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!




Jd Here...

One of my duties here in Haiti for our VERY short month, is to teach the kids who are interested in woodworking about....building stuff with wood. The hope is to inspire hard work and impart a skill set to improve their chances of employment as they finish their schooling. But teaching something like carpentry or woodworking is difficult. Primarily because, there are projects that NEED to get done. I could accomplish so many projects in a small amount of time and of course the kids would be 'involved'...sure they'd be involved...yeah. They'd be busy holding a piece of wood, moving materials, cleaning up and watching the Americans build stuff. However, if you asked them to go and measure something, design something and build something. It could potentially be a modern art exhibit when all said and done. A seeming waste of precious resources.

The carpenter Jesus of Nazareth taught in a radical and risky way. He'd walk around exemplifying to his little worker bees what it looks like to be a crazy teacher doing signs and wonders. He'd show up, do a miracle, and then have a chat about what just happened. Then he'd look over to his groupies and say... now you go do it. Once they were finished attempting, messing up, attempting again.. then maybe kind of getting it... Jesus turns around and says, now go and get a bunch of other people to watch you and do the same.

It is easy to not want to let go. If you let a 14 yr old Haitian boy take over your project, you might just end up with a pile of scrap wood. It may not look very good, it may be flawed, but these are necessary steps. Nobody became an expert without messing up...over and over and over again. So what is the trick?

The trick is to focus on the person... not the project. I learned from an amazing teacher who once said, "There's nothing you can do, that I can't fix." As a newbie carpenter, these words were both relief-giving and frightening. He would say this as my trembling hands cut a $300 piece of wood or marble. He would let me know it was expensive but upon failure always reminded me that literally, "There was nothing I could do, that he couldn't fix." Albeit some mistakes were more costly than others.

But the truth remains... if I am to actually teach these boys anything at all, it will require failure. It is only in the failing that the correct path becomes clear. For example, Emmanuel Victor is a local Haitian boy who has been diligently absorbing every ounce of information I can feed him. After I overwhelmed him with the fractional math necessary to read a measuring tape or ruler, I unleashed him to figure out how to change out some door locks and add a new one to an existing door.

I could have changed the lock and been finished in "two seconds", instead, I let him attempt to put the lock in upside down... backwards.... inside out... and every other way possible. Each time he realized the mistake and reverted back to try a different way. I sat back to watch the wheels in his brain spinning to solve this mechanical difficulty. Then the light sparks and he sees the correct path. A beautiful thing.

Tomorrow I will continue teaching him how to read a Tape Measure in sixteenths. Emmanuel hopes to be an architect one day and I know that although we spent 60 minutes installing one door knob, his experiential knowledge of working through the process of trying, failing and trying again will be the key to his success in life.

ZOOMING WAY OUT  (My application for Haiti)

Haiti is known as the Republic of NGOs. Indeed, there are over 11,000 different non-governmental organizations operating in Haiti from all over the world. The best of intentions and the purest of motives are at the bottom of most of this presence in Haiti. However I wonder if all the NGOs have fallen into the temptation of being so project oriented that we've forgotten to step aside and let the person be the priority. What I mean is simple... perhaps Haiti would be better off if the outside 'teacher' were only there to train and then make recommendations. Emmanuel did all the work on that door knob and only at times did I step in to slightly guide him in his own pursuit of accomplishment. Is it possible that the overwhelming altruism of the NGO community has in fact created a situation of crippling dependency? At some point, we will have to hand over the tools of development and progress to say, "Okay guys, have a go, we'll be right by your side if you need us." When will the day come when the NGOs are the ones who are simply holding the wood while the skilled laborer makes measurements, decides on designs, and even uses the power tools!?

It may not be time. But I can tell you this... Emmanuel will be building things and designing things in no time. They may not be perfect, but they will be designed, built, and owned by him and him alone.


P.S.  This orphanage/school/program has become a real source of refreshing enjoyment for us. The people are open, hungry and honest about the difficulties realities of life and yet see the greater reality of God's hope and desire for the wholeness of the world. Thanks so much to everyone who allowed us to have this wonderful experience.


Start Small

 Whitney Here...

The day started with getting dressed. I wore my pink EMS shirt with a zebra on it and Jd wore his new Child Hope screened shirt that also happened to be pink (his first pink shirt ever). We were matching. So in honor of that, we opened the pink envelope sent by the Landon/Hilferty group, a note from Mamma Tracey.

Let me back up a minute, our jobs while we are here in Haiti will be to work with the Child Hope transition home. And the kicker is, when we arrived on tuesday, we had until thursday night to learn everything before our predecessors left town friday morning. Jd is standing in for David, the heart and soul of the transition home and I am replacing Dana, an incredibly talented 20 year old fashion designer that created a sewing program out of nothing in one month.... Daunting?

You took the words right out of my mouth.

So back to this morning, the pink shirts and the subsequent pink note. The card said Start Small. I opened it and immediately said, "well that's appropriate!" and as you can guess the rest of the note from Momma Tracey was right on the mark as well.

