Saturday, June 26, 2010
Sunday, June 20, 2010
Basics for Haiti
Published: June 18, 2010
The list of what needs to be fixed in Haiti is distressingly long, and progress has been frustratingly slow. But two areas require urgent attention from the Haitian government and its main international backers, the United Nations and the United States:
KEEP WOMEN AND CHILDREN SAFE. More than a million people are still displaced, many living in crowded refugee camps with only rudimentary protection from the summer's torrential rains. Sexual assaults are widespread, and for girls and women, who are frightened even to use showers or toilets, life is horrible.
The camps need more lights and more security patrols. It was good news that the U.N. decided to send 680 more police officers to Haiti — bringing its police force there to about 4,400 — including an all-female unit of about 100 Bangladeshi officers. More needs to be done.
PLAN FOR ELECTIONS. To move forward with rebuilding plans, Haiti needs a legitimately elected government.
Voters were supposed to choose a new Parliament in February; the January earthquake made that impossible. Parliament has disbanded, and President René Préval, whose term expires next January, is ruling by decree. The country still does not have an official date for the next presidential and parliamentary elections.
Mr. Préval has said informally that he wants elections on Nov. 28, but he has yet to issue the necessary decree. Without a schedule, donors will not commit the $38 million needed to organize elections. Haiti's electoral council, whose nine members were hand-picked by Mr. Préval, has been roiled with corruption and infighting.
Haiti needs to start working right now to update electoral records, set voting procedures for displaced people, issue identity cards for the many Haitians who have lost all of their documents, and educate voters on where to vote. And it needs an electoral council to run the vote made up of honest, competent public servants, not political hacks.
This month, Senator Richard Lugar, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, issued a report in which he urged the State Department to press Mr. Préval to set an election date and to reorganize the electoral council to restore its legitimacy among skeptical Haitians. Mr. Préval has been frustratingly disengaged from so many of his country's urgent problems. He needs to fulfill his responsibility and set the stage for fair elections. The last thing Haiti needs right now is a prolonged constitutional crisis.
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Saturday, June 12, 2010
Part III 6-12-10
While we were in Port au Prince, Ben had arranged two meetings with other organizations to see if they could be partners with the development work in Pestel. One was with an NGO that's developed a ready to eat fortified rescue food (fancy peanut butter) to give to moderately or severely malnourished children in an 8-12 week program that would rescue them from acute malnutrition. After traversing many bumpy side streets and cell phone calls for directions, Ezai deftly maneuvered his little beat up RAV4 to the NGO's non-descript gate (like so many other gates set in concrete walls fixed with spiraling barbed wire or broken glass). There we picked up samples of the food (240 pounds of it!) to use in a pilot program in Pestel. The second meeting was with Water Missions, to check out their filter system that is able to provide clean drinking water for 3,000 people at a rate of 10 gallons a minute! We were encouraged by some of the principles embedded in their program, things like community training and ownership, sustainability, and microfinance opportunity. Their motivation for providing this life giving water flows from a love in their hearts that comes from their faith in Jesus, who said "whoever drinks of the water that I give shall never thirst; but the water I give him will become a well of water springing up to eternal life."
We weren't sure if we'd be able to make it to both meetings, if both organizations would be open, if our plane would arrive on time, if our luggage would arrive, if the car would run. We feel so certain of things here in the States, so planned out, so organized, so scheduled. But anyone who has worked in a developing country knows that things don't always go as planned. Ben has a refreshing optimism and flexibility that serves him well in Haiti. I admire him for the way he's always looking forward, brainstorming and networking, tackling problems in stride and able to shift gears without getting side tracked from the big picture.
The day after arriving in PAP, we took off in the little MAF Cessna 206 single prop to head to Jeremie, on time and as scheduled. Fifteen minutes into the flight the pilot shook his head as a wall of storm clouds and rain spread out in front of us, forcing us to turn back. We arrived back at PAP, and then sat for hours in the terminal as the rain poured down, behind schedule, with somewhere to go, but no way of knowing if we'd make it there that day. More cell phone calls were made, contingency plans started, and Ben redeemed the time at the airport by having Anderson translate the health survey he was going to teach to the village health workers. MAF had to cancel all their flights that afternoon due to the weather, so we spent another night in PAP. But it was evident that in spite of apparent set backs, God was still in control, leading and directing, tying up loose ends, and giving us time to accomplish things even when it wasn't as we had scheduled. Patience, flexibility, creative problem-solving, and a humble dependence on the Lord; things often learned on trips like these if we're open to Him.
