Before the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moise, CNN Heroes and their non-profits already faced significant challenges serving their communities. Yet they have found ways to step up and make Haiti a better place, often in the face of gang violence and a lack of resources.
Three CNN Heroes shared their stories of the new danger and uncertainty they are now facing in the days since Moise’s killing.
Since 2007, Patrice Millet has been using soccer to educate children in some of Haiti’s poorest slums.
Millet, a 2011 CNN Hero, founded Foundation Notre-Dame du Perpétuel Secours (Foundation of Our Lady of Perpetual Help), or FONDAPS. The organization provides free equipment, coaching and food with the aim of teaching children how to become responsible citizens.
Patrice Millet, FONDAPS founder and 2011 CNN Hero
Currently, there are about 250 students in Millet’s program. But over the last four months, the threat of kidnapping from well-armed gangs has made it difficult for them to meet on the soccer fields, he said.
Millet, who spoke to CNN from Miami, said that the assassination of Moise shows how difficult it is to feel safe anywhere in Haiti right now.
“People can come like that and kill a president,” he said. “In the street now, you are nothing. Everybody can come and kill you for nothing. And this country is just getting worse.”
Millet said he wants unity and justice in the wake of Moise’s assassination.
“I’m really afraid for this country,” he said. “What I’m afraid for is that there could be a genocide.”
To prevent Haiti from sliding into genocide, Millet said he believes the country needs to establish a new government. He is calling on the international community to help create a lasting structure that would allow for elections.
However, Millet also warned that any involvement by the international community would need to take into account Haiti’s history and the events that led to this moment.
When Haiti fought for and won its independence from France in 1804, it became the second free republic and the only black nation in the Americas, second only to the US. Since then, Haiti’s colonial legacy has been a long, complicated history of political and economic upheavals and struggles.
Millet is calling on the international community to investigate how so many guns are coming into Haiti and landing in the hands of gang members.
Proud that FONDAPS has managed to keep kids out of gangs, Millet said he has no plans to stop, and is only looking to expand his program.
“The work I am doing should be done on a bigger scale,” he said. “The food I have been giving is not enough. … The money I have to pay all the expenses is not enough. … I want to help the others in the Cité Soleil community. And I don’t have much help … even if I don’t have the help, I will still do the job.”
Malya Villard-Appolon is the co-founder of KOFAVIV – an acronym that translates into the Commission of Women Victims for Victims. She and her network of rape survivors provide medical care and support to other rape survivors. She was named a Top 10 CNN Hero in 2012.
In an email to CNN, she described the situation in Haiti before the presidential assassination as catastrophic and disastrous for Haitian women.
“There is no public health care. It is difficult to go to court to complain. At this time, we have no food, no water, no legal prosecution.” She goes on to say the situation has only gotten worse after Moise’s killing. “Now that the president is dead, we have no leaders; women and girls are more vulnerable.”
2012 CNN Hero Malya Villard-Appolon, co-founder of KOFAVIV
Villard-Appolon said she was forced to flee Haiti in 2014 after gunmen targeted her at home. She spoke with CNN from the US, where she is still working with her team on the ground to support survivors in Haiti.
Villard-Appolon said the street gangs were filling a power vacuum in Haiti, even before Moise’s death.
“Gangs take over the streets, there are no security forces; the president was inexistent even before he died, and now gangs are making the law.”
She described incidents of women being raped in front of their husbands, and girls in front of their parents. She recounted how women and girls are being victimized openly, without any recourse, and said she would like to see the international community play an active role in ending street violence.
“We are asking the world to help us eradicate gangs in the country and send some forces to disarm them; the population cannot survive, our young girls, women, cannot survive.”
Before Robert “Boby” Duval founded his non-profit, L’Athletique d’Haiti (Athletes of Haiti), in 1996, he was a victim of Haiti’s turbulent political past. During the regime of then-President Jean-Claude (“Baby Doc”) Duvalier, Duval was jailed for 17 months and tortured.
During that time, Duval claimed to have witnessed more than 180 deaths among his fellow prisoners. He was only released after US President Jimmy Carter’s administration demanded the release of all political prisoners in Haiti.
Now, following the Moise assassination, Duval is calling on the world to again pay attention to what’s happening inside Haiti and work to bring about positive change. He wants to see countries come together to “give the productive forces of this country a chance” and “really support them, the ones that make a difference.”
Boby Duval, founder of L’Athletique d’Haiti and a 2007 CNN Hero
Duval, named a CNN Hero in 2007, and L’Athletique d’Haiti have been making a difference for more than 30 years. They offer children in some of Haiti’s most impoverished neighborhoods an opportunity to get off the streets, play a sport and receive a daily meal. They even take their teams to competitions around the world.
Duval describes Haiti as in a “state of shock” since Moise’s assassination. He says he understands that some people were unhappy with the late president’s leadership but strongly condemned the killing.
“There is nothing that requires such a barbaric action of violently taking his life,” he said.
Duval said he worries this assassination will set a bad precedent that will further erode Haiti’s fragile democracy. However, these concerns are only strengthening his commitment to his cause and the young people he serves.
“This kind of behavior is not enough for me to abandon or to change my vision. In terms of what I can do to contribute to a positive development of this nation … it reinforces the reasons of what I’m doing. That means trying … to do everything I can to have the most impact towards the people who need it most.”
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