In Septemeber 2008, I traveled 6000 miles to Haiti's Kenscoff mountains. My mission: to care for some of the orphaned and abandoned, the sick, malnourished and premature infants of this beautiful but beleagured Caribbean nation.

Monday, 28 April 2008

In God's time...

Once, recent events in Haiti would have terrified me. Now, these same events serve as confirmation and I have peace in my heart about setting off on the journey.

Knowing that I have been slow in responding to God's call to go back to serve his children in the developing has troubled me at times. What if I missed an opportunity?I have come to understand that there is no reason for me to carry a burden of worry over this, because God is bigger than I am.

The bible is full of stories about great but imperfect men, and a lord who kept his hand on them and guided them always. Some of them really blew it at times, but they repented and they tried to live holy lives and they walked in faith, even when they saw no evidence of the father's works in their lives (see Hebrews:11).

God did not abandon them. He saw what was righteous in them and
knew their potential. In dessert places, he moulded his errant followers and taught them to allow his will to unfold the only way it could; in his way and according to his timing.

This is how I know that all God has planned for me will come to pass. So long as my heart and his are aligned in the ways that matter to him, he will not let me fall, because my God is a God who makes all things work together for good, for those who love him and are called to his purpose (Romans 8:28).

Yes, God is perfectly capable of orchestrating lives, even if we err, or procrastinate. I believe that he wanted me in Haiti all along and I can see now, that he lead me there at just the right time. After all, where better to serve, than Haiti, and what better time than now, as the global food crisis deepens, as the number of hurting and hungry children increases, and the world forgets.

I thank God for giving me this chance to serve, but thank you can never be enough. How deeply humbling to think that in a world with so many pressing needs, such a great God would wait for me, invest in me.....a girl who was off on her own agenda.

Monday, 21 April 2008

A country on a precipice

Haiti is on a precipice. 'Substantial gains in politics, security and institution-building' have apparently created 'exceptional opportunity to escape the destructive cycles of the past', but a senior UN official has warned that the current food crisis could reverse this progress overnight.

Hédi Annabi, Special Representative of the Secretary General and Head of MINUSTAH, the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti told the UN security council that Haiti's new-found stability is fragile.

In his address, Mr Annabi recognised that the current administration's efforts to improve state services and fight wide-spread corruption and impunity had made them credible in the eyes of the public, but he outlined 'clear and continuing threats to the political consensus and democratic debate', which, he said, could generate unrest.

The Haitian populace are sensitive to these tensions and any sign of instability has the potential to undermine public confidence and lead to violent outbursts. The recent protests in the cities of Port-au Prince and Les Cayes demonstrate the complex security implications of rising food prices.

Mr Annabi told the security Council that sustained operations against gangs conducted in early 2007 continued to bear fruit and that the situation remained 'far better than it was.' However, a resurgence of kidnappings is compromising both the government and the UN's stabilisation mission.

He warned that in Haiti's difficult and changing political climate, there are indications that gangs may be trying to re-organize themselves. 'These kinds of threats, which appear essentially criminal in nature, may be manipulated for political purposes.'

The Haitian National Police Chief Mario Andresol, speaking to Reuters News, accused the gangs of escalating unrest in Port-au -Prince. Meanwhile, one protester accused the government, local businesses and the international community of conspiring against the Haitian population.

Pulling Haiti back from the brink

The following article was posted on the UN News website in April this year. 

'Without an urgent injection of funds to expand emergency feeding operations, extend existing job programmes and jump-start agricultural activity, a humanitarian disaster is imminent, warns Joël Boutroue, coordinator of the United Nations Humanitarian programme in Haiti.

'The level of poverty, combined with the lack of coping mechanisms for the poorest Haitians, means we have the potential for a very explosive situation.'

The UN, in consultation with the Haitian government has drafted an emergency plan to address the international food crisis, which has impacted Haiti particularly hard because of deforestation, soil erosion, lack of fertile farm land and the country's dependence on subsistence farming and foreign imports.

