One of South Florida’s leading organizers in the Haitian community, Paul Mondesir of the American Friends Service Committee works to bridge the Haitian community in Miami and Haiti, as well as bring Haitian issues to light for the broader public.
Paul Mondesir first began working for the Miami branch of the American Friends Service Committee in November 2007, beginning with a campaign called No Human Being is Illegal, which featured a weekly half hour radio show for immigrants each Wednesday morning at 5:30 am. He also had a weekly presentation for anywhere from 45 to 90 participants in Miami’s neighborhood of Little Haiti.
Mondesir has also educated Haitians in cities outside Miami in order to teach them ways to decrease violence and conflict and increase conversation. “In Port Charlotte they have a new service center for children and families,”Mondesir said. This center is Port Charlotte’s first community center. Mondesir is also working within the community in Imokalee, Florida. He believes that the new project for organizing will give hope and motivation to this community.
Working with the religious community in South Florida gives added credibility to his advocacy. A Catholic priest and members of the press joined him in creating activities to fight for the rights of the Haitian community. “We also denounced the abuse and attitude of the Bush administration after the hurricanes”, Mondesir said.
Mondesir is disappointed with the progress that President Obama has made towards giving aid to the Haitian community. “The earthquake opened up new obligations to help the Haitian community”, Mondesir said. President Obama did grant Temporary Protective Status (TPS) to Haitians living in the US, which was an issue Mondesir had been working on since long before the earthquake occurred.
Haiti lost between 200,000 and 250,000 people in the January 2010 earthquake and more than 1 million people are now homeless. “It is a source of conflict and tension because some of them don’t know until what time they will have a new house. This is a country where more than 5 million people have to live on 44 cents a day,” he said.
The earthquake compelled many throughout AFSC to respond. AFSC’s North Carolina office held a community Volunteer Day attended by more than 200 people who prepared humanitarian assistance kits with items of need by earthquake victims, including water purification tablets. Quaker Meetings, other churches and concerned individuals throughout North Carolina sent donations and personal notes to be included in the kits. During the recent cholera outbreak in Haiti, volunteers with AFSC-NC responded again with hygiene kits.
Recently, AFSC opened a new office in Haiti that has already set up five shelters (housing more than 6,000 people) with the hope of helping communities to work on a need basis with organizations and members of the community locally in order to meet those needs.
The work that AFSC is doing in Haiti is concentrated around ways to reduce violence and manage conflicts. The mobile tents in Haiti were set up to create “safe zones” and are used for conflict resolution projects. The security committees within the camps have about 5-18 men from the ages of 20-39. These men are provided with such necessities as whistles, vests, flashlights, and walkie talkies to help train them in dealing with conflict management and protect against violent acts such as rape and robbery.
Mondesir is disappointed by how many members of the American public view people in Haiti. He feels that Haitians are viewed by many as consumers instead of human beings. He also identifies work to be done in Haiti: he would like to see the next generation of Haitians respect good values and culture. “More or less 70 percent of people here cannot read or understand the system …. The fathers, mothers, and parents invest a lot and the way you can give back is to be successful – go to school, study, and have strong determination.” he said.
He believes that a good education will help Haitian youth to learn about political systems in Haiti. Most importantly he feels that we need to be a community of cooperation rather than competition. He feels that it is important to educate people in order to reduce conflicts within the community. “If we teach people the truth it is a good job – if we have 5 or 10 new ones organizing the community meetings it would be very great,” Mondesir said.
Mondesir wants to advise young people not to get caught up in the excesses of the world and to live a simple life. “I know that the situation is very difficult for them but they have to conserve their integrity and maintain their faith, also be very careful about the provocation and have a simple life,” Mondesir said.