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7987: Social Services and Vodou in Haiti (fwd)

From: Racine125@aol.com

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 racine125@aol.com.

Peace and love,

Bon Mambo Racine Sans Bout Sa Te La Daginen

"Se bon ki ra" - Good is rare
     Haitian Proverb

The VODOU Page - http://members.aol.com/racine125/index.html