'We need you, Mama': Newfoundland woman vows to return to Haiti

·3 min read
They call her 'Mama' and they're missing her right now. Karen Huxter of Springdale has been running a children's home and school in Deschapelles, Haiti, for about 20 years. (Submitted by Karen Huxter - image credit)
They call her 'Mama' and they're missing her right now. Karen Huxter of Springdale has been running a children's home and school in Deschapelles, Haiti, for about 20 years. (Submitted by Karen Huxter - image credit)
They call her 'Mama' and they're missing her right now. Karen Huxter of Springdale has been running a children's home and school in Deschapelles, Haiti, for about 20 years.
They call her 'Mama' and they're missing her right now. Karen Huxter of Springdale has been running a children's home and school in Deschapelles, Haiti, for about 20 years.(Submitted by Karen Huxter)

A Newfoundland woman who left Haiti at the beginning of the pandemic is just waiting to be vaccinated so she can return to where she says she belongs.

A school in Haiti started by Karen Huxter of Springdale reopened last week, after being closed due to turmoil, insecurity and unrest in the Caribbean nation.

Huxter has worked with children in Haiti for more than two decades, opening a children's home and school.

Now, she's just biding her time to get back there. Being away for nearly a year has been difficult, she says, for her and for the children.

"They write me, and the oldest one calls me. And they say, 'Mama, we need you, Mama. Please come back, Mama,'" said Huxter in an interview with CBC Radio's Newfoundland Morning.

Students returned last week to the school, which had been closed due to unrest in the Caribbean country.
Students returned last week to the school, which had been closed due to unrest in the Caribbean country.((C) Jim Steer)

Keeping everyone safe

Huxter's family in Canada wanted her to come home when the pandemic started, out of concern for her health due to a lung condition. At the age of 75, Huxter would also be considered at risk of serious illness from COVID-19.

But there have been no COVID-19 cases at the children's home or school in Deschapelles, Haiti, for which Huxter credits her co-director, Luckner Estimable, who is Haitian and who moved his family onto the mission site when she had to leave.

"He made sure that they were protected from COVID, and they're doing very well," said Huxter.

Theses are some of the students at the school founded by Huxter.
Theses are some of the students at the school founded by Huxter.(Submitted by Karen Huxter)

Facing fear

But the people of Haiti are not only dealing with a pandemic in the poorest country in the Western hemisphere; they are also grappling with political instability, unrest, and the threat of kidnapping and other violence.

Huxter said she will seek advice on picking a time when it might be safest for her to return to Haiti and to make the three-hour drive from the airport to the mission site.

"People thought it was bad when I moved there [back in the 1990s], and it was a piece of cake compared to what it is now. I could go anywhere, I could walk where I liked, but now you can't," said Huxter.

It was the heightened risk of violence while children were on their way to school that forced its most recent closure.

"They had to close it down for the safety of the children," said Huxter.

But she says they were anxious to get back when the school reopened in late February.

Huxter says travel within Haiti has become so dangerous, with the threat of kidnapping and violence, that she can no longer leave the school compound without armed security.
Huxter says travel within Haiti has become so dangerous, with the threat of kidnapping and violence, that she can no longer leave the school compound without armed security.(Submitted by Karen Huxter)

Troubling times

With all that's going on with the pandemic worldwide, she doubts the international community even realizes how bad things are in Haiti, with a president whose term in office has expired but who is refusing to relinquish power, and with gangs running freely, leaving citizens in fear and peril.

She wants to raise awareness about the state of things in Haiti, but while she'd like people to be able to help, she doesn't know what they can do that would actually make a difference.

"It is unreal to somebody that lives in the safety of Canada and especially the safety of Newfoundland," said Huxter.

And while she's not confident things will change for the better in the country that's become her home, she is anxious to get back.

"I love it here [in Newfoundland], but this is not where I'm supposed to be right now."

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