Charissa Zehr Archive

Reflecting the humanity of migrants

October 6, 2017 Charissa Zehr

Reflecting the humanity of migrants By Charissa Zehr Sacrifice, bravery, survivor—these words kept running through my mind as I sat in migrant shelters in Mexico City and Tapachula, near Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala. Hearing the litany of dangers people faced as they crossed highways, forests, deserts and borders to find safety and security, I was struck most by their courage. I was reminded by our hosts at Voces Mesoamericanas, an MCC partner in southern Mexico, that most people don’t migrate because they want to–they are resigned to it because they see no other option. At each shelter, we listened […]

The pursuit of lasting peace in Colombia

June 16, 2017 Charissa Zehr

The pursuit of lasting peace in Colombia By Charissa Zehr At this time last year Colombians were invigorated with hope for a lasting peace agreement between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). There was palpable optimism about concluding negotiations, and people finally allowed themselves to believe change was on the horizon. A lot of things have changed in a year. First, there was the signing ceremony fanfare in June. Then the popular referendum on the peace accords was voted down by a narrow margin, revealing polarization across Colombia and leaving much uncertainty about the process. After […]

Hospitality in the midst of hostility

March 17, 2017 Charissa Zehr

Hospitality in the midst of hostility By Charissa Zehr I recently had the rare opportunity to visit Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK/North Korea) with several other Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) staff. I was eager to take part in the visit and see the country firsthand. But I also wondered how we would be received as U.S. citizens, given the tense history between our countries. Most news reports about DPRK remind us of the hostility that has frozen the relationship between our two countries. Talk to almost any North Korean and they will probably use the phrase “hostile policy” when […]

Climate resilience still under construction

January 20, 2017 Charissa Zehr

Climate resilience still under construction By Charissa Zehr For Haitians and friends of Haiti, January 12, 2010 is a date forever imprinted in their memory. The earthquake and its aftershocks claimed the lives of an estimated 150,000 to 300,000 people and displaced 1.3 million people. Despite billions of dollars in emergency assistance and reconstruction funds, thousands remain homeless even now, seven years later. Precarious housing matters on many levels, for reasons of dignity, health and safety. But of principal concern long-term, is people’s exposure to subsequent natural disasters in a country ranked as one of the most vulnerable to the […]

When good intentions go bad: U.S. dumping peanuts in Haiti

May 27, 2016 Charissa Zehr

By Charissa Zehr Just as many children in the U.S. enjoy eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, peanut butter is a regular nutritious snack for Haitian children and adults. Peanuts represent an important industry in Haiti, where nearly 150,000 farmers produce roughly 70,000 metric tons of peanuts annually. A thriving peanut processing sector employs an estimated 500,000 Haitians, most of them women. In recent years, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has supported a range of projects to increase food production and market access in Haiti, including the cultivation of peanuts. So when the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) […]

The risky business of mining

February 2, 2016 Charissa Zehr

Democracy, transparency and good governance become catchphrases during political campaigns and election cycles. In Haiti, these issues contribute to the deepening debate around mining. As the legitimacy of Haiti’s government continues to be questioned, some of Mennonite Central Committee’s partner organizations have expressed concerns that a proposed mining law could be passed by presidential decree without consent of the legislative branch and, more importantly, without consulting the Haitian people. In 2013, the World Bank provided technical support to Haiti’s government to update the country’s mining law, making it more attractive to the Canadian and U.S. mining companies already interested in […]

Piecing a patchwork towards peace

December 11, 2015 Charissa Zehr

By Charissa Zehr The quilts were hung with care and pride at the front of the open-air pavilion where the graduation ceremony was to take place. The vivid colors and detailed piecework narrated the story of a community that was ripped apart and has worked their way back towards wholeness, piece by piece. On one side, the quilt portrays a rather idyllic scene – children at play, animals, vegetation, and people going about their daily tasks. The opposite quilt stands in stark contrast. The mountain backdrop is similar, but one house is engulfed in flames; armed people in fatigues line […]

Displaced and without a home

August 14, 2015 Charissa Zehr

By Charissa Zehr A crisis is rarely made in a day, and there is no exception with the threat of mass deportations of Haitian migrant workers and Dominicans of Haitian descent from the Dominican Republic (D.R.) to Haiti. The D.R. and Haiti have a centuries-long history of simmering tension that has at times boiled over. Almost two years ago, the D.R. Constitutional Court retroactively stripped citizenship from hundreds of thousands of Dominicans with Haitian ancestry. While some of the affected may have parents who migrated recently from Haiti, many have lived in the D.R. for decades and have few ties […]

Dignity and fair wages in Haiti

April 15, 2015 Charissa Zehr

In a quiet farming hamlet in the northern part of Haiti, farmers were forcibly removed from fertile land to make way for a new industrial park in 2012. They were poorly compensated for their land, making it nearly impossible to continue their agricultural livelihoods. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), financers of the Caracol Industrial Park, promised that the investment would yield some 65,000 jobs. To date roughly 5,000 jobs have been created. Workers earn $5-$7 per day and spend one-third on transportation and lunch costs alone. The government of Haiti is aggressively […]