SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (CNS)—Catholic schools and
orphanages in the Haitian countryside that took in thousands of children
displaced by the January earthquake are buckling under the increased
financial strain, administrators say.
Outside of Les Cayes, a city on Haiti's southwestern peninsula about 120
miles from the capital, one school took in 350 children. Another saw
its expenses swell by thousands of dollars. Others are running out of
space for the new enrollees. Many say they are struggling to pay the
The January earthquake that destroyed Port-au-Prince and affected 20
percent of the country did not physically damage many of the social
projects of religious orders outside of the capital. But the Catholic
missions that opened their arms to people who fled the city say they are
now struggling, and the church is not helping.
"The church? What church? There has been no support to help most of the
families that left Port-au-Prince," said Father Marc Boisvert, a member
of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
Father Boisvert runs Project Hope South, which has an orphanage, five
schools and a carpentry-training center outside of Les Cayes. He
estimates that the schools took in 350 additional students and 100
orphans displaced by the earthquake. He says his budget went from
$100,000 to $140,000 a month after taking in the new students. He relies
on donations from the United States to fund the project.
"There was just a tsunami of people that came. And what can we do?" he
asked. "We never had support from the government here. The best thing
you can say about the government is that it's inept."
For decades, Haitians had migrated to the capital seeking jobs and an
escape from their hardscrabble rural communities. But the earthquake
sent an estimated 600,000 residents back to the countryside, where they
stayed with family members or friends.
Catholic social projects welcomed them with "open arms," said the
director of one school who asked for anonymity because of sensitivities
with potential sources of funding.
"We were running out of space because we took in so many new students.
We were glad to do it, but how are we supposed to pay for it?" the
Several other Oblates running projects in the area refused to speak on
the record about the situation. The Salesian Sisters of St. John Bosco
directed Catholic News Service to a statement that said, "There is a
need to build other classrooms for the schools in Les Cayes" and other
locations where children flocked to after the quake. The school is
running out of space to educate the new enrollees.
Episcopal Father Kesner Ajax, who works throughout Les Cayes, said many
of the orders feel their projects are being passed over for money,
despite the fact that they took in the displaced.
"They need a lot of help. The situation in Les Cayes is quiet compared
to Port-au-Prince, but areas like this one are where many of the
displaced went after the earthquake," he said. "The situation is
The religious say they were asked to educate displaced children with the
promise that money would follow to reimburse them for the increased
A July 19 letter from the U.S.-based Missionary Oblate Partnership
obtained by CNS airs similar complaints. The letter's writer, Arthur
Pingolt, president of the partnership, visited Haiti in early July and
met with 100 Oblates in southern Haiti.
His letter states that the Oblates said Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the
apostolic nuncio in Haiti, asked the schools to "take all the children
of the (Port-au-Prince) diaspora into their schools but since that time
has not made good on ... a 'promise' to reimburse them for this cost."
"In the case of the Oblates, their 'open arms' response may cost them an
estimated $100,000, a very significant figure in their budget. This
anger was shared by native Haitians as well as American/European
Oblates," Pingolt wrote.
Pingolt did not respond to a CNS request for an interview.
Archbishop Auza told CNS that he "never promised" the schools that he could repay them for their expenses.
"I said that I'd try to help. I told them they could send their
requests. But they've asked for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Not
even in Port-au-Prince is it possible to spend that much," he said.
The archbishop said he has limited resources and is focused on helping projects damaged by the January quake.
"Les Cayes was not affected by the earthquake," he said. "I'm
disappointed by (the accusations). They're asking for school
reconstruction. ... If I were to give money to school reconstruction, it
would be for schools in Port-au-Prince."
Father Juan Molina, who advises the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
on Latin America, praised Archbishop Auza for his leadership in the
predominantly Catholic country that lost Port-au-Prince Archbishop
Joseph Serge Miot and dozens of priests, seminarians and in the
"He has been very involved throughout the country and worked closely on
numerous issues," said Father Molina, who visited Haiti and met with
Archbishop Auza in July.
"It remains a very difficult situation, not just in Port-au-Prince but
also elsewhere," he added. "They were already coping with very limited
resources ... and now they have additional people" to care for.
Archbishop Auza agreed, saying he wished he had money to cover all the costs incurred by everyone.
"There's just not enough to go around," he said.
The situation touches on a larger issue in the rebuilding of Haiti. From
government officials to experts, nearly everyone agrees that rebuilding
the country should include decentralization: creating job opportunities
outside of Port-au-Prince.
Yet, that goal remains elusive. International donors have pledged
billions to help Haiti rebuild, but most of the money is focused on
Port-au-Prince, where most of the devastation occurred and aid agencies
have set up food distribution centers and created jobs for Haitians.
On Aug. 17, the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission announced it would use
some of the money to create agricultural jobs. The committee, which is
charged with identifying projects that would receive funding, said the
$200 million planned for rural Haiti would create 50,000 jobs.
But that is a long-term plan. Meanwhile, the situation in Port-au-Prince
has become so attractive that many of those who fled to the countryside
are now returning to the city,
"They hear that there's food distribution on every corner and that jobs
are being handed out," Father Boisvert said. "So now they're going