Working for a Better Future in Haiti

Auguste and Clerger
Marie Rosy Kesner Auguste, right, and Guylene Clerger, an MCC worker in Port-au-Prince, were MCC-sponsored participants in Eastern Mennonite University’s Summer Peacebuilding Institute (SPI). Photo by Melissa Engle

A joint release of Mennonite Central Committee and Eastern Mennonite University

Marie Rosy Kesner Auguste will never forget her first view of a prison in her hometown of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Assaulted by the smell of dank cells, the split plastic jugs that served as plates and how dirty and unwell prisoners looked, Auguste vowed to work on behalf of those incarcerated.

It was a drastic change. Then a second-year law student, she had chosen her career carefully, planning to earn money, hoping to live comfortably.

Galvanized by her visit to the prison, she approached the leader of the National Human Rights Defense Network (RNDDH), telling him she wanted to help document abuses against prisoners and make sure people were held in a legal, just manner.

He urged her to look elsewhere. It is dangerous, he told her, and you might lose your life. He told her how he’d been shot because of his work. She remained undeterred.

Now a monitoring assistant for RNDDH, a partner organization of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in Haiti, Auguste meets with guards and officials and helps lead trainings to educate people about their rights.

Auguste says the most moving part of the job is meeting with prisoners and listening to their stories and their pleas and working with them to make sure their cases proceed through the justice system.

In Haiti, those who are arrested may be held at a police station for up to 48 hours in crowded holding rooms, where officials are not responsible for providing food or water. Auguste said she and co-workers have sometimes found people who have been held for weeks there.

They work to make sure prisoners are healthy and safe, investigating rapes and health crises, including a case earlier this year in which a prisoner with tuberculosis was held in a room with nearly two dozen other prisoners, exposing them all to the disease. They strive to make sure cases are moving through the justice system