A Discussion with Ernst Pierre Louis, Social Promoter for Solidarite Fwontalyè, Wanament, Haiti
May 22, 2017
Background: As part of the Education and Social Justice Project, in May 2017 undergraduate student Mary Breen interviewed Ernst Pierre Louis, a social promoter with Border Solidarity (Solidarite Fwontalyè) in Wanament, Haiti. In an interview conducted in his office in Wanament, he discussed the challenges facing Haitians at the border and the critical importance of social education in preventing the flow of irregular migration.
Have you lived in here Wanament, Haiti your whole life?
Yes, I was born here and have lived here.
Can you tell me about your job here at Solidarite Fwontalyè?
I am the coordinator of a project that has six people. We are working with seven organizations. It is a project in Wanament, Haiti about healthy living. It is also a project of raising awareness. I work with the people to see how we can raise awareness about the way they live in society, how to help, how to manage the trash, and all of these things. We work with the organizations and reinforce their capacity. We are doing an activity to clean the streets and the city. We are training the citizens.
What do you think are the greatest challenges facing Haitian immigrants or those that live in Haiti?
Poverty, misery, and work. There are not jobs that have very high salaries. The government is working to stop the flow of migrants, but there are many challenges. In Haiti, there does not exist a plan to maintain the immigrants, like those who do not have a job. This is a very typical problem: migrants are not able to stay in their country. Many farmers are not able to work to make a living. The topic of climate change creates climate migrants, because there are people leaving their country due to the climate problem. We are a country of poverty, and all of these problems affect us.
How does education play a role in this situation of immigration?
First, education is a problem, but there is another important problem. Education is an important problem, but we need to accompany the population. We need to accompany the training about migration, education, how we live as people, and these very important things. That is to say, social education is needed to have social justice.
How are the Jesuits contributing to immigration and education?
We have many institutions that work like this. The first is Fe y Alegría, an educational institution in which the Jesuits work. There are also institutions like Border Solidarity [Solidaridad Fronteriza in the Dominican Republic], an institution that works to prevent the flow of migration. We work a lot with the Jesuits, but these are two institutions with which we work to prevent the flow of illegal migration. Solidarite Fwontalyè and Solidaridad Fronteriza work like sisters.
What is different about what the Jesuits are doing in these organizations?
When migrants are deported, there is a strategy to support the migrants. We have a department in this institution that is called Social Transformation that works with the populations and corporations. It intends to create a favorable environment [in Haiti] and works in agriculture, culture, and with the protection of the environment. The goal is to create such a favorable environment that people will remain in the country. This is the strategy and the innovation. There is also the work with human rights that is called monitoring or observation. It is the observation of deportation cases on the bridge. This is an important innovation to reinforce our database and statistics to see if there is an increase or decrease [of migrants]. This is worth a lot for us. This is also able to help make a strategy of incidences with the government to decide to open their eyes to the social justice and social education that we are doing. The diligence and monitoring is important for us.
How would you like to see the relationship between Haitians and Dominicans change?
Haitians leave their country and go to the Dominican Republic, but it does not matter if they do not have documents, except for the violence. There should not be such violence, and [the Haitian migrants] should be received by a pleasant neighbor. It does not matter if they do the deportation and repatriation, but without violence. This is the first idea that I have. The government of Haiti needs a database of the Haitian deportations to improve its strategy and understanding. The two governments have a responsibility for harmony. There is a good diplomatic relationship which is important for peace.
How would you characterize the educational system in Wanament, and how does it contribute to the migration problems?
The first thing is education of migration, how to regularize this system, and how to travel to other countries. It is teaching about passports, visas, documents, and how to legally go through this process. This is worth a lot for us—making a social education about legal and regular migration.
There are many Haitians that travel to the Dominican Republic, but the work they do in the Dominican Republic is work that they do not want to do in Haiti. However, in the education system, there can be training of how to love my country and do this work in my country. There is an inferiority complex. We cannot do a certain job, but we can do it in the United States. For example, I can sweep a broom in the United States but not in Haiti. It is a profession that I can do in the United States or in the Dominican Republic but not in Haiti. It is inferior work in their own country but not in another country. They are afraid to do the job here but not there. We should give the people social education about this—what you can do there, you can also do in your country. It is the same job. Solidaridad Fronteriza works a lot with the training of organizations for this social education. Many people travel without documents and passports, because the government does not provide social education.
Can you explain the main division between the two sides of the border?
The Dominican Republic never forgave Haiti for the [Haitian] occupation [of the Dominican Republic in the first half of the nineteenth century]. We do not teach the division between our two countries to the children like they do in the Dominican Republic. The cultural division and division due to the occupation is an issue of the past for Haitians. Haitians come to the border to look for a job. The division and the occupation do not matter; it is only a search for life. It is only a division for Dominicans. But, yes, there is a problem with this for the Haitians, because of the maltreatment. It is our blood. It is not a problem of division or occupation, but yes, if there is a Dominican that mistreats Haitians, it is a problem for our conception and love. The division does not serve anyone.
Is there anything else you would like to share about the work of Solidarite Fwontalyè here in Wanament?
The Jesuit institution is doing good work, but there are not sufficient resources to do all of the work. They work very hard and have volunteer workers, but these things are not sufficient for what we are doing. There is not enough defense and support for the roughly 300 people being deported each day.