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Igniting a movement in Haiti

Evelyne Sincère’s death is a call for justice

by Kathy Melvin | Presbyterian News Service

A photo of Evelyne Sincère in her school uniform. (Contributed photo)

LOUISVILLE — As George Floyd’s murder ignited a movement against systemic racism in the U.S., the death of a young woman has become a rallying cry for justice in Haiti.

Evelyne Sincère was a high school senior in Port-au-Prince. She was kidnapped and beaten. Her lifeless body was found days later in a garbage dump.

The kidnappers thought the girl’s father had money. The family desperately tried to get the ransom together, but before they could, Evelyne’s captors killed her.

“To those in power, and to those who brutalized and murdered her, Evelyne Sincère was disposable, like cargo, as was shown by the kidnappers’ response to her sister when she asked for extra time to piece together the ransom: that they couldn’t keep her too long because they didn’t have enough space, and presumably too many captives, as though she were a prisoner of war,” wrote Edwidge Danticat, a prolific Haitian novelist and essayist.

The advocacy group Nou Pap Dòmi reports there have been more than 124 cases of kidnapping from January to August 2020. Young women are among those who have been abducted.

In both the murders of Sincère in Haiti and Floyd in the United States, video and social media swept their respective countries like a raging wildfire. Although Sincère’s death was not recorded, the photos of her with the blue flower in her hair and her blue school uniform were circulated along with the video of her body among a pile of garbage.

“We did not watch Evelyne Sincère die, the way we did George Floyd, for example, but because of her sister’s testimony and the images she left behind, she has entered our lives in the most shocking way, both as her own unique self and as a symbol of so many other women, men, and children who have been assaulted, kidnapped, and assassinated in recent weeks and months,” wrote Danticat.

Mission co-worker Cindy Corell, who has lived in Haiti for almost eight years, said the video touched the soul of Haiti.

Although Corell has been sheltering in place in Virginia since March, she continues to work with partners in Haiti and stays in close touch with friends and colleagues. She hopes she will be able to return one day soon. She considers it her home, her address.

“When school is out, my yard is full of Evelynes” she said. “They are bright. They are sassy and full of possibilities. They are Haiti’s hope. What happened to Evelyne was every Haitian mother’s greatest fear. You’ve seen it play out before your eyes.”

Corell said all mothers believe that education is the key to lifting families out of poverty.

“Education is the balm, the goal, the objective for every Haitian family,” Corell said. “You will do everything you can to get your child in school. Evelyne came from a hard hit, gang-ruled city, Martissant. She had just finished her exams. She made it. And her life was ended for a few dollars.”

Presbyterian churches in Haiti have been instrumental in building up schools, supporting schools and bringing education to the realm of possibility for most students. Corell said that today more young people in Haiti are staying in school at least through the primary grades and many are graduating high school.

In Haiti, September, when families prepare to send their children back to school, saw an increase in violence, including kidnappings. The underlying cause is poverty.

Artists often depict women in their art. But in the Haitian culture, women often don’t receive respect. The recent spate of crime against young women has left families frightened. (Photo by Cindy Corell).

“In Haiti, women are recognized in words, but not in reality,” said Corell. “They are called pillars of society, yet I can take your daughter and kill her, and it will be OK. It’s well known that if you lift women, in any society, you lift the whole society.”

And Haiti is a society in need of lifting.

The World Bank’s overview page on Haiti calls it is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. According to the Human Capital Index, a child born today in Haiti will grow up to be only 45% as productive as they could be if he/she had enjoyed full education and health.

Haiti has been hit with a tsunami of problems, including fuel shortages, a failing economy, rising inflation, government corruption and tropical storm Laura, followed by major draughts and almost certain famine.

The government corruption revolves around several billion dollars in investment funds given to Haiti by Petrocaribe Oil after the devastating 2010 earthquake. A strategic oil alliance, it allowed Haiti to borrow oil from Venezuela, deferring payment for up to 25 years. The money was to be used to develop infrastructure and social services and to keep fuel prices low. But the public was seeing very few results.

An investigation by the Haitian Senate showed widespread corruption over three different government administrations.

When the government decided to raise fuel taxes and inflation was rampant, violent protests began in September 2019 that closed schools, businesses and public transportation. Haiti’s current president, Jovenel Moïse, has also been accused of corruption related to the same funds when he was head of the company Agritrans.

Students, mothers and families have taken to the streets around Haiti to protest the death of Evelyne. Corell sees that as a form of hope.

“If this power stays in the streets and makes its way to the halls of advocacy, the power can turn toward a shift in society,” she said. “I believe in these people who march in the streets for justice.”

Living in Haiti, she has seen tragedy but has had to learn not to be broken by the grief she sometimes sees around her.

“We should not ignore stories like this,” she said. “We should remember the people we are in partnership with and the context in which they live. That’s hard to do when the context can be so brutal.”

She said when you live and work in cultures so different than our own, you must be careful not put on blinders.

“We have to understand how big the triumphs are and how challenging the lives of the people we partner with are. We have to dig into it. It’s hard and it’s painful.”

Corell hopes that the newly elected U.S. government will look at the ways U.S. policies are hurting the people of Haiti, such as  immigration policies that deport people who are barely hanging on back to countries like Haiti.

“I hope people will bring it up in church,” she said. “Don’t say, ‘Pray for Haiti because bad things are happening there.’ Begin to understand what those hard things are and ask, ‘How can I be with you? How can I help you cry? How can we be in relationship?’”

A new Haiti mission network is being formed. Corell asks that any individual, congregation or presbytery contact her directly if they are interested in learning more. Her email address is cindy.corell@pcusa.org.


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