We were delighted to see so many people brave the freezing cold to attend a talk given by Fr Kawas, a Haitian Jesuit priest, on Thursday 10 January. Fr Kawas is visiting the UK to share his experience of living and working in Haiti in the wake of the earthquake that devastated the capital city of Port au Prince and much of the surrounding area three years ago, on 12 January 2010.

Mark Lister, Progressio’s Chief Executive, introduced Fr Kawas highlighting the brilliant work his organisation CERFAS are doing supported by our Development Worker Esther Schneider. Mark also emphasised the importance of hearing from a Haitian about what the people of Haiti need in order to rebuild their homes, livelihoods and communities.

After giving a brief background to how he had come to be in the position of organising the Jesuits’ emergency response team when the earthquake hit Haiti, Fr Kawas went on to explain his current work as the head of aid monitoring organisation CERFAS.

CERFAS supports the work of the Social Research Centre in Port au Prince, analysing public policy and government spending which Fr Kawas acknowledged was a dangerous area for the Jesuits to be involved in but also vital for improving transparency and accountability and thereby starting to tackle some of the corruption which has unfortunately permeated many levels of governance. 

Fr Kawas highlighted the significance of support and donations from people in the UK to NGOs supporting the work of civil society groups in Haiti, saying, “Your contributions are really important to helping strengthen civil society, I thank you for all you have enabled us to achieve and ask that you continue to support us in your prayers.”

The complicated situation of overlapping aid efforts in Haiti, the weak system of governance and undue influence of a small number of very wealthy powerful families in Haiti’s capital of Port au Prince was broken down by Fr Kawas, conveying a very personal insight into the social, economic and political problems ordinary Haitian’s have to contend with whilst trying to rebuild their lives.

Those who attended the talk asked some pertinent questions afterwards about Haiti’s relationship with neighbouring Dominican Republic and what signs of hope were emerging. Fr Kawas responded cautiously to the idea that relations between Haiti and Dominican Republic would ever be totally harmonious but was very optimistic about the strength of organisations promoting women’s rights and human rights as signs of hope for improved democracy and civil society in Haiti.

Fr Kawas visited the UK in January 2013 at the invitation of Progressio.

Photo: Fr Kawas Francois during his visit to the UK in January 2013 (photo © CAFOD)