Why Haiti, Why Now

By THP President Deacon Patrick Moynihan

People often ask me, "Why Haiti, why now?" when I share The Haitian Project’s plans to build a national network of secondary schools in Haiti based on our very successful school on Santo 5 outside of Port-au-Prince.

The answer is that, in Haiti, a project of this scale is both immensely possible and immensely necessary.

It is immensely possible because of the close proximity to the U.S. and Haiti’s position within a region of highly functional, democratic capitalist states. Additionally, there are no ideological impediments within the country itself. The people of Haiti want economic growth and integration into the regional economy. Finally, given the relative size of the country and its economy, a project of this level is actually large enough to be a catalyst for broader systemic change and transformation.

It is immensely necessary because the amount of money it takes to change Haiti is infinitesimally small compared to the waste and damage that can occur if Haiti fails to emerge as a successful nation. And, without a doubt, Haiti is the origin of everything we now know as America. Haiti deserves the opportunity to regain its footing and live up to its historic importance as the birthplace of the Western Hemisphere.

Dcn. Patrick Moynihan: Standing Against Orphanages That Are Not

Children from the neighborhood gather for early education from THP’s early childhood development program, “Koukouy.”

Children from the neighborhood gather for early education from THP’s early childhood development program, “Koukouy.”

Yesterday, a Reuters article appeared online outing the fact that orphanages in developing countries are far more suspect than most would assume. I cannot speak to the global nature of the problem; however, I can confirm from personal experience that what is revealed by this article is true in Haiti.

Since 1996, I have been the head of The Haitian Project (THP), which funds and oversees a tuition-free, Catholic, co-ed, secondary boarding school called Louverture Cleary School outside of Port-au-Prince in Haiti. (THP also provides university scholarships to the graduates of Louverture Cleary School. 90% of our graduates have remained in Haiti where they have professional careers asteachers, doctors, accountants, nurses and even formal-sector businessowners.) During my more than two decades with THP, my family and I have lived in Haiti more than half the time.

In a nutshell, I can confirm each point made in the Reuters article from personal experience. Most, if not nearly all, children in orphanages have at least one living parent. (The one exception I know to this would be the Missionaries of Charity facilities.) Orphanages in Haiti are largely unlicensed. Children rotate in and out of the orphanages in a crippling cycle of familial abandonment and institutional neglect. The number of orphanages did increase dramatically after the earthquake. And, yes, the funding is staggering and ongoing.

On the point of multiplying after the earthquake, I saw with my own eyes children disappear from the neighborhood around our school in the weeks following the disaster. They were seduced out of parents’ hands by “start-up” orphanage opportunists with the promise of care, education and adoption.

To give credit where it is more than due, it was my wife, Christina, who made me face this heinous reality and react. Just weeks after the earthquake, having just settled our family back in Haiti, Christina prodded me like the old widow after the corrupt judge to have us do something as an institution. Personally, she had already started working with the neighborhood parents to gather back the children from our neighborhood.

Even more impressive to me than Christina’s courage in this matter is how she so easily seized on the solution—an early childhood development center staffed by a combination of full-time staff and Louverture Cleary students who volunteered as teachers and mentors. On top of this, she created an elementary school scholarship fund. She used this service, which solved the desire of neighborhood parents to find education for their kids and the practical need to occupy them while they (mostly mothers) worked in the market, to encourage parents to take their children back from the ad hoc orphanages that had popped up.

Beyond the Holy Spirit, I am confident that Christina’s vision to create an early childhood development center came from three sources: her training as an elementary school educator, her own motherhood, and the collegiality she had established with the women of our neighborhood—the very mothers whose children had been pied-piped away by the false promise of care and education.

Christina had the help of two excellent recent college grads serving in our Volunteer teacher program,  Kristen (Zeiler) Brunson and Rebecca (Finney) Fernandes, who spent two years each helping her to develop what is now called the Koukouy (firefly) program. Together, they trained an exceptional Haitian staff of professionals and para-professionals to carry on the work. I am also proud that my daughter, Marianna, spent many hours teaching in this program before leaving Louverture Cleary and Haiti for college at fourteen.

On top of the wonderful outcome of keeping families together, the Koukouy program has enabled children who would have been lost to end up as college graduates instead. I am certain that the children that have come to Louverture Cleary from Christina’s program would have never made it into elementary school, let alone end up professionals working in Haiti. Not only does this mean that they avoided the abuse and pain reported by Reuters and documented by the Lumos Foundation, but that their children will never come close to it.

On the Recent Unrest in Haiti

Dear THP Community Members,

As you may know, there have been widespread protests in Haiti over the past few days.

We want to assure you first and foremost that all is well on campus. Fortunately for us, school is out for the summer, but we have been taking every reasonable precaution to ensure the safety of our staff who remain at the school. 

While circumstances in Haiti, whether natural or man-made, occasionally present challenges, with nearly three decades of continuous operation and on-the-ground experience we are confident in our ability to make the best decisions possible in situations such as these.

We remain in regular communication with members of the Haitian private sector and others in Haiti who are helping us to understand and monitor the broader situation on the ground so that we can respond accordingly.

