Conversations with the Living: The Haitian AIDS Crisis

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World AIDS Day and Conversations With the Living

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WORLD AIDS DAY 2011

Today is World AIDS Day. Since 1988 World AIDS Day has been held on December 1st and provides the opportunity for people around the world to unite in the fight against HIV, offer support to those affected and infected with HIV, and honor the lives of those who have died as a result of the virus.

World AIDS Day is one day, every year, dedicated to raising money, fighting prejudice, increasing awareness, improving education and helping people understand the facts surrounding HIV/AIDS globally. World AIDS Day is a way to remind people that AIDS is still a serious issue affecting millions of people each year. Although numerous organizations and activists work everyday to address the issue of HIV/AIDS, the global community needs to remember the importance of raising awareness of HIV year round. The global crisis goes relatively unnoticed in the mainstream media, and oftentimes, unless directly affected, people tend to know very little about HIV/AIDS in their own communities, cities, and countries. World AIDS day is an opportunity to learn facts about HIV and use that knowledge to help in your community.

Even as scientific advances are made in HIV treatment, many people still go without access to resources and struggle with properly educating people about the virus, which plays a large role in reducing infection rates and fighting the discrimination and stigma often attached to the virus.

There are currently 33 million people living with HIV. This year 1.8 million HIV-positive persons died of Aids-related-illnesses and as many as 2.7 million were infected, that is over seven thousand people a day. HIV is a threat to men, women and children on all continents around the world.

GETTING TO ZERO

This year’s World AIDS Day theme is Getting to Zero, which focuses on three targets, Zero new HIV infections, Zero discrimination, and Zero AIDS-related deaths. This is the goal of all goals. This is a call to arms, the very point of the global fight against HIV. There is a long way to go, but by focusing on reducing infection, stigma and deaths, given the progress made within populations with access to live saving medications and nutrition, this is a goal that cultivates great hope and aims to prove what can be accomplished with compassion and cooperation efforts.

Conversations With the Living is a documentary film that focuses on this hope and the amazing progress made when there is access to resources.

CONVERSATIONS WITH THE LIVING & HIV

Conversations With the Living is a feature length documentary that focuses on HIV-positive orphans and the daily lives of these children. In the process, the film highlights the network dedicated to bringing HIV-positive orphans the medication, food, housing, education, and emotional support that keeps them alive. We will trace the path of that medication from the child through the entire network that made it possible, showing the dedicated individuals that work tirelessly every day, grinding through routine and unforeseen challenges and providing real solutions to Haiti’s battle against HIV. It takes effort, organization, continued funding, and unerring dedication on the part of countless people to give these children a chance for survival and a future where they can be engaged and accepted in their communities.

As government agencies and aid organizations tighten their belts due to the struggling economy; HIV, and the core issues that make it difficult to combat, like poverty, malnourishment, and lack of access to medication, are tightening their grip on the most vulnerable populations. But, there are people doing incredible work, providing both access and support to those affected by and infected with HIV in Haiti, and we are telling their story.

The ultimate goal of Conversations with the Living is to draw attention to HIV/AIDS in the developing world and continue to raise awareness of the need to support AIDS organizations around the world. We are determined to show that HIV progress does not happen by accident and that the network of caregivers and activists that work together to provide for these children is intricate and delicate.

This network provides real hope for the future of these children and represents what is positive and possible. The positive strides made against the disease in countries like Haiti and the people who make it possible must not only be recognized, but also supported. Raising and maintaining awareness about the efforts of dedicated HIV workers must happen and their work must be expanded upon.

HIV & HAITI

In Haiti, an estimated 40,000 people die of AIDS every year. These are grim numbers when considering the size of the country, which is roughly the size of Maryland. When taking into account that a large percentage of at-risk Haitians who do not get tested due to access and fear of social stigma, experts believe the national statistic is much higher than recorded; some believe as high as 11%.Currently one in twenty Haitians is infected with HIV/AIDS and there are over 150,000 AIDS orphan.

No one should ever die of a treatable disease. Haiti’s struggle with AIDS and the elements of history that have contributed to its prevalence, still exist and continue to exacerbate the issue. The failure to provide access and address the societal issues surrounding HIV in Haiti only maintains and perpetuates a system that produces more death, deprivation, and disease.

For people living in developed countries around the world, HIV has become a manageable disease, however the majority of the world’s people living in the developing world are not afforded that luxury. Their children are the next generation of survivors, advocates and activists, and they are proof positive of what is possible given the resources and support.

When the HIV-positive are provided the proper resources in Haiti, they are happy, healthy and hopeful. Lives are being saved and people need to know what is working in Haiti and what needs to be done to maintain this work and broaden its reach. 

There is a vital need to raise money, increase awareness, fight prejudice and improve education and your participation is needed, not just today, but everyday.

– Leigh E. Carlson

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CONVERSATIONS WITH KAY ANGEL

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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

Haïti Liberté and The Aristide Files

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Haïti Liberté editor Kim Ives was interviewed on Democracy Now! today regarding the 2,000 U.S. diplomatic cables on Haiti.

For those who have researched Haiti’s political history and are aware of the unrest surrounding decades and centuries of political instability, this is an interesting report that touches on the meddling of foreign governments in regards to Haiti’s government over the past decade and offers just a glimpse into findings that are unfortunately far from surprising – an important part of the  historical record.

Ives research found that high-level U.S. and U.N. officials coordinated a politically motivated prosecution of former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to prevent him from gaining more traction with the Haitian population and returning to Haiti.

Kim Ives full report for The Nations can also be found at the following link:

http://www.thenation.com/article/162598/wikileaks-haiti-aristide-files

A New Leader Ready to Serve the People of Haiti?

