The phone call came in the middle of the morning. The voice, a member of our staff at the Have Faith Haiti orphanage, was hushed and scared.
“There might be someone on our property.”
She was calling from the third floor of our school building, where our kids and workers were already huddled and hiding, the doors locked, desks and chairs pushed up against them. Outside, our security guards were circling the exterior.
There’d been a call from a neighbor saying a man on the run might be nearby. Even though it would prove to be a false alarm, when that happens, we go into preparation mode. We sound an emergency alarm, all kids come running, their teachers and counselors account for all of them, and we race to the highest and safest ground.
It is no way for children to live. Yet it is part of daily life these days in Port-au-Prince, where a gangs vs. people war has escalated to daily confrontations. I have been to Haiti every month for 13 years. It has never been so bad.
You’ve probably read about how gangs have choked off much of Port-au-Prince, shutting down essential services, blocking roads, extorting money, stealing homes and committing random murders.
You may not have read how the people are fighting back. Tired of waiting for overmatched and overmanned police, they have reluctantly accepted that the rest of the world doesn’t care enough to intervene, especially, disappointedly, the U.S., despite being Haiti’s closest big neighbor.
So they have taken matters into their own hands.
It has become bloody.
We’re addressing immediate safety needs with this GoFundMe campaign. Click to learn more.
Caught in the crossfire
In recent days, a van full of suspected armed gang members was captured by police in the Canape Verte area, which is close to our orphanage. Somehow the citizens took control of these men, killed them and burned their bodies in the street.
It was, like similar recent acts, a message from the people, that they will not be overtaken, they will not accept gang rule. They are worn out. Exhausted by the terror. But they are fighting back – with violence, with beatings, with burnings, with guns.
And we are in the crossfire.
Our children have been beyond brave. They know this life. They accept their country. But they are still children, and when they hear gunfire, they are frightened.
When they see security guards circling, or police cars arriving, they are frightened.
When they have to stay inside a single space for hours, no school, no play, no eating, they are frightened.
As one of our kids, a 14-year-old girl, wrote after the incident: As the gunshots rained in the air, I felt frightened and weak. But with one of my younger siblings wrapped in my embrace, it reminded me that I had to be stronger than this.
That’s beautiful, but tragic. A 14-year-old?
We are not vigilantes. We are not warriors. We are an orphanage.
And we need protection.
Nowhere left to run
When I tell these horror stories to Americans, they say “How can people live like that? Why don’t they leave?” Many Haitians are desperately doing that. Tens of thousands are running away, applying for asylum in an overbooked U.S. system, or heading for the Dominican Republic.
We’re not running. We can’t run. Not with 100 kids and staff. Our mission has always been to give the most needy children a chance to change the narrative, so that they can one day make their country the flourishing place it deserves to be. We are not giving up on that.
But given the current dangers, we are temporarily realigning our fundraising to focus strictly on security.
We currently have a decent force of guards. We need more. The joy of our new home is the space it provides the kids to learn and grow. The downside is the size. Protecting seven acres of property requires greater manpower than we have. There are effective, armed security operations here in Port-au-Prince for hire. But they cost money.
We also want to build a “safe floor,” an area in a building that is bulletproof, secured by steel doors and window coverings, and equipped with the essentials inside. We want to do it for the worst case emergency, and because it’s smart. This can be done quickly. But it costs money.
Lastly, we want to establish full lighting, motion detectors, alarms and remote cameras around the perimeter of our property. The key to stopping any trouble is spotting it before it happens. We need to see and alert. But it costs money.
We pray this will not continue forever. We are grateful that we have never had a breach. But we want to keep it that way. We want our staff to be secure. We want the volunteers who join us to feel secure. Above all, we want our kids to be safe, every day, every night, every minute.
You can hear the gunfire from our playground. The outside is always close. In Haiti, you can hide but you cannot run. And so our orphanage family must say what almost every Haitian family is saying these days:
This is no way to live. Please help us.
How you can help: Support “Help Us Build a Safe House in War-Torn Haiti” any way you can
Since the launch of “A Year of Thanks & Giving,” we’ve asked a lot. And your generosity has showed up time and time again. We’re asking once again, but know that any level of support is welcome: give at GoFundMe if you can, share this on your social media profiles, email everyone you know. Every bit helps.
**If you need to give offline, checks may be sent to Have Faith Haiti Mission c/o A Hole in the Roof Foundation / 29836 Telegraph Road / Southfield, MI 48034 with “safe house” in memo line. For institutional giving, DAFs, and more questions, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.