By Liz Calvo
With concerns for the political situation and the pandemic still circulating, the Center for Community Service Initiatives (CCSI) has announced that an Alternative Break mission to Haiti will be canceled this year.
The Haitian community has been experiencing an increase in political hostility from abductions by various gangs in the Portau-Prince area ever since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.
In December 2021, 12 missionaries who were abducted in Haiti managed to get away on their own. It is reported that their capturers seized them and demanded a ransom of $1 million per hostage.
Moreover, Cuban doctor, Daymara Helen Pérez Alabedra, was kidnapped earlier in January and although the $100,000 ransom was paid, the gang has yet to release Pérez.
Courtney Berrien, associate director for the CCSI, did note that there are some plans that would involve staying in Florida, however, nothing can be confirmed “due to the fluctuating situation with Omicron.”
“We are in the process of identifying several Alternative Breaks 'staycation' alternatives. We are looking for fun experiences that provide students with meaningful opportunities to contribute to social change initiatives while not putting vulnerable populations at risk.”
Remaining optimistic, Berrien stated that the CCSI is “expecting to be able to offer students several day-trip options during Spring Break. They won’t involve airplanes or motels, but they will still be fun and meaningful.”
Over the years Barry University has maintained and supported the efforts of many community partners in Haiti. One way is through the program known as Alternative Break, that provides students with community-based immersion experiences designed to build awareness of social, political, and environmental issues.
According to Berrien, Barry started its Alternative Break Haiti program as a "partnership with long-standing community partner Amor en Acción.”
The Miami-based organization was founded more than 40 years ago by a Barry theology faculty member and other concerned Miami residents who wanted to respond to great social and economic needs of Haiti during the 1980s, a time when many Haitians were risking their lives to come to Miami by small boats in large numbers.
Berrien was part of a Barry faculty/staff team who traveled to Haiti in 2018. In her experience, she has seen students “develop meaningful relationships, expand their outlook on personal and career goals, and gain confidence through experiencing new cultures and community.”
“In each of our trips to Haiti there have been students who were able to connect with family members still living in Haiti. This has been enriching for all travelers, as we’re able to experience Haitian culture and people beyond what the typical volunteer or tourist experiences,” she said.