I have been trying to write this post for over a week. I have found it much harder to sum up my experience in Haiti in mere words. Any words that I try to use to help you understand what I saw and felt and smelled and heard will be inadequate.
Haiti is a dichotomy between beauty and ugliness. Its people, landscape and produce are beautiful. Its streets, its poverty, its health is ugliness. How can an island surrounded by ocean be so dry and rocky and barren in spots? How can a country who is constantly looking for it’s next meal, have residents who have no clothing or shoes or steady employment, be drowning in trash? How can it’s people who suffer with such basic needs of running water, a clean food supply, and employment seem so happy and content?
A little over a week ago, my husband and I, along with one of our youth ministers and his wife, had the privilege of accompanying sixteen teenagers to the Hope for Haiti’s Children Orphanage in Thomazeau, Haiti. It was a week of new sights, sounds, and smells. It was a week of hand holding, child holding, hugs, and laughs. It was a week of singing and hammering and walking. It was a week of beans and rice and pasta and creole sauce and goats. It was a week of bouncing in a school bus, sweating like you never had before and drinking gallons of water. It was a week that you would not want to trade with any other week.
The main purpose of our trip was to encourage the children and staff at the Orphanage, but while we were there we also taught Bible classes, held a two day Vacation Bible School, bought food supplies and distributed them among the Christians and their neighbors. We also distributed clothing and shoes we had brought. This entailed walking up into the mountainside and visiting tin shacks, some were just made from canvas from U.S. Aid packages. The huts had dirt floors and were very small. One that I peeked in had just a three foot board for a kitchen and on it lay food with ants running all around. Most of these people were poorly dressed or not at all. Others we visited had slightly better huts, a few had concrete homes. When you see how the people live, it was hard to believe how well turned out these same people were at Sunday morning worship. To think of the effort they made to look “dressed up” and to clean up for worship and then to walk in the heat to get there humbles me. Many of them brought their water jugs and rolled up rags. Following services they rolled up the rags and put them on their heads and then placed the water jugs, (they appeared about 2 or 3 gallons) upon top for the rocky, unstable walk back home.
We found the Thomazeau campus to be well on their way to self-sustainability. Their gardens were growing and they were planting more while we were there. The addition of a water well a few years ago has changed so much for that community not to mention the orphanage. The turkeys and chickens were thriving and the fruit and almond trees were bearing. Their aquaponics tanks were working but in need of a sun shelter which we were able to build for them. Once they discovered our guys had building talents, they built a few garden gates and a bed frame to.
At one point, I observed that as a child I really cherished my toys. I didn’t have a bunch of toys so what I had I cared for very well. I noticed that the children in Haiti would cherish anything we gave them for a short time and then we would find it discarded. I was commenting on this to Erin, my co-sponsor and she summed up the difference by saying, “That is because the Haitians don’t put value in things. Americans are taught to value stuff and things and Haitians just don’t.” Why would they? When you do not know where your next meal will come from or if you will heal if you fall ill, why would you put your value in things. Instead, they seem to value people and community. Perhaps, we could learn from them what is really important. Perhaps, this is the answer to why they seem so happy and content.
On a funny note, I also realized that they notice every little skin affliction. I happened to have a cut on my thumb when we arrived and the children were obsessed with it. During church and other times, they also discovered the “cholesterol patches” on my eye, a skin tag on my leg and kept a close eye on the healing of my thumb. I suppose their mothers probably frequently check them for skin ailments so they can quickly ward off any infection or something more serious. I decided many of them could be future Dermatologists.
The days were long and yet very fulfilling On our last day we went to Port-au-Prince and visited the Cazeau orphanage. There were about 70 children there and after singing for us, they immediately latched on to us as well and we spent some time sharing smiles, “photos” and hugs. The boys played soccer and the girls received “corn rows” in their hair.
After the visit to Cazeau, we had to make a stop at the hardware store for more supplies. Most of us set on the bus in the heat, observing all the trash and smelling the exhaust from all the traffic. Returning to the rural area of Thomazeau was such a respite.
There seems to be no easy solution to the poverty, lack of employment and widespread need for healthcare. I would not pretend to know how to solve the problems that have been brought on by years of political corruption and Imperial interference. What I do know, is God is alive and active in the country of Haiti. I know that his people live there with the hope of Heaven. I know that his people are working with children there to raise up a generation that will change the future of Haiti. I also know that others are working in the areas of healthcare (check out Live Beyond) to provide for the physical needs of the Haitian people.
I have been reading a few books about Haiti and the current one I am about to finish is written by Tracy Kidder about Dr. Paul Farmer and his medical efforts in Haiti and in treating Tuberculosis around the world. It is called “Mountains Beyond Mountains”. In it he mentions a Haitian proverb which says “Bondye konn bay, men li pa konn separe” which literally means, “God gives, but doesn’t share.” As Farmer would explain, “God gives us humans everything we need to flourish, but he’s not the one who’s supposed to divvy up the loot. That charge was laid upon us.” Indeed it has been and what is our response? I hope you will ponder this in the days ahead, I know I will.
Let me know your thoughts. I would love to hear about your experiences in working in underserved areas.