Category Archives: Haiti

Back to Normal Life: Catching Up

The aid work has not stopped.  It is far from over, but we hit an interesting lull that afforded us some time to catch up with ourselves…

All around the city there are signs that people are trying to return back to normal life.  By now, almost everyone who has work is back at it on their regular schedule.  People who made ends meet by creating their own work (i.e. buying and selling) are doing their best to restart their activities.  Even in camps these “markets” are growing.  A few schools have reopened, although their students are not yet mobilizing in full force.  Many children are still up north, down south, or across the border with extended family and friends… but they are trickling back in.

The repairs in our school are underway, and our school is structurally sound, but many are still psychologically broken.  Many adults and children alike still tremble when they “feel” a helicopter pass overhead.  We don’t want to take the chance of opening school under concrete ceilings until we are sure that the fear has (mostly) passed.  Many parents wouldn’t take the chance of sending their children either, so we ourselves are mobilizing to reopen school under tents in the backyard of the church.  The tents are on the way, but we have a fairly large payroll and we are still working out a way to make sure that our professors receive their just salary.  We are not counting on parents being able to pay out the rest of the year, so this may be a challenge without specific outside aid.

Yesterday, the church had its first non-quake funeral since January 12th and today we held our first wedding.  That brings me to my own wedding, which Joyce and I fell very behind in planning.  She has done a lot of work without me (you’re awesome, Babe), but I spent part of last week doing my part to ensure that our (late) invitations go out soon.   (They were originally meant to be “save-the-dates,” scheduled to go out in January, but no need for two mailings anymore :-).  In a week I will be in North Carolina for Pre-Marital Counseling, so I have  also been doing my “homework” and reading the books that were assigned to us.  (Good Stuff).

Today, I held my 3rd Bible Study with my children’s group.  In these three weeks we grew from two children to eight (with at least two more on the way) because children are beginning to return to Port-au-prince.  I’ve been seeing more and more of them on Sunday mornings as my weekly hugs and kisses are increasing.  This is bittersweet to me since I believe that a life should be created in the countryside to occupy these children and help with decentralization, but for two months I have been eagerly awaiting their return and they have also been eager to carry out our secret plan to save and revive Haiti.  Watch for these kids… they are powerful.

I also spent part of last week pulling things together for my new business which involves beekeeping.  That’s right, I’m also a beekeeper.  I had been working on the business (slowly) for over a year now and I’m ready to move on it full speed.  It is actually now more “necessary” than before.  How’s that?  Well, I hope to inform you on it later, but just know that a business wouldn’t be MY business if it didn’t include a secret plan to save Haiti.  I’ll be consulting some of my more business savvy friends on it next week, and maybe then I’ll be ready to give you the details.

Then halfway through my “normal” week, I received a reminder…  I was on my way to a Brasilian church service on the Brasilian Army Base (U.N.) with some of our Brasilian guests when it started to pour down rain.  Since our car is ghetto, the windows decided that they didn’t want to go up that night, so we got rained on the whole way.  By the time we got out of the car the rain had started falling at a merciless pace.  We still had a long walk (now a run) to the chapel.  When we finally arrived and as we were wringing out our shirts before going in, the thought hit me: “At least you don’t have to sleep in this…”

There are thousands of people who are still homeless in this merciless downpour.  Next week we will be more prepared to come to their aid.  Our Brazilian team has been working with some of our Haitian volunteers to gather pieces and build a prototype of a tent with local materials.  Next week we will go out to some nearby camps to build some of these new shelters.  Until everyone safe and cared for, this is the new normal life: helping those who cannot help themselves.  Next week, we really get back to normal life, sheltering people and beginning with the official registration system for our rebuilding network.  We thank you for your continued support and prayers.

The Soft Spot Between the Rock & the Hard Place

“My people go into exile for lack of knowledge;
their honored men go hungry,
and their multitude is parched with thirst.

–Isaiah 5:13

It seems that everyone who read the previous article agrees.  When it comes to “fixing” Haiti, we are stuck between a rock and a hard place.  The “rock” is that Haiti desperately needs aid right now.  The “hard place” is that it is hard to do this without increasing these negative mentalities and the debilitating dependency that have developed over many years.

After a conversation with Ricky Ruffino (Church of the King in New Orleans) this morning, we found the common denominator for the most helpful programs.  The most helpful aid that anyone can give to Haiti right now is education of any form.  He shared with me stories of building crews coming in to New Orleans to build homes after Katrina while 5 able-bodied refugees looked on.  This is what we want to avoid. This builds an unhealthy dependence and a strange sense of entitlement that also breeds “laziness.”

