“We Need to Heal the World Through our Work,” – Father Joseph Philippe


 Passover this year was unusual in many respects. While I am not Jewish and don’t observe the day, nor do most of the people at Virginia Tech; an unlikely visitor reminded us of the key message of Passover- Freedom and Liberation. This visitor was Father Joseph Philippe from the University of Fondwa, Fondwa, Haiti. He came on a mission to educate, inspire and also acquaint the audience of the challenges to higher education in Haiti.

            Father Joseph spoke of the Judaic notion of “Tikkun Olam,” or healing the world. “As human beings, we are all responsible for each other. We must help, stand by and support one another through difficult times and heal each other’s hearts,” he said. Going back to his own story of how he got into humanitarian action, he added:” I come from a very poor family and my mother was a street vendor. I saw poverty around me and struggled to bring myself up and educate myself. This quest lead me to become an Accountant and then a Priest. I realized early on that the main thing in life is to realize and be grateful for everything we have.”

            His life-work seems to be testimony to this positive attitude, as Father Joseph is the founder of Fonkoze, a microcredit institution and also the founder of University of Fondwa in Haiti. Higher education has especially taken a hit in Haiti, following the 2010 Earthquake. Pointing to the key challenges, he said:”Some of the challenges before us are basic: infrastructural and human resources. Since so many of the talented people died in the Earthquake and others fled, we are in dire need of people who have education and talents, to serve.”

            While his pitch to recruit volunteers was strong and he recommended that anyone wanting to volunteer must come with the mindset of a warrior, so as to be ready for anything; he was also aware that this is not for everyone. “I don’t want to create a new class of poor people, in the effort to remove poverty in Haiti. We need your help and will gladly give you any position that matches your qualifications or experience, but ask that you provide for your own salaries, as we don’t have the money to do that.” He pointed out.

            While the debate rages on about how development aid is channeled and used or abused, the fact remains that the situation in Haiti, especially in Haiti is quite dire.


Higher education in Haiti

His visit also points to the recent efforts by academics and humanitarians to address the needs for higher education in post-conflict and post-disaster zones. A recent report by Teacher’s college, Columbia University points out:” Given the severity and duration of these social upheavals, and the current state of human security around the globe, international and local actors have argued persuasively for turning attention to education. Education, they assert, can be a way to mediate conflict, and education services should be included in humanitarian aid packages, together with water and food, shelter, and medical treatment (Aguilar & Retamal, 1998; Johannessen, 2001; Machel, 2001; Save the Children Alliance, 1996; Sinclair, 2002). Backing this policy change, several international organizations have designed a number of education “tool kits” and other materials to assist humanitarian workers, educators, teachers, parents, and community members in providing education services during a complex emergency (Nicolai, 2003; Pigozzi, 1999; Triplehorn, 2001)[1].”

            Another report published in 2010 detailed the destruction of the close to 30 universities in Port Au Prince, which were already dilapidated and were not in very good shape to begin with[2].  Some of the recommendations include creating online classes for Haitian students, to enable them to graduate, and also to provide them access to online journals, to make up for the lack of libraries in Haiti.  There is a growing demand for support to local institutions, rather than offering opportunities to students to leave Haiti. Brain-drain is also identified as a negative consequence of the fellowships and scholarships offered by western institutions.

While there are a vast array of factors that have made the situation what it is, Haitian state-making failure is underwritten by a complex array of destructive local and external institutions, as well as natural constraints, including class, lack of elite cohesion, geography, population growth, the social origins of the Haitian polity, imperialism, and technology.

The solution to Haiti’s problems may not be simple, but they are within reach. What is needed is a strategic push, as this report by INURED points out. A combination of grassroots, government and international NGO efforts can help build Haiti, in the longterm. But as Father Joseph pointed out, it is the actions of every individual that count, in this case.” The individual who wants to transform himself through service is the one we are looking for. You will find your new self, a self that is bigger, greater and more generous than what you are today. Come, work with us to find that new self.” He pointed out.


About Father Philippe

Father Joseph B. Philippe, CSSp, founded Fonkoze in 1994 and continues to serve as Coordinator of Fonkoze, President of Fonkoze Financial Services, and a Board Director of Fonkoze USA.Father Joseph is also the founder of the Peasant Association of Fondwa (APF) and has been its coordinator since 1988. As part of the APF, Father Joseph established and helps manage numerous commercial projects, including an agricultural, reforestation and animal husbandry project, a bakery, a guest center/educational tourist program and a restaurant, as well as an auto parts shop, a guest house, a cement store and a scaffolding rental company. In 2004, Father Joseph also founded the University of Fondwa, an educational institution committed to sustainable and integrated development in rural Haiti.

