Haiti native and local nonprofit leader reflects on assassination, vows to continue service

BISHOP LEON PAMPHILE, with Haitian residents, in this file photo.

by Ervin Dyer and Jamar Thrasher For New Pittsburgh Courier

Last week, at the earliest hint of a sunrise, Pittsburgh resident and Haiti native Bishop Leon Pamphile was awakened by a phone call. His brother, Raoul, in Haiti, was on the line with an urgent communication.

On that call, Pamphile learned the news that would soon jolt the international community. Haitian president Jovenel Moïse had been assassinated in the middle of the night in his home near Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital city. The 53-year-old business leader took office in 2016. His wife was also injured in the attack and was later flown to a Miami hospital for treatment.

The investigation into the assassination continues, but at the time of this writing, the Haitian Times is reporting that several actors, including a Florida-based doctor, were allegedly involved in the assassination of President Moïse.

The news continues to unfold, but when Pamphile first heard of the killing of Moïse, he was “disheartened” by the news. Pamphile, one of many Haitian nationals living in Allegheny County, was worried about how the assassination might cause further turmoil in his beloved Haiti, which was already struggling with political stability, COVID-19 and other health and social challenges because of poverty and inequality.

“The death of the president creates the highest height of uncertainty in a country already overtaken by violence, gang wars, kidnappings, shortages of gasoline and food,” Pamphile said.


Though living thousands of miles away from his native country, Pamphile has maintained deep and compassionate roots to the island nation. For nearly 40 years now, Pamphile, a retired teacher, has been the leader of the Pittsburgh-based nonprofit the Functional Literacy Ministry of Haiti, or FLM Haiti. He founded the group to combat illiteracy, unemployment, illness, and to help residents of a rural, mountainous region not far from Port-au-Prince, have a better life.

The assassination sent shock waves across the world, but in Haiti it disrupted a flow of life that is already so fragile for so many.

For the most part, all activities are now paralyzed in Port-au-Prince, said Pamphile, and people are staying home. He said that the institutions of FLM Haiti — its clinic, schools, and technical center — have closed for now as a way to protect staff and others.

FLM Haiti, which typically runs several health and education missions to Haiti each year to aid its work there, has not been able to sponsor a mission there in more than a year and a half because of unrest and concerns over COVID-19.

Nevertheless, FLM Haiti’s work there continued. Its school, serving 600 elementary to high school students, employs about 38 teachers; its medical staff of 14 treats more than 300 patients each month. Pamphile, though, is worried the disruption to services could negatively impact the health and well-being of the community. Right now, there are already reports of electrical outages and shortages of propane, which many families use to cook.

“I feel like what’s happening right now, everybody’s affected, whether you’re for or against (President Moïse),” said Pamphile, during a recent radio interview.

Though there have been calls in Haiti for the nation to resume as much normalcy as possible,

Pamphile is worried the uncertainty and threat of an escalation in political turmoil could further impact FLM Haiti’s effort to aid the people of his homeland.

On the ground in Haiti, Pamphile is worried critical humanitarian and social aid will arrive even more slowly to Haiti because road closures, threats of spontaneous violence, and he fears aid could come to a complete standstill due the harrowing events that left Moïse dead. 

Another worrisome and immediate consequence of Moïse’s assassination is the economic void presented to Haitian vendors and merchants. Their business is dwindling because the streets are so empty, said Pamphile. A typical family in Haiti, where many live on less than $2 a day, does not have access to a refrigerator or freezer. It is not uncommon for families to live day-to-day, depending on street markets to purchase food, water and other necessities to feed their families.

In the meantime, Pamphile, the bishop of the Church of God in Christ in Haiti, remains hopeful for his nation and for his nonprofit, even in such trying times. FLM Haiti, he says, will continue to monitor the situation and open its services as safely as it can to provide for the people.

(To donate to FLM Haiti, visit https://www.flmhaiti.org/donate)


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