Thoughts on the Eve of Departure

It'd been a long week. Several bunk beds later, even more tape measure and tool identification tests later, and even more more time spent explaining the merits of learning a skill and the delayed reward of being an apprentice first and then an accomplished tradesman later. A difficult concept to convey: delayed gratification. Especially when much of the population may go without a meal for a day or two. In the midst of all this I will miss faces and smiles and laughter.

As I said my goodbyes to the guys at the transition house, one boy who I had struggled to get to know and connect with, gave me a hug, looked me in the face and said, "We'll miss you." I smiled and tried to hide how surprised I was. I think this moment, more than anything, fulfilled that selfish little need to feel useful and beneficial. For some of these boys I had pushed them pretty hard, maybe too hard. I had not given a free lunch to anybody. They knew that when it comes to me, if they worked hard I would reward them... otherwise, they needed to get out.

What I've learned is that Haitians are strong people. They are smart, kind, funny, and resilient. The most frustrating thing to me about Haiti is not the people or the somewhat backward mentality of things. No... it's the unfortunate reality that 10s of thousands of purely altruistic and well-intentioned NGOs have given the local Haitian community little room to develop ownership, leadership and personal responsibility. Do they need to be educated? Yes. But in such a ways that their education can lead to financial and material independence from the NGO world. My hope for Haiti is not with Politicians and multi-million dollar budget NGOs... it's with the small handful of boys that taught each other how to read a tape measure and cut a 2x4. I taught one or two and they taught the rest. To a very small degree, I've worked myself out of a job and that truly is the greatest reward for any humanitarian volunteer.

Will we return to Haiti? Yes, for sure. It is a land pregnant with possibility and potential and I believe that in time the DNA of the NGO world will realize that the true goal of a servant is to become less so that those you serve may become more.

Mwen Renmen Ayiti


An essay from Haiti

 What Motivates Me

In America this wouldn’t have happened. There would have been somebody to help, another hospital with a NICU. At least there would be enough bili lights to go around. We wouldn’t have needed to drive to the other side of town bouncing little Doula all over the back of the truck. Her foot was barely the size of my thumb. Her skin was yellowish green from jaundice with little bumps all over her tiny eyes, presumably from an STD passed on from her mother. It was a sad sight. The doctors sped in and out of the makeshift triage. A woman nearly collapsed outside the tiny emergency wing, flailing in agony at the sudden news of a loved ones death. How is there not room for a miracle baby born 5 weeks premature, barely the size of my hand, in a tent city? It should be so much better, but it isn’t. This healthcare system is broken. This is Haiti. This is the Third world.

I have been here barely a month but I have likely seen more rare disease than many physicians in the U.S. After playing a match of soccer the other day, the nurse said, “That’s Jean, he’s lost thirty pounds from tuberculosis.” It seems that every other day I meet someone who has had malaria and the word on the street is that a couple of the local orphanage boys are spreading around mumps. Gas gangrene and systemic infections are not uncommon. This world is unlike the life I have lived thus far. The kids from the orphanage don’t want to take their medicine for intestinal worms because of how horrible it is when the worms come out of every orifice in their bodies. I never even knew this type of worm existed. A simple question confronts me as I gaze out my window at the neighboring tent city: What does this have to do with me?

Just yesterday one of our team members tested positive for malaria. Word spread quickly among the Americans working here in Port au Prince. A hushed silence seemed to reverberate in the guest house and subtle glances shot across the halls to where Angelo lay quietly on a mattress. We had ventured into a realm of sickness outside of our American conscience. Malaria is caused by a ‘third world’ parasite. We Americans shudder at the thought of getting malaria and pay a pretty penny for our doxy or chloroquine prophylaxis. Here in Haiti however, malaria is just another sickness and not nearly as bad as cholera. Yet, this is the reality here in Haiti. What should be simple is hard, and what is hard has become normal. Following a heavy dose of chloroquine, Angelo recovered in two days. This would not be the case for someone who lives in a tent city or the countryside. The disparate worlds re-appear and again I ask myself, “Where do I fit in this conundrum?”

Today I visit the only permanent hospital on the island of La Gonave, Haiti. An estimated 120,000 people live here and yet the only consistent healthcare available is the 30 bed Wesleyan hospital erected in 1958. As we walk down the corridors, I can’t help but notice the dark brown stains on the floor. I know what these are from. Then I see in the corner of the “operating room” a rusting World War II era sterilizing machine, a memorial to medicine’s history and a reminder of Haiti’s need. Above are four lights positioned over the operating table but only one works. We walk past the ‘NICU/Nursery’ and our guide quietly says, “This is the same room they use to triage patients who arrive with emergencies.” His face revealed the desperation of the situation. We swerve in and out of gurneys cluttering the halls with patients. I can feel the stares of the sick. I imagine that they must wonder why this white man walks down the halls of sickness simply observing their misery. The stares reveal the poignant reality that I have nothing to offer them. At least, not yet.

