Despite violence, AVSI still has 300 workers in Haiti

AVSI has seen many crises since they began working in the Caribbean nation 25 years ago. The article by Aleteia Online Magazine

A child standing in a street of Port-au-prince Haiti 2024
Countries Haiti
Date 20.06.2024
Author By John Burger, Aleteia Online Magazine

More than 2,500 Haitians have been killed or injured since January 2024, according to the United Nations, largely the result of gangs taking over many areas and fighting government forces. Some 90,000 people in gang-controlled Port-au-Prince, the capital, have been forced from their homes.

As the country awaits a promised international peacekeeping force, led by Kenya, many people are still afraid to venture out, and the closure of the international airport, seaports, major roadways, and the border with the Dominican Republic have meant that vital goods, such as food and medicines, are not reaching enough of the population.

Humanitarian aid organizations and missionary societies are continuing to serve, although with greater difficulty: AVSI has about 300 staffers in the country, most of them natives.

"We must hold onto hope"

AVSI started working in Haiti in 1999, following a request from the Apostolic Nuncio in support of the Agricultural Faculty of the Catholic University of Notre Dame d'Haiti in Les Cayes.

Flavia Maurello, AVSI’s country representative in Haiti, expressed disappointment that Haiti has not seen greater development since she was first there 10 years ago. She returned to the Caribbean island after other stints in the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan. "It's tough for me to see this country not progressing because I truly love Haiti and its people," she shared.

It sometimes seems that Haiti just can’t win, with a series of natural disasters, a presidential assassination, and ongoing political turmoil.

Nevertheless, we must hold onto hope," Maurello said. "Our aim is to address day-to-day emergencies through small acts that can bring hope to the people. Many of our projects have key components that empower the Haitian people to recognize their human dignity and their capability to drive change in the community, bringing much-needed hope to those around them.

Flavia Maurello, AVSI’s country representative in Haiti
Haitian beneficiaries help clean up Port-au-prince streets
People involved in the USAID-BHA-funded project help clean sewage-filled streets in Port-au-Prince neighborhoods.

The gang violence has disrupted food supplies and forced over 362,000 people to flee their homes and abandon their livelihoods – including farmland – amid continued uncertainties about the timing of the deployment of the Kenya-led Multinational Security Support Mission, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization said recently. The FAO’s report warned that critical levels of food insecurity and malnutrition risk worsening further, with the threat of catastrophic conditions reemerging, especially in areas where humanitarian access is limited by gang violence. 

In Port-au-Prince, AVSI is active in two poor communities, Cité Soleil and Martissant. It carries out humanitarian projects to provide nutrition and food security, protection for internally displaced people, and support for victims of gender-based violence. Pharmacies and hospitals have been looted and burned, compounding the problem for those needing medical care. 

In the countryside, the organization provides agricultural support. 

In both the capital and in the countryside, AVSI is trying to get education for children whose school life has been interrupted by the crisis. “We have put in place some child friendly spaces for the children, because the school was closed,” Maurello said.

"Protagonists of their own development"

In all that it does, AVSI tries to give people the possibility “to find their internal resources,” said Annalisa Costanza, a project manager with AVSI.

“Yes, we'll work on their need to eat or nutritional needs, but also we want them to find their internal resources and to be helped with cultural or psychological support to face the situation with them or their family or their community, and strive to be the one that will restore the situation,” Costanza told Aleteia. “So, the goal is to make them the protagonists of their own development.”

With the uncertainty about when the Multilateral Security Support Mission will arrive and when elections will take place, AVSI and other aid organizations can only wait and do the best they can. Said Maurello, “I think we have to pass through another hard period.”

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