Haiti is on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola (shared with the Dominican Republic) in between the islands of Cuba and Puerto Rico. I had the chance to visit two weekends ago and perform my juggling show six times in three days for children at various events (a school, some orphanages, and a church).
My hosts were the Salvant family, who head up New Hope Haiti Mission. I was also blessed to perform at Child Hope International (recently featured on the Oprah Winfrey Network). Here is a pic of Scott and me at the Port-au-Prince overlook.
Though the trip was brief, it rocked my world in the sense that it reminded me not to take anything for granted such as 24/7 electricity and running water. Based on my experience and things I learned by talking to Scott, my host, here are five things I think we should all know about Haiti:
Tap-Taps are the colorfully marked public transit vehicles of Haiti. They typically shine of gaudy paintings of celebrities, NBA stars, and religious icons. And the rule of the Tap-Tap is simple: “There’s always room for one more!”
Foreign Aid Is Usually Counter-Productive:
So you collect a ton of shoes at your church in the States and ship them down to Haiti and give them away for free and feel good about yourself. Well, you just took jobs and income away from local shoe-makers and Haitian retailers. Most (not all) foreign aid is actually counter-productive, either falling into the wrong hands, insulting the vocational dignity of the receiving people, disrupting the organic commerce of locals, or all three. Scott showed me an example of foreign aid that did work: a small neighborhood playground that a group from the States sponsored. Haitians were employed to build the playground and now children have a safer place to play in an otherwise dangerous and dirty street corner. The goal of aid should be to empower the locals by recognizing their God-given talents and dignity to work – not by giving them handouts that deflate their economy and insult their ability to work.
This is Not Little Orphan Annie’s Orphanage:
The Salvants direct New Hope Haiti Mission, which runs an orphanage. There are many orphanages in Haiti (like New Hope’s) that have children who are NOT up for adoption. In fact, many of these children have at least one living parent in Haiti. The problem is that the parent(s) have absolutely no resources to raise this child in a safe and healthy environment, much less provide for their education (which is all privatized and tuition-based in Haiti). Many of these children would otherwise be in a tent city, a slum, or worse (such as Cite Solei). New Hope Haiti Mission strives to raise these kids in a safe and healthy environment where they will be educated and subsequently transition into a productive independent adulthood at the age of 18 (which is soon to happen for the oldest in the group at New Hope). The kids in this particular program are family to one another.
Haiti is the Poorest Country in the World:
That’s right. Not just the poorest in the Western Hemisphere anymore. According to 24/7 Wall Street, using data from the World Bank, Haiti is now the poorest in the world with a poverty rate of 77% and more than half the population living on less than $1 a day.
There is Hope for Haiti:
One thing that stuck out to me while I was in Haiti was the fact that the people are beautiful, creative, and industrious. Everywhere you go, you find hard-working entrepreneurs working to sell their wares, services, or goods on the street or in a business establishment. There is art everywhere, from the Tap-Taps to the roadside art galleries. People smile, wave, sing, dance, and greet you kindly. Not only was the earthquake of 2010 completely devastating, but their economy has been in shambles due to corrupt governments, dictatorships, genocide, and other oppressive historical narratives. Haitians may have been struck down, but by God’s sovereign grace, they can and will get back up. There is no simple solution to this complicated situation. But we can all do something to productively give, support, pray, or go. And I’m humbled to see the Salvant family and others who are sacrificing so much by faith so that they can be a part of the solution.