I tell you these stories because they are the memories that echo in my head and drive me to become a doctor. I feel that I am obligated to invest my American prosperity and education into the cause of providing quality healthcare for the beautiful baby Doula, or Jean who works tirelessly to get his tuberculosis medications, or the dirty island hospital full of the hopeful suffering. I know the learning curve of medical education is steep, but the faces I see in my dreams who long for relief will be my motivation.


Disparity and Romanticized Poverty

Karibe Hotel is a place of beauty, excellence, serenity and peace. There a illuminated fountains with ornate ceramic backgrounds. Solid stone flooring and large grand pillars. Well dressed workers with smiles on their faces and food around every corner. Even the tap water at this Hotel is safe, at least I hope it is.

Whitney and I spent a night and a day at this hotel celebrating our anniversary. She kept prodding my sullen face as my "rest time" consisted of reading Polman's "The Crisis Caravan." A short book about the well-intentioned disaster that is often humanitarian aid. I struggled as I sat by the pool on a comfortable leather bed surrounded by pillows, drink in hand, basking in the sun. Why do I deserve to sit here and receive the treatment of a king with thousands of malnourished faces and distended bellies only hundreds of feet away in the streets? Was I so special or did I achieve something so grand? The feelings floated around in my head and heart and only dissipated after a stern look from my beautiful wife that said, "We're paying a ton of money for this so you'd better get in this pool and start having fun with me!" I did.

But the reality remains. There is a vast disparity between the haves and the have nots and the only difference I can see is to whom and in what country you were born. It's not my fault I was born to a middle-upper income family in a wealthy nation. It's not their fault they were born in a tent city. So I ask again, if it is only due to my birth place, why should I receive the treatment of a king and they not? I imagine you might say, "Well, that's just how this world works." Or, "Jesus said, You will always have the poor with you." Really?! That's the answer. Come on. Needless to say I struggle with this reality and I don't expect to come to a happy conclusion and rest my conscience before I see the manifested Kingdom of God on the earth.

On another note. I find it intriguing that poverty is so easily romanticized and that the poor are people to receive only merciful love and tolerance. Some would say, "When I see these poor people in the streets, I see Jesus." Forgive me for being rash or too bold, but for many of the kids in Haiti... it is precisely this treatment that has turned some of these kids into little monsters. Is it really caring for these kids to constantly be dishing out gifts? A free coke, free food, free toys, free water, more free food and oh, sure, you can climb all over me and hit me and say mean things to me and yell at me and I will just sit here and see Jesus because you are so poor and your dad probably beat you and left you to die.  Yes... that was sarcastic and maybe too harsh.

But here is my heart. I love these little guys but I want them to have dignity. Dignity never comes through hand outs and a free pass to do anything you want. Love can sometimes be most captured in discipline. Not the discipline that births from a place of anger or insecurity but discipline that longs for wholeness, dignity and worth to be developed in the mind and heart of a child. A free handout teaches these kids that they need others to always help them that they can't stand or be strong on their own. Do they always have food and water? No. Do we want them to die? No. But if they always depend on you for food and water, will they always have you? Or will the short missions trip end? You will return home and tell of how the kids loved you so much and how poor they were. I am convinced of this, the worst type of poverty is not the one that makes someone live in the dirt but the one that corrupts the heart and the mind. The poverty that tells a person they can only survive by the giving hand of a white Westerner.

When I leave Haiti in a week and a half, I will have done little. But I know that the little I have done will have infused a few boys with dignity. I have demanded much from them and in doing so I believe they have seen that they are capable of much more than they thought before. They are not to be pitied, but to be pushed to see and envision their own destiny on their own two feet.


Two years

Whit here...

Jd and I celebrated our 2 year anniversary on the 19th of this month. On the day of our anniversary, we woke up, did our normal Haiti morning routine and only remembered it was our anniversary when I saw it was Carlin Song's birthday on Facebook. We have a special connection with Carlin and his wife Jas since we share September 19th with Carlin's birthday and both of our anniversaries. So where have we come in 2 years.

