Conversations with the Living: The Haitian AIDS Crisis

The official blog of Conversations with the Living

Archive for the ‘Civil Rights Violation’ Category

CONVERSATIONS WITH KAY ANGEL

leave a comment »

Conversations With the Living recently made contact with Lia Van de Donk, the director of Kay Angel orphanage in Jacmel, Haiti, which provides a home, education and support for children in need and those infected or affected by HIV/AIDS.

After a very positive conversation with Lia regarding her work at Kay Angel and the mission and purpose of our film, it was clear that Kay Angel’s everyday work to provide HIV-positive and orphaned children in need, access to life saving medication, housing, education and support aligned with the mission of Conversations With the Living and the message of our film.

We have been in contact with Lia since our first discussion in order to stay updated on the progress at Kay Angel, as well as to coordinate a visit upon our return to Haiti, in order to document the incredible work being done to improve the lives of these children.

We are inspired by the work of Kay Angel and their willingness to take on the challenge of caring for this often forgotten demographic, and the Conversations With the Living team wants to introduce those who support this project and the work being done to help children affected by and infected with HIV/AIDS to Kay Angel.

The Story of Kay Angel

Kay Angel, Creole for Angel House, opened its doors in 2007 and is currently home to 12 children; 5 are HIV+ and all are lucky to be alive.

Their first home was rented for one year in Jacmel before they moved to St. Helene, another neighborhood in Jacmel. In St. Helene the children of school age attended either the local kindergarten, a school for the handicapped or were taught by a private teacher at the orphanage. When the January 12th earthquake destroyed the children’s schools and the orphanage, Lia and the children lived in the streets for about 2 weeks, and then in tents for 15 months.  On April 1st of this year Kay Angel was able to rent a temporary home in Zorange for 1 year, while construction of their permanent home is being completed.

Today, they are in the process of building their permanent home on a piece of land named Sacrifice, which they were able to buy this past year with money raised through individual donations from family and friends and outreach on their two dedicated blogs in the United States and Holland, Lia’s native country.

We emphasize home, because Lia, who lives with the children along with her husband, makes sure that the daily needs of the children are met and that a family environment is provided, where the children are loved, accepted and supported. Along with a small local staff, they make sure that the children are fed, attend school and that their medications are measured and administered twice a day.

The children that are HIV-positive are in the Aids program of USAID at the local hospital St. Michel, which is a free program that includes a monthly examination by the doctor, Dr Raphael, and a monthly supply of ARV meds. When asked about how their home manages to function and provide resources year round, Lia shared that aside from individual donations, organizations like USAID have been instrumental in providing the children’s health care needs. Without this program and the free medical supplies that it donates, it would be extremely difficult to care for the children that are HIV+, due to the tremendous expense of ARV medication. Additionally, Kay Angel has its own paid Haitian pediatrician on staff that visits Kay Angel once a month to consult the children, and subscribe additional medication or vitamin and protein supplements as needed, which are paid for by Kay Angel.

Some help in the form of rice, cooking oil and beans comes monthly from the World Food Programme (WFP), and any additional nutritional needs are met through purchases from local markets and vendors.

After a long struggle to find adequate schools for the children, especially those that are HIV-positive, Lia was able to enroll the children in SOS Enfants in Cyvadier, with the exception of one child who attends PAZAPA, a school for handicapped and special needs children located in town. The children have adjusted extraordinarily well to the school environment and have received good marks. The children’s performance in school has been a great accomplishment and source of excitement, due to the fact that prior to coming to Kay Angel, the children had not been afforded the opportunity to attend school.

The majority of education in Haiti is privatized, therefore families or organizations supporting children, must pay to send their children to school. With 80% of the population living under the poverty line and 54% in abject poverty, providing children with an education often means the family goes without other basic necessities or the children are simply not educated.

The children living at Kay Angel are the fortunate. The children wake up everyday in a loving environment, where their mental and physical well-being are the priority, and the benefits of this environment provide an example of what is possible if people focus on the needs in the communities they serve and advocate for substantial change and real solutions.

There were an estimated 380,000 orphans before the earthquake, as many as 225,000 children living as retaveks (child slaves), and approximately 150,000 orphaned by HIV/AIDS.

Kay Angel works with these children, not only because there is a need, but also because they have seen through their own work that children provided the proper resources and support can live happy and healthy lives. The children they care for are proof-positive of what is possible given compassion and cooperation efforts, and they are an example of what is working in Haiti.

