The Caribbean island nation continues to endure excessive insecurity, with widespread and constant violence as rival gangs combat one another and the police for management of the capital, Port-au-Prince.

The violence, which incorporates kidnapping for ransom, is enjoying out towards a backdrop of political and financial crises in addition to poverty and underdevelopment.

Chantale Valcourt leads CAPAC, a nationwide non-governmental organisation (NGO) that helps weak populations, particularly girls and women, and companions with the World Food Programme (WFP).

“My two daughters, who are 11 and eight years old, were kidnapped on their way to school in Port-au-Prince on 30 October 2023. They were held for five days and released after a ransom was paid.

Even though they were released safe and sound and were treated with respect by the kidnappers, this has been an incredibly traumatic experience for my family, especially my children.

After this incident the school never really reopened and so in January, with the best interests of my daughters in mind, I sent them out of the country. 

It’s getting harder and harder for me to go out to work, and I’m always on alert for danger, but I have never had the intention to leave. Despite everything, I have continued to do my job as I have a sense of duty to my community and to humanity.

I feel a strong moral obligation to support other people.

This is the daily reality faced by Haitian people and is one of the ever-present dangers that humanitarians on the frontline of supporting vulnerable people must deal with.

We moved from our house in the north of Port-au-Prince because gangs had moved in, so I am in effect a displaced person.

Desperate situation

CAPAC is a national NGO and we work alongside WFP. Our mission is to ensure social justice and gender equality and to eliminate poverty by working in collaboration with vulnerable populations.

© UNOCHA/Giles Clarke

A woman displaced by gang violence is now living in a former theatre in downtown Port-au-Prince.

We work in some of the hardest-to-reach gang-controlled areas, including Cité Soleil, La Saline, Martissant, Croix-des-Bouquets, Bas-Delmas and the downtown districts of Port-au-Prince.

Access is very challenging, especially in the context of clashes between gangs and the Haitian National Police. Many of the people we are trying to reach remain hidden inside their homes. This makes it impossible to deliver aid at the speed required in gang-controlled neighbourhoods.

Their situation remains desperate. In recent days, we have witnessed more suffering and instability linked to the forced displacement of the most vulnerable people.

Armed gang attacks and intensive shooting in populated areas have caused massive destruction of civilian infrastructure such as schools, hospitals and places associated with religious worship.

Frontline woman leader

As a frontline woman leader coordinating the emergency humanitarian response in Port-au-Prince, I’ve experienced events I’d never witnessed before. They remain etched in the mind.

The impact of our work on the lives of the most vulnerable people in our communities cannot be ignored.

Despite the situation on the ground, the terror of the gangs and the limited access for humanitarians, the distribution of hot meals and cash transfers is vital to saving lives.

My own situation has made me even more determined to help the poorest people. In fact, I sometimes take my baby with me to work as I never considered that breastfeeding would stop for me from providing support to people in distress. I never wanted to interrupt or stop the work of our organisation.

Positives amongst the chaos

The situation in Haiti is very chaotic and destructive. But, surprisingly enough, I have found some positives.

A schoolgirl in Port-au-Prince holds up a sign in French which reads 'peace'.

© UNICEF/Ralph Tedy Erol

A schoolgirl in Port-au-Prince holds up a sign in French which reads ‘peace’.

I have met many strong and impressive women who have given me a better understanding of what we can do to bring change. I’ve learned a lot from them. The whole world can learn from them.

Whatever the situation, I remain motivated to be on the frontline and continue to break the cycle of poverty by bringing vital help to the most vulnerable in marginalised communities.”

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