If you want to come build, why not teach these able-bodied young men and women how to use some of your fancy equipment, leave it in their hands and let them get moving with their new occupation?  As for tents, with the right fabric and the right models & plans, there would be a whole new industry in tentmaking for our out-of-work tailors and seamstresses.  If you want to feed people, why not bring in some agricultural knowledge or literally teach people how to fish with tilapia fish farms?  Urban farming anyone?  People can literally grow food for themselves in their 4x4ft space in front of their tents.

Don’t stop with relief related things.  Hold a conference about servant leadership.  Teach young people about smart relationships.  Teach couples about managing a home.  Inspire men to be responsible fathers.  Inspire women to be loving mothers.  Teach us about smart business…  Teach English, Spanish, Portuguese…  **(Note: The language barrier is the monster that keeps organizations from making the effort to teach.  It is much “easier” for them to do everything on their own, but it isn’t necessarily “helpful”).  Then when you are done, let us teach you (didn’t see that one coming did you?  You might be surprised what you can learn from “needy” people if you simply open your eyes).

I’m not saying that we are lacking knowledge in these things more than any other place.  All I’m saying is that if you consider yourself an expert in anything, or if you have any experience to share, you will help so many more people if you leave your knowledge behind in responsible hands.  If you don’t consider yourself an expert, find a way to serve side-by-side with Haitian people doing things that should be a part of common responsibility to help them find their place in the reconstruction.  Even in this you are giving knowledge: the knowledge that they have a part to play in the building of THEIR country. (So far, NGOs are failing miserably at this.  Can the church do better?)  Knowledge is the hand-out that Haiti needs the most.  Knowledge is the only handout that doesn’t make beggars of men.  Knowledge will help us to find our own role in helping OUR country to recover and prosper.

What does it mean to “help?”

The following article was published by Tony Campolo in the Huffington Post last week on March 2nd.  He raises a very, very important issue.  Many people have asked me “How can I help?” and I always find myself wondering the same thing for eager volunteers.  Some have reported that “the open commercial flights into Haiti have been a mixed blessing.”  On one hand it helps truly helpful people to go in and out of the country without a problem, but it has also made a way for “voluntourists” and “disaster tourists” who, honestly, are more of a burden than a help.  They would have done better to send their plane ticket and food money to someone (effective) who is already on the ground and stay home waiting for a news report of what they were able to stay home and “do.”

Haiti is the “Land of NGOs.”  For decades, thousands of foreign and local NGOs have been pouring resources into the nation and things just get worse and worse.  Have you ever wondered why so much money and effort can be invested into “relieving” Haiti yet we struggle to find any tangible returns on these investments?  I can hear your answer: poor government & infrastructure, mismanagement, etc.  This is true, but Mr. Campolo suggests that there may be something else to blame here: misguided good intentions from people who are just trying to “help. (Remember that Jars of Clay song that I keep quoting..?  You should also recall that WFP food aid actually has the potential to kill Haitian agriculture leaving us even more dependent on aid.)  As you read this, ask yourself what it means to “help.”  Then tell me… How have you “helped” Haiti in the past?  What is the best way that you can you help Haiti now?

My commentary is in italics.  Please note that while I write strongly I, too, am trying to figure it out myself.  I understand that the driving force is genuine charity, so I blame no one for their good intentions.  I just hope that this inspires some people to think and reconsider their methods.

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Making Matters Worse in Haiti
By Tony Campolo
Huffington Post – March 2, 2010

At last count there were 9,943 faith-based organizations with ministries in Haiti. For years, with good intentions and with great dedication, they have tried to give economic assistance and spiritual help to the Haitian people. This does not take into account the thousands of church groups that have taken “mission teams” to Haiti to build schools and churches in Haitian villages across that little country. Yet Haiti has continued in a downward spiral into greater and greater poverty and social disorganization, not in spite of all these “good works,” but in great part because of them. So much of what has been done in Haiti has disempowered Haitians and diminished their dignity by doing for them what they could have done for themselves.

This fact is always a struggle for me.  I have scores of friends and acquaintances who would love to come down to Haiti to help us “fix” things.  They offer to build, teach, paint, dig, cook, and serve in general… all things that the Haitian people are not only capable of doing, but need to be doing for a living.  I could have led dozens of trips by now, but I cannot justify giving any foreigner work that I would rather have a Haitian paid to do.