Both Kay Angel and Conversations With the Living are focused on HIV-positive orphans and the importance of recognizing the effort, organization, continued funding, and unerring dedication required to give these children a chance for survival and a future where they can be engaged and accepted in their communities. Kay Angel is a place where the methods used on the ground in Haiti and within the Haitian community shed light on the small, yet existing network of people dedicated to creating a better life and future for Haiti and her children.

While, we prepare to return to Haiti, Lia and her staff work daily, around the clock, juggling time taking care of the children’s needs and the construction of the new orphanage. We look forward to sharing their continued progress with you and to introducing you to some of the amazing children at Kay Angel.

– Leigh E. Carlson

Advertisements

“Baby Doc” Duvalier Returns to Haiti

leave a comment »

News hit yesterday that Former Haitian president, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, 59, has unexpectedly returned to Haiti after 25 years in exile, primarily in France.

A Brief history – “Baby Doc” was the ruler of Haiti from 1971-1986. He succeeded his father, François “Papa Doc” Duvalier as “President for Life” upon his father’s death in 1971, becoming the world’s youngest president at the age of nineteen. He remained so until his overthrow by a popular uprising in 1986, when he was ousted by a revolt after his family and supporters were accused of stealing millions of dollars in government funds.

“Baby Doc” was incapable of properly running the country, resulting in no substantial or essential changes to his father’s regime, which was a dictatorship, based on corruption, repression, and human rights violations. Like his father, “ Baby Doc” relied on the Tontons Macoutes, a brutal militia that controlled Haiti through violence and intimidation.

Many of the youth in Haiti were not alive when “Baby Doc” he was forced into exile, but they have inherited the country that was left behind, and are aware of his legacy, that with the support of the United States government and France crippled the Haitian economy and its people in nearly every way. Although he has a small base of support, how the majority of Haitians respond to his return, both young and old will solidify if he is welcome in Haiti or not. The Haitian people have struggled to have their voices heard and were possibly never more silenced than during the reign of the Duvaliers.

When asked why he chose to return now after nearly three decades, he simply stated that he has “come to help”. His current wife, Veronique Roy, has been doing most of the talking, and has expressed that “Baby Doc” was supposedly moved by the images of the year anniversary of the January earthquake and the recent portrayal of Haiti in the media – begging the question – when in the past 25 years hasn’t Haiti been portrayed poorly by the mainstream media? When haven’t the images accessible on major TV news and Internet been appalling and ripe for concern? Why has he really decided to return now?

Some claim he is broke after years in exile and from his divorce; others think it is a tactic to intensifying the confusion in the post-election political crisis and was planned by current President Rene Preval. Human rights groups are pushing for his immediate arrest and detainment for theft and crimes against humanity committed during his presidency, while they acknowledge his right to return to his home country, they are demanding justice for the Haitian people.

It has been said that the majority of Haitian leaders have been thieves and liars, it just depends on who you talk to in Haiti – so what of the return of Aristide? This too is said to be on the horizon.

Neither is said to be returning as a presidential candidate, yet as a civilian to “help” the people of Haiti.

Aristide’s Return?

Demonstrators are demanding the return of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Many Haitians feel he is the only one who cares about Haiti’s situation and ever really had the interests of the Haitian people in mind.

Once again it depends on who you ask, but he was the only democratically elected president is Haiti’s history. He received 67% of the popular vote, landing him the presidency from 1994 to 1996 and again from 2001 to 2004 before he was ousted in February 2004 by a US orchestrated coup d’état against him, when he was forced into exile in South Africa.

The people of Haiti are calling upon President Rene Preval to keep his promise that he made over four years ago during his election to allow Aristide to return to Haiti. This has yet to happen although Aristide has expressed his desire and intentions to return.

During his exile Aristide has maintained a large support base, especially with the poor in Haiti, which is the majority. The exclusion of his party Fanmi Lavalas, a populist leftist party in Haiti, in the recent November Presidential elections was a subject of great debate.

Amidst the results of a November 28 election and allegations of vote rigging by the current party in power, the return of “Baby Doc” and possible return of Aristide is a cause of great concern, especially now as Haitians exist in a constant state of crisis and political and civil unrest. The people are already, and for good reason, up in arms. There is a lot of history, inexplicably brutal and painful history with these two men that one must understand in order to understand the current state of Haiti.

Haiti’s people (Her greatest asset) are ready for change – to move forward, but must be given a chance with leadership that is willing to take responsibility for Haiti and her people, and many fear that the return of these former leaders, even as civilians, will not only complicate the political environment, but create even greater chaos in a nation plagued by one disaster after another.

We will be following the news regarding Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier’s return and the possible return of Jean Bertrand Aristide. Please also follow us on Twitter for updates.

