Following the assassination of President Moise in July of 2021, gang violence erupted. Gangs in the capital city expanded their territories and many people were forced to flee their homes. Kidnappings grew sharply and roadblocks into Port-au-Prince were common. This violence in the capital city made life difficult for our Haitian staff members as they often utilized Port-au-Prince for banking, purchasing goods in bulk and accessing shipping deliveries from the U.S. (including medications).
Life felt uncertain, but safe in our area of Haiti as families fled to Williamson and Luly seeking safety.
Then in August of 2023, everything changed. Gangs came down from the mountains demanding land in Williamson. Many families were forced to flee right before the start of school. Some fled to neighboring villages while others left more permanently to live with relatives in other areas of Haiti. It was painful to watch so many families we knew and loved forced to flee. During that time, homes were burned, families were threatened, and some even lost their lives.
A group of vigilantes in Williamson stepped up and fought against the gangs, deterring the takeover of their village. Eventually the two groups attempted peace talks, but those talks failed.
Due to the continued threat of violence, the Williamson School relocated to a community about 20 minutes south of Williamson called Saint-Medard. The medical center relocated across the highway to Luly. The Brazil School remained open in Williamson, but with much smaller numbers and added security. Almost 15% of our sponsored students left the area and it was heartbreaking.
In response, the vigilantes sought to run out anyone in the area known to have come from the mountain region. The community of Williamson which previously housed families both from the mountains and from town was now divided.
Some families driven out of Williamson – simply because they had relatives in the mountains – included students in our sponsorship program and two staff members. Even with no connection to gang activity, these individuals were no longer safe to stay in Williamson. The lines between good and bad became blurry.
You stood in the gap during this time in crucial ways. Students who fled their homes but stayed local were provided with emergency food packs and rent assistance. Sponsorship provided tuition payments for students at schools within walking distance from their new homes.
The violence quieted down beginning in October and students were able to attend school. Some families returned to Williamson and students finished the first semester of classes despite the obstacles, even enjoying Christmas break.
While we were hopeful for the start of 2024, the last two weeks have been very difficult. Once again, gangs from the mountains – loaded with more weapons and more manpower – have returned. Nightly gunfire between the Williamson vigilantes and mountains gangs has ensued. Some days roads are blocked both south to Port-au-Prince and north to Saint-Marc.
The Brazil School was unable to open last week and has been forced to relocate. Some of our staff members no longer feel safe at the guesthouse at night, as gunfire seems to be getting closer, and many more families are leaving their homes.
“Williamson looks like a desert land,” one of our staff members said yesterday. “It looks like a Texas western ghost town.”
While these obstacles seem endless, there is still hope. “I am doing well with Jesus,” is often the response of our staff members, even amidst these trials.
Students lining up for first day of school pictures!
Praise God that the schools in Luly are operating as usual. The medical center is open again and seeing more and more patients. Annual school pictures even started today!
Thanks to you, more families have received rent assistance so they can have a safe place to call home away from the gunfire. You have helped university students continue in school by providing housing so they can access classes without traveling dangerous roads.
Your continued support of God’s work in Haiti is truly offering hope in very uncertain times and is vitally important. Please continue to pray for peace in Haiti.