I went with a mission group to Haiti in June 2009. It was a crazy trip. Haiti really is at the low end of the list of Third World nations. I was prepared for that, and it didn't freak me out, but I found it troubling to see first hand how huge the gap is between the "haves" and the "have nots". There is beauty in Haiti, but the country suffers greatly from erosion as a result of deforestation and other types of poor land management. It sometimes seemed that there wasn't a corner of the country that wasn't littered with plastic bottles or bags. The "highways" are dirt roads. The major cities seem to have only one or two paved streets. There are no bridges over many of the rivers. Most of the agriculture is done by hand with hoes and pickaxes. (Which is probably better in terms of limiting erosion, but it is backbreaking work! It's also hard to make a go of it since your potential crop size is so limited.) There appeared to be no sanitary sewer system anywhere we stayed. In essence, there is almost zero modern infrastructure in Haiti.
Jim, left, kicks around with the kids
But, like I said, there is beauty in Haiti. The last day of our stay, we hiked about an hour out of the city of Port de Paix along the river that bounds it on one side. The river and the areas along its banks were gorgeous! We hiked to a spot where a small waterfall cascaded down a 100 ft cliff into a pool that then fed into the river. It was the sort of place that would be part of a state park here in the USA. We swam in the pool with little Haitian kids and had a great time.
Kids on a burro
We spent most of our time living on the outskirts of the village of Beau Champ. We were on an upland plateau, and the climate was semi-arid. It was much less lush than on the banks of the river down near the coast where we took the hike. There was beauty there as well, but more subdued. Also more thorny. They seem to have every type of thorny plant found in the Americas or in Africa in Haiti!
The most beautiful thing about Haiti was the people. Especially the people in Beau Champ. They were often sweet and shy, kind and generous. I was deeply moved by the strength of spirit that I saw in the people of Haiti. They continued to live their lives, love their families, plant their crops, and look to the future, even though they had little reason (to American eyes) to do so. I know that people often don't miss what they never had, but it touched my heart. It made me realize what whiners we often are here in the USA. We complain and get upset about things that so minor compared to having enough food to keep your children from starving in front of your eyes, or dying from a curable disease because there are no doctors anywhere in the area.
Football is a refuge from the daily struggle
Now, don't get me wrong, I did see people that had no hope. I met some people that were angry with the world. Haitians are subject to the same range of faults as anyone else in this world. They aren't necessarily better for their struggles. Yet they touched me and inspired me.
I was also sobered and felt a bit depressed as I began to realize the enormous effort that will be required to bring the Haitian nation to a point where it is stable and moderately prosperous. Just bringing them to the point of being able to feed themselves will be a monumental task!
Young boy with his plate
(I had written this much back in August 2009. It is now January 20, 2010, Haiti is reeling from the massive earthquakes in the region around Port au Prince.)
What can I do? Where can I start? Haiti was in such a fragile state before the quakes, and now there is no telling how bad it may become, even with aid pouring in. The lack of infrastructure means that it is extremely difficult to get the food and medical supplies to where they are needed. It also means that people in the rest of the country will suffer as well. Port au Prince was the main port, and most of the trade with the rest of the world went through there. The people in other parts of the island are effectively cut off from markets for their crops and goods. Food aid that was being sent into places like Beau Champ won't arrive. Fuel supplies will run out. The impact on the entire nation is hard to fathom.
Young Haitian girl models a hat for the camera
Some authorities estimate that the disruption of their fragile infrastructure may lead to a final death toll of 3 million people! This won't be due to injuries, but to starvation and disease. These beautiful people living in such desperate conditions are only 600 miles from Miami.
I want to go there, to do something tangible to help. I'm donating money, but it doesn't feel like enough. I think of the kids and adults that I made friends with who will likely suffer tremendous hardships over the coming months. I want to ride in like the cavalry and save them, but I have no way to do it. I recognize that I would probably be little help to anyone if I did go, but it doesn't stop me from feeling the desire to do it. So I pray...
Here are some links to a few places where you can make donations to help with the earthquake relief effort. There are many good groups, I just happen to know something about these particular ones. There are also a couple of links to sites that have other lists. These groups are not listed in any particular order.
Please help your neighbors in Haiti.
American Red Cross http://www.redcross.org/
In general, Charity Navigator says it sends 90% of donations to the field, and gives it 3 stars. If you are an Intergraph employee, Intergraph says it will match your donation. (There was an email sent out giving the details of how to do it.)
International Disaster Emergency Services http://www.ides.org
This is a Christian charity. In general, Charity Navigator says it sends 86% of donations to the field, and gives it 4 stars. They are known for helping everyone, not just a particular subgroup. (Some groups only help those in their religion/denomination, etc.)
Yelé Haiti http://www.yele.org/
This is an established Haiti assistance charity founded by Wycelf Jean, who is a Haitian hip hop artist. I couldn't find a rating for this one, but I know of some people that say it is a good one. They say that 100% of donations to earthquake relief will go to the effort.
Northwest Haiti Christian Mission http://www.nwhcm.org/
This is the group that I worked with this last summer. I couldn't find a rating for them, but I know first-hand that they don't have a high overhead. They do a lot of good and have a well-established network of people in Haiti.
Direct Relief International http://www.directrelief.org/
This group deals with medical supplies and aid. In general, Charity Navigator says it sends 99% of donations to the field, and gives it 4 stars. They also have been working in Haiti for some time. They say 100% of donations will go to the effort.
Haiti Emergency Relief Organization http://haiti411.com/haiti/
This is a group based out of Huntsville, AL. The leader is Haitian. They are a Christian group. I couldn't find a rating for them.
You can find a list of other groups at http://www.charitynavigator.
God, work a miracle of help and hope and love in Haiti. Please!