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7987: Social Services and Vodou in Haiti (fwd)
Social Services and Vodou in Haiti
Many religions provide social services to their members. The Roman Catholic
church funds it's charitable wing, Caritas, for instance. In Haiti the
Seventh Day Adventist Church funds a large hospital in Port-au-Prince, the
Catholic church also funds hospitals, and most Christian denominations fund
schools, orphanages, and feeding programs.
I'd like to point out, and I digress, that in may cases those "orphanages"
are full of children who have living parents who just can't feed their
children, and that these parents sometimes have a really hard time to get
their children back again where their economic circumstances change, although
they have not signed any documents relinquishing their children. The
"education" afforded these children often consists of religious instruction
primarily or even exclusively.
Although Vodouisants are in the overwhelming majority in Haiti, we lag far
behind in the area of social services. This is because we generally lack
access to funding, not because we are "superstitious" or "reject modern
medicine", as has been stated falsely by enemies of the Vodou religion.
What we do offer is generally available through individual peristyles. A
Houngan or Mambo is expected to take care of sick members to the best of
their ability, feed the children of these members for a few days, help out
with school fees, and so on. This care includes paying for visits to
allopathic phyicians and for prescription medicines, but also for traditional
care including herbal treatment, massage, and ritual intervention.
There are no Vodouisant hospitals, schools, orphanages, or nutritional
centers in all of Haiti! Charitable food distribution from non-sectarian
organizations such as USAID nevertheless find their way to churches as
"distribution centers", and of course these churches give the food aid only
to their members - that portion which the pastor does not sell and pocket the
proceeds, of course.
There is a great deal of corruption associated with charitable aid in Haiti,
and many, many church pastors have built their houses, bought cars and
educated their children with the profits of the sales of food aid and medical
aid. Under another header I will recount the true story of one such pastor
in the Artibonite and how he got "busted" by a Vodouisant boy.
Of course Protestant pastors use this leverage to build their congregations,
but it goes beyond that. Some pastors preach that God wants those who are
not "in Christ" to die off, and that food aid from those "blessed" white
American churches (whites are often perceived as by definition favored by
God, who is also considered to be white), that food aid is God's way of
making sure that thise who are "in Christ" live while those who are not "in
Christ" die of hunger, which is no more than what they deserve.
Vodou peristyles do provide some services that Chrsitian denominations do
not. We allow homeless people to sleep in our peristyles, under our
protection, for example, and they don't have to be peristyle members or even
Vodouisants as far as we are concerned, although of course Protestants are
unlikely to seek shelter in "that devil house". We give our members food out
of our own pockets, which Protestant pastors do not do. We offer sometimes
offer massages and traditional health treatment free to those unable to pay,
which is very different from allopathic medical treatment. In Haiti
allopathic medical care in hospitals or from private physicians is available
strictly on a fee-for-service, cash in advance basis, and people can and
literally do die in the hospital gate while begging for money for that
appendectomy or hysterectomy or whatever.
So what to do?
At this time, I am seeking funding for a program to be based in Jacmel, to do
risk reduction and disease prevention across the board - not just AIDS and
STD prevention but occupational health hazards (very important in a country
with no occupational safety regulations or workman's compensation), smoking
cessation, alcoholism treatment, domestic violence prevention, vaccination
promotion, everything! This is for two reasons - my professional expertise
is in the area of human rights and public health (health care access is
considered a human right), and secondly due to the fact that treatment is not
available for some illnesses, especially AIDS, and available treatment for
other illnesses is frequently so expensive that it is beyond the means of
most Haitians to pay for it. Prevention is the way to do the greatest good
for the greatest number with the means at my disposal.
I have been very fortunate in my preliminary work, I have the support of the
director of the Jacmel hospital, of doctors and other professionals here in
the USA, and of certain members of the spiritual community. What we lack, of
course, is money!
So far I have obtained an offer of cooperation from one organization in
Haiti, FONKOZE, which has a pre-existing micro-credit program for women. In
this program, groups of five women band together and recieve a small loan.
When they pay it back, they get a bigger loan. When they pay that loan back,
they get a yet bigger loan, and so on. Thus I have encouraged women
affiliated with my peristyle to form these groups, and on my return to Haiti
I will be assisting them to sign up.
This frees women from dependecy on income from men, either as wives or as
amateur prostitutes, and thus reduces the risk of STD transmission (women can
insist on condoms instead of having to accept any client under any
conditions), domestic violence (women can leave an abusive parnter without
having to fear starvation) and a range of other possible risks.
The big funders like USAID are not going to be very fertile fields for our
endeavors, unfortunately, because their purse strings are controlled by some
very reactionary right-wingers. At one point, for instance, the USAID-funded
Planned Parenthood organ in Haiti was doing outreach to majority-class
Haitian women by making up little songs to be sung during Rara, songs about
wearing condoms mostly. U.S. Senator Jesse Helms threatened to cut off the
entire operating budget of USAID, saying that these songs were "tantamount to
supporting witchcraft"! PROFAMIL lost their funding, and Haitian women no
longer had access to culturally competent reproductive health care outreach.
As I develop funding sources and allies in my work, I may seek recognition in
the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as a charitable organization able to
receive public contributions, but in the meanwhile I am seeking alternative
funding sources. I will certainly keep the online community up-to-date, and
if anyone can tell me about any other similar programs operating
successfully, please email me at email@example.com.
Peace and love,
Bon Mambo Racine Sans Bout Sa Te La Daginen
"Se bon ki ra" - Good is rare
The VODOU Page - http://members.aol.com/racine125/index.html