Friday, June 11, 2010
Monday, June 7, 2010
Anderson has really become Ben's right hand man on these many trips to Haiti. In spite of his young age and definite affinity for city life and American pop culture, he strikes me as steadily committed to helping Ben in the work he's doing in rural, remote Pestel. I never once heard him complain about translating, and he had a very good attitude even with the long days and long meetings. Don't get me wrong, there was the occasional whining that we ALL did here and there, but just minor stuff, how hot it was, how sore our bottoms were after the mountain drive, etc. Really, we had more praises for things we enjoyed, and answered prayer than complaints. Anderson's self-conscious about his English, (the same way I'm self-conscious about my Swahili) but in a humble and I think typical way non-native English speakers are, and this tells me that he takes his job as translator seriously. He's quite fluent actually! Heck, he speaks French and Creole too! And considering he only spent a few months in the States, I'd say he's quite gifted in languages.
We talked a little one evening, the three of us, and Ben asked Anderson to tell me what it was like when the earthquake hit. It was amazing to hear a first hand account, to hear him describe the ground moving and shaking, the fear and anxiety the unpredictable aftershocks brought, the sleepless nights out in the open- not trusting the shelter of buildings for weeks, the sadness and aloneness survivors felt as they wondered whether loved ones were still alive. Cell phones, the main communication method there, were down for days. I remember the palpable anxiety in Jen's (Ben's wife) voice those first days after the earthquake, when she was unable to contact any of her Haitian friends. For Ben and Jen this wasn't some obtuse disaster in a far away corner of the world that we see for five minutes on the evening news. This was affecting people they knew, people they loved. In our conversation that evening I pointed out to Anderson that he is very fortunate. He survived open heart surgery and an earthquake that claimed the lives of 250,000+ fellow Haitians and left a million homeless. So now what? It's good to ponder that question. When you look back at your life and see what you've come through, it begs the question, "What do I do with these remaining days that God has given me?" You don't have to survive an earthquake to ask yourself that question, but I think some of us need an 'earthquake' sometimes to shake us out of our complacency.
Saturday, June 5, 2010
Thoughts and ramblings on the Haiti trip… and a bit more
As we landed on the single paved runway of the Port au Prince airport in Haiti, a flood of remembrances and similarities to Tanzania struck me all at once. The tropical heat and humidity, the green palm trees and lush surroundings, the mix of modern airplanes and terminals with dilapidated buildings, the organized chaos on the main street next to the airport. A dusty and sometimes muddy street filled with cars of all kinds and age, UN armored vehicles with flack jacketed soldiers and poised M-16's locked and loaded , people riding on the top of dump trucks, all blowing their horns as they travel along bumper to bumper dodging bicycles and pedestrians. A street with numerous pushy airport porters all vying for a spot behind your luggage cart to push it a couple hundred feet in hopes of earning some money. They seemed desperate to get the chance, in a place where if you don't push your way to the front/look out for number one/scrap and scrape for the last morsel…… you'll go without. A place where if you don't stick your nose out into traffic, you could spend the day going three blocks. A place where there is so much need, so much potential, and such a gap between those who have and those who don't. So many porters, and not really enough work for all of them, like the vegetable ladies in Tanzania on the side of the road, who sell mountains of one particular thing, right next to five or six others selling exactly the same thing. I wonder how they ever get enough vehicles to stop and buy their produce to help all of them?
I saw a CNN article about a farming co-op idea that uses cell phones to communicate market trends to rural farmers to make them aware of what the prices are in town, so they are not taken advantage of by middle men who rip them off by buying the goods for very low prices in the village and selling them at high prices in town markets. Many years there is a good harvest, plenty of vegetables, plenty of produce, but is the system really set up to help the rural farmer? Or are there multiple layers of economic challenge, corruption, and injustice that contribute to keeping these people in the grips of poverty?
