Things I Learned In Haiti

IMG_6134Last week I returned from a mission trip where our group of 20 Living Faith Christian Church members and attenders served the Onaville, Haiti community.  We worked in cooperation with two churches and visited, fed, and played with children in two different orphanages.  Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and has the highest percentage of people living in poverty.  That rate is 77%.

Haiti is a strange place to me.  It has a wonderful warm climate that offers vibrant refreshing mornings and evenings and the ability to dress and comfortably move about.  The mosquito population was unbelievably non-existent which made our sleeping nets and Deet products useless, praise God.  The food was good and abundant.  I did not see anyone starving but we did see one lady begging outside a grocery store.  While the main and side streets were crowded, they seemed safe.  We saw no crime but we did see guards in multiple locations with shotguns in hand. Having been robbed at gunpoint in Brasil a few years ago made me jittery about this.   I think shotguns tend to keep crime in check.   Although shotguns were quietly flashed, we found Haiti to be a very friendly place filled with warm and joyful people.   The airport was extremely easy to use and surprisingly fast to process through, howbeit we did have to go through two electronic screenings to board our flight on wonderful jetBlue.

Sunday, and throughout the week, we experienced the vibrancy of Haitian Christians as they sang songs and hymns.  Whether in church, at children’s VBS, or in a meeting to distribute food, everyone in Haiti seemed to have a strong ability to sing about God.  We are told that as many as 33% of the people are involved in an evangelical ministry.  That is 10 times the number as we have on Long Island!

On Tuesday three of our trip members and I were honored to be able to address school students.  In the morning we visited all the elementary and high school classes.  The students sat together on benches and graciously stood to welcome us into their classrooms.  The rooms were mostly 12 x 12 cement walled rooms with metal ceilings/roof, no door, and a 6 foot high blackboard that acted as a barrier to the next classroom.  I was sweating profusely in the heat of each room yet the teachers were comfortable in a full suit/tie and the students were dry in their uniforms.  In the afternoon we addressed a college medical student class where we were given open privileges to share the love of Christ, our testimonies, and our purpose in the visit.

While a unique and friendly culture welcomed us in Haiti, there were many less than great things that will stick with me.  First, I was taken back by all the dust in the air.  Everywhere you looked there was dirt and rocks.  Rarely did we see a visible green lawn.  I cannot help but think that this greatly affects the health of the children and adults.  With all the millions/billions of dollars flowing into Haiti since the earthquake, you would think someone would address basic infrastructure needs such as roads and parks.  Cars and trucks were broken down all over the place due to broken axles, blown tires, and other suspension issues.  Fixing the roads would save people lots of personal repair costs, increase personal and corporate productivity, and could certainly improve the air quality.  Since I am an American, I want to fix it.  It is sometimes hard to just understand and accept things as they are.

Second, the people of Haiti are hard workers yet without jobs.  A few local church men and a few from our group dug a trench around a well while they roasted in the very hot sun.  We were told that 70% of the population are unemployed including 87% of those under 27, yet every street was filled with sidewalk vendors.  Perhaps the unemployment count does not include unregistered self-employed street vendors. Many of the items being sold by these vendors seemed to be used or of an eclectic nature.  They were items like odd sized used tires with rims and an assortment of bras at the same table.  It was like seeing a continuous garage sale!  Foreign investment in the infrastructure seems non-existent.

Automobiles looked like we were in another decade.  Rust was the color of the day including the bus we travelled on.  People crammed into Tap Tap truck taxis’ and so tight in buses that faces seem smooched against the windows.  While we were there a taxis truck rolled over in the mountains killing and injuring 15 people. The traffic was just organized chaos and safety not even considered.  One really needs to be able to walk to schools, churches, and shopping.

The final negative that I experienced was that of seeing how little people seemed to care for the orphan.  I realize that many of the orphans are in a group home because the parents dropped them off because of need or greed (to get ahead at someone else’s expense).  Many children are in an orphanage because they experienced human trafficking due to work or sex abuse.  The people, and churches don’t seem to feel any sense of responsibility to the orphan.  I know that most people are barely able to feed their own household but there has to be something that can be given to the orphans….everyone has something to give.



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