Haiti is complicated
If you want to know more, I’d suggest trying the library. The one down the street from my house has about 120 books and videos on Haiti in the nonfiction section. Many are about natural disaster. Some focus on political turmoil. A fair number talk about charitable efforts gone awry.
Several years ago Haiti became the poster child for those suggesting charity and foreign aid are pointless, as the tiny island nation has received much support, but seems to be worse off than ever. And many of those books were written before the hurricane. And the earthquake. And the other hurricane.
Make that four hurricanes – just in 2008. The tiny island nation has been hit by a dozen hurricanes in the past 25 years and another dozen tropical storms with catastrophic flooding that caused widespread loss of life and displaced people, at times by the hundreds of thousands.
As horrific as the hurricanes were, they were decisively trumped by the earthquake in January of 2010. Most people agree that there is no reliable death toll, but an accepted number is around 230,000, with people arguing that number up and down by factors of 100,000. The fact that seven years later, no one has been able to verify a death toll within a range of a quarter of a million speaks volumes about the lack of systems.
It certainly is a place deserving of some help. Not only has it had an exceptionally hard way to go, you don’t have to read very many of those books on Haiti to see that people of privilege have had a large role in making things worse, at times based on greed, and at times just because they got things wrong. Efforts to help have at times been disruptive to local economies.
On the plane ride home, I was talking to someone who worked for an international NGO, and had been doing work in Haiti. “I heard there are 4,000 NGOs in Haiti,” he said with amazement. The number I had been seeing was 10,000, I told him. I would assume most are well intended, but only the largest can pull off a project as big as building a hospital – most are limited to small clinics. None are of the scale to develop a health care system or provide basic infrastructure like roads or sanitation systems for a major city. Haiti still needs a lot of help.
So, helping is tricky. But Methodists from Missouri are doing what they can. People like Lucas Endicott and Jeff Baker have worked hard to make Missouri Conference efforts and dollars provide assistance in the most effective way possible. In this issue you’ll read about The Methodist Church of Haiti celebrating its 200th Anniversary, and a synopsis of the current Missouri Conference work in Haiti. Next month I’ll bring you a couple of more stories about local churches that have forged special relationships in Haiti.
Serving in a complicated situation doesn’t make that service any less necessary. Although progress may not match anyone’s expectations, it is at least encouraging to see that people aren’t giving up on Haiti.