I have been Cross Catholic Outreach’s in-country project consultant for more than seven years, and have over 14 years of experience in international development, primarily in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. My father is Haitian and I have deep roots in the country. So when I talk about poverty in Haiti, it’s a very personal subject. My heart truly breaks for our country because I know the reasons for the poverty are complex, and will take a long time to fix.
I also know that surely our Lord’s heart breaks for these burdened families!
Church leaders are concerned too, and thankfully, many have organized missions and outreaches to help. Their goal is to address everything from malnutrition to education; from medical needs to the plight of the homeless. With the financial support of American Catholics, they hope to feed the hungry, supply safe water, improve educational and medical services and improve the lives of the thousands of families living in dilapidated shacks.
While it sometimes feels as though the scope of poverty in Haiti is insurmountable, the truth is that positive changes can be achieved. I can say for a fact that Cross Catholic Outreach’s Haiti partners are making a huge impact. In 2019 alone, I can bear witness to three Haitian ministries in particular that are transforming the lives of the poor.
This first ministry is located in the Central Plateau, in an area that was once thought of as the “darkest corner of the Diocese of Hinche”— a land of starving families, sick children, polluted water, sun-scorched fields, crumbling mud shacks and a shocking absence of jobs or opportunities. Kobonal’s approach to poverty relief is unique because it strives to meet the needs of the whole person — materially, physically and spiritually. The message of Christ’s love and mercy is woven into the fabric of every Kobonal program, leading to long-term results.
One of the most transformative programs is education. In 2019, 1,240 primary school students received a quality Catholic education at the Mission’s two primary schools, which are recognized as the best in the region! Incredibly, 289 of Kobonal’s schoolchildren also earned scholarships to secondary schools and universities. This is significant because in Haiti’s public schools, a single child’s enrollment fees, plus books, supplies and uniforms, can total up to $250 — half of an average family’s annual income.
Another impactful program is the Mission’s housing program. In 2019, Kobonal built 80 new homes for poor families. These families were coming from situations where they had no protection from storms, from the wind or the rain. They had no privacy, no security. That all changed thanks to the generosity of Cross Catholic Outreach donors!
This ministry is especially important because it provides a safe haven for vulnerable children and abused women who have been caught up in the terrible migration conflict between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Residents come to the safe house for a variety of reasons. Some have been victimized by traffickers who promised to escort them into the Dominican Republic for a better life, but actually took advantage of them for their money. Some are restavek children who escaped their host families, and others are victims of domestic abuse.
In 2019 alone, 286 women and children passed through the gates of St. Teresa Safe House, and were cared for by the Sisters of San Juan Evangelista. “The children have been through such an emotional shock that our support is crucial,” said Sister Alexandra, who helps run the home. “Behind each child is a story. You pray every day. You pray and you cry.”
Cross Catholic Outreach is the program’s only major funder. We are committed to helping the sisters run St. Teresa Safe House so that human trafficking victims can receive the help they so desperately need.
The third ministry that really stands out is an education program based in Port-au-Prince. What makes this program special is that it gives poor high-achieving Haitian students the opportunity to attend the University of Notre Dame, Haiti’s only Catholic university. This is vital, because most education programs for the poor stop at the eighth grade. If we truly want students in developing countries to live up to the potential God has in store for them, then they need the benefits that higher education affords.
HELP’s record of success speaks for itself. So far, all of the program’s graduates are employed and earn an average annual salary of $10,000 — almost 16 times Haiti’s $653 per capita income.
Maude Timothee is the director of students at the University of Notre Dame and can attest to the excellence of HELP students. She meets a lot of young men and women on campus, but according to her, HELP students seem to stand out from the crowd.
“If I look at the average student at Notre Dame — out of the top five, two or three of them are HELP students,” she says. “One of the recent HELP scholarship students had a 99 average — the highest average ever for a Notre Dame student.” These achievements carry outside of the classroom too. By implementing service projects, leading prayer groups and demonstrating Catholic values, HELP students raise the bar and set a higher standard for campus culture.
“You can tell the difference with the spiritual leadership that HELP students provide,” Maude explains. “Notre Dame is the only Catholic university in Haiti, so the spiritual development of our students is just as important as academics.”