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A Catholic agency gradually restores services in Haiti in the midst of crisis

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A series of debilitating crises in recent weeks – from an increase in Covid-19 cases to the assassination of a president – has left Haiti reeling in uncertainty again and forced Catholic Relief Services to scale back its outreach efforts.

“Like I said to someone, it’s like the perfect storm. Everything is falling into place to bring people to their knees, ”Akim Kikonda, CRS national representative in Haiti, told Catholic News Service on July 14.

Beyond the pandemic, Kikonda highlighted the increase in gang violence in neighborhoods primarily in and around Port-au-Prince, the capital, and damage from Tropical Storm Elsa, which swept through the south. of Haiti and the Dominican Republic on July 3, ripping roofs, chopping down trees and flooding farms.

Four days after the storm, in the early hours of July 7, 28 foreign mercenaries, including specially trained Colombian soldiers, assassinated President Jovenel Moise, creating a deeper void in the country’s governance.

Kikonda said any of these events would pose serious challenges to daily life, but the ensuing crises facing the country pave the way for a worsening humanitarian crisis.

The number of reported cases of Covid-19 in the poorest country in the western hemisphere jumped in June, to its highest level in a year, according to data compiled by the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center.

People sleep in sports centers and community shelters. Small businesses have been looted and destroyed

One positive development is that coronavirus cases declined in July. The country’s health ministry announced on July 14 that the United States would send 500,000 doses of vaccine through COVAX, the World Health Organization-backed initiative to share vaccines around the world.

Kikonda said CRS ‘response to the coronavirus involves finalizing a contract with a private company to provide psychological counseling and social support to frontline health workers treating Covid-19 patients.

“It was disturbed by the assassination,” Kikonda said. Negotiations on the finalization of the contract were to resume on July 16 so that these services could begin as soon as possible.

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CRS, the relief and development agency for American bishops abroad, will also support collaborative initiatives with other humanitarian organizations to raise awareness of the importance of getting vaccinated.

Meanwhile, gang fighting has displaced 13,000 people and forced businesses to close and street vendors to withdraw to their homes, Kikonda said.

“People are sleeping in sports centers and community shelters. Small businesses have been looted and destroyed. Now people have to depend on aid, which they weren’t doing a few weeks ago,” he said. he declared to CNS.

Such violence, coupled with the assassination of Moïse, prompted CRS leaders to suspend programming across Haiti and order agency employees to stay at home, Kikonda said. The order covered the three CRS offices – in Port-au-Prince, and Les Cayes and Jérémie in the southwestern peninsula.

Kikonda said he heard “a lot of gunfire” near his home in Pétionville, the same community where Moses lived, soon after the assassination. “It was a clear indication that it was not safe,” he said.

The agency’s offices on the peninsula reopened on July 12, while staff from Port-au-Prince returned the next day.

“Since we reopened, we have seen people in need and people dependent on help,” Kikonda said. “They are not in a position to receive help. So we are really doing our best to resume our operations so that we can reach and serve them.”

We wait for our people to travel safely to re-establish contact with the schools we serve

Due to the violence, CRS staff delayed sending teams to assess the damage to small farms on the way to Elsa. Kikonda expressed concern that when the teams finally visit the farmers – likely from the week of July 19 – they will see that “some of the efforts that we have made to build the livelihoods and fields of these communities. people were destroyed by the storm ”.

Programming in schools has also been suspended due to the ensuing crises. CRS staff members visit schools to help early grade students improve their reading and writing skills.

“We are waiting for our people to travel safely to re-establish contact with the schools we serve,” Kikonda said.

The violence harms the poorest people, especially those who struggle normally to obtain food, hygiene products and health care, added the representative of CRS.

“So our advocacy with everyone is to talk about this and how, in this time of transition, to make sure that people in the country can get back to their normal lives and become themselves again. we need. This is what we stand for. This is our advocacy, “Kikonda said.

“If people can let go of the guns, to quote the Haitian Catholic bishops, and sit around the table and speak peacefully, it will help everyone and it will allow us to do what we are here for.