In a briefing to the UN Security Council, Mr Annabi suggested a comprehensive approach to protecting and consolidating Haiti's stability. This he said would require urgent food aid to produce immediate and visible improvements in living conditions. These efforts would have to be consolidated by long-term agricultural assistance, in order to increase crop yields, he said, calling on donor countries and organisations to work creatively with the Haitian government toward these goals.

Mr Boutroue has outlined a number of long-term actions, including operations to reverse environmental damage and address shortages of water and power, which will allow agricultural work to take place and promote susatainable development in Haiti.

Substantial assistance from the international community, says Mr Annabi, will also be required to sustain strategic peace keeping operations and continued reform of the police and judiciary, which are noted for their lack of effectiveness and for perpetuating human rights abuses.

These actions, he said, would promote national security by limiting the smuggling of illicit drugs and weapons by Haiti's criminal gangs and by making the penal system a legitimate and credible authority.

Mr Annabi recognised that ultimately, progress would depend on Haitians themselves. Emphasising the need for politicians to show a united front, he said that 'While moments of tension will be inevitable, it is crucial that political leaders and opinion-makers rise to the occasion and show restraint and a genuine desire for collaboration.'

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Let them eat Ketchup?????

Apparently, the Haitian president has suggested that the price of ketchup and meat be reduced.

The people of Haiti are more pragmatic: they would rather see initiatives to make staples such as rice, beans and oil more affordable.

Attention Mr Preval: the French aristocracy were famed for their lack of sensitivity toward starving peasants. They (the aristocrats, I mean) did not fare well!

Hunger and Unrest in Haiti

Visualizing finer strokes

I was reluctant to post about the riots in Haiti last week, partly because I was aware that we only ever hear bad things about the country and I did not want to emphasise this negative. For the most part, I wanted to understand the situation and especially the people in it.

I am glad I took the time to research different perspectives. I read that Haitians were eating mud cakes, rocks, tree bark and even goat feces to stave off the hunger pains. Knowing this, I comprehended their desperation.

Then, an incisive simile, coined in the slums of Port-au-Prince gave me as much empathy as as anyone who has never experienced starvation can feel. The people talk about Chlorax Hunger. Chlorax is a brand of bleach. Hunger burns our stomach like chlorax or battery acid cuts our intestines, the people say. For them, hunger is agonising and torturous. It burns. It is Chlorax Hunger

We heard about flaming barricades and gunfire. Angry mobs who rammed the gates of the presidential palace and even looted a UN warehouse. It seems these apparently reckless and impulsive acts, were a desperate, and yes, angry cry to be seen and heard.

'If the government cannot lower the cost of living it simply has to leave,' said protester Renand Alexandre. 'If the police and U.N. troops want to shoot at us, that's OK, because in the end if we are not killed by bullets we'll die of hunger.'

The rioting public felt they had nothing to lose. An American missionary, serving in Haiti for almost 30 years, observed that the most impoverished people of Haiti have been suffering the effects of rising food prices for a number of months.

This global phenomenon is a result of higher oil prices and a growing demand for bio-fuels. The crisis is particularly acute in Haiti, where food prices have increased by up to 40% and floods and hurricanes have caused extensive damage to crops. This has lead the UN declared a state of emergency in the country.

The tiny nation's agricultural sector has been undermined by decades of environmental degradation and cheap foreign imports. Haiti has a limited capacity to feed it's people.

Haitians refrained from violent action as the crisis deepened. They patiently awaited change. Unrest, though, had been in the air for some time, and because their president was silent as the cost of living soared and hunger worsened, people became increasingly dispossessed.

'We don't hear him say anything'
'Life is too expensive, nous fini ak grangou' (we have had enough of this hunger.)

The result: violence flared. The protests intensified when the president broke his vow to stand in solidarity with the protesters. The riots were just quick to subside when he eventually responded to their call to speak some meaningful words.

