One of our writers just returned from a two week trip to Haiti led by a missions group. When she returned we asked for an article detailing her experience. If anyone would like more information on how to help or what the Haitians’ needs are, please email Sherri at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s been said a picture is worth a thousand words – and I disagree; if it were so, I could spend the rest of my life taking pictures in Haiti and still never fully portray the devastation of the January quake and its aftermath. Visiting a third-world country is in itself an eye opener – pair that with natural disaster and you’ve got an indescribable experience.
I spent two weeks in Port au Prince reaching out to families and communities largely untouched and undiscovered by NGOs (non-governmental organizations). Without a set agenda we were able to stray through alleys and find communities hidden from the main streets. We provided minor medical care, bought and secured tarps to create rain-proof dwellings, and prayed with the people for the safety, health, salvation and unity of their community.
The streets and waterways are heavily littered with anything you can imagine. Mounds of trash designate the chaotic flow of traffic that zips and honks its way through streets of decimated or crumbling buildings. If anyone has started removal of the rubble it’s not evident and you can’t help but think of the bodies decaying underneath.
The city itself is a stinking, bustling, hectic, chaotic blur of sputtering automobiles, food stands, trash, people, animals, street vendors and more trash. Within its limits there are countless tent cities, all of them inhabited by men, women and children taking any chance to start over and carry on with their lives.
“Tent city” is a generous label for the frame of sticks tied together with string, gauze (sometimes blood-stained), strips of clothing and plastic. It’s not a tent for a weekend camping trip – it is a HOME indefinitely. Most are walled with ratty sheets and roofed with the same. This provides shelter in the heat of the day but does nothing against the sporadic rains. With the rainy season around the corner, each community is a ticking time bomb of malaria, cholera and other disease.
For the Haitian’s whose homes weren’t affected by the quake, sleeping outdoors or in cars softens the hard-edged fear of another disaster. In the rocky backyard of a large and sturdy home we took the same precaution, sleeping in tents and battling the rain and mosquitoes, only going indoors for the three hours of rationed electricity or when the heat was just too much to handle. These sleeping arrangements and getting our hands “dirty” (another generous description) by playing with kids and helping fix tent homes made us feel less guilty for the blessings we have as Americans. If they got wet at night, we got wet at night; if they got cold at night, we got cold at night; if they were the main course for a swarm of mosquitoes … you get the idea.
I saw life taken before my eyes and rebirth in its place – a beautiful, physical manifestation of the circle of life; I learned that a pat on the stomach is “I’m hungry”; I saw bandages where appendages should be; swollen little tummies teeming with parasites and worms, scabies, staph infections and nakedness; and I realized these people don’t want or need our empathy without action.
Though every human is unique, overall, Haitians are strong, joyous and determined people. They don’t feel sorry for themselves, don’t complain that their tents are too small, that the government hasn’t done anything for them or claim that the world or the rest of their nation owes them any favors.
In a sense, it is comforting to know the Haitians aren’t saddled with the burdens that the conveniences and luxuries of America offer. While there are “wealthy” Haitians, many of them will never hear the harassment of creditors, cringe as the Dow rises and falls, suffer through a bad hair day, complain about movie-rental late fees, spend too much at Christmas, gasp at soaring electricity rates, or grumble about the long lines at Wal-Mart.
What they need is prayer, acknowledgement of their existence as human beings destined for life in a third-world nation, a solidified and efficient government, healthcare and help rebuilding their barren, poverty-stricken land. They need a physical presence from people willing to forsake clean hands and sanitation to help rebuild; they need people willing to break international barriers and sacrifice time and cost to help fellow human beings; they need love; they need God; and they need supplies.
When my plane took off from Haiti I cried – a long, pent-up, liquid sigh of relief and regret that I couldn’t physically do anything more for the people. I watched Port au Prince and the pockets of tent communities sandwiched throughout the city until it shrank to nothing.
I promised myself that after Haiti I won’t offer pity over action; won’t get too busy to notice God’s hand sweeping through the valleys of tragedy; won’t ignore the value of human life; won’t live beyond my means; and won’t complain or whine about my circumstances, but will instead face them head-on with determination, joy and praise.
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