On International Women of Colour Day I celebrate all the women of colour who consistently work towards social justice across the world. In particular I would like to honour the work of Haitian community activist and founder of SOPUDEP School, RÃ©a Dol and ALL the Haitian women and girls who have self-organised in their communities in the aftermath of the earthquake. Although initially it was thought the school would survive, two weeks after the earthquake it had to be abandoned. At the time the school was being used as a shelter but the stench of dead bodies which had not been removed together with internal structural damage meant it was no longer felt to be safe. In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake RÃ©a opened her home as a refuge and hospital to the homeless and wounded and she is now in charge of sanitization and medical distribution for a camp of 16,000 people located beside the National Palace. Altogether there are 26 locations where SOPUDEP staff have distributed food, water and medical help with very little help from the big agencies. All the food they have distributed was bought by SOPUDEP which has cost them $18,000 so far [See distribution table below].
The situation with the distribution of humanitarian aid remains grossly inadequate not to speak of the huge differences between the reality on the ground, the reports in much of the media and are at odds with the huge perceived or real amounts of donations. This coupled with the invasion of an assortment of carpetbaggers in the form of small foreign NGOs, individuals, celebrities and missionaries seizing the opportunity of confusion and pain to consolidate their presence in the country.
Religious tension has also increased: Baptists, Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scientologists, Mormons and other missionaries have flocked to Haiti in droves since the earthquake to feed the homeless, treat the injured and jockey for souls. Some Voodoo practitioners have said they’ve converted to Christianity for fear they will lose out on aid or a belief that the earthquake was a warning from God.
“Much of this has to do with the aid coming in,” said Max Beauvoir, a Voodoo priest and head of a Voodoo association. “Many missionaries oppose Voodoo. I hope this does not start a war of religions because many of our practitioners are being harassed now unlike any other time that I remember.”
Yes they may be bringing much needed food and medical supplies but they also have a vested interest in maintaining a Haiti which factory for the US and Canada. All the talk about a Haiti for Haitians by people who claim to be on the left but who supported the ousting of the twice elected President Aristide either through their actions or their silence is a deception which is causing confusion. One thing Aristide did was to recognise Voudou as a religion of Haiti and allow those who follow the practice to do so in peace. Now Christian mostly white fundamentalists are flying into Haiti and trying to destroy a religion which has deep roots in Haiti’s history as well as played a major part in 1791 revolution which led to independence in 1804. This religion is part of our heritage as Afro-Descendants. We do not have to believe in it but we can at least acknowledge its place in history and stop others from demonising it.