Reflections About Patrick and Francoise Villier’s Visit September 24-26, 2016
by Mark Pohlman, Chair, Haiti Team
Julie and I were fortunate to host Patrick and Francoise Villier last month and spend four days in their company. Here are some information items and impressions which I want to share.
* They are both very generous, hard working, committed people who brought and received joy and inspiration with their visit. Generous, with their thoughtful gift of the Haitian logo of the upside down tree to the church, hard working, -“I usually sleep from 1-5 am so I really enjoyed the peace and quiet of a Longmeadow home”, committed to helping Haiti with Francoise taking on the additional responsibility of serving on the election commission.
* The recent land purchase, financed with money from First Church, is going well. A fence and secure wall are being added around the property. The first raffle of a motorcycle has been held and another one planned to help raise money for the project. The raffle was won by a CONASPEH pastor, who will use it for church business. A guest-house on the property is their long term goal.
* The nursing school has received a favorable report from Department of Education. All remaining, necessary supplies such as adult scales to were recently bought in Florida. Final documents licensing the school are expected within a month. Two of the recent nursing graduates were able to take the state licensing exam which is a huge accomplishment for the school. This is an indication that the nursing school is being accrediated–finally.
* The single solar panel, which we took down last February, has been mounted on the roof of the school to provide power for the projector. Patrick is very interested in more solar panels to help power the multiple sewing machines. The sewing program is going well as they make school uniforms, choir robes, and ministers garb for sale.
* Government role in Haitian life continues to be small and dysfunctional. The earthquake initially brought people together, but since President Martelly, the government is back to its old ways according to Patrick. CONASPEH is not political and Patrick has not endorsed any candidate for President now, but he seemed to favor Dr. Maryse Narcine who is supported by former President Aristide and the Fanmi Lavalas party. She is a physician so hopefully this position will give her some respect in Haiti’s patriarchal society. Francoise, who is one of nine members on the Election Board overseeing the often-delayed presidential elections, is glad that the Haitian government, not the UN or US, is paying for this election. One concern of hers is that a single candidate will not get the necessary 50% of the vote (there are over twenty candidates with four main ones) necessitating a run-off and who will pay for that election. Her larger concern is whether or not the smaller, wealthy class, 5% of the population, will accept a Lavalas victory or if the poorer people will accept a non-Lavalas victory. The possibility of major fighting post election is very real.
* The infra-structure for Haitian government schools is very poor and church schools are the only alternative. Catholic schools for the wealthy class cost about $2000 per year. In contrast, CONASPEH costs about $200, plus books, per year. There are also International schools for missionary and diplomat’s children. About 280,000 children take national exams with a 20-30% pass rate. Previously Patrick had said that the CONASPEH pass rate was in the 90% range, but I did not confirm that figure this visit. The employment opportunities for high school and college graduates are limited. Some go into teaching. many are moving to Brazil for work.
* Francoise said that most students are loving, grateful, and appreciative. Why are they happy? Because the church is the main positive support for the Haitians. “Cooked food has no owner” is common Haitian saying, so children are taught to share early on.
* Haitians like to pay for their medical care and are suspicious that “free care” may be inferior. The Haitian diaspora sends $2 Billion back to Haiti yearly. This accounts for about 60% of the national government budget.
* Patrick said that the relationship between the Clintons and Haiti is “complicated”. President Clinton “confessed” recently that the trade deal he helped broker when he was president
primarily helped the rice farmers in Arkansas and led to the collapse of the Haitian rice growing business. Now there is a similar story happening with chicken production being undercut by US Perdue chickens.
* Patrick said that in Haiti there are only 3 RNs and 1 MD per 10,000 Haitians. Also, the “brain drain” is a serious problem. The politics in Haiti must change. Now, more Haitians seem willing to fight for Haiti. A partnership, not like the paternal partnership of old, but one based on mutual respect and education and centered on a moral “shared life” viewpoint is their goal.
* Patrick and Francoise seemed to me to be encouraged and energized by their visit to Longmeadow. I know that I was. I hope and pray that you were similarly inspired.