Haitians in England: organised and active
Posted on Tuesday 3 June 2008
by Charles Arthur
Submitted to AlterPresse on June 3th 2008
Haiti’s team for the Kreyol football tournament;
Haiti supporters celebrate a goal)
The small but increasingly organised Haitian diaspora in England marked this year’s Flag Day - May 18th - in contrasting ways. A Haitian team (photo logo) entered the first Kreyol football tournament organised by the French Caribbean Association - Memn Bitan, Menm Bagay, in London, and on the same day, Haiti was represented at the Jubilee Debt Campaign event in Birmingham where over 1,000 campaigners marked the 10th anniversary of the G8 human chain, and made fresh calls on world leaders to drop US$400 billion of poor country debt.
Wilford Marous, who hails from Les Cayes in Haiti and has lived in England for 13 years, helped assemble the Haitian team that competed with teams from Martinique, St Lucia, Cape Verde, Nigeria, Angola, Guadeloupe, and Ghana in the first MBMB Kreyol five-a-side football tournament held in Paddington in west London.
Wilford said, "It was so great to see such togetherness among the Haitian community. Thanks to MBMB for inviting us to this cultural event, to the Haiti Support Group for initiating the first contact with the organizers, and to my felllow countrymen/women and friends who traveled from different parts of England to London with their flag to make this May 18th 2008 such a special day."
Flag Day is a major holiday in Haiti marking the creation of the Haitian flag, the symbol of a fee and independent nation and the end of the French slave colony. May 18th is celebrated in Haiti, and by the two million or more Haitians living in other countries - the diaspora.
Mario Gousse, who came to live in England in 1992, played in the Haiti team, and was enthusiastic about the Kreyol football tournament. "A great time was had by all. Most importantly, we were able to make a myriad new connections amongst us, which can lead to a myriad wonderful outcomes.
- Haiti supporters celebrate a goal
Supporting the Haitian team was Judith Craig, who was born in Haiti and grew up in Canada, before coming to England in 2005. Judith who is employed as a social worker, said, "I never thought that by moving to England I would connect to such a lively and passionate Haitian community. This football event enabled us to expand our Haitian network. It was brilliant to bring together the Kreyol community in England. I look forward to continuing to build relationships with my new Haitian family! Mesi anpil."
Olivier Lavaud from Jacmel came to England in 1998. He helped assemble the Haitian team with Wilford. Olivier said, "I’m happy to find other compatriots and be part of a group who is progressing like ours."
Haiti does not have any diplomatic representation in England - the embassy was closed in the late 1980s. At the present moment, Olivier is working with Haiti’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to explore the possibilities of opening a consulate in London or appointing an honorary consul in England. He said, "Work has progressed slowly, but we’re getting there."
Another supporter of the Haitian team was Nadège Attis, who was born in Fond des Nègres, near Aquin, grew up in France, and came to England in 2000. Nadège said, “The event was brilliant! I am so happy that the Haitian community is getting bigger. I never thought I would be so eager to attend our regular meetings and have the opportunity to share our culture. I am more willing to get involved than ever!”
Also on May 18th, in the central city of Birmingham, Haiti was well represented at the International Convention Centre (ICC) where over a 1,000 Jubilee Debt Campaign activists and supporters, and international guests celebrated 10 years of campaigning for a cancellation of international debt. Anne McConnell whose mother is Haitian and who grew up and lived in Haiti until the age of nine, is the coordinator of the Haiti Advocacy Platform Ireland-UK (HAPI-UK) and she represented this platform at the Jubilee Debt Campaign event. Anne explained, “I was there reminding the world that a lot has been achieved but much remains to be done. The message to the UK government and to other G8 leaders is, 20% of the debt has been cancelled but there
is $US400 billion still to go!"
Anne continued, "It was great to stand in solidarity with others representing countries suffering from the results of paying debt service, which robs scarce resources from education, health care and agriculture. Haiti is one of 36 countries that owe billions to the World Bank but they cannot repay. About half Haiti’s debt was racked up by the Duvaliers, mostly by the son, Jean-Claude, in the 1970s, and now twice the amount spent on public health goes on interest on the debt."
Via a multi-media presentation at the ICC, Haitian voices representing ordinary Haitians, peasant farmers and the tens of thousands who swell the slums of the capital, Port-au-Prince, were heard in Birmingham on May 18th. Camille Chalmers of Economic Alternatives Advocacy Platform, PAPDA, called for an “immediate cancellation of the debt”, and asked supporters “to please continue their campaign”, while Sony Estèus of the community radio support network, SAKS, explained that the living conditions of those living in Haiti’s shanty towns is "a situation that in the developed would not even be fit for animals, where people struggle to get one decent meal a day.”
Anne explained that for her the most poignant messages was from Rosnèl Jean Baptiste of the peasant organisation, Tèt Kole ti Peyizan, who said, “I think that when someone owes, it’s when you buy something and you know what you bought. With this debt, we do not know what we bought from who, and that’s why we say we do not owe a debt.”
Anne added, "A very big thanks to Leah Gordon of the Haiti Support Group for filming and editing the video interviews that enabled these messages to be heard.
They will be part of a post-event DVD available from the Jubliee Debt Campaign office."
Two weeks after the debt relief event, the World Bank announced an emergency grant of US$10 million to the government of Haiti. But the Jubilee Debt Campaign said the grant was a "sticking plaster" that would only cover 10 weeks of debt repayments. Anne explained, "Today Haiti is paying $US1 million per week in debt service while its people starve, when Haiti could feed herself with the right support. Jubilee Debt Campaign are asking the British finance minister, Alistair Darling, to call for an immediate cancellation of Haiti’s debt at the G8 finance ministers meeting in Japan.