Category Archives: Haiti

Article in America magazine on Faith, Suffering and Resilience

I published an article in the Jesuit magazine America where I discuss faith, suffering, and resilience in Haiti. Click hereto see a link to that article. For now, the full article is only available online to subscribers, but if the full article is made available to all at a later date, I will post that on my blog as well. In the meantime, you can see the beginning of the article and a photo.

Carolina Population Center features my research on Haiti

The Carolina Population Center has featured my research on Haiti on their website. You can see the website by clicking here.

The website also contains testimonials I received about relief work in Haiti. Father Mario Serrano wrote about setting up an aid distribution center in Port-au-Prince. My uncle Walter Mooney wrote to me about his trip to Haiti with the U.S. Geological Survey. Teresa Gonzalez of Amor en Accion wrote about the relief efforts being organized in Miami, and Carlo Dade wrote about the the role of the Haitian disapora in rebuilding Haiti.

Letter to the Editor Published in the Miami Herald, January 24, 2010

The letter to the editor I submitted to the Miami Herald about its coverage of the Haitian earthquake was published on January 24, 2010. Click hereto see the article. It is a slightly edited version of my blog entry from a few days ago.

How We Can Transform Disorder into Cooperation in Haiti

Op-Ed Submitted to the Wall Street Journal by Margarita A. Mooney. Although disorder, looting, and sometimes even mobs threaten the earthquake relief efforts in Haiti, I suggest that we need more than force to establish order in Haiti—we need the active cooperation of the Haitian people. As I argue in my book, Faith Makes Us Live: Surviving and Thriving in the Haitian Diaspora (University of California Press, 2009), Haitians are often to be so poor that they are incorrectly assumed to be helpless. As a sociologist of international development, a veteran working in development projects in Latin America, and having spent extensive time in Haiti and among Haitian immigrants to the United States, Canada and France, I saw time and again that too many social projects reflect a paternalistic attitude by which “we” come to “their” aid. An email I received on Monday from Mario Serrano Marte, a Jesuit priest who works in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, illustrates how even people in the most desperate circumstances can be transformed from passive recipients into agents. After the earthquake, Father Mario quickly mobilized resources and drove in a caravan with relief supplies from the Dominican Republic to Haiti. The military accompanied them on the journey and they arrived safely at nighttime. The next day, however, residents of the neighborhood threatened to disrupt their relief efforts. Father Mario, a priest who has worked in the poorest areas of New York City, India, the Dominican Republic and Haiti, has never told me he felt scared in his work, but when a mob began to pound on the door yelling and demanding help, he felt terrified. Even after they called the police to help them, the people refused to leave and kept angrily demanding help. The crowd finally dispersed when Father Mario gave everyone in the crowd a bottle of water and when he promised to meet with them to discuss how the aid would be distributed. That afternoon, he met with neighborhood residents, and humbly confessed he was scared by their angry behavior. If he was able to organize his distribution center first, he explained he would then be in a better position to help them and many others. Most importantly, he pleaded for their cooperation in carrying out his mission. Once the group understood both that they would receive emergency relief and that their cooperation was indispensable to the operation’s success, they helped Father Mario unload the trucks full of supplies and they now provide security as he runs the distribution. Elated at this turn of events, Father Mario wrote in his email, “Now we have stronger security and protection than what the army can give us. We have the active participation of the same people we came here to help.” The more than 1 million residents of Port-au-Prince who survived the earthquake are understandably hungry, thirsty, and fearful for their survival. In this emergency situation, we must certainly be concerned for order and security. However, let us not forget that a basic rule of sustainable development also applies to emergency relief: we need to turn the beneficiaries of our assistance into cooperative actors in our programs. In these desperate circumstances, let us not only heed Haitians’ call for humanitarian aid, let us also remember that inviting their active cooperation both affirms their dignity and furthers our work.

Mass at Notre Dame d’Haiti in Montreal

The readings during Mass at Notre Dame echoed two of the themes from my book–keeping the faith in the middle of struggling to survive and being generous even when one is poor. In the first reading, from Kings 17, the prophet Elijah asks a woman for water and then for bread. At first the woman replies that she doesn’t have any bread to give him, but Elijah tells her to go bake something, give some to him, and then he promises her that she’ll have plenty left. She believes the prophet and obeys him, and her family is saved from starvation because of her faith. During his homily, the priest pointed out that often times God asks us to put our faith in him, to give every last thing we have, and then he will come and save us. The woman I am pictured with here was one of many people who told me that God requires them to be generous even when they wonder how they will pay their bills or find their next meal. The sharing of the bread from this Old Testament passage is analogous to the sharing of the Eucharist at communion–this sacrament signifies both a vertical covenant between Christ and his people and a horizontal covenant among the people of God. The Gospel reading was from Mark 12 and recounted the story of the proud Pharisees who made a big show of donating money a large sum of money at the temple, whereas the poor widow humbly gave a few cents, which was all she had left. During his homily, the priest used this Gospel passage to highlight how God asks us to “give what we have”, not to “give what we don’t have” or to “give what we don’t need.” One of the themes of my book was how faith communities turn poor people into givers, not just recipients. These readings and this homily once again emphasized this message: God asks everyone to give, and to give generously, even when they are struggling to survive, not just to give from their abundance. The priest also emphasized the importance of how we give to others. Often times, we give with pride. We want other people to see what we give, or we show disrespect to the person we are giving to. He forcefully stated that when we are in a position to give, we should not show off. Furthermore, he cautioned not to treat the recipients of our generosity like dogs, but rather we should treat all people, not matter how destitute they are, with dignity. Sometimes, he said, it is easy to see God in the beautiful people of this world, but we have to remember that God is in everyone, even those who don’t treat us well or who don’t share our faith. As I argue in my book, even though many Haitian immigrants are very poor, their religious communities provide them with a way to become givers–both materially and spiritually–and seeing oneself as a giver helps them to then be able to receive with dignity the help they may need from others.