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World

Triple Murder Shakes Colony of Deaf People in Rural Haiti

Deaf people in Haiti face discrimination due to superstitions about disabled people being possessed or punished by spirits

A teacher teaches Creole sign language to pupils at the Mission de L'Espoir school in Leveque, Haiti, photo: Reuters/Andres Martinez Casares
By Reuters Whatsapp Twitter Facebook Share
1 year ago

LEVEQUE, Haiti – A triple murder has shaken the village of Leveque in rural Haiti, testing the community and sense of security nurtured by its large population of deaf families who were relocated there after the devastating earthquake six years ago.

The murders of three deaf women, Vanessa Previl, Monique Vincent and Jesula Gelin as they tried to get home from the capital Port-au-Prince in March seemed a chilling reminder of the prejudices and superstition that many in the village grew up with, even in their own homes.

Built after the earthquake by Mission of Hope, a U.S. religious charity, and housing a high proportion of deaf families among its 615 households, Leveque’s modest tin-roofed homes and unpaved streets have become a place of tolerance in an often hostile outside world.

Some residents who remember being mistreated by their parents and kept apart from other children when they were young are free to be themselves here. A total of 115 homes were assigned to deaf families after the quake destroyed their homes in Port-au-Prince and elsewhere in the Caribbean nation.

While deaf people are considered good workers by some Haitian business, they also face discrimination because of superstitions about disabled people being possessed or punished by spirits.

Deaf men work at a carpenter's shop in Leveque, Haiti. Photo: Reuters/Andres Martinez Casares

Deaf men work at a carpenter’s shop in Leveque, Haiti. Photo: Reuters/Andres Martinez Casares

In Leveque the school and church operate in Haitian Creole sign language as well as spoken Creole, and its deaf residents run small businesses including carpentry and jewellery-making from the quiet colony.

Others commute to work by bus the 21 miles into Port-au-Prince from the village. When a collapsed bridge stopped their bus at some point en route, Previl, Vincent and Gelin decided to walk the rest of the way home.

The details of what happened next are unclear. Police have arrested a man and two women on suspicion they were accomplices in the crime. Mario Joseph, a lawyer representing the families of the dead, said the suspects told police they believed the women to be ‘loups-garous,’ a supernatural figure in Haitian folk culture.

Lynchings of people accused of being loups-garous became frequent in the wake of the 2010 earthquake, which killed some 220,000 people.

Some locals believe there is a more prosaic reason for the killings of the women, since one of the accused was known to Previl, said the lawyer, Joseph. The case is under investigation and nobody has been charged with murder.

In some ways the killings have brought the families of Leveque closer. Many residents sport t-shirts printed after the tragedy bearing an image of a hand sign that means “love” in Creole.

But even months after the events, the killings remain a main topic of conversation in this sleepy colony and among deaf people in nearby towns.

In Leveque, Previl’s house is a haunting reminder that she is gone. The door is tightly shut, cobwebs hang from the walls and the garden is overgrown.

 

ANDREZ MARTINEZ CESARES

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