Tuesday, April 15, 2014

In Which I Want to Go Back to Haiti

Je veux retourner a Haiti.

I want to go back to Haiti.

I've never been there.

It's complicated.

My dear friend Sarah, sister of my heart, lived in Haiti for several years, long enough, she said, to realize she could do it, really do it. Life there is not like here. The electricity goes on, or off, mostly off, at random and uncontrollably. Transportation is challenging. They have no postal service. None. If I wanted to send something to Sarah while she was there, either a letter or a package, I sent it to an address in Florida linked to a private delivery service set up for missionaries. (Sarah is both a nun and a priest in the Episcopal church.) When the letter or package reached Haiti, someone (I never was exactly sure how this worked) let Sarah know, and Sarah went to the airport to get it.

Haiti, Sarah says, is beautiful. Mountains, ocean, colorful buildings. It's complicated, too. Tent cities still. The rubble from the earthquake slowly being cleared away. A large part of the economy is underground, people selling things on the street. Only 10% of Haitian children attend school. Supposedly the government gives free education, but the reality is that there aren't very many schools.

International aid pours into Haiti, but sometimes makes things worse instead of better. After the earthquake, well-meaning organizations flooded Haiti with free rice. This meant no one bought rice from the rice farmers, who were left destitute. Before the earthquake, Port-au-Prince had a large, well-equipped hospital. Immediately after the earthquake they used all the supplies they had, treating victims. Then Doctors Without Borders started offering free health services, and now the large hospital sits empty, closed.

It's complicated.

Several years ago I started paying attention to Haiti. It's hard to explain exactly what I mean. I started thinking I needed to know more about Haiti, so I read more, became more aware of opportunities to learn. I'd read internet blogs at random and they'd end up having a connection to Haiti. When Sarah was sent there I thought, aha, that's why I need to understand Haiti. But now Sarah's back, living in Massachusetts, and I still haven't been to Haiti.

I support two Haitian children through Help One Now, an organization I like very much. HON doesn't do short-term feel-good mission trips, which I despise. They're not interested in poverty tourism. They work through Haitians who are already doing amazing things, and help them continue and grow. For example, a man in Haiti had taken in a few dozen earthquake orphans and was running a tent school in one of the tent cities. HON raised money to build him a brick school. The school was built by Haitians using material bought in Haiti; it now employs 12 Haitian teachers and educates 250 children.

The girls I sponsor, Manese and Sajous, live in Drouin, a place of extreme poverty. Through my sponsorship they attend school where they also get a hot meal, every day. It doesn't sound like much unless it's something you don't have. Sajous would like to become a nurse someday.

Je veux retourner a Haiti.

I want to go back to Haiti.