Parishoners fear civil unrest in Haiti will delay aid

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 27, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

Three Suffolk residents got home from Haiti last weekend, just days before guerrilla fighters began moving toward the capital city of Port-au-Prince on Thursday.

Three parishioners from St. Mary’s Catholic Church – Mary Stevens and Frances and Rusty Bouton – spent a week in the impoverished country. Their church has been twinned with Our Lady of Lourdes, a church in the rural village of Belladere, near Haiti’s border with the Dominican Republic, for several years.

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&uot;We’re allowed to take two carry-ons and two suitcases and we fill them up with as much as we can,&uot; said Stevens, who has been to Haiti twice over the past two years.

&uot;We’ve taken a lot of school supplies, computers and musical instruments for the children to use in school in the past.

&uot;This time, we also took a lot of toys, stuffed animals and candy for the children.&uot;

Despite reports of rebel movements in the country over the past three weeks, the Suffolk group saw little evidence of violence in the areas they visited.

&uot;I was a little nervous when we got there,&uot; said Stevens, who works for Western Tidewater Community Services Board. &uot;But we did okay, we didn’t have any problems.&uot;

While the Suffolk trio spent a couple or three days in Port-au-Prince, they spent most of their time in Belladere and the surrounding community.

&uot;We weren’t afraid,&uot; said Frances Bouton. She and her husband, an Isle of Wight County teacher, have traveled to Haiti three times.

&uot;We had a lot of people here praying for us. Now we need to keep praying for the Haitians.&uot;

Students in Belladere haven’t been able to go to school since Christmas because of the opposition party’s threats to children and their families, Stevens said.

Although they haven’t been able to make it to school for the past two months, more than 150 youngsters and some parents ventured out to the church where classes are usually held after learning of the Suffolk group’s arrival.

&uot;They (the Haitians) told us there has been a lot of tension there, so much that they have not been able to even think about any of the nice, pleasant things in life,&uot; Bouton said.

Stevens agreed.

&uot;The people in this community are just struggling to live and get back into normal routines,&uot; Stevens said.

Her biggest fear is that fighting will keep much-needed mission trips out of the country, which would have devastating effects on ordinary Haitians.

&uot;Those people depend on missions from the United States to survive,&uot; Stevens said. Churches and organization often send mission teams to help with education, medical and dental services, and to work with local orphanages, she said.

The rebels are attempting to force President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to resign. Cap-Haitien, the country’s second-largest city fell to the rebels last Sunday, according to Associated Press reports.

On Thursday, guerilla troops moved toward Port-au-Prince and were awaiting orders to attack, news reports said.

International pressure is mounting for Aristide to resign, with France blaming him for the chaos in its former colony in the 3-week-old rebellion and urging that he be replaced by a transitional government. The U.N. Security Council met late Thursday to discuss the issue.

Meanwhile, foreigners are fleeing Haiti amid isolated looting, and President Bush said the United States is encouraging the international community to provide a strong &uot;security presence.&uot;

But Bouton says that the U.S. government and the media’s portrayal of the Haitian political situation aren’t accurate.

&uot;It makes me mad when I hear the media saying things that aren’t true and presenting the opposition as if they are working for the good of the Haitian people,&uot; she said. &uot;They are not for the people at all. They threaten children and only care about money and power.

&uot;It makes me feel bad that the United States is supportive of the opposition instead of caring about the average Haitian person with real needs. Our government doesn’t seem to see the way the opposition is killing innocent people.&uot;

Bouton said she doesn’t believe Aristide – who’s been twice elected to lead the country – should be forced from office.

&uot;I think our country really needs to step up to the plate,&uot; she said. &uot;He was legally elected president, he is not accused of any crime and he hasn’t done anything wrong for the people.&uot;

During two terms in office, Aristide has been responsible for building schools and hospitals and he has recently started a nationwide literacy program.

&uot;He has brought hope to the Haitian people,&uot; Bouton said. &uot;I just hope we can preserve that hope.&uot;