I just wanted to sit down and write out my final thoughts on Haiti before they fade too far in the background to recall. I just had lunch with my good friend Mike, who just got back from serving in a cholera clinic down near Port au Prince, and it revived my experience for me in some ways. I think my final thought could be summed up like this: Haiti needs help, but our idea of help may need to be redefined.
Which should then be followed up by the disclaimer that I’m no expert and that you should probably take what I have to say with a salt lick. The point is that Haiti, as a country, has received ungodly amounts of financial aid for the parallel lack of visible results in country. In fact we’d heard various statistics suggesting that Haiti has received the most aid of any country in our [western] hemisphere, and yet it does little good.
The problems arise from our good natured attempts to help people in the ways we best know how. These usually involve providing resources, be it medicine, food, tools, clothing, or straight cash among other things. I think the idea we have is that people know what to do with the things they need, so if we can just fill those needs they’ll do the rest. The problem is that many Haitians in particular don’t know how to properly use or manage those resources.
We saw piles of medical supplies misplaced, stored incorrectly so that they rotted in their exposure to the elements, or that were simply thrown away because they were simply unusable in country. Mike told me about a fleet of brand new Toyota Tundras sitting in a field. They had been donated but had gone unused so long that there were vines growing up into the grills.
There simply isn’t the training, education, or even shared mindset to get things done in a manner that we would imagine or expect. Their government is severely crippled. They lost around a quarter of their employees in the earthquake and something like 27/28 government buildings. The city of Port au Prince had (I believe) around 27 million cubic feet of rubble created by the quake, and only 1 million has been removed in the following year.
And from our own experience, the people now expect the white people to simply come in and do/give/fix something and leave. So there’s a simple demand for stuff, and that’s all they want. This doesn’t help them in the long run, they don’t learn how to do anything for themselves and can’t maintain that which is done for them.
What Haiti really seems to need is a small army of willing professionals and volunteers who are willing to show up, build relationships, and help along side the Haitian people. Over time, as they seek help in different ways and recognize their own need, training and discipleship could really take place. They don’t need a group of people to come in and tell them this is how it’s done. They need people to come learn their ways, be their friends, help as they’re needed, and to fill the greater needs as the Haitians themselves become aware of them.
Basically we need to be more involved on a relational level first if we want to accomplish anything of lasting value, and then we need to expect it to take a really long time to look how we think it should overnight. Ultimately the fullness of the gospel, the discipleship of Christ that moves a person beyond simply being saved to being a whole person now, has to take place. There’s a lot of hope for Haiti, but it depends on the Haitian mindset changing as the people grow and begin to see themselves as capable and not reliant on the white westerners. Haiti is a beautiful country filled with beautiful people who simply see neither themselves nor their country as such. They need to be built up as people, convinced of their own God-given capacities before their nation can be built up and maintained.