Mercy Meets Violence on the Road in Haiti
By Sister Mary Waskowiak
Sisters Mary Waskowiak, Dale Jarvis, Eileen McDonnell, Betty Scanlon, Karen Schneider and Mercy colleague Andi Healy are members of Focus on Haiti (FOH), an initiative which seeks to respond to the people of Haiti after the devastation of the 2010 earthquake. In June, the women met with the Religious of Jesus and Mary (RJM) in the northwest Haitian town of Gros Morne to discuss ways to partner to address issues in Haiti.
We arrived in Gros Morne on June 9 and met RJM Sisters Jackie Picard and Pat Dillon for a two-day intensive meeting to determine ways we could partner to address issues of concern in Haiti. Sister Marilyn Lacey joined us – her ministry, Mercy Beyond Borders, had begun its scholarship program for young Haitian women in the Gros Morne area in 2011.
On June 12, we said good-bye to our RJM sisters, Jackie and Pat. We got into the van with our Haitian driver, Barack. Three days earlier he had brought us safely from the airport to our destination in four hours. This time our drive came to a halt after an hour and would last for eight. As we passed the small town of Cabaret, cars stopped. The road was blocked.
Barack found out what the problem was – local citizens were blocking all access to Port-au-Prince in protest of the Haitian president’s failure to keep his promise to bring electricity into their area.
We were parked just outside of a compound with a cinder block wall and Barack, with the help of a few men, turned the van around and headed into the compound. Inside, we met about a dozen American church people who were working with Haitian young adults. Everyone was on edge, not knowing what would happen. We could all see the black smoke of tires burning in protest.
Slowly the compound emptied out as the group found safety further from the roadblock. Six Haitian young men kindly returned with a meal of chicken, rice and beans for each of us. These men turned out to be our guardian angels and friends.
Karen contacted Jimmy, a Haitian friend in Port-au-Prince, who could meet us in his jeep on the other side of the blockade. Two of our young Haitian guardian angels met with the leaders of the blockade who would only allow us to walk into the town and passed the blockade, accompanied by the young Haitian men.
The men walked beside us giving support for our hearts as well as our bags. We walked around tanker trucks that had been burned and turned over sideways, the road littered with jagged, broken bottles and rocks.
Fearing that violence might escalate, the young men led us off the city streets to bypass the town and we walked in the hills, hearing gunfire in the distance. They held our hands, carried our luggage and back packs and kept saying, “Don’t be afraid.” After about three miles, we reached the other side of the blockade, relieved to find Karen’s friend Jimmy waiting with his jeep.
Our journey was over but the blockade lasted for three days before negotiations were completed. The journey taught us another lesson in the struggle of the Haitian people.