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Albertans who found their way back from Haiti amid gang violence call crisis worst ‘ever seen’



Albertans who found their way back from Haiti amid gang violence call crisis worst ‘ever seen’

Two Albertans who only recently were able to escape from Haiti as gang violence continues to keep the Caribbean country in a state of turmoil are speaking out about the ongoing crisis and the gratitude they feel because they are safe.

“I’ve been there probably 10 times,” Barry Kalinski said of the country. “There’s lots that’s got to change in Haiti, everybody knows that. I don’t know what the answer is, but it’s been in turmoil for quite a long time. But it’s really in turmoil now — the worst I’ve ever seen.

“(I have previously been) through roadblocks and I’ve heard gunshots and stuff like that, but never seen it like this.”

Kalinski, the reeve for the Municipal District of Bonnyville, spoke to Global News on Thursday after recently being able to find a way out of the troubled country thanks to a flight organized by U.S. authorities. He noted he was able to make it home just ahead of he and his wife’s 39th wedding anniversary.

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“That was the longest we’ve ever been apart,” he said. “It was probably harder on her and my family than it was on me.”

Marc Honorat, who was born and raised in Haiti but now calls Airdrie, Alta., home, spoke to Global News on Friday. Exactly one week earlier, he was finally able to get on a flight to Florida where he was reunited with his family.

“We always have issues in Haiti, but this time it was unexpected,” he said of the escalating violence. “The airport was totally shut down … I didn’t have any way of leaving the country.

“It’s bittersweet actually. I missed my family, my wife and my kids … But at the same time … I left my community, my people, my staff, in this situation there.”

Honorat and his wife, Lisa Honorat, are the co-founders of Haiti ARISE Ministries, which he says currently still has about 200 people working for the organization in the Caribbean nation. The organization operates a children’s home and some schools there.

On Monday, federal Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly announced Canada’s evacuation plan for citizens still in Haiti who hope to leave. The country is experiencing a multitude of problems including food shortages amid escalating violence being carried out by armed gangs.

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Earlier this month, a state of emergency and curfews were extended in Haiti. Ariel Henry, the country’s unelected prime minister who took on the role after the 2021 assassination of then-president Jovenel Moïse, said he would resign.

Under his administration, armed gangs grew their wealth and influence, eventually prompting Henry to ask for international help in 2022 to help address the situation.

A recent report by the United Nations Human Rights Office says that the number of people killed and injured because of gang violence in Haiti increased significantly in 2023: 4,451 people were killed and 1,668 injured. In 2024, 1,554 people have already been killed and 826 have been injured.

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Kalinski had been in Haiti on a church trip to offer help to orphans and seniors there.

“You accomplish a lot of little things for a lot of people that don’t have anything,” he said of his work. “It makes you feel like a million bucks just putting on a doorknob on an old house. It doesn’t seem like much, but it’s a pretty big deal for these orphans.”

An undated photo of Barry Kalinski in Haiti.

Supplied by Barry Kalinski

While in Haiti, the security situation rapidly deteriorated and Kalinski drove with an American volunteer to a part of the island far away from Port-au-Prince in an attempt to find a safer place to be.

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“I was never in any danger that I know of,” he said. “Even if I was in danger, I had such a bunch of … (people) praying for me and for my safety.

“All their prayers and thoughts — it’s overwhelming actually.”

Kalinski said he and others he was with were supposed to leave on March 17 on a flight arranged by a non-profit but because of a number of issues, only some people were able to get on the flight. When he was able to board a flight arranged by U.S. authorities a week later, he indicated it was a relief.

“It’s a good feeling to be home, as you can imagine,” he said.

Marc Honorat went to Haiti on Feb. 21 and planned to leave the country on March 8 but the gang violence prevented him from leaving until March 22.

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“My wife was trying to figure out and contact some organizations that can maybe get me out,” he said as he recounted his ordeal. “But they would ask between $100,000 to $250,000 to take me from where I was to the north of the island on to the DR (Dominican Republic).

“I didn’t have that kind of money, and even if I had that kind of money, we have too much need in Haiti. … I just anchored down.”

That’s when Lisa Honorat got in touch with Agape Flights Inc., which was eventually able to bring her husband home.

“Three days before they were able to fly, they said, ‘Well, we’re coming on March 22 so get ready. We will try our best to come and get you and some other people,’” Marc Honorat said.

“I actually miss Haiti, because that’s where I was born and raised. … I actually can’t wait to go back, … when it’s relatively safe to go back. … (but) it’s good to be back and to be with my wife and kids.”

Lisa Honorat said that she and her husband’s work over the years has seen them face risks and challenges before but normally because of natural disasters.

“This is … really causing a lot of insecurity,” she said. “And it’s not the Haiti that we’ve known for so long.

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“Now it’s not safe. We can’t take our family there at the moment. And for us to be fearful of … (Marc’s) own life as a national, that’s really different for us. It’s heartbreaking that we can’t be there right now. But I’m glad he is home.”

She added that when she and her family have been in Haiti, people in the country have always been friendly and welcoming and that despite widespread poverty, they have felt relatively safe. She said it has felt increasingly unsafe in recent years, noting that people have been increasingly avoiding Port-au-Prince “at all costs.”

Kalinski spoke about how his spiritual faith helped them through difficult moments in Haiti.

He said he regularly read from the Bible in order to help him “try to be a better man.”

Kalinski said he believes his first-ever trip to Haiti, years ago, had a significant impact on his perspective towards humanity.

“I have a lot, I don’t need anything more,” he said. “I’m very blessed. … I give a lot more than I probably did 14,15, 20 years ago. They have nothing, (and) we have probably too much.

“It seems like we’re always longing for more and more, and we have plenty. We have food every day on the table. I’ve never been hungry. I’ve never had to go without.

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“For many of those people, every day is a challenge to have a meal. And then if you have a bunch of little kids sitting there, I can’t imagine for a mother or father the pressure. It’s got to be incredible. I’ve never had that feeling.”

Click to play video: 'Alberta politician on mission trip stick in Haiti'

Alberta politician on mission trip stick in Haiti

Marc Honorat said he hopes people across the planet, particularly political leaders, are paying attention to what is happening in Haiti and that they offer help.

Lisa Honorat explained that “Haiti is such a place of need that we would not feel right to turn our backs on it.”

“I mean, someone has to pay attention and provide and help,” she said.

“In order for us to change Haiti, we have to keep educating the young generation,” Marc Honorat said. “And so that’s what we have done over the years, and that’s what we will continue to do.”

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Kalinski said he believes he’ll likely return to Haiti someday.

“It’s not for everybody,” he said of travelling to that country and offering to help. “It’s not easy … (but) the people are very appreciative.”

–With files from Global News’ Kabi Moulitharan and Aaron D’Andrea, The Associated Press’ Edith Lederer, and The Canadian Press

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