In the wake of natural disasters and human violence, humanistic mutual aid projects are cropping up at the grassroots level all over Haiti, with the potential to stabilize the nation village by village.

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In southern Haiti, a young feminist stands before a group of women, teen girls, and children in the tent camp of Kay Lako on International Women’s Day. “Without mothers, there would be no senators, ministers, or presidents,” Dafnée Marie Therèse Presil tells the crowd. “Remember, education happens not only at school but at home.” 

Marie offers steaming plates of poul nan sòs and diri ak pwa — spiced chicken in sauce with beans and rice—to entice community members to join the meeting where she affirms the importance of women in Haitian society. She hands each woman an envelope filled with $20 USD to buy food for their families. She encourages them not to forget their power. 

Marie grew up in rural southern Haiti, and like thousands of other Haitians in the region ended up homeless after a 7.1 magnitude earthquake decimated the area in August 2021. 

“After the earthquake, we came to live in the Kay Lako camp,” Marie says. “So many women and girls here are experiencing insecurity and violence. I decided to found Fanm Viktim of Kay Lako so we can force people to hear our cries, our suffering.” 

Fanm Viktim (“female victims”) is a humanist mutual aid community that supports women in providing for their families and in developing solutions to the growing violence against women and children. “Our work for the moment is to denounce the violence and psychological trauma women and girls are experiencing. Our work helps women understand their rights and capabilities.”

Through Fanm Viktim, Marie is creating an advocacy network making change from the ground up. She spends her days talking with her neighbors, building relationships, and seeding local power. 

“Have you been raped?” Marie asks a woman who sits on the dusty ground outside a tarp-covered box that houses her family.

“Yes,” the woman replies. “Twice. Once by the gangs and another time by a taxi driver.” 

Marie conducts interviews like this all over Kay Lako, collecting stories and encouraging women to come to Fanm Viktim’s meetings where they can organize to protect each other and demand support from police and local leaders. 

“Have you been raped?” Marie asks a woman who sits on the dusty ground outside a tarp-covered box that houses her family. “Yes,” the woman replies. “Twice.”

“Despite all the violence women endure here, they remain the central pillars of their families,” she says. “It is they who raise children without fathers, they who risk their lives every day looking for food to give their children.” 

Marie recognizes that outside aid agencies would never entrust community members with envelopes of cash—but the women in Kay Lako are organizing together and they trust one another. This is what distinguishes a mutual aid approach from charity models practiced by missionary groups and foreign NGOs. Marie is part of the community and believes the women here are the best experts in their own needs. 

Marie herself faces the same struggles as the other women in Kay Lako. She has very little education and limited resources. She is currently without work and says she pushes herself hard to “fight with life for survival.” She buys small merchandise and little sweets to resell for a bit of income, but life in the camp offers few opportunities. 

“Despite all the violence women endure here, they remain the central pillars of their families. It is they who raise children without fathers, they who risk their lives every day looking for food to give their children.” 

Indeed, life everywhere in Haiti is currently very difficult. A quick perusal of headlines related to the country is disconcerting: “Haiti: a failed state”; “Haiti spinning out of control”; “Gangs, kidnapping, murder in Haiti.” Donald Trump’s famous disparagement of Haiti as a “shithole nation” illustrates the common perception that Haiti is a hopeless mess — and that Haitians lack the necessary skills to rebuild their country. Donations to initiatives in Haiti are drying up, with donors unwilling to invest in a nation they believe cannot be saved.

But Billy Almoza, organizer with Mouvement de la Jeunesse pour la Liberte de la Pensee en Haiti (MOJELIPH) or Youth Movement for Freethought in Haiti, is insistent: “This is a very important moment for us to start helping our brothers and sisters who are dying in Haiti … The humanist movement is beginning to develop here. In many parts of the country, young people who are getting an education are forming small groups to spread the principles of humanism as a lifestance people should practice.” 

Billy maintains that Haitians do have the ability to lift themselves up—but progress requires an ongoing investment in Haitians themselves, rather than in corrupt government officials. It requires that the Haitian people recognize their power to solve the challenges they face. And today, the values of humanism are beginning to build people’s confidence in the human capacity for solutions. Both Billy and Marie contend that humanism is the antidote to the centuries of religious colonization and ongoing evangelism that have enculturated Haitians in Christianity’s resignation to suffering. 

“A lot of people who aren’t able to go to school are marginalized and zombified with religious dogma from a young age,” Billy says. 

This creates a reliance on both Western religion and foreign charity. When God is viewed as the source of all blessings and Church missionaries as the givers of sustenance, the people themselves become resigned to powerless humility. At least a third of students in Haiti are educated in private religious schools that sap their families’ meager incomes and that fail to expose young minds to any humanistic principles that would build confidence in their own human capabilities. 

In the face of this legacy of religious oppression, the implications of the growing humanist movement and its associated mutual aid communities are huge. Haitians, especially young people, are beginning to look to themselves to solve the problems the government is incapable of addressing and that religion refuses to. 

“A lot of people who aren’t able to go to school are marginalized and zombified with religious dogma from a young age,” Billy says. 

“Especially in these times,” Marie says, “the eyes of many young people are starting to open. They are beginning to discover the lies and manipulations of religion.”

Both Billy and Marie have no illusions about the disastrous failure of democratic governance in Haiti. 

“Gangs are the only rulers,” Billy says. “Corruption is destroying the country. The people can’t eat. Children 14 and 15 years old are forced into prostitution. Diasporas and foreigners take advantage of women’s vulnerability and rape them. Life is becoming harder.”