Does it ever occur to those leaders who take bright, enthusiastic American young people to Haiti to build hundreds and hundreds of church buildings and schools that Haitians are capable of building them? Do they even consider how many jobs they take away from Haitians because of their well-intentioned construction enterprises? Does it occur to them that when Haitians see an American youth group put up a cinder block school building in just ten days that this could contribute to a sense of inferiority as these Americans do in ten days what seems to Haitians like a miracle?

I can’t count how many times I have had to convince children that the “almighty ‘blanc’” (white man) is no better than a Haitian.  There are tons of politically incorrect jokes and cultural “isms” that point to our sense of inferiority before westerners.  I always hear Haitians of all backgrounds putting down “ti pèp Ayisyen” (“little” Haitian people) as if they have experience in any other culture to make the comparison.  But they do have experience… with the cultures that come to them, which, of course, is a skewed, cut, dried, packaged, and exported version of western culture.  Besides that, many people come to help and also end up putting down “ti pèp Ayisyen” by underestimating their capabilities and under valuing their input.  Some have also been known to openly put down the country and the people when they meet frustration.

I recall one time that I was talking to my little friend Maxi and I was showing him how to say “hello” in various languages.  By the fifth language he burst out “I knew it! I always knew you were I white man in disguise!”  My stomach turned…  In his mind, only a white man has the capacity to learn so many languages.  Despite my efforts to convince him that he was just as intelligent, he lost interest in learning the new words, fascinated by my “whiteness.”  I was so saddened…

Altruistic Americans have done to the Haitians what an out-of-control welfare system has done to so many poor people here in the United States. It has made them into people who are socially and psychologically dependent on others to solve their problems and who have lost confidence in their own capabilities.

It’s sad.  We judge the quality of work by who does it.  If “blanc” does it, we can be sure that it will last. We actually laugh about such things amongst ourselves… These mentalities have even infiltrated the church to the point that if a church planted by a group of foreigners has a part of their building break down (let’s say a door), they will wait for years for the “blanc” to come back and fix it…  They can’t fathom themselves paying for it or doing a good job of it.  Many have been shocked at what our church has been able to do “on its own.”  We teach a different message.  My Dad’s vision was partly what pushed him to part from a foreign-led denomination.  They didn’t believe that what he envisioned was possible.  Unfortunately, many Haitians stop there and allow themselves to be limited.  Dad chased the vision with $4 in his pocket.

Out of the necessities created by the recent earthquake, we Americans have no choice but to respond with a gigantic handout. Children are starving. Medical care is desperately needed and new housing must be constructed. In the short run, we Americans must respond to meet these needs. We have to fear, however, that when the dust from the earthquake clears the Haitians will have fallen into a deeper condition of dependency and will be even less inclined to see themselves as the best hope for their future.

This is very true.  We DO need you.  Now more than ever.  But… how can we avoid worsening a sentiment that already exists?  There were many Haitian heroes after the earthquake, but there were also too many Haitians (in my opinion) sitting around waiting for their “foreign saviors” to come when they could have been lifting blocks off of dying people.  If the 3 million people left in the capital each lifted 5 blocks, that would be 15 million blocks that WE lifted and countless lives saved.  Why didn’t we?  Why aren’t we still?   Was it simply lack of leadership or was it something else? So many who still had the gift of life so quickly assumed the role of the victim in distress.  It’s a powerful script in our context.

I am not suggesting that all those missionary organizations working in Haiti should pack up and go home, (and neither am I) but I am urging them to understand that Haiti does not need clever Americans with newly contrived schemes for saving their country. Haitians do not need development programs imposed on them by expatriates. Instead, they need help in developing as self-assured persons. For instance, a mission organization called Haiti Partners has established a massive literacy program that is reaching tens of thousands of the 80 percent of Haiti’s illiterate adults annually, and has brought hundreds of Haitians into a leadership training program called Circles of Change (see www.haitipartners.org). Instead of decrying a government-sponsored school system that often has barely literate teachers in its classrooms, this particular missionary organization, which is basically run by Haitians, is running in-service training for those teachers and thus upgrading their literacy and teaching ability. We Americans would be awed if we could see how these Haitian teachers are developing teaching materials and creating texts in the Creole language for their students.

One day these leaders and teachers will look back at the nation they helped rebuild out of the rubble of the earthquake and say, “We did it ourselves!” Anything less than this will probably end up being well-intentioned missionaries guilty of disempowering paternalism.