We've come here with essentially two things, the skills we have, and the big trump card, an awesome God. All we can do as finite beings is what we know how to do and pray and release the rest. Stressing about every aspect that Dana and I cannot fulfill or about all the projects David started that might lag in his absence will not make them come to fruition. Doing the very best I can with the woman or child right in front of me and trusting that God can do a much greater work than I could imagine, now that's something I can handle.

All that being said, I have learned a ton from Dana in the last 48 hours and she will be greatly missed. I also have some serious brain storming to do to come up with teaching plans, projects and possibly some business lessons (I'm open to suggestions!). But I now have some new priorities, start small, focus on the person in front of me and pray for the peace to not stress the things outside my control.

(internet is spotty so no pics yet. coming soon...)


Day 1 Haiti:

After waking up to an annoying little beep at 3 a.m....zooming to the airport....standing in lines....standing in longer lines....becoming an ethnic minority on an airplane....and pushing through the gauntlet of broken english 'bag toters'....

We are in Haiti.

There are already too many stories, sights, and experiences to recount in this short post.... however, here are two quick thoughts I've had so far.

1) This country is more in tact that I expected. Yes, we passed dozens of tent cities where people washed in the streets with dirty water. Yes, there were buildings broken in half. Yes, there are few intelligible roads and no road signs.... But people are working, building, driving, biking, living...  Life has not stopped in Haiti and while the poverty is real, there are many who have jobs and are making it ok. I suppose I was expecting hoards of zombie like people crawling all over the streets.

2) Secondly, I have become more convinced in this first day that this nation is suffering from too much help in the wrong places. Yes, the work of the NGOs is amazing and I love Child Hope and the staff already. But what NGO is going to raise money to pave roads, create irrigation pathways for street runoff,  and support and educational system that allows every young person aimlessly walking the streets a chance to become literate. No government or public sector is perfect and neither is any NGO. But at the end of the day, the goal should be to have a stronger national haiti, not a modernized NGO headquarters.

Blessings and love to you all. We are tired, but inspired for the work that lays before us.

Jd & Whit


Collective Guilt and the Health of a Nation

In 5 days I depart for Haiti with my wife. It will be our first humanitarian trip together since our wedding less than two years ago. In fact, we will celebrate our 2nd year anniversary somewhere in Haiti. 

In 10 days I will finish my applications to three highly competitive universities who will decide whether a skinny kid from south jersey with no AP credits or Ivy League logos deserves a spot in their small, customized programs. 

In about 100 days I will lead a group of students and professionals back into the heart of Haiti discussing disaster relief and the future development of Haiti. 

Sound stressful? 

It is... but I believe that is only because I don't fully understand the plight of those I wish to serve. 

makeshift cholera clinic
Currently in Haiti nearly 6,000 people have died from a completely treatable disease! Cholera runs rampant in the dirty streets of the tent cities. The U.N. continues to officially deny being the source of the cholera outbreak. For three months now I have been reading books, articles and watching documentaries about Haiti. Anything I can get my hands on and much of it leaves me saddened and discouraged. 

And yet, I have been inspired... much like the prophet Nehemiah. It is time to rebuild the walls of Haiti. And this time, we will rebuild them better. You see, to see a vision of a beautiful, growing, and prosperous country on the western end of Hispaniola is radical. It's overwhelming but it is exactly what the whole of Scripture and true religion requires... that in the place of destitution... we work towards redemption. Where we see sickness... we spend ourselves in the way of supporting health. Where we see abuse... we stick our necks out to defend the weak. I can tell you that Haitians are proud of their country and they are on the forefront of making things better. 


For many years I struggled with the concept of collective guilt. I was a fortunate soul to be born into an intact nuclear family with a middle-upper income standard of living and attend a private high school and undergraduate institution. Meanwhile, the majority of the world focuses on maintaining food, water, and shelter security. In the pursuit of purging this guilt, I sought to run from the wretchedness of wealth, riches, and the upper elitist of government and academia. To walk in the shoes of those many minimalists who live day by day on pennies... this surely would be the righteous response to my predicament. And then I met a man from Malawi. 

Robert Manda, an educated Malawian who focuses on the vulnerable populations of rural Malawi... women and children. My family has essentially adopted him into our lives. I remember one day Robert smiled and looked deliberately into the eyes of my family. He said, "I pray for God's blessing and prosperity on your family. Because when God blesses the Landons, he blesses Malawi." 

With this statement my world slowly shifted. How does one respond to the blessings of wealth, family, education and privilege? You start by being the smartest, wealthiest, and the best you can be in your field.... then you give yourself to the work of rebuilding the world better. If you are an architect, you strive for low-cost building solutions that will withstand the onslaught of hurricanes and earthquakes. If you are a doctor, you become the best doctor possible and find new strategies of health for vulnerable populations. If you are a computer geek, go help find IT solutions to increase accessibility to education via internet learning in rural villages. If you are a businessman, learn to create jobs and train the next generation that will support long-term prosperity for communities in need. Regardless of where we find ourselves or what fields we are passionate about, there is always a way to increase the quality of life for another. We must not run from our privilege but use it tirelessly for the plight of the poor. 

To be a privileged American means only one thing.... that I have the privilege to open my eyes to the sea of suffering and do something. 

Why do I go to Haiti? And why will I go to Malawi?  

Because I can... and because I must.