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I recently had a phone call with Johnson, one of our scouts on the ground in Haiti. He blared the music of Michel ”Sweet Micky” Martelly over the phone and sang along proclaiming, “I love this music, and everyone is loving this music”. It seems many people in his Carrefour neighborhood are playing the music of “Sweet Micky” these days – but what of Martelly’s inclusion in the upcoming runoff election?

The decision to reverse the results of the candidates included in the upcoming runoff election was announced a few weeks ago after the Organisation of American States (OAS) found the original election results to be fraudulent, favoring Jude Celestin of the INITE (Unity) Party, who was supported in his campaign by current President Rene Preval.

The runoff will now include Mirlande Manigat of the Rally of Progressive National Democrats (RDNP) Party, and Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly. The runoff has been rescheduled for March 20 and people are asking the same question that was posed months ago – should there be new elections altogether?

The decision to reverse the results of the first round polls was met with relative calm on the streets, but the question of legitimacy regarding the initial elections and the upcoming runoff elections is a major topic of conversation among human rights advocates, political analysts and Haitian citizens alike. Many displaced Haitians and registered voters were unable to cast their ballots, and several candidates, even entire parties, were excluded from running in the race, including the Fanmi Lavalas party, a political party with major popular support in Haiti.  Even though the argument against the exclusionary elections was made prior to the initial elections, US and foreign governments supported the Haitian Electoral Council’s flawed process.

Now with the OAS results, although not accepted by the Haiti’s Provi­sional Electoral Council (CEP), the US and the United Nations (UN) welcome the decision and hope that Celestin’s exclusion will “clear the way for a more stable political climate and allow international aid efforts to be stepped up”, however many question the intentions of the US and foreign governments and criticize their interference both before and after the elections. Human rights groups believe that the US government used its tremendous power and influence to determine the outcome of the first round of elections and “denied Haitians the opportunity to express their will.” One can’t help but ask how western economic interests played into the support of the initial elections, how they are currently manipulating Haitian politics, and why the typical pattern of exploitation has in no way ceased since the earthquake of January 12, 2010.

The US has always used its influence as a powerful nation to get what it wants from the poorest countries in the world. Although the election results were in question, the final decision to exclude Celestin was forced upon Haiti, “literally under the threat of starvation.” The US has yet to manage distribution of promised aid to the country since the devastating earthquake and is using delivery of this aid and continued support to even further impose their will over the people in their struggle for democracy.

Even with Celestin excluded, most people are still missing the point – the elections were a fraud from the beginning. Many argue that the two candidates now participating in the runoff do not represent the people, and most would argue that neither does Celestin.

Haiti is entangled in an intense political crisis and Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Washington-based Center for Economic Policy and Research believes, “This attempt to impose an illegitimate government on Haiti will backfire.” Haitian civil society groups, political parties, the Congressional Black Caucus and several U.S. human rights groups are calling for new, inclusive elections as the only practical solution to Haiti’s election crisis.

To make matters more complicated, the runoff elections are following the controversial return of previous president and dictator, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier on January 16th, who has run into corruption and human rights charges. And more recently news that the Council of Ministers has agreed to issue a diplomatic passport to former President, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who has been in exile in South Africa for almost seven years, following a 2004 US backed coup d’état has stirred up further controversy. Both men bring with them a history tainted with decades of political instability, civil unrest and corruption.

Aristide still has a lot of popular support, as he was Haiti’s first democratically elected leader, and said recently that he is ready to return to his homeland “today, tomorrow, at any time”, but has yet to return.  Some fear his return could upset an already confused presidential and legislative elections process.

Preval’s mandate has formally ended, but parliament has approved his stay until May 14th so he can hand over to an elected successor.

The innumerable issues present both before and after the January earthquake only fuel the tensions surrounding Haiti’s upcoming runoff elections. Democracy in Haiti has a long way to go, and her most vulnerable and under-represented citizens continue to hope that what will come of this lengthily and flawed “democratic” process is a new leader ready to serve the people of Haiti, but most, quite justifiably, have their doubts.

– LC

“Baby Doc” Duvalier Returns to Haiti

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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

January 12th – 1 Year Later

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So, it’s been almost one full year since the cataclysmic earthquake that devastated Port Au Prince and it’s outlying areas. Haiti’s already unstable infrastructure and volatile political structure took a violent  hit; one that may potentially take another century to fully recover from.

In the quake’s aftermath we saw the international community stand up in a show of solidarity; vowing to help this unfortunate island state to rebuild. Countries all over the world pledged billions of dollars and endless amounts of manpower to assist in recovery.

Out of the spotlight celebrities and politicos worldwide dusted off their camouflage and khakis, without a doubt tweaking their press conference speeches on chartered Gulf stream jet rides to the Dominican Republic, as they prepped for the cameras documenting their forays across the St. Domingue/Ayiti border.

Hell, we even had Haitian politicians finally fessing up and promising to put aside their petty banana republic ideological differences and do what’s best for the country.

In the US, Haitian Americans and ex-pats united in a way that hadn’t been seen since the days of the 4 H’s in the 1980’s. Haitian groups were organizing, planning, plotting, and pontificating at an insane rate; guided by the simple premise of rebuilding this once proud nation into the land that L’Ouverture and Dessalines would have envisioned. There were fund raisers, records, and conversations with the UN. We even united Bubba and Dubya!

Haiti was finally on the map, and for those of us that lost family and possessions on January 12, 2011, there was hope. Then a funny thing happened over the next year.

Absolutely nothing.

Gede Greg Cee

Footprints of a colonial past: Primitive sugar mills in old Haiti

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At one time, sugar production was the be-all and end-all of France’s colonial aspirations in St. Domingue and helped fund the ascent of port cities like Marseilles.