Film Review – Five Broken Cameras

I recently watched “Five Broken Cameras[1],” a docu-film made by Palestinian farmer Emad Burnat and Israeli co-director Guy Davidi. This is a powerful documentary shot entirely by Burnat, and chronicles the struggles and tribulations of the Palestinian civilians in the village of Bil’in, which is made ‘secure’ by a fence, so that the Israelis do not feel threatened by the people of the village. The larger narrative is of the non-violent struggle in Palestinian villages, that seems to have gathered pace in the last few years.  The theme of security is present throughout the film and one can argue the entire film challenges the dominant narrative of how to make the region “secure”. This binary of security-insecurity is explored in a very humane way, throughout the film.

The most powerful scene in the film is when Burnat’s friend Phil ( Pheel, which means Elephant in Arabic) is shot by Israeli Defense Force ( IDF) personnel, as he is protesting the barrier erected around the village. The unarmed villagers of Bil’in are shot at and in this melee of violence and confusion, Pheel is shot in the chest and dies, almost immediately. This g5-Broken-Cameras_131112193308266raphic depiction of violence in the film is a testimony of the repression, violence that many of the Palestinian villages are enduring, almost on a daily basis. The politics of securitization, the violent repression of the Palestinians comes out in all its gory details here.

Earlier in the film, Emad describes how each of his four children were born in a different era and witnessed a different Palestine. With two Intifadas behind them, the Palestinians have seen the promises of peace, brokered by the American slip through and the continued dominance of Israel of all its territories. The film also chronicles the gradual growth of his youngest son, who witnesses daily humiliation and abuse from the Israelis.

Positioning Security: A subaltern perspective

“I feel like the camera protects me, but it’s an illusion, “says Emad while narrating the film. The title of the film derives from the five of his cameras that are destroyed, during the filming that Emad does, almost obsessively. This film is also a sub-altern perspective of security and goes to show how an average Palestinian, living in occupied territories experiences the challenges of living a dignified life. These are not the challenges of living in sheltered bomb protected structures or that of fearing the unknown terrorist, who may potentially blow himself up[2], but that of a state this threatens the very existence of people that are occupied. While this may not be a mainstream narrative of security, as it goes against the grain of defining who the ‘threat’ is, this film breaks the stereotype of who is the security threat.

While appearing to be professional, organized and doing their ‘job,’ the IDF come across as bullies and enforcers of a brutal regime, that stops at nothing when it comes to putting up barricades and barriers to ensure that the Israelis feel ‘safe.’


Role of gender in security narrative

The only prominent female in the film is the narrator’s wife, who is a home-maker and is shown as being raised in Brazil. Her role is that of the nurturer and protector. While the roles of the two key protagonists ( Emad and his wife) are complimentary, they are also strikingly different. Emad’s role is to chronicle the experiences of the residents of Bil’in as they fight to remove barriers of ‘security’ around their village i.e, the fence which eventually gives rise to a wall, her role is that of taking care of the family, gathering Olives at times (which provide them sustenance) and also nurture the family, despite all the odds against them.

The gender roles seem to be almost stereotyped in this case, ( Paur, Rai; 2006) but there is reason to believe that this is because of the challenges to social interactions as well as inability of the Palestinian women to move around freely, without exposing them to enormous amounts of ‘insecurity.’ The film also does a good job of showing this, though not directly. This subtle underlying theme of the film is important to understand and appreciate. While women have increasingly been playing a strong role in Palestinian politics, from women like Hanan Ashrawi, to other less-known thought leaders, there is no denying that men have continued to dominate the discussion around the Palestinian struggle and also the security narrative has been built around them. This can be seen as a very ‘male dominated’ discourse around security, as in many other cases.

My understanding of the security issues in Palestinian territories shifted only slightly, as this was not new material for me. I am aware of the manner in which security is positioned in this narrative, with the Palestinians showcased as the threat and the Israelis as the poor victims, while the ground-realities are quite the opposite. Despite this, the film did a good job of showing how the non-violent resistance to Israeli occupation is being dealt with. The shootings, arrests of young boys and the daily humiliations that the Palestinians suffer, to make the Israelis feel ‘secure’ was brought out very clearly in this this film.

In this, the film succeeded very well. What I would have liked to see is how women in the village deal with this. This perspective was captured in a small way with Emad’s wife’s reactions to his filming, but I believe with a few more voices, this could have been built into something of a stronger narrative of the female perspective.

Overall, a very powerful, sensitive and thought provoking film, which is getting rave reviews across the world. The fact that this involves Israeli collaboration shows that the film will be seen and shown among Israelis who stand in solidarity with the Palestinians, and hopefully this will add to the rising crescendo of voices for greater Palestinian autonomy and rights of the people living in the occupied territories. A must watch for anyone interested in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

[2] Refer to Pape Robert, Feldman James, Cutting the Fuse, University of Chicago Press, 2010