“I want to scream for the children.”

Over the last 15 months, nationwide protests have paralyzed life in Haiti on numerous occasions. After a relatively quiet summer, the protests have picked up again over the last couple of weeks, with renewed calls for the president’s resignation. 

Life has once again become virtually impossible for everyone—kids can’t get to school, moms and dads can’t get to work, to the market, or the bank, and the sick can’t get to a doctor.

Today we want to share a reflection from Scindie, counselor at the Lighthouse Children’s Home and Grace Emmanuel School, as she processes life in Haiti right now. While we feel helpless in the states, our staff in Haiti feel it even more acutely, stuck at home, unable to be with those they are called to serve.

On Monday, September 16, I wake up a little earlier than usual, filled with anticipation. Today is the real start to a brand new school year at Grace Emmanuel. (While school officially opened last Monday, attendance is always low for the first week, like a soft opening.) I can’t wait to see everyone.

As I begin getting ready for the day, I hear gunshots not far from my family’s house in Sarthe, which is about 15 miles from the school. My mom, who has been listening to the daily morning news on the radio, informs me that the streets are blocked, with barricades and burning tires everywhere.

I get on my phone and connect to social media. I quickly realize that the rumors I had been hearing this weekend were true. The protests have resumed.

I remain home all day. Many activities around Port au Prince are paralyzed.

I do not yet know that this paralyzation will not just last today, but for the rest of September—and we still do not know when it will end.

Before this latest round of peyi lòk (“locked country”), we have all been affected by what has been happening in our country for the last several months, especially the scarcity of necessities. With the increase in prices because of inflation, we have decreased daily meals, and opted for more meager food to stretch limited budgets.

Now the situation has grown more difficult. First schools and government offices closed, then private companies, banks, and shops shut their doors for their employees’ safety and to protect themselves from looting.

I know that the demands of the protestors are nothing new, and are only for basic needs. The protests inevitably continue because the social inequality in Haiti is very high and very serious.

Yet while on one hand I understand what is happening, on the other hand I just feel a great sadness. 

Sadness to not be able to go about my daily activities, to see the children I love, to share their joys, listen to them, hug them. My work has never just been a job, it is a part of my life, an activity that gives me joy.

I constantly think of the students that I was able to see on September 9, the official first day of school. I had time in the school yard to chat with a few, all of whom were filled with aspirations for the year. Students eager to begin their senior year. Ninth graders filled with motivation to prepare well for the big government exams they will take in June. Seventh graders happy to be starting a new academic level and leaving behind the plaid uniforms of their primary school years. Tenth graders proud to have just passed their government exams.

I cannot forget them telling me so often that GES is more than a school. It is an important place for many of them, the only place where they feel like they belong, and they matter.

I can’t stop thinking of the many students who only eat from the school cafeteria for their daily meal. According to the latest figures, 6 million people in Haiti are food insecure, with 2 million of those in a very dire situation. This statistic is not just a number to me, it is the faces of children I know and love.

I would like to scream, scream for these children, these students who are the future, the hope of the country—but my voice is lost in the midst of all this political chaos. 

I worry about them being hungry. I think about them feeling lost, forgotten, unimportant, and I feel my heart breaking from not being able to do anything.

I’m limited, and feeling helpless like this is the biggest sadness I can imagine.

I do not know what will happen tomorrow. None of us do.

Today I will continue to read the words of Jesus in Matthew 6 to comfort me, and give me some hope.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” —Matthew 6:25-27

Scindie St Fleur served as a counselor at the Lighthouse Children’s Home and Grace Emmanuel School from 2014-2020. She currently works as a psychologist at LifeSong for Orphans, where, in addition to providing mental health services, she oversees an academy program that teaches children with motor, physical, cognitive, and behavioral disabilities.