That said, at times like this there is always a tendency to see Haiti’s situation as hopeless or corrupt (to name just some of the descriptions we often hear).  As a result, people may decide that their donations are better placed elsewhere.

We argue instead that the disruption caused by natural disasters and political upheaval is precisely why people should invest more, not less, in the institutional capacity of Haiti to respond appropriately to these situations.  Funding quality education is one of the surest and most appropriate avenues for individual donors in the U.S. to address these issues.

Indeed, we are very focused on forming graduates who have both the capacity and the dedication to build a better future for the country to ensure that news reports like the ones we have been reading in recent days become less and less frequent.

Thank you for reading.  And, as always, if you do have any questions or concerns in light of recent events, don’t hesitate to get in touch.


The Haitian Project

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Growing Concerns with International Relief Organization "Food For The Poor"

Big problems come when helping the poor becomes a big business. The Haitian Project (THP) has recognized this for years and has fought, both in Haiti and in the U.S., for the support of authentic missionary work that is rooted within the Church and guided by the values of subsidiarity, solidarity, and conversion.  It is no accident that THP’s mission is to increase access to education.   

Think about it…  

There is a limit to what we can do for others and how much we can "change" another person and that person's life. However, there is virtually no limit to what a person can do for themselves with an education and access to a good job.  

Education is received freely by the recipient. Since a child cannot pay for his or her own education, it is necessary that it be provided by others; either parents or the community. The result of receiving an education however, does not create dependency, but empowers a person to gain the other things necessary for life. It is both natural and appropriate to give education.

Education is the best multiplier. In Haiti, like in our own nation, education is the surest way out of poverty and to a higher income.  This is recognized by Haitian parents and Church and civic leaders alike. (Click here to read an interesting article detailing a conversation between Chicago Mayor and Brown University President on this.) 

Is it appropriate to make poverty merely survivable, when you can actually make it escapable? (Photo from www.foodforthepoor.org.)

Is it appropriate to make poverty merely survivable, when you can actually make it escapable? (Photo from www.foodforthepoor.org.)

For over a decade, Food For The Poor (FFP) has stood out for the questionable ways it seems to conduct its business. In fact, THP has frequently raised concerns about FFP as it appears to have a special knack for giving unneeded, unhelpful, and unsustainable gifts to the poor of Haiti.  In our own experience, we have received gifts that ranged in “usefulness” from a stack of Rachael Ray Cookbooks, to beans that contained so many rocks that our cooks refused to use them.

Now, a recent cease and desist order filed against FFP by the Attorney General of California has provided additional reason for concern.

An analysis of the situation by Slate Magazine does a great job explaining what THP has argued for years:

By overinflating its in-kind contributions…Food for the Poor can claim to be much more efficient than it really is. The charity claims prominently on its homepage that 95.6 percent of “expenditures” were on programs, while just 4.4 percent were on fundraising and administration. That…reassures donors that their money is being put to good use, feeding the poor. But Food for the Poor’s ratios are a function of using a highly inflated denominator…. The upshot is that 1 of every 3 cash dollars donated to Food for the Poor in 2015 was spent on either management or fundraising—and that’s using the charity’s own expansive definition of what counts as a “program service expense.” 

Click the button below to read the full Slate Magazine article, "Inflated Expectations."


The Boston Globe recently published a cover story about Food For The Poor's questionable practices as well. THP President Deacon Patrick Moynihan and his wife Christina, who have lived and worked in Haiti for the greater part of the last twenty years, are quoted in the article expressing their concerns with the organization. 

"They are gaming the industry, because those of us who are not gaming cannot beat those ratios.  Food for the Poor is very likely taking donations from compassionate, well-intentioned individuals of modest means in order to help corporations dispose of their trash."

 - THP President Dcn. Patrick Moynihan in The Boston Globe, 6-3-18

Click the button below to read the full Boston Globe article on Food For The Poor.

So, why do we care about what Food For The Poor is doing?

It corrupts the nonprofit sector.  FFP’s fundraising model creates a perverse incentive for all nonprofits to find ways to understate their administrative expenses and overstate their program numbers in order to compete with the “efficiency” marketed by FFP and organizations with similar models.  That FFP and similar organizations operate (and thrive) in this manner greatly risks undermining the public’s trust in the sector as a whole.  And that is bad news for all of us. 

This is not just our opinion, but is based on reports in the press or other public filings of investigations in CA, MN, MI, FL and MA. Or consider, for example, how Slate Magazine recently described some of the likely practices of an organization that claims to be a champion of the poor as “…morally dubious, at best…ironically [delivering] Money for the Rich.”  (You can find the link to the full article below.) 

We have Haiti’s back. We are in the fight alongside Haitians committed to building a stronger and highly functional country so that Haiti’s people may escape poverty, not merely become more comfortable within it.  Our decades of on-the-ground experience in Haiti have given us strong connection to Haitian private-sector leaders and others who have raised serious concerns about FFP’s activity and their propensity to undermine and impede Haiti’s institutional development.  This works at cross-purposes with what we and our partners in Haiti dream the country can become.   

We care about the Church’s mission. FFP, an ecumenical organization, raises a significant amount of money from Catholic parishes around the country.  That means that there is less money to support the Church at home and authentic Catholic missionary work abroad.