U.S. based workers with Silverdale humanitarian group aid Haiti from afar during strife – Kitsap Sun

In March 2020, Cassia Burke got a call from her Children of the Nations coworker in Haiti while walking onto an airplane to New York.
“It’s not safe for you to come. Don’t come,” the staff member said, mentioning shootings that broke out on the streets of Port-au-Prince. So Burke canceled her second flight to Haiti at the last minute.
That’s how the nonprofit she works for ensures its staff’s safety, Burke said.
“We’re used to that context,” said Burke, of Bremerton, who is the Haiti liaison for Children of the Nations, a Silverdale-based humanitarian aid group. “We know there is risk that goes with it, but we do everything we can,” she said.
On Oct. 16, a missionary group from the Ohio-based nonprofit Christian Aid Ministries, which included 16 Americans and one Canadian, was kidnapped by a local gang when returning from a visit to an orphanage outside Port-au-Prince. As of Thursday, the gang, 400 Mawozo, was demanding $1 million per person in ransom and threatening to kill the abducted if demands aren’t met.
More:Haiti gang leader threatens to kill 17 kidnapped missionaries, family members
When Children of the Nations first heard of the kidnapping, its staff checked with representatives of the organization to confirm all the children and staff members in Haiti were safe, said Children of the Nations Vice President of Advancement Eric Nachtrieb.
“We serve in an area south of Port-au-Prince and this area has not been affected by the types of violence seen in other parts of the country,” Nachtrieb said.
The organization’s team in Haiti operates mainly in Bellevue, a small community 21 miles southwest of Port-Au-Prince.
With a goal to raise children who transform nations in the most challenging parts of the world, Children of the Nations serves in five countries: Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Malawi, Sierra Leone and Uganda.
The organization provides holistic care for orphaned and destitute children by providing food, medical and dental care, education, skills training, social activities and working to fulfill their spiritual needs, according to the organization.
Children of the Nations started serving in Haiti in 2010 when a 7.0-magnitude earthquake hit the country and killed roughly 200,000 people. The agency initially focused on immediate relief and later committed to providing long-term medical care and other services for children, Burke said.
More:Silverdale nonprofit establishes presence in Haiti
Because of security concerns, the organization stopped sending any American groups to Haiti at the end of 2018, Nachtrieb said. Because of political unrest, the U.S. State Department issued an advisory against traveling to the country in 2018. The group has no U.S. staff in Haiti, and all the staff in Bellevue are Haitians, according to Nachtrieb.
“Me traveling there could then put our staff at risk as well,” Burke said, adding that Children of the Nations knows local staff would become more of a target if Americans were there.
Over the past two years, kidnappings in Haiti are a daily threat, particularly to nonprofit workers, Burke said. Local staff often cancel their travels or work from home when the situation seems to be dangerous on the streets. 
The kidnappings have become indiscriminate in Haiti, Nachtrieb said. In the past, there might have been a political target for kidnapping, but now the kidnappers seem to target nonprofits in general, whether they’re Haitian nationals or not, he said.
Nonprofit workers may also get caught up in gang violence or protests on the streets when moving around the country. Local gangs sometimes block the road, making it impossible to travel, Burke said.
“They’ll put, like, a truck…or a semi container across the road that blocks up the road,” Burke said. “And that’s a way that the gangs control the country.”
The recent earthquakes, the assassination of the country’s president and ongoing poverty make working in Haiti a difficult task, Nachtrieb said. In July, Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated at home. A 7.2-magnitude earthquake hit the southwestern region of Haiti in August.
Despite the turmoil, the nonprofit continues to provide support on the ground.
When the earthquake hit on Aug. 14, a delegation from Children of the Nations traveled to the earthquake scene in Maniche to assess the damage and hand out emergency supplies, Burke said.
Children of the Nations has cooperated with local schools and organizations in the past to get basic school supplies to children. However, the team hasn’t been able to deliver those supplies because of how dangerous it’s been to travel throughout the country, Burke said. 
“That’s just another impact of the instability,” Burke said. “It’s just very difficult to transport supplies from one place to another.”
The organization is grateful for the support they get, including donations from Kitsap County. Over the past year, 13% of its total donors have come from Kitsap County, according to Burke. The organization has a long history of partnering with local organizations and churches in the county to send resources and teams to the countries they serve, Burke said.
People who wish to sponsor a child in Haiti via Children of the Nations can visit cotni.org/sponsorships?location=haiti&page=1&status=unsponsored%2Cpartial for information.
“Haitians are strong, resilient, wonderful people,” Burke said.
Reach breaking news reporter Peiyu Lin at pei-yu.lin@kitsapsun.com or on Twitter @peiyulintw.
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