Rev. Dr. Laurence Graham, a member of the WDR committee, has written this week's blog. Laurence writes about Haiti, with a particular focus on how funds sent from Irish Methodists, through WDR, are enabling local people to re-build their lives and their communities after a number of natural disasters.
In my opinion, one of the most disconcerting journeys in the world is the 90 minute flight from Miami to Haiti. Let me explain why. Recently we’ve heard in the media of the release of the 2017 World Happiness report. It was widely reported that mostly Scandinavian countries were at the top of the list. What was less widely reported was the bottom end of that league table. It turns out that 43% of Haitian people are classified as “suffering”.
Only one country in the world had a higher figure and that was South Sudan where, in the midst of famine and terrible civil war, 47% are “suffering”. In Haiti another 54% of people are described as “struggling”. So that only leaves 3% of the population who are described as “thriving”. So, in a short flight you can travel from Disney World and Cape Canaveral to a nation where 97% of the population are either struggling or suffering! Why is this and is there any solution?
The why begins with Haiti’s history. A successful slave revolution led to the world’s first independent black republic in 1804 but the new nation was then forced to pay compensation (for lost sugar cane revenue) to France for over a hundred years! Haiti was already a desperately poor country when a catastrophic earthquake struck in 2010. Approximately 250,000 people died, more or less the same as the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, but in an area only about 30 miles across and including most of the capital city. Most recently was the devastation of Hurricane Matthew last autumn. A few weeks ago I got to visit the worst affected area and was told of how the wind blew for 16 hours solid and then, when the wind finally stopped, it rained for 2 weeks.
However to go to Haiti is not a depressing experience, believe it or not. That’s partly because of the incredible work of the (growing but financially struggling) Church there. After the hurricane the Methodist Church in Haiti was immediately mobilised to send several large convoys of food, water purification tablets, medication and building materials to the worst affected area. This was partly supported by a grant from our own World Development and Relief Fund.
They are now getting ready to send seeds so that people can plant for a harvest. However along with the seeds more food will be sent in an effort to ensure that desperate people don’t eat the seeds but rather plant them. Short term relief such as this is crucial and life- saving but of course development has to be more that immediate relief. So back to the question I raised at the start of this blog – is there a solution?
To begin to answer that let me go back to a worship service in the basement of a church near Jérémie which was destroyed in the hurricane. The reason the service was in the basement was because the main church building had just been trashed by Hurricane Matthew. Yet one of the songs that the people chose to sing on that occasion was that wonderful hymn to the tune of Finlandia, “This is my song, O God of all the nations, a song of peace for lands afar and mine. This is my home, the country where my heart is, here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine…”. That in a nutshell is the hope for Haiti. Haiti’s solutions do not ultimately lie with government aid projects or outside agencies bringing their answers. The hope for Haiti is in the incredible strength, tenacity and entrepreneurship of ordinary Haitian people. It’s no accident that that song expressing pride in the nation was chosen to be sung at that service. In all of the times that I have been in Haiti I have rejoiced to observe that any Haitian will always stand tall and proud. They will never cower but will look you in the eye and say their piece. Should the President of the nation go into the mountains, a peasant farmer will step up from his field, shake the President’s hand and speak to him face to face, man to man as equals – because of course they are.
This pride and strength also leads to the innate entrepreneurial spirit of the Haitian people. Very seldom will you see anyone sitting around begging or waiting for someone else to do something for them. What you will see in Haiti is everybody doing their best to make their way in life from the limited resources that they have.
Going down any city street you are likely to see somebody with a machete and a pile of wood making chairs, somebody else with a welding gun making beds, another walking with a wheelbarrow-load of chopped sugar cane selling it as little snacks. You’ll see women who have travelled from the mountainous areas down in to the city to sell fruit and vegetables, children making toys to play with or to sell from old tin cans and making incredible jewellery from bits of string and plastic insulation taken from defunked electrical cables. This is the hope for Haiti.
Again the Methodist Church has a role in this not least through its micro-credit programme. This programme extends across many areas in Haiti and is co-ordinated by a young women from Cap Haitian (who I was in youth club with in 1991!). Through the programme these entrepreneurs are given a small loan which can be the capital which they need to start their business. When the business takes off they then pay back the loan with interest so that the credit ‘bank’ can turn the money over for someone else.
This is proving to be a very successful initiative and is one of the ways in which funds which we give for development can be placed into the hands of incredible people who can do incredible things with tiny resources.