Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Presiding Bishop calls Haitian debt-relief aid ‘gesture of compassion and human generosity’

By Mary Frances Schjonberg, April 16, 2009

[Episcopal News Service] The $20 million that the U.S. will give Haiti to help that country meet its upcoming debt obligations is “a gesture of compassion and human generosity toward a neighbor in desperate need,” Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori told President Barack Obama April 16.

In a letter thanking Obama for the pledge, the Presiding Bishop said that she is “proud and pleased that the United States has offered to alleviate this significant obstacle to Haiti’s ability to fight the crushing poverty and suffering of its people.”

A copy of the letter is available here.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, whom Jefferts Schori copied on her letter along with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, announced the $20 million commitment April 14 during a speech to a Haiti donors conference at the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington, D.C.

The announcement came two days before Clinton left on a four-day trip to Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Trinidad and Tobago. Clinton and Obama are due attend the Fifth Summit of the Americas April 17-19 in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago.

The $20 million, Clinton said, would help pay Haiti’s upcoming debt service obligations and free up other resources. “We invite other donors to join us in taking care of this budget deficit,” she told the conference.

She noted that Haiti is “on track” to qualify for the IMF’s Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative in the next few months. The resulting debt relief will free up about $4 million a month, she said, calling the amount “money that Haiti can invest directly in improving the lives of its people and building futures of self-sufficiency and confidence.”

The Presiding Bishop said in her letter that on her recent visit to Haiti, she “was shaken by the magnitude of the human need in a country just hours from our own borders.”

“At the same time, however, my trip gave me the opportunity to witness a country ripe with the energy and ingenuity needed to escape decades of conflict, corruption, and human suffering,” she added.

Episcopal Church of Haiti Bishop Jean Zach� Duracin has been a strong advocate for debt relief. During an October 2007 visit to Washington, D.C. he spoke to a Congressional prayer breakfast. He had brought a similar message to the church’s Executive Council in January 2006. The church’s General Convention went on record in 2000 (via Resolution 2000-A012) as supporting debt relief as part of an overall poverty-reduction strategy.

Clinton also said that the U.S. will give Haiti $287 million in nonemergency assistance this year, including $20 million to generate jobs in building roads and infrastructure. The U.S. will also give Haiti $15 million dollars in food aid, she said.

Haiti is by far the poorest and least-developed country in the western hemisphere, with more than half of its people living on less than $1 per day, and 80% living on less than $2 per day. One-third of its children are malnourished and 500,000 cannot go to school. The unemployment rate is estimated to be 60 percent.

Clinton said that Haiti has made economic progress recently “through the efforts of its government and its citizens and many of the nations and institutions represented here.

“This represents the full range of resources and relationships, from businesses and universities to [non-governmental organizations] and religious and cultural groups, as well as committed individuals, which is at the heart of smart power,” she said.

Clinton warned, however, that “Haiti is in danger of stalling” because what she called “the trajectory of progress” is being “undermined by the combined winds of hurricanes and the global economic recession.”

A video of Clinton’s speech is available here.

The Episcopal Church of Haiti, the most-populous diocese of the Episcopal Church, serves between 100,000 and 150,000 people in 168 congregations. There are 37 active clergy, most of whom serve multiple congregations in urban and rural areas. In addition to the churches, the diocese’s ministry includes:

  • 254 schools, some of which are self-sustaining and many that began with grants from the United Thank Offering (UTO), which teach more than 80,000 Haitians from preschool to university level. The institutions include a school for handicapped children, a trade school, a music school, a two-year business school, a nursing school that granted the first baccalaureate nursing degrees in the country in January, a seminary and a university;
  • medical clinics, including one run jointly with Partners in Health and another, H�pital Sainte Croix in L�og�ne, which provides outpatient treatment, a nutritional program and a de-worming research and treatment effort aimed at the parasitical filarial nematode and funded by the University of Notre Dame and the Gates Foundation;
  • a renowned philharmonic orchestra and children’s choir based at the cathedral;
  • agricultural, reforestation and other development projects and micro-financing efforts run in part with help from Episcopal Relief and Development (ERD);
  • peace and reconciliation work, including its Desmond Tutu Center for Reconciliation and Peace and non-violence training provided by Episcopal Peace Fellowship (EPF).

One of the U.S.-based Episcopal Church’s 12 overseas dioceses, the Haitian diocese is part of Province II. The other 11 dioceses and convocations are Colombia, the Convocation of American Churches in Europe, Central Ecuador, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Litoral Ecuador, Micronesia, Puerto Rico, Taiwan, Venezuela and the Virgin Islands. (More information about the 12 is available here).

— The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is national correspondent for the Episcopal News Service.

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