in other parts of the country. We are pleased to share that Florcie Tyrell, OPODNE staff and leaders are safe and none have contracted any severe cases of COVID. During all of the struggles, leadership teams in thirteen communities served by OPODNE have taken important steps to protect the health, sustain economic development activities, and build the sense of community trust among families and communities served by OPODNE. In addition, Faith in Action International is organizing Haitian Diaspora communities in collaboration with our affiliates to build support for OPODNE and other Civil Society organizations that are urging the United State Congress and the Biden Administration to find “A Way Forward in Haiti” that restores democracy and economic opportunity.

Organizing to improve public health: In June, with COVID cases surging in Haiti and hospital beds filling up, OPODNE re-launched its grassroot education and prevention campaign OPODNE’s director, Florcie Tyrell and health team were interviewed by eight radio stations in Northeast Haiti. With generous support from the Conrad Hilton Foundation, they contracted with local residents to sew more than 2,000 masks and printed and distributed 6,500 flyers on how to prevent COVID.  They trained 130 grassroots leaders, who each reached out to a minimum of ten other households, reaching a total of 1,300 families and 6,500 people. They also distributed buckets with masks, hand sanitizer, soap and bleach to churches, police precincts, and markets in 13 towns and villages where OPODNE works. This work is continuing.

More than 2,000 people have signed onto our petition asking President Biden to send vaccines directly to Haiti. We’re continuing to add names. But given the urgency we sent an initial letter with 1,400 signatures to the White House. In conversation with the Executive Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships we learned that 500,000 COVID vaccines would be sent to Haiti. Those vaccines have now been delivered.

OPODNE is working with the Health Director in the Northeast Department and other organizations to develop a plan to distribute vaccines effectively and equitably.  Vaccines are presently available at local hospitals in the Northeast in major populations centers. OPODNE will explore how to get remote, isolated villages access to vaccines as well.

Expanding our organizing base: OPODNE leadership teams have continued to meet on a regular basis. Organized public health activities like the COVID education and prevention activities and community improvement activities like clean up events have built the reputation of OPODNE in communities where they work and has opened invitations by leaders in Trou de Nord, Fort Liberte, Ferrier, and Ouanaminthe.

Leadership training and development: Because of political instability and COVID safety precautions, OPODNE has not yet organized any large centralized training sessions for clergy or leaders. However, each local leadership team is meeting regularly and are now conducting meetings to elect their local officers and to plan future activities. A meeting and training session for the OPODNE Board and Council of Presidents is planned for August if travel is possible.

Growing Partnerships for Economic Development projects: Because of conditions on the ground, OPODNE committees have been able to sustain existing development cooperatives and micro-lending programs but have not been able to expand these or initiate new ones. OPODNE has engaged the Haiti Development Institute (HDI), a well respected technical assistance organization, to conduct an initial assessment of OPODNE and have identified gaps in administrative and financial capacities that complement OPODNE’s organizing and empowerment skills. OPODNE and HDI have agreed to a yearlong training and coaching agreement to support staff and leaders from all local communities build the skills needed to undertake more robust economic development projects. In addition, OPODNE engaged Cash Express, a lender from Port au Prince to expand micro lending opportunities to individual and communities supported by OPODNE. This is on hold while the country working to address the political turmoil.

Building community:  In the face of overwhelming odds, the staff and leaders of OPODNE are more committed than ever to create  opportunities for leaders from each village to share their work, find inspiration, and discuss changes in Haiti that would improve their communities. While in person meetings have been limited, leaders are communicating internally in local communities and with across communities by WhatsApp.

Diaspora Organizing to spuport A Way Forward in Haiti:  In collaboration with Faith in Florida, Faith in New York, Massachusetts Community Action Network, Faith in Action East Bay, other Faith in Action organizations and partners, Faith in Action International is working to engage clergy and lay leaders to lift up the voice of diaspora faith communities and allies.  We believe this effort is important because of the centuries-long, frequently negative, impact of United States policy on Haiti. The million strong Haitian diaspora is playing an influential political role in Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Florida and Georgia. A steering committee of faith leaders and allies is meeting to guide this effort.

Today’s struggles for democracy, human rights and economic security in Haiti are part a long and arduous movement for self-determination. Time and again the U.S. has chosen to side with Haitian elites over ordinary people, hand-picking government leaders who’ve lacked credibility and legitimacy. The role of religious communities and people of faith in the U.S. is to support grassroots and faith-based organizations in Haiti, to use our moral and political power to reshape U.S. policy toward Haiti. That is the spirit of our “Way Forward in Haiti” campaign.

We have conducted monthly webinars; conducted research meeting with Haiti allies, gathered petition signatures  that helped push through an extension of Temporary Protective Status for more than 100,000 Haitians living in the U.S. and at-risk of deportation; and issued statements about the assassination and the Way Forward in Haiti.

Members of the steering committee are engaging Cardinal Langlois and the Catholic Episcopal Conference of Haiti, Archbishop Wienski and the United States Catholic Conference of Bishop as well as faith leaders from Protestant denominations and Evangelical congregations to find ways we can raise the voice of faith communities in Haiti and the United States. Discussions are underway to organize a delegation to visit Member of Congress and key policy makers in the State Department, Department of Homeland Security, and the White House.

Through a Way Forward we’ve met with U.S. Representatives Jim McGovern (MA), Darren Soto (FL), Ayana Pressley (MA), Andy Levin (MI) who are leaders in the Congressional Haiti Caucus and senior staff from Congressman Meeks, the Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Representatives Albio Sires (NJ), Barbara Lee (CA), and Frederica Wilson (FL) and Senator Elizabeth Warren (MA). We helped build support for a letter from 69 Members of Congress to the Biden Administration calling for a new approach to Haiti. We have met with Stacy Williams from the State Department Haiti Desk. In the here read our statement about the assassination, our position in support of the Haitian people, and to read more about the progress we are making to find “A Way Forward in Haiti”.

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