In the streets of Port au Prince, hope seems to be gradually returning for some. The streets are passable, vehicles and people are everywhere, going about their business, selling things in wooden booths with plastic bags for roofs on the side of the road. There are plenty of reminders of the massive earthquake though that hit four months ago, like the piles of rubble pushed and dumped together, completely collapsed buildings sitting in their plots, between ones that were seemingly unaffected. The massive tent camps, dotting the city like a patchwork quilt, with tents of different colors and insignias of various relief organizations. I can't imagine what life must be like for those in the camps, people who have lost so much, their homes, family members, children, spouses, parents. They may have lost hope as well.
Riding through the streets something strikes me again about people in the Majority World, as I look at these Haitians. I am struck by their amazing resilience in the face of such disaster and discouraging circumstances. A song plays on the radio saying 'we will rise again', written about the people of Haiti following the earthquake. The earthquake was devastating, but think about what Haiti has already been through… things like hurricanes, colonial oppression, slavery, foreign invasion, corrupt dictators, political mass murder, and the list goes on. Resilience and perseverance are choices however, because the same struggles seem to also produce a fatalistic apathy that is present as well in the Majority World.
So I guess Majority world is the politically correct term now used to define poorer countries. It makes sense though. What did we used to call them? I've heard all kinds of names… the Third World, Underdeveloped countries, Developing countries, Low resource or under resourced countries. Who named them the Third World? Wasn't it us in the First World, in richer industrialized countries? So we are first and they are last. It gives away our underlying worldview and sometimes subconscious and not so subconscious attitude towards the poor. The rich are first and the poor are last. And the Second World is somewhere in between. Shame on us. Thank God for His Kingdom and the declaration by our Lord Jesus who said "The first shall be last and the last shall be first." That declaration should make most of us here in the States a wee bit uncomfortable. The 'Majority World' name at least is more accurate, describing most of the world's people as living in poorer countries. I don't like the "under resourced or low resource" name either. Haiti and Tanzania are rich in resources, resources such as land, minerals, water, work force, produce, talent. The problem is the resources are sometimes untapped, mismanaged, or stolen by richer countries or corrupt leaders.
Ben and I have been reading "When Helping Hurts". The book defines poverty more broadly than just material poverty. It rightly describes all of us as fallen and having poverty of relationship. We need healing in our relationships with God, each other, the earth, and ourselves. This healing comes through Christ, who is 'reconciling all things to himself'. How can I help the poor without first realizing that I am poor also?
We stayed with friends of Ben's in Port au Prince. He and Jen hosted their daughter, Nakisha, for a number of months here in the States so she could get life saving heart surgery. Nakisha is doing great, as is evidenced by her infectious smile and gregarious manner. She loved seeing Dr. Ben again, giving him a kiss on each cheek and pulling him away to show him the latest drawing, sing her latest song to him, or play a children's game she learned at school with him.
Nakisha's father, Ezai, was such a gracious host. His wife was in NY at the time, but we received the royal treatment, sleeping in the parents' king size bed in the only air conditioned room in the house. The smells of fresh bread from Ezai's next door bakery wafted through the house as we ate tender goat and rice and sucked on fresh juicy mangos from the back yard. Ezai was our self-appointed taxi driver all over Port au Prince, delivering us safely to two meetings with the help of Anderson, Ben's techy & rap-loving 20 year old- city slicker interpreter, who probably looks up to Ben in some ways like a father, and not just a friend or 'sponsor'. Anderson is another Haitian who Ben and Jen took in for a few months so that he could have heart surgery at the Hershey Med Center. Ben and he have been together every Haiti trip since then, and Anderson has been invaluable in the work Ben does in Pestel, hovering at his elbow and interpreting every Creole, French, and English word exchanged between American and Haitian. I was impressed though that Ben picks out quite a bit of Creole in conversations and spouts a few words back without Anderson's help. It's good fodder for the playful sarcastic banter the two share regarding language.
Thursday, June 3, 2010
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
It was good to see Sister Fidelis again. Our time with her is so special. I was reflecting that the work that is now underway and is in development is due to the foundation laid by her hard work, perseverance, sacrifice and love for the people of Pestel. The investment of time and energey and resources that she (and her sisters) have put into helping the people of Pestel is a great gift to them and a tremendous inspiration to us!