-LC

Hurricane Tomas and Decades of Failed Policy

with one comment

The people of Haiti are dealing with the impact of Hurricane Tomas currently threatening the Caribbean nation and endangering millions of Haitians living in IDP camps who are already at risk, living in unsafe and unsanitary conditions with no protection from environmental elements.

It is reported that heavy rain, flooding and landslides have killed at least seven people. Although it appears Haiti has avoided a “direct hit”, there is pending danger of flash floods and mudslides that could threaten residents of IDP camps.

The Haitian government and UN are asking millions of Haitians to leave their tents and tarps, which have been their only form of protection since the January 12th earthquake, however much like the issue of forced evictions, the Haitian government has no plan to house or provide aid to displaced individuals. People are hesitant to leave the camps, concerned that they will lose whatever form of home they have and their few remaining possessions.

With the problems facing Haiti, many of which are issues the nation has been facing for years, including the housing crisis, food crisis, health care crisis, and an endless list of social and economic challenges, Haitians now face another natural disaster. Even if rain and flooding is minimal there is fear that the efforts to contain the deadly cholera outbreak will be stifled, an outbreak that has claimed the lives of at least “442 people and sickened more than 6,700.”

Jean-Max Bellerive, Haiti’s prime minister states, “the government is doing all it can to provide aid and better shelter to the most vulnerable, but we simply do not have the resources to help many of them.”

Haitian youth, John-Smith Deshommes, is having a difficult time understanding why one obstacle after another is putting Haitians further and further into crisis.” Things have always been difficult, but I don’t know what is happening with Haiti. Eight months ago we met an earthquake that destroyed Haiti, some months later, we met cholera, and now we are facing hurricane Tomas. Everybody is being called to move; meanwhile, they have nowhere to go and nowhere to live. Why all these problems?”

Although the January 12th earthquake and Hurricane Tomas are natural disasters, many of the crises Haiti is dealing with are man-made disasters whose causes are rooted in decades of poverty, poor governance, and policies that have resulted in Haitians being vulnerable to these environmental threats.

Any real analysis of Haiti’s issues, including the earthquake that destroyed much of the nation, the recent cholera outbreak, the damage and deaths due to the storm, and problems with avoiding additional spread of disease across the country must include an objective examination of how policy is or is not safeguarding Haiti’s citizens. A thorough assessment of the policies implemented by the government of Haiti and the international community both before and after the earthquake offer some answers to the question – Why all these problems?

Flawed policies have plagued Haiti for decades, including trade policies resulting in mass deforestation, dependence on foreign food, medicine and additional imports, questionable distribution of international aid, debt to foreign governments, and illegal elections, all of which have minimized the ability to provide and maintain basic services.

One of the main reasons for the 2010 earthquake’s lethality was because of Haiti’s extreme poverty on every level. Governmental poverty created the weak physical infrastructure that crumbled during the earthquake, and the public health system that ceased to function in the immediate aftermath of the disaster because it was already crippled to begin with. The earthquake shattered much of Haiti, but the country was broken long before the disaster struck. How many lives could have been saved had the poverty not been so severe?

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, a known and indisputable fact. Every country’s ability to provide a sound infrastructure is directly linked to its economy. Haiti is poor, therefore its infrastructure is lacking in every arena and currently has no ability to protect its citizens from environmental threat. Haitians can and will rebuild, but the Haitian government and international governments must be held accountable for the flawed policies of the past and for the future of Haiti as a nation. Their policy decisions affect the lives of nearly seven million people, begging the question; why is it so difficult for those in a position to radically improve these lives to do what they know is right on behalf of the Haitian people?

-LC

Haitian Jail Killings

leave a comment »

I just read this in this morning’s NY Times. It appears on January 19th an unsuccessful mass prison escape in Les Cayes, Haiti resulted in the murder and maiming of dozens of inmates. By third world standards, Haitian jails are noted as some of the worst, but this is surprising to me. One of the main things ingrained in my head since child hood is that my country operates on the chien manger chien principle (dog eat dog). In other words, cruelty and sadistic behavior are the norm and are often expected. There is a seething anger that boils under the skin of most Haitians ready to set out for the slightest reason. Granted, a jail riot and mass escape attempt are serious, but seriously people, do we have to conduct ourselves in such a heinous manner right after the January 12th earthquake?

Keep giving the world excuses to tie in aid with some sort of “occupation” or “supervision” to keep the savages from killing each other, and pretty soon our sovereignty will fly right out the window.

Mark my words.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/23/world/americas/23haiti.html?hp

Gede Greg C.