-We've lived on Harrison St. in Wilmington, with the Landon's in Hockessin, on the Dawn Treader in the Bahamas and now in Annapolis, MD
-We've both attempted once to get into medical programs and if at first you don't succeed, try. try. again.
-We've plugged ourselves into Annapolis attending church at Revolution and hope to build more of a community there.
-We've taken up rock climbing as a couple
-We are certified wilderness first responders and have discovered a passion for disaster relief medicine
-That passion has lead us to Haiti and to planning a conference centered around Haiti's earthquake and subsequent recovery and development
-Kids are still a long way off but our future family is an ever present thought and discussion
-We've come to Haiti to be apart of the Manassaros work and come to love the family they have formed here. Haiti will definitely be in our future.


If I were in charge of all the NGOs....

....the first thing I would do is make each and every worker, executive director and board member memorize this short little proverb.

"A man without a vision is a man without a future;
a man without a future will always return to his past."

Then I would do an in-depth survey/observation to see if each and every project supported and inspired the following axioms.

Each non-governmental organization project MUST:

1. Seek to instill dignity and ownership to the Haitian people by creating opportunities for employment.
2.  Develop independent, skilled workers who take pride in their work and are effectively able to teach their skill to other Haitians.
3. Require and reward honesty, ethics and quality work.
4. Continually look for opportunities to create Haitian independence by delegating more responsibility to the Haitian people.
5    5. Design a sustainable organizational structure focused on outsourcing foreign aid workers with local Haitian employees.

  The NGO conundrum is simple. If the primary aim of an NGO was to 'work themselves out of a job' by doing the aforementioned axioms, then where would they go and what would they do. The corporatized structure of NGOs seems to force them into always growing in size, budget, and most importantly...their usefulness. If their usefulness is in question, the entire structure begins to crumble and they will then need to find another place or country to be useful in. The pressures which then develop are the same as a fortune 500 company. The shareholders become the financial supporters and backers from the rich western nations, and they expect to see a return on their investments. Thus we see the pretty newsletters and updates outlining all the glorious work being done to help the poor Haitians. 

  But is the reality on the ground always accurately portrayed in the graphically designed high resolution newsletter? An unfortunate pressure to 'look' useful and effective undermines the humbling raw honesty that is necessary for genuinely effective improvements. No organization is ever perfect nor will any organization ever meet every need. Simultaneously, no organization will ever become more effective without that raw honesty to say, "Are we really helping here?" 

  It is a difficult balance. A tight rope needing to be walked but a highly precarious existence waits on the other side of the NGO efficacy chasm. The worst part is...most every NGO is full of loving, caring, altruistic hearted people. They give their time, energy, and money to help others expecting nothing in return. And yet, I fear that I am guilty of creating a stubborn entitled child who demands what he has not earned. 

  We must never abandon Haiti. We must always seek to love and bless her. And we must focus on becoming useless to a Nation that must become strong enough to stand alone...proud and prosperous.


The goud, the dollar, and the future of haiti

I love Haiti.

It is a place full of insanity and seemingly asinine contradictions. For example, the denomination of the actual printed money used here in Haiti are called "gouds." The exchange rate from gouds to US dollars is 40 gouds:1 USD. However, there is another 'imaginary' currency that is the official currency...the Haitian Dollar. You could spend your life searching haiti for an actual haitian dollar, but you will never find one. It is an imaginary currency that goes like this...1 USD = 8 Haitian Dollars = 40 goud. It really isn't that big of a deal, until your seamstress shows up asking for money in Haitian dollars and you start doing the translations in your head. You turn around and say, "So 400 goud is what you need right?' Only to be told, "We don't deal in gouds, that's imaginary currency."

That's right. It wasn't a typo. The currency which has no physical existence is the 'real' currency, while the physical denomination of gouds is imaginary.

Again. I love Haiti. 

I love Haiti because in the midst of over-NGOed, foreign aid entitled people, there is a young man willing to learn, work hard, and make an honest wage for the sake of his future and his family. He sticks out among the masses because at the end of a long day of my free labor in Haiti, he looks me square in the face and says in broken English, "Thank so much for the teaching me today." It is for this young man my heart longs to see this nation walk in prosperity once again.


Our home away from home

Whit here...

I feel much more encouraged today, so thanks to everyone that lifted me up in prayer. I had a great talk with a local woman that is helping me with the sewing program and I'm working on a plan, I'll update more on the progress soon.

But for now, I'd like to introduce you to the Transition Home and it's sewing room, aka my home away from home.

Phara working on the overlock machine

Dana in the workroom she created and wearing a dress she made!

Chirley and Chedline working on a pillow case

Part of our walk to the transition home
Welp, it's Saturday evening which means we're off to Port au Prince Fellowship tomorrow. We're excited to see more of the city and meet some more people. Next week will include shopping for some fabric and working on organizing a schedule for the trans home. We're pumped!