As the people requested, the Prime Minister, Jacquet Edouard Alexis, was ousted. Ministers were asked to accept a 10% pay cut and to steward government funds wisely. It can only be hoped that this will appease the protesters, and that they will then listen to the president's suggestions for stabilising the nation. While I can't condone the violence and destruction we saw last week, I can see where it came from, and why. The people have suffered long enough.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Nan tan grangou, patat pa gen po

In times of hunger, the sweet potato has no skin - Haitian Proverb

There is always a measure of truth in a proverb and the Haitian people, as I understand it, have an abundance of proverbs. In times of hunger, the sweet potato has no skin, they say. The expression fails to capture the desperation Haitians have been experiencing over recent months.

Of course you cannot afford to be choosy in times of hunger. That goes without saying. In the UK, we have be reading about violent protests in Port-au-Prince , but we are not getting a picture of what those protests are really about.

Haiti is so far away. We are hearing gun fire rather than the voices of the people and that makes it difficult to feel any real sense of sympathy or solidarity with them.

Few news reports give a balanced appraisal of the hunger in Haiti. I have found one that comes close:

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Visualize Haiti

If a picture is worth a thousand words, Alecia Settle's new publication, Visualize Haiti, is priceless.

'It takes all 5 senses to visualize Haiti. As you look as these photo's, feel the extreme heat. Hear the roosters and the voodoo drums. Taste the dirt. Smell the fires, sewage and rotting flesh.'

Alecia Settle was changed forever by an encounter with an 18 month old orphan living in a rural orphanage near Haiti's capital city, Port-au- Prince.

'This unbelievably thin little girl with a giant tummy sat motionless on an outdoor concrete slab with a cloth diaper and tiny t-shirt. She was oblivious to the activity around her and maintained a blank stare. Her hands were bony with long, dirt-packed nails. Her hair, like that of many other Haitian children I had already seen was no longer a beautiful jet black. Instead it was the rusty orange color indicative of malnutrition. She lacked the strength to wipe away the gnats and flies that crawled in her hollowed eyes and she had a bad cough that made me wonder if she had been tested for tuberculosis.'

Like many of us, Alecia had seen fundraising adverts that showed African children who loked just like this. But, the author observes, 'as a well, trained scientist, those commercials were no match for my flippant and arrogant "survival of the fittest mentality." In a heartbeat, this up close and personal encounter changed that. My elitist mentality was permanently replaced with a feeling of overpowering compassion for this little girl.'

Little Lousselande responded to Alecia's tender care, and when the American woman returned home to the States, she and her husband immediately began adoption proceedings. Their dreams of providing a permanent, loving home for the baby, though, were crushed one morning, when an e-mail arrived from the orphanage's administrator informing them that that Lousselande had developed a high fever, and died.

'Lousselande was buried near the orphanage in a banana box. There were no flowers, no funeral procession, just a Haitian stranger with a shovel...'

The Settle family went on to adopt a vibrant 3 year old from Louselande's orphanage, but for Alecia, this was not enough. The chemist, turned travel photographer made many tips to Haiti, "the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere." She captured landscapes and portraits across the land, in remote villages and urban slums. A vision was born; Ms Settle founded Visualize publications, a company dedicated to publishing books that raise awareness of the plight of people living in third world countries. 100% of the profits are used to fund charitable enterprises around the globe.

Visualize Haiti, Settle's first publication, 'is a full-color, hardcover photographic collection that takes the reader on a unique journey....The text is both informative and personal. Captions reveal moving statistics that raise awareness of the social, economic and political problems in Haiti.....This book is a must-have for anyone with a passion for social justice, humanitarian work, third world travel or adoption.'

Alecia was an ordinary woman. A educated wife and mother, living a comfortable life. The thing that sets her apart is her courage to act on her convictions and her willingness to use her talents to act on her compassion. I want to be just like her!

For more information and to order a copy of Alecia's book, follow this link to Visualize Publications.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Somewhere there is a nation...

According to the world bank, over half of Haiti's people survive on less than $1 (USD) per day. To make matters worse, inflation is sitting at almost 20% and the economy is declining. This ranks Haiti among the world's poorest nations.

