Taking great strides to improve opportunity and care in Haiti

It’s fascinating the extraordinary ways that fate or karma can pull events together so closely with our plans.

When Canadian film director, screenwriter, and producer Paul Haggis travelled to Haiti in 2008, he met the remarkable Father Rick Frechette, an American doctor and community organiser who had been working in the slums of Port-au-Prince for more than two decades.

Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world, where child mortality is particularly high.  Of those that do survive, only half attend school. Unemployment is rife.

Haggis, who has won Best Picture Academy Awards for Million Dollar Baby and Crash, was moved to help, and returned to the US to set up Artists for Peace and Justice (APJ) to support and empower Haitians.

He also wanted APJ to support Frechette’s work at the St Luke Foundation which has built orphanages, medical clinics, a network of more than 25 primary schools, and a paediatric hospital that is the only free hospital serving the children of one of the largest slums in the Western Hemisphere.

What he couldn’t have foreseen was how vital his charity would suddenly become, how timely was his intervention. In 2010, barely a year later, Haiti was hit by a magnitude 7.0 earthquake; its most severe quake in 200 years. The death toll was estimated to be between 46,000 and 85,000.

Paul and some of his friends were able to get to Haiti to help almost immediately in the aftermath, bringing medicines and offering practical support.

In the years that have followed, they have done so much more. It is so impressive how Hollywood stars such as Ben Stiller, Jude Law and Susan Sarandon have all pledged their support. Funds have been gathered. Awareness has been raised.

And Academy for Peace and Justice, the first free secondary school to serve the poorest communities in Haiti has grown each year, reaching full capacity in 2016 with 2,800 students. The aim is to grow a new generation of Haiti’s leaders by providing access to quality secondary and higher education. Every student at the Academy receives a scholarship which includes full tuition, uniforms, and year-round access to St Luke’s medical services.

Moreover, APJ is also supporting the growth of Haiti’s talented youth and new creative industries through the Artists Institute, Haiti’s first free arts and technical college. Haggis has said: “As artists, we have to be brave. If we aren’t brave, we aren’t artists.”

This could be equally true of humanitarians – it takes courage and strength to work for others, especially when the need grows rather than diminishes. Yet courage and strength – and bravery – are very human qualities. Perhaps we just need fate to intervene and remind us of that sometimes.

Bruno Wang, founder of the Pureland Foundation

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