Fr Joseph Philippe has the kind of vision and indomitable spirit that might earn someone a Nobel Peace Prize or an Academy Award, according to The Huffington Post. But his name probably isn’t one many have heard before.
That may change, though, with the release of Father Joseph, a new documentary about the remarkable priest who has spent a lifetime fighting to improve the lives of the poor in Haiti.
With few resources and virtually no help from the Haitian government, Fr Joseph has spent the bulk of his life working to bring basic necessities to the peasant village of Fondwai. That’s included co-ordinating the building of roads, clean water initiatives, schools, a university, a health clinic, a radio station, a reforestation project, and an orphanage, to name a few.
He’s perhaps best known for starting Fonkoze, a microfinance institution that provides loans, primarily to women to help them build livelihoods. The organisation now operates throughout Haiti and has served more than 200,000 clients.
“We don’t wait for the government. We don’t wait for NGOs,” Fr Joseph says in the film. “We see something that needs to be done, we gather together, we organise ourselves, and we do it.”
Director Jeff Kaufman and producer Marcia Ross began following Fr Joseph’s story more than four years ago, saying they were drawn to his “visionary” mind and infectious sense of humour.
“When I first came down to Haiti virtually everything he had built had been destroyed in the earthquake,” Kaufman said. Over the past four years, he said, many of the buildings, including the primary school, have been rebuilt.
“It’s remarkable his firm belief that this is what his calling is,” Ross said. “If he’s down, he doesn’t show it.”
And it’s true ― Fr Joseph’s smile hardly wavers throughout the film, despite the odds he and his community have faced.
Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas and one of the poorest on the globe. More than half of Haitians live in poverty, and roughly a quarter live in extreme poverty. Things like roads and clean water are hard to come by ― and for many even an education is a luxury.
Photo: Fr Joseph leaving Mass (Virgil Films)