/  03.14.2022

Cite Soleil, Haiti is known for its slums and reputation as a crime-ridden city, but amid the gang violence and poverty is the city’s only lifeline: Centre Hospitalier de Fontaine (CHF).

The hospital has existed for over 30 years and remains the only place in the area dedicated to the betterment of the community. Given the dangerous state of the location and the more pressing state of the country, it has stood the test of political turmoil, natural disasters and bloodshed. Despite the less-than-favorable circumstances, the hospital’s founder/CEO remains steadfast in his desire to give.

Jose Ulysse grew up in a home where he learned about the importance of sharing early on. As the second of 10 children, he and his siblings were taught to split household goods. His parents also led by example, donating food kits from the U.S. to Haitian families in need. The seeds of giving were planted and watered until Ulysse eventually established his own charitable spirit. He then set out to find ways to give back to his community.

In high school, Ulysse and his friends gathered weekly to help impoverished individuals on the street. Years later, he became a priest to engage in more community service. Then, tragedy interfered with his plans. According to the change-maker, his father passed away, and he was forced to pivot. He returned home to help care for his younger siblings, but his inner passion never faded. 

Fast-forward to the 90s. The CHF CEO and a few friends were in search of a location where they could continue their contributions and landed on an area in Cite Soleil, which is located in Port-au-Prince — the nation’s capital.

It’s important to note that Cite Soleil was far from the place it is today. The city was originally developed to house workers of Haiti’s industrial boom, so it became populated with many who were simply looking for work. Things went downhill when the U.S. boycotted Haitian goods. Former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide went into exile, and the region was pushed into extreme poverty. So when Ulysse discovered it, it was a “poor” but “quiet” area.

Setting up shop, the group began donating farm animals to the locals. When they discovered the need for primary health care, they rented out a location where they could provide those services.

Over the years, demand grew and Ulysse’s passion project took form. Using half of the money he earned from draining canals, he hired other engineers and invested in and built a bigger and more comfortable space, which now includes all medical services. As his hospital flourished, however, crime eventually increased as well.

According to Ulysse, the lack of jobs made way for gang members to recruit new workers. “In that space, there was no work, hunger and misery,” he explained. “Gang members made people believe that if they entered gangs, they would give them a gun and they would be able to take care and protect themselves.” With a promise of income, they carried on nefarious activities like kidnapping, hence the conditions seen today. Despite the violence, the hospital has never been targeted in the three decades it’s been standing. Still, it’d be inaccurate to say the CHF CEO never suffered any consequences.

On two separate occasions, Ulysses’ life flashed before his eyes. In the first, he was ambushed on his way home from the hospital. The assailants raided his car and instructed him to get in the back seat. Feigning obedience, he kept his right foot on the gas pedal. The determined pioneer then took a chance and pressed on the gas, causing the car to crash into a cab, which created a shocking noise that would get people’s attention. He was one of few to survive the incident. It’s not clear, but it’s believed the attack was politically affiliated. Many were upset that Ulysse — once involved in politics — offered his assistance to Michel Martelly, who wanted out after a tumultuous reign as president.

The second incident was simply a sign of the times. Ulysses’ car was caught in the crossfire between two gangs, leaving the vehicle with five big bullet holes. While the back of the car was bulletproof, bullets made their way through the front half, going straight through the passenger seat. Again, he made it out alive.

When recalling both incidents, Ulysses — a devout Christian — references a Bible scripture, specifically Psalm 91:7: “A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.”

 As a result of the city’s reputation, the hospital has also never received any support from the government. Ulysses’ requests for assistance have been shut down on numerous occasions, which doesn’t come as a surprise.

“Most people say that where the hospital is located, it’s in the inner city, the slums, it’s very poor and we have trouble every day, every time. You have gangs fighting, nobody wants to come to this place,” he said. “But the needs are real in this place.”

“I can’t have too much support from the government,” he added, “because the public hospitals are not managed [either].”

To this day, CHF has yet to receive COVID-19 vaccines and has been excluded from various fundraiser donations over the years. Ulysse keeps the hospital afloat with his own earnings and inconsistent donations from individuals and organizations, including Food for the Poor and the CHF Foundation his daughter Kareen specifically started to raise funds for the hospital, barely making just enough to pay their 107 employees.

When discussing his thoughts on using part of his income to pay for CHF, he explained, “It was not my money. The Lord used me, gave me [the] opportunity and I took my part and the part of the Lord, I invested in the community. It’s not my money because I take my money for my family to take care of my girl, my boy, my family. The profit is not for me, the profit is for the service and I invest in the service.”

Through all of the ups and downs, Ulysse continues to push because “the project is my passion,” in addition to the simple fact that CHF is the city’s only source of hope. Aside from medical services, CHF offers stipends to teen mothers with hopes to build their independence and end the cycle of generational poverty. They pay for children to go to school, later offering them volunteer opportunities and job positions. CHF is also currently building a technical school, where they will teach those teen moms a trade, further establishing their independence.

“Everyone in the area, this is where they find hope,” he said. “We are obligated to keep the hope alive because when we are weak, the hope dies.”

Ulysse and his team have come a long way since their first 10 x 12 medical center, but what they’ve achieved so far is still less than he would like for Centre Hospitalier de Fontaine. His goals include building a maternity ward, getting sponsors for advanced equipment, an ambulance, and a bigger vehicle to bring employees to and from the hospital. He would like to have the road leading to the hospital paved and wants to create a revolving fund that would help working mothers as they get on their feet and/or start their own businesses.

Ulysse’s personal desire is for his children and grandchildren to carry on the spirit of giving. As for his wishes for Haiti, a place he’s never spoken about negatively, Ulysse wants for people — especially those in politics — to genuinely believe in and stand by the country.

“I want more people to be engaged and to have hope and to get into politics because politics is what keeps the country organized and in order. It’s politics that will get people to start social programs.  We lack people who believe in the country. There are a lot of people who are in the country, but they are looking for an opportunity to leave. Like, ‘What chance can I get to make money and leave?’ But there aren’t enough people who say they’re not leaving until changes are made,” he tells REVOLT.

With negative portrayals often shown in the media, Ulysse’s contributions were refreshing to hear. Thanks to his daughter, who desired to highlight her father’s success and extreme generosity, his years-long work is acknowledged. We tip our hats off to his dedication and service over the years.

Learn more about Centre Hospitalier de Fontaine here

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