“When the sky falls and the earth quakes, we gonna put it back together, we won’t break” -Jay-Z (“Haiti Mon Amour”)
We’ve talked about Haiti often here on SuperForest. Like most, I closely followed the deluge of devastation that immediately flooded in after the earthquakes. I absorbed all the news and information I could. I talked with friends, peers, strangers in the streets. I donated money to charitable relief organizations, wrote poems… on occasion even cried. And yet, for all the news media, for the historic upswelling of compassion we as individuals and humanity at large expressed in leaping to Haiti’s aid… the reality of the daily existence on the ground and in the rubble simply defied my ability to relate. It is too distant, too abstract and elusive to truly anchor a prolonged human connection. And unfortunately, as much as I hate to admit it, Haiti gradually began to drop off the radar of my consciousness.
It’s been 6 months now since the first shock waves hit, but Haiti is still rippling in the aftermath. Nevertheless there are still people, average citizens like you or me, who refuse to let the Haitan people slip into the ether of neglect — everyday heroes who dedicate their resources and time to volunteer on the ground with the people. My dear friend and peace-warrior, superforester Trina, is one such hero who recently traveled to Haiti to lend her heart and hands to an orphanage in need. It is with great pleasure and pride that I share now her inspirational impressions from the frontlines: (all pictures and text below are Trina’s)
On Tuesday afternoons, Port Au Prince is crawling with market-goers. UN policemen patrol the rubble-covered streets as a cloud of dust, petroleum and burning trash hang in the air. Haiti is the land of voodoo, gang-like government corruption, and inconceivable poverty. Human sacrifice, zombies, and curses are common vernacular and unspeakable crimes are committed everyday against women and girls.
Just another Tuesday afternoon.
But 30 seconds on just such a typical Tuesday in January tipped the already fragile country into a deeper state of chaos.
Though the earthquake occurred more than 5 months ago, the landscape looks as though not much has changed. The 1.2 million people who were displaced from their homes continue to live in makeshift tarp tent communities scattered across the country. A UN police officer sitting next to me on the plane shared that his job was to continue to recover bodies from fallen buildings.
He helped to pull out 20 corpses the day before our conversation.
Amidst these mounting tragedies, the government continues to tax virtually all aid and makes it impossible for local Haitians (who need it most) to receive help. As I drove through Port Au Prince, I must admit that (for one of the first times in my life) I was afraid to get out of the car.
However, it is not hard to find people living aloha in Haiti (and living it better than I have EVER seen).
The port town of Les Cayes is home to El Shaddai Ministries (ESMI), a Haitian Christian organization that has set up 17 orphanages and cares for 2400 orphans. Pastor Louis (the director of ESMI) and his team have created a beautifully sustainable model for the orphanages that they plant: they always build orphanages in communities with schools and a church and attach small businesses to them. The Cambry orphanage (where I stayed) was home to 250 boys and girls. It was powered by solar panels, a wind turbine, and a bit of diesel and was partially supported by a technology school (on campus) that employed a few former orphans.
As impressed as I was by this beautiful vision, the stories of the people were what touched me most.
Barbara (one of the ESMI workers at the orphanage) told me an amazing story about a family that she knew well. 2 former orphans of Cambry are the daughters of a single mother, “Katyana.” Katyana’s husband died in an accident (life expectancy in Haiti is 60 years, in the US it is 78 years) and since she had no education or marketable skills, she could not afford to care for her 3 children. Heartbroken, she sent her 2 daughters to Cambry and kept her son with her. As the two girls lived in the Cambry community, attended school, and became the reliable older sisters of the house, Katyana got a $50 microloan from Barbara (one of the employees of El Shaddai). With this money, Katyana began producing a sweet popcorn snack out of her home. She sold it at local markets and paid back her loan (with 1% interest) in a couple of months. As Barbara told me this story she laughed: “and one day when I got to choir practice, I looked around for the 2 girls only to find that their mother had come to pick them up.” Katyana had earned enough money to bring her family back together. There is a Chinese proverb: “women hold up half the sky.” I definitely believe that to be true.
In the same conversation, I asked Barbara (a strong, balanced woman who did not finish medical school because she could not afford it) what kept her at the Cambry orphanage. She quickly answered “the kids.” She reminded me that the kids are the only hope of the country, as they have the power to rebuild Haiti. It made me think of the youth in Hawaii, and I wondered whether (amidst furloughs and budget cuts) we meditate enough on and invest in the reality that our local kids are the only hope of our future too.
My time in Haiti teemed with hope and aloha (and lots of games of tag, laughing, building and painting), but it also prompted me to think about all of the work that still needs to be done…not just in Haiti but in my global community in general. Remembering Mother Teresa’s truth that “we [all] belong to each other,” I believe that it is our communal responsibility to care for our families both near and far.
Indeed, wanting to support Haiti and the developing world can feel paralyzing. What can I do from so far away as a young, single, graduate student? It is easy to slip into restlessness and frustration. But I have to keep reminding myself that though the problems are big, truly it is the small things with great love that count. Thus far, I have come up with a list of ways that people like you and me can support our families far away. This list is in no way perfect, but it is a start.
First of all, I believe that financially supporting the orphanages of El Shaddai Ministries (ESMI; http://esmihome.org/) is hugely effective. As I mentioned earlier, much of the aid money that we have been donating has not reached the Haitians. Large government organizations such as USAID are able to get in relatively easily. However, to have an immediate impact, it is better to partner with local organizations that are already on the ground and are run by local people. I believe that giving is a life practice that must be cultivated; it is living aloha with my resources.
Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wu Dunn state in their book “Half the Sky” (a MUST read) that “if you care about poverty, you must understand it not just oppose it. And understanding poverty comes from spending time [with] it.” As such, it is necessary to continue to read about issues affecting Haiti and our global families such as poverty, injustice, and misogyny. We can also volunteer time with local organizations that tackle these issues in different ways (e.g., helping out at a womens’ shelter like kanuhawaii.org; supporting legislation to abolish human trafficking: traffickjamming.org; collecting extra food at a local farmers market for meals for houseless people: Give-It-Fresh-Today.
Of course, opportunities to partner with groups in Haiti and beyond are invaluable, particularly for young people such as high school students.
I believe that love and living aloha are characterized by “focused attention.” Thus, giving focused attention to Haiti and the developing world in whatever way possible (thought, resources, time) is my responsibility.
And it is yours too.