Haiti has been abandoned in time of crisis, terror. Here’s how you can help.
The Saint Alphonsus Foundation’s Project Haiti has a proven track record to ease Haitians’ suffering, writes guest columnist Tim Woodward.
People drive by the damage after a 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck Haiti on Aug. 18, 2021, in Marceline, Camp-Perrin, Haiti. At least 2,200 people died and more than 12,000 people were injured in the quake. The epicenter was located about 100 miles west of the capital city Port-au-Prince. Days after the quake, Haitians were hit by Tropical Storm Grace. (Richard Pierrin/Getty Images)
This column first appeared in the Idaho Press on Aug. 20, 2023.
As a journalist I’ve interviewed hundreds of people — and none more impressive than a man who has devoted his life to helping the poorest of the poor.
Fr. Rick Frechette spent his early years as a Catholic priest in Baltimore, Mexico and Honduras. His life changed when he was sent to Haiti, where he and another priest opened an orphanage. He’s been there ever since, remaining even when crime and economic political chaos were so rampant that his superiors suggested he leave.
As he put it, “What kind of shepherd would leave when the wolf comes?”
He’s been in Haiti for 36 years now, working to help the poor and suffering. Suffering which has seldom if ever been as bad as it is now.
Father Rick, as nearly everyone calls him, has visited Idaho a number of times through his association with Saint Alphonsus Foundation’s Project Haiti. I was fortunate enough to interview him and learn his story during two of those visits.
Early in his time in Haiti, he decided he couldn’t do enough for the people there as a priest. Enrolling at a college in New York City and studying by candlelight during intermittent visits to Haiti, he became a medical doctor. He’s been caring for Haitians’ medical and spiritual needs ever since.
Haiti can’t seem to get a break. Cyclones, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, and now a descent into brutal terrorism. A CNN story early this month reported the following:
“Warring gangs in Port-au-Prince have visited terror in the city’s vital port city with rape, torture and killing as they vie for territorial control. Thousands of Haitians have fled their homes, gathering in makeshift encampments across the sprawling capital.”
Father Rick has “never lived through a crisis in our 36 years in Haiti that compares to the chaos, violence, economic collapse and social devastation we are living now.”
He’s on the front lines of the chaos, which surprises no one who knows him. He has been on the front lines of unrest in Haiti for decades, providing medical treatment for the wounded, removing bodies from the streets, risking his life time and again.
After initially being reported by major news outlets, the crisis in Haiti faded from the news cycle and has been largely forgotten here in the U.S. Father Rick’s letters, forwarded to me by Project Haiti’s Jill Aldape, provide a grim picture of the island nation’s ongoing nightmare.
“We cannot get surgeons to come to our area,” he wrote. “It is a red zone. … We cannot even keep the competent people we already have, since many are fleeing Haiti to raise their families in a safer country.
“ … We are facing the worst crisis we have ever faced, and the consequences are not only the disintegration of a nation and all the institutions that constitute civilization, but the people are floundering in a tsunami of despair.”
This is an excerpt from a letter he wrote to some U.N. advisers:
“The mantra from the worldwide community is ‘Haitian solutions to Haitian problems.’ This pacifies the world’s collective consciousness. Even I like the sound of it, the logic to it. The mantra puts everyone to sleep as far as any hope from abroad is concerned. But the gangs are ruthless and unopposed, raping and butchering women, cutting the heads off of children.
“… Haiti is abandoned. That is the reality.”
His letters aren’t easy to read. We want to turn away, which is precisely what we shouldn’t do. If he and others can face the atrocities in person and try to help the victims, we should at least be able to read about them. And do what we can to help from afar. More on that at the end of this column.
Continuing with his letter, “The gangs attack each other by terrorizing each others’ populations. They gain territory by terrorizing, burning, raping, killing families in neighborhoods already dirt poor.”
The Haitian police, he wrote, “have not even timidly shown themselves to be the solution to ‘the Haitian problem.’”
When calls for help in a particularly hard hit area went unheeded, he and his assistants “tried to get there for the sake of the vulnerable and the wounded, but there was no way to get there past the blocked roads. And the gangs were shooting at anyone trying to get there or get away from there by boat.”
He says he is is not yet a victim, but believes “that it is inevitable sooner or later.”
That would be a tragedy. If anyone I’ve ever met is qualified for sainthood, it’s this remarkable man who has devoted his life to helping the destitute and downtrodden. But the violence has such a profound effect that even he is struggling to remain faithful to his vows, to his core beliefs.
“I am a priest of 43 years and prefer pacifist solutions, turning the other cheek and forgiving 70 times 70, but I would kill with my bare hands anyone I saw approach a child to beat or rape or cut off the head.
“As a 70-year-old man, I would still be more than game for that fight, a last stand. This is a confession of something I know is dreadfully wrong and is far from turning the other cheek. … If there is a cheek to turn, I stand some chance I will turn mine if and when my turn comes. But I will not allow a child’s other cheek to plunge to the ground after a swipe of a machete.”
It was all I could do to watch a two-minute video of a man whose face was virtually cut in half by a machete. For Haitians, it’s not a video. It’s what they’re living with every day.
A lasting truce would put an end to it, but unless and until that happens nothing is likely to stop the violence. We can help its victims, though. Project Haiti has a proven track record of helping Father Rick and others ease the suffering in Haiti. We can’t go to Haiti to help — the State Department has ordered U.S. citizens to leave the country and issued its highest level advisory against going there — but donating to Project Haiti can make a difference.
Donations, Aldape says, will help Father Rick “distribute food, relocate people to safer areas … I can assure everyone that donations will help him help others breathe easier, whether it means in medicine, in shelter, in nourishment, in safety and in prayer.”
Online donations may be made by clicking on https://donate.saintalphonsus.org/ProjectHaiti-Donate. Checks may be mailed to Saint Alphonsus Project Haiti, Attn: Jill Aldape, 1055 N. Curtis Road, Boise, ID 83706.
We’re so lucky in this country. Americans living now have never experienced a war in our homeland. We’re one of the 20 most prosperous nations in the world. Most of us, at least here in Idaho, live in safe neighborhoods. We have access to wholesome food, reliable transportation, good medical care.
And we have never experienced anything remotely like what is happening in Haiti. Donations, large or small, are the least we can do.
GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.