This is a country which lacks the most basic infrastructure. There are few paved roads, leaving the rural population isolated from more developed parts of the country. There are no nationwide programmes for rubbish collection, for the provision of piped water or for the treatment of sewage.

Visualize settlements built on refuse dumps, where open sewers contaminate a stagnant water source. Imagine a country where, surely, rats outnumber people.

It has been estimated that 1% of the country's population controls 50% of it's wealth, a situation which creates marked inequalities in health, housing and education. With this comes an epidemic of organised crime that has overwhelmed Haiti's police force, and even its military.

Who looks, and really sees the bare-footed toddler with streaming nose and old-man eyes, wandering these streets?

Only 30% of Haitians have access to a safe water source and there is just 1 doctor for every 10,000 people. As a result, according to UNICEF, 60% of Haiti's people (mainly those from isolated, rural areas) do not have regular access to medical care.

It is the children that suffer the most. In a country that lacks food security and has a high prevalence of tropical disease, 1/5 die before reaching their 5th birthday. Of those who survive, half will suffer acute or chronic malnutrition and only half will begin primary school.

Among the country's child population of 3 million (aged 0-15 years), are 200 000 orphans and 300,000 bonded labourers, known as “restaveks.” Every year, 2000 children are trafficked to the Dominican Republic. Thousands more eke out a living on the streets of Haiti, where they beg, work as prostitutes, or are recruited by criminal gangs.

Who has cruised the waters of the Caribbean sea? Who has been to Disney World? Who among those travellers knows, that just 600 miles of the Florida cost, there is a nation called Haiti? 600 miles: roughly the distance from the London to the northerly-most islands of the British isles. Wouldn't there be an outcry if conditions such as these were on our doorstep?

They say seeing is believing, so if, like me, you didn't know, please view this UNICEF photo essay.

Why Haiti?

Because somewhere, not so very far removed from “our world”, there is a nation; a place where a greater proportion of children experience chronic hunger than those in Angola, a country whose people have less access to treated water and adequate sanitation than the Ethiopians, a country where death rates among infants exceed Sudanese figures. (UNICEF, 2004).

Why Haiti? Why not?

Friday, 4 April 2008

If the World Were a Village..

If we could reduce the world's population to a village of precisely 100 people, with all existing human ratios remaining the same, the demographics would look something like this:

60 Asians, 14 Africans, 12 Europeans, 8 Latin Americans, 5 US Americans and Canadians

49 would be female 51 would be male....

33 would be Christian, 67 would be non-Christian

5 would control 32% of the entire world’s wealth, and all of them would be US citizens

80 would live in substandard housing

24 would not have any electricity (And of the 76% that do have electricity, most would only use it for light at night.)

67 would be unable to read

1 (only one) would have a college education.

50 would be malnourished and 1 dying of starvation

33 would be without access to a safe water supply

1 would have HIV

1 near death

2 would be near birth

7 people would have access to the Internet

If you take a look at the world from this condensed perspective, the need for acceptance, understanding and education becomes evident.

If you woke up this morning with more health than sickness, you are luckier than the million who will not survive this week.

If you have never experienced a war, a loneliness of an imprisonment, an agony of tortures, or a famine, you are happier, than 500 million persons in this world.

If you are able to go to church, mosque or synagogue without fear of harassment, arrest, torture or death, you are happier, than 3 billion persons in this world.

If there is a meal in your refrigerator, if you are dressed and have shoes, if you have a bed and a roof above your head, you are better off, than 75% of people in this world.

If your parents are still alive and still married, then you are a rarity.

If you have a bank account, money in your purse, and there is some trifle in your coin box, you belong to 8% of well-provided people in this world.

If you read this text, you are blessed three times as much, because someone has thought of you. You do not belong to those 2 billion people which cannot read and... you have your computer!

This is your World! And you are able to make changes! Hasten to do good works! Think of it!

(Author Unknown)