Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Back from Ayiti
I got back late last night from my week in the Republique d'Ayiti (the Republic of Haiti). It was quite the adventure, and so overwhelming. I don't even know where to begin in describing it.

It took three days to get to Jeremie, a port city on the far end of the southern peninsula of Haiti where we were based during our time there. The first night we flew to Miami and met up with the rest of our team (seen below, though this picture also includes Steve and Joline Moore - top right and bottom left - our long term missionaries that we met up with later in Jeremie).



The next day we flew to Port-Au-Prince, the capital of Haiti (seen from the air in the picture below), but since the only flight to Jeremie had already left at 8:30 that morning, we had to wait till the third day to actually arrive at our work site.



When we finally got to Jeremie we dropped our stuff at the Moore's house and then hopped into the New Life for Haiti pick-up truck to drive the 12 miles up the Grande Anse River Valley (below) to the village of Marfranc - a trip that took over an hour since the condition of the road and the density of foot traffic along it didn't allow us to move very fast. As we drove people would dive out of our way (since the streets were packed with people, motorcycles, donkeys, chickens, etc.) and many would shout "Blanc! Blanc!" ("White! White!") at us as we passed. I was told later by a Haitian friend that this was not meant to be offensive. They were shouting because they were happy to see us. They know that Blancs are there to help.



Haiti is most definitely a Third World country. The people mostly live in one or two room huts made of sticks or cement. There is no electricity (even in the city of Jeremie) unless someone runs a generator, and there is no clean running water. Everything is dirty all the time. There are people everywhere (as the saying goes, "You are never alone in Haiti"), and they are always outside - on their porches or, more often, in the streets. Unemployment is at 80% and only about half of the children ever get to go to school. Health care is provided almost entirely by outside charities and life-expectancy is around 50 years.

Nevertheless, the most striking thing about Haiti is the overwhelming beauty, both of the land and the people (for example, the two pictures below, taken in Jeremie). The land - the mountains, and ocean, and jungles - is rugged and gorgeous; and the people are (mostly) young and healthy in appearance. (Unlike most developing countries, hunger is not a huge problem in Haiti as there is food everywhere, literally growing on trees - from coconuts, to bananas, to mangos, to sugar cane - Correction: hunger is not a huge problem in that part of Haiti, though malnutrition from not having the right kinds of food still is.) I expected people to look haggard and worn from their poverty, but with a few exceptions, this was not the case. Haitians are an elegant, beautiful people.




Our task in Marfranc was to put a roof on a school building (below) that we were building for a local baptist church. An earlier team had put the walls up back in September, and we were there to finish the job. Everyday for the rest of the trip we made the trek out to Marfranc and back to work on the school and interact with the people. The goal of New Life for Haiti is to pick one area of Haiti and work there long term (20-30 years), developing relationships and doing everything we possibly can to benefit the entire community. Marfranc is the place that we've chosen and the school is just the first step. We soon hope to build a permanent missionary residence and guest house out there so that future teams will no longer have to commute from Jeremie, but will be able to be right there with the people the whole time.



The best part of being out there was most definitely the children. They were so excited to see us, and hung around just watching the whole time we were working. They always wanted us to take their picture ("Foto! Foto!") and loved the bubbles and other little toys we brought with us. (I made a big impression showing off my juggling skills with a few oranges off a nearby tree.)




We also had opportunity while we were there to visit an orphanage and an elderly home run by some local nuns. We also took the time to go to the beach, a local Haitian restaurant, and various shopping or walking trips around Jeremie in the evenings. As with most warm weather cultures, life in Haiti moves at a slower pace, and so we found ourselves with plenty of time for these other excursions after we stopped work on the construction each day - as well as plenty of time to sit and drink coffee on the porch and chat with Steve and Joline and with each other each evening.

In all it was a life-changing experience. The thing I was struck by was that despite their poverty, the people of Haiti genuinely seemed joyful. Of course they suffer greatly from their lack of basic needs - but to them, it is simply the way life is, and they deal with it. They put up with far more in the way of inconveniences, trials, and uncertainties than we ever would dream of here in the Western world. We truly are spoiled, and spending a week in Haiti is a good way to put things in perspective.

I do hope I get to go back someday, and I really hope others from my church will get a chance to go too in this upcoming year (four trips are already planned, and there will likely be at least half a dozen throughout all of 2008). The work we are doing there is good, as are the long-term relationships we are building with the people of Marfranc. We want to work for lasting, tangible improvements there - from schools, to clinics, to economic development, to public utilities. And even back here in the states I want to get more involved in working for some of the deeper, structural, systemic changes to Haiti's global economic and political situation - starting with some much needed debt relief. According to JubileeUSA,
"from 2005 to 2009, Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, is projected to pay $220 million in debt service. To put this number in perspective, this is more than double the amount Haiti spent in FY2001 on education, health, roads, the environment, and water and urban infrastructure combined. Immediate cancellation of Haiti’s debt would allow the country to stop paying interest on odious debts and free up much needed resources for the country to invest in health and education."

If we really want to bring hope and new life to Haiti, I think transformation needs to happen on all the different levels - global, national, communal, and yes, with individuals too. Through these New Life for Haiti trips we can work on the latter two, and in the meantime I can help work towards the first two as well.

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posted by Mike Clawson at 9:49 PM | Permalink |


7 Comments:


At 11/20/2007 11:29:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

It was really neat to read about your missions trip to Haiti. But I want you to know that hunger is a HUGE problem in Haiti. If you want a true look at the issue of hunger in Haiti, please go look at this web site. It is written by a nurse who lives and works in Haiti. http://www.xanga.com/haitinurse4life

God Bless!

 

At 11/20/2007 11:35:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

Also, here is another web site at which you should look. This lady also lives and works in Haiti. Much of her work is done with children that are severely mal-nourished. http://weblog.xanga.com/no_Im_not_a_nurse
When I read in your blog that you felt hunger was not a problem for Haiti I just could not let that go without sending you some information so that you could see another side of Haiti that perhaps you missed while you were visiting that amazing and wonderful country.

God Bless!

 

At 11/21/2007 12:23:00 AM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Thanks for the details. I would imagine it's different in different parts of Haiti. For instance, there is probably more food available in rural regions where we were (where you can just pick it off the trees) than in Port-Au-Prince where most of the population lives.

Also, from what I gathered, in the region we were in, it seemed that malnutrition, rather than hunger, was the main issue. There was plenty of food to eat, but not enough of the right kinds of food.

 

At 11/21/2007 06:07:00 AM, Blogger dan h.

Thanks for the nice post, Mike. I've been wondering how your trip went. Especially with that Hammond guy. :)

peace & blessings

 

At 11/21/2007 08:24:00 AM, Anonymous Kris

Mike,
Thanks for this summary of your trip. I would encourage you to take a look at this blog, sleepydoctor.blogspot.com. I have been following her blog for a couple of months, and since you have been to Haiti, you will be able to relate to her work there. Since reading her blog, we have decided to support a child in Haiti through World Vision.

 

At 11/21/2007 12:24:00 PM, Blogger M James

Mike, I'm extremely jealous of you! Really great work you are doing and it was a joy to read about.

Also, Hemant posted that you would stop contributing to the site? How did that all go down?

 

At 11/21/2007 01:09:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

No, Hemant said that I would start contributing to his site. He asked me just to post occasionally as a guest contributor since he's getting too busy to update it everyday.

 

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