Runaway inflation and the exorbitant cost of food and medicine mean many families no longer have the resources to pay for their children’s education, which is heavily privatized in Haiti. And with the recent string of gang attacks against schools, perpetrating teacher kidnappings that have resulted in the deaths of elementary students, Haiti’s schools struggle to remain open. 

“In many places, police are running away from their police stations,” Marie says. “Insecurity is swallowing the land.”

Because of the level of government corruption in Haiti as well as the corruption of foreign NGOs, charitable investment at the national level might well be hopeless. But the national government has not belonged to Haiti for decades. With centuries of intervention —  starting with US/European attempts to contain Haiti’s humanistic, Enlightenment-inspired revolution, followed by US efforts to isolate Haiti and extract its resources — the country’s national government has long been a creature foreign to and disconnected from its people.

But the people themselves are far from a lost cause. “We are good people,” Marie says. “It is the corrupt leaders who are forcing us into such misery. They steal all the money that’s supposed to be for infrastructure, roads, bridges, and schools.”

Building from the foundation up

The work of humanist leaders like Billy and Marie shows the efficacy of investing financial solidarity directly in the hands of Haitians working at the grassroots level to bring stability to their own communities. When a house collapses, they explain, you do not start rebuilding from the roof—first you must build a foundation.

“Because of all of MOJELIPH’s work,” says Billy, “there are a lot of people who are beginning to understand what humanism is. They are starting to understand life and their existence.”

Founded in 2009, MOJELIPH worked tirelessly to provide aid following the catastrophic earthquake of 2010 that destroyed nearly all of the structures in the country’s capital city and killed a quarter million people — including MOJELIPH’s cofounder, Ludget Gedeon. The organization also launched a solar project focused on environmental protection — providing a clean energy source for cooking that does not require cutting down trees and burning charcoal. And through an ongoing grant from the US-based humanist charity, GO Humanity, MOJELIPH has been operating a food security project that provides meals to the most destitute children in local tent camps.

“There are many people in need, they are truly hungry,” Billy says. “Every day they ask me when I can give them more food. Many children are left on the streets, girls and boys, some turn to prostitution, others are involved in theft, others are in gangs. The state does nothing to protect children.”

In May, Billy will begin planting a community garden to provide an ongoing source of food for the community. The donated land for the garden is situated near a river that will make irrigation possible during the dry season. MOJELIPH is currently raising funds for a pump and a tractor to aid the project. Eventually, Billy hopes to build a free community restaurant — because while the people do have the potential to build a stable and lasting democracy, they are hard-pressed to stand up against gangs and corrupt government officials when they must spend each day searching for food. Billy’s work with MOJELIPH aims to attend to the community’s basic survival needs so that people will have the health and security they need to work toward systemic change.

Like Marie, Billy himself suffers with the community. At 41 years old, Billy has never found work for a salary, despite his education in Communication Science from the University of Haiti. Many of the original members of MOJELIPH have left the country to find work in places like Brazil and Chile. Several of his friends have been murdered by gangs. But Billy is determined to stay and fight for his country, and he continues to live in the rural southern village of Cavaillon where he believes he can do the most good.

“I am a person who loves everyone, I want to see people progress,” Billy says. “I love children very much. It always hurts me when I see children suffering. I am a person who prefers to suffer myself if I can help other people.”

‘Little by little’

Both Billy and Marie want to communicate to US residents that Haiti is experiencing a humanitarian emergency. Because of gang control of the roads and ports, it is becoming prohibitively expensive to buy food and other necessities. Women go days without eating to ensure that their children have food. The exploitation of women and children is horrifying. But Haiti is not a hopeless mess. Humanistic, mutual aid projects are cropping up at the grassroots level all over the country and have the potential to stabilize the nation village by village, camp by camp. Piti piti, yon zwazo bati nich li, goes the Haitian proverb. “Little by little, a bird builds its nest.”

However, groups like MOJELIPH and Fanm Viktim need financial solidarity from international donors in order to build local food sovereignty, security networks, and secular education. GO Humanity launched a fundraising campaign this month to support MOJELIPH and Fanm Viktim in addressing both immediate needs and creating long-term local sustainability. All funds raised will go directly to the work Billy and Marie are doing to transform their communities and stabilize the region. Another humanist nonprofit, the Nonprofit Industrial Complex (NPIC), serves as the fiscal sponsor for both MOJELIPH and Fanm Viktim and is preparing a cargo shipment of necessities that have become difficult, if not impossible, to procure locally. Items on NPIC’s wishlist include children’s books in Haitian Kreyòl, dried herring, bedsheets, and clothes.

“You help in multiple ways when you give,” Billy wants to tell potential donors. “People are able to avoid joining gangs when they have other resources. And every time you donate, you save a young woman from prostitution, every time you give, you prevent a teen pregnancy.”

“I want to tell anyone who has not yet donated, you have power to help those of us living Haiti,” Marie implores. “Things are truly difficult. Each time you give a contribution, it’s a life you save.”

The nascent success of mutual aid projects like MOJELIPH and Fanm Viktim show that humanism in Haiti can begin seeding a foundation for prosperity and security in the country. And perhaps the same ideals that encourage human responsibility in Haiti also insist that humanists internationally consider our own responsibility in support of our Haitian counterparts and their work. 

Kenbe la, Ayiti. Nou la avèk ou. Stay strong, Haiti. We are with you.

Researched and written with the help of Billy Almoza and Dafnée Marie Therèse Presil. Additional translation/interpretation assistance from Walter Vertus and Max Andrè.

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Seráh Blain is a mom, an activist, and a community organizer with more than 20 years of political and nonprofit advocacy experience. She is currently President of the Nonprofit Industrial Complex, a 501(c)(3)...