By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
CITÉ SOLEIL, HAITI (Worthy News) – At night, when Mamaille stares up at the ceiling in her shack, she can see the sky through a rash of bullet holes left in her metal roof after a stretch of gang fighting in Haiti last summer.
She imagines her daughter up there. “I think her soul may be in heaven, and I start crying,” said Mamaille, a rape survivor. “Sometimes, I fall asleep crying without knowing it.”
She is one of the victims supported by Sister Paesie, a Catholic nun who has opened several schools and shelters in some of the poorest areas of the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince.
Mamaille spoke with The New York Times (NYT) newspaper about the gang violence that also impacted devoted Christians involved in missions.
She was raising her four children alone after their father disappeared months earlier. Mamaille, 39, never found out whether he was killed or just fled the endless violence, she told the NYT.
Now, she had found a way to get at least one of her children out of their hellish neighborhood Cité Soleil, a shanty town that is arguably the poorest part of the Port-au-Prince Metropol.
Criminals fighting over territory had blocked almost every escape route out of the nation’s largest slum, a sprawl of shacks and crumbling buildings in the capital.
Armed men went door to door, setting fire to homes and killing residents they deemed loyal to their enemies, the NYT reported.
“The random murders, the massacres, the houses burned to the ground, the charred and mutilated corpses piling up in the sun — those nightmares were well documented. People shared photographs of the gangs’ latest victims in their WhatsApp chat groups,” the NYT wrote.
Staying alive was more straightforward, it seemed, for the wealthy, who hired bodyguards and traveled in armored vehicles. But violence stalked them, too: Men with rifles often pulled people out of the best-protected cars in broad daylight. Kidnapping for ransom has become one of the healthiest businesses in Haiti.
After she made several attempts to escape, word one day spread that the nun was prepared to take schoolchildren out of the slum to a safer area. Hundreds of students had gathered at a local chapel to wait for her. Mamaille’s 17-year-old daughter, dressed in her school uniform, was among them.
But Sister Paesie never showed up because of the violence raging that day — and so Mamaille and her daughter headed home, the dreams of a better life once again shattered.
Just before they reached their house, automatic gunfire erupted, and Mamaille saw her daughter slump forward into the dirt. “I saw that my daughter had been shot,” Mamaille said. “I felt the pain you feel when you give birth to a baby.”
When she got her daughter to a clinic, the girl was already dead, her blue skirt and yellow blouse soaked in blood. “I lost my daughter, I lost my heart,” Mamaille told NYT. “I lost my whole life.”
After leaving her daughter’s lifeless body at the clinic, Mamaille roamed the streets screaming in anguish.
Her wails must have caught the attention of gang members lurking nearby because, suddenly, Mamaille said, a group of men with guns appeared. They dragged her behind a house and raped her, one by one. There were eight of them, she said, and they beat her up before leaving.
“I would have preferred to die because when you die, it’s over; it’s finished,” Mamaille said, crying softly. “You never think about what happened to you.”
Mamaille isn’t her full name. Worthy News usually doesn’t publish the full names of victims of sexual abuse unless they volunteer to publish them.
The next day, Sister Paesie made it to the edge of Mamaille’s neighborhood and said she did eventually help evacuate hundreds of children, taking them to shelters across the city.
The nun has witnessed a lot of death and pain in Haiti.
But what happened to Mamaille and her daughter, she says, has made her feel more helpless than almost anything else.
The woman is now supported by Sister Paesie, whose full name is Claire Philippe. In one of her facilities, the nun has taken in dozens of women and girls raped or threatened by gang members.
So many women have fled Cité Soleil that Sister Paesie ran out of space to house them, so she started renting homes in safer neighborhoods for rape victims.
“When the boys in the gang tell them they love them, they run for their lives,” the nun said.
It comes as the government ceded more power than ever to armed groups that began annexing vast new territory — and carrying out kidnapping and extortion on a wide scale.
“Before, they were not as self-sufficient as they are today,” said Reginald Delva, a Haitian security consultant, referring to the country’s gangs.
Rape has become a weapon of choice of gangs to further intimidate the local population, according to United Nations investigators.
Still, Mamaille travels to one of Sister Paesie’s schools nearby to pick up some rice and cooking oil or makes her way to churches to beg for money. She collects rainwater and mixes it in a chlorine tablet to purify it enough to drink.
“Sometimes, I spend three days without being able to feed my kids and myself,” she said. Yet through the holes of her metal roof, she watches the heavens at night.
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