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So what do you think?  How can you and the rest of the west do a better job of “helping?”  If you care about what is going on in Haiti (or any other developing nation, for that matter), please post, re-post, and dialogue about this notion.  What does it mean to help someone?  What does it look like to help the single-mother next door?  The “bum” on the street that you see every day?  Does that occasional change  deposit help him or does it help you to feel better?  I usually have a large readership here, but you aren’t used to commenting.  Please do comment in this case.  Talk about personal experience in helping, even if it has nothing to do with Haiti.  Also feel free to argue that Mr. Campolo is (we are) completely wrong.

P.S. Jaspoa, nap vini pou ou toujou, wi.  Nou bezwen’w!

What’s Up? A Lot… (Explaination & Agriculture Update)

So I’ve got a lot of ‘splainin to do.  Why the long break between blogs?

Well, a couple days after having the meeting with the Agriculture Cluster, my mac decided to go swimming.  Well, not really.  I left the mac on the work table under the stage at the church.  I left it wide open so it could sing me to sleep with worship music.  At 2am I awoke to the sound of rain outside and dripping inside.  When I checked out the dripping, I found that I had perfectly placed my wide-open mac beneath a leak in the roof that I had not yet discovered.  Still dogg tired, I pushed everything out of the way, accidentally knocked over the entire table in the dark, shook my head, and stumbled back in bed.  In the morning I checked it (and 2 other laptops) out.  They were all shot.

The other two came back to life after drying for a couple days.  The mac decided to wait until the day after I had purchased a new one in the U.S. (last week) before it made its comeback.  This allowed me to transfer all of my files.  After doing this, the old mac decided to die again.  Thanks for the chance at recovery, God. :-)  I think that He wanted me to get a new computer…

After that, I spent a week catching up with people, plans, and activities here in Haiti.  This took a long time since there were many emails missed while I was mac-less.  So that is what kept me from sharing news with you for two weeks.  Forgive me?

Many of you asked about the result of the U.N. Agriculture Cluster Meeting.  To summarize it all, when I finished speaking I received a (seated) ovation from everyone, and the room was full of relative commentary.  (They probably would have stood up if it wasn’t so crowded in the tent).  My suggestions just made sense, and everyone saw it with clear eyes.  Yes we need millions of dollars worth of food… but we also need our internal industries to thrive if we will ever be truly independent.  Why not kill two birds with one stone and give poor families Haitian grown food?  Fill some bellies while stimulating the economy.

Before I spoke, I sat through the whole meeting and listened to the great news that we are receiving tons of seed and plants to stimulate our agriculture.  That’s awesome!  They are thinking of sustainable development.  But there’s a problem…  No one can afford to buy the food that these seeds produce except for NGOs right now.  The blanket distribution policy was aimed at lowering the market prices of food so that more people can afford to buy it, but we’ve already discussed how that can kill our current failing agricultural industry.  If the NGOs don’t buy Haitian grown food or make way for it in foreign markets, the brilliant agriculture cluster project will fail, and so will Haitian agriculture.  Then, the world will be giving us aid until the end of time.

The agriculture cluster members were eager to hear more and move forward in making partnership agreements with the WFP and USAID, but unfortunately I was “barred” from the next meeting.  The next time I went to U.N. compound, they did not let me through to get to the meeting.  My name was somehow missing from a list that I signed up for at least a half a dozen times.

This has happened almost every time I have gone to these meetings.  The only reason I had ever gotten through into that compound was because I was accompanied by an American (who needs little identification).  Actually… they were accompanying me, but security finds that hard to believe.  It seems that it is nearly impossible for a native Haitian organization to get put on that list, but as an American friend who was accompanying me would put it, “The whole place is full of all kinds of foreign Yahoos that don’t know what their doing or who they’re serving.”  Or Jars of Clay would call them “Heroes from the west, that don’t know us, but they know best” (Jars of Clay – Light Gives Heat).

I haven’t been back to the meetings since they last rejected me, but that is more because of other priorities and trips.  I have been following the group’s email conversations and my subject seems to have been dropped.  I hope to make an appearance next Tuesday and the following Saturday to see if I can pull together a team to seek to resolve the issue.

Update from “Food Aid Policy” Post

My email to the various teams working on distributions earned me an invite to speak at the U.N. Agricultural Cluster meeting this afternoon. It may sound like a big deal, and I guess it could be, but it really seems like a tiny step. Pray that I am well-received and that I speak with God’s wisdom.

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