27.11.08 13:58 Age: 3 yrs

Haiti: Education is crucial to grapple with violence


Siblings on their way to school near Port-de-Paix, Haiti. © Paul Jeffrey/ACT International

Education is crucial to grapple with violence, the president of the Protestant Federation of Haiti, Rev. Sylvain Exantus, told an international ecumenical team visiting Haiti from 24 to 28 November.


Together with family and church, the school is the third most important ambit for the formation and transmission of values. A person deprived of those can be easily manipulated to engage in violent acts, explained Exantus, who voiced his concern that violent conflicts may erupt within 4 or 5 years if something is not done to provide education to thousands of children in the country who never went to school.


"I see these children in the streets, many coming from broken families, and I am afraid that there is the potential of violence", he told the 6-person team visiting the country as Living Letters on behalf of the World Council of Churches (WCC). Living Letters are small ecumenical teams visiting a country to listen, learn, as well as share approaches and challenges in overcoming violence and peace making.


Although some progress has been made in strengthening the judiciary and combating criminality, Haiti remains one of the countries with the highest incidence of violence in the world.


In Prof. Rosny Desroches' opinion, violence in Haiti is the consequence of both internal and external factors. Amongst the latter he mentions the fact that the country is on the transit route of drug trafficking from Colombia to the United States and Canada. This encouraged the formation of local gangs openly tolerated under the regime of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Endogenous factors include unemployment, which affects over 70 % of the youth, massive migration from rural areas to the cities, and a corrupted judicial system.


According to Desroches, who was minister of education between 1986 and 1987, there have been persistent accusations that judges continue releasing convicted criminals in exchange for large sums of money. The police has been accused of brutality and complicity in crimes. Vetting the judges and the purge of corrupt police officers are crucial to restore confidence in these institutions.


Yet Desroches referred to positive developments like the consolidation of civil and political rights, the strengthening of a civil society engaged in the struggle to overcome violence, and the promotion of a culture of rights - a process in which media is playing an important role.


Pastor Hyacinthe Junie, a member of the Protestant Federation executive board, said that the prevailing impunity fosters a spiral of violence in the country. When justice is lacking, some people opt to oppose violence with more violence, asserted Junie, one of the three writers of a comprehensive report on kidnapping in Haiti.


A number of civil society movements have joined together in the National Fight against Kidnapping and organized protest marches in Port of Prince and Cap-Haitien, whereas the Citizens Forum, which will celebrate its ninth assembly this December, is focusing its attention in issues like mediation and reconciliation.


In this context, churches can also contribute through the formation of peacemakers, people who will not solve the conflicts by recurring to violence, said Exantus. "We may be a positive factor in the formation of citizens who are conscious of belonging to a community founded upon the respect to human rights and that seeks the commonwealth," he underlined.


The WCC Living Letters delegation to Haiti is meeting a broad range of organizations, experts, politicians, church leaders and congregations. Until 2010, several Living Letters visits take place each year throughout the world in the context of the WCC's Decade to Overcome Violence in order to prepare for the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation to be held in Jamaica in 2011.


Additional information on the Living Letters visit to Haiti


WCC member churches in Haiti