Archive for the ‘Haiti Missions’ Category

Of of the many distressed children at Rose Mina

The 2010 earthquake killed at least 250,000 Haitians, and forced millions to live in temporary shelter in squalid conditions. There are countless large piles of rubble and tent cities to go along with the dilapidated buildings and shacks that exist all over Port-au-Prince and other urban areas. But if it is not clear, it should be mentioned that Haiti was a deplorable place well before the 2010 earthquake; child abuse, trafficking and malnutrition was rampant as long as anyone can remember.

Note the following from a March 2008 discussion on the US State Department website: “Despite some improvements, the government’s human rights record remained poor. The following human rights problems were reported: alleged unlawful killings by Haiti National Police officers; ineffective measures to address killings by members of gangs and other armed groups; HNP participation in kidnappings; overcrowding and poor sanitation in prisons; arbitrary threats and arrests; prolonged pretrial detention; an inefficient judiciary subject to significant influence by the executive and legislative branches; severe corruption in all branches of government; violence and societal discrimination against women; child abuse, internal trafficking of children, and child domestic labor; and ineffective enforcement of trade union organizing rights…. the government acknowledged the problem of internal trafficking, including that of children. The Brigade for the Protection of Minors (BPM), a branch of the Haiti National Police, investigated cases of child trafficking and monitored movement of children across the border with the Dominican Republic. However, in addition to the lack of specific penalties for trafficking, the lack of resources, training, and institutionalized procedures remained barriers to its operational capacity. There were so many street children in Port-au-Prince who were victims of domestic trafficking that the BPM did not as a matter of routine try to help them.

Non-governmental organizations were in the forefront in combating trafficking of children under the guise of international adoptions. On February 14, authorities arrested the operator of an orphanage and charged her with trafficking 32 children. On August 8, authorities in conjunction with two NGOs rescued 47 children from a rogue orphanage. Many of the children’s parents were unaware of the true activities of the orphanage. The orphanage remained open at year’s end.”

Also, “Child abuse was a problem. There was anecdotal evidence that in very poor families caretakers deprived the youngest children of food to feed older, income-generating children. In January 2006 a UN independent expert stated that 47 percent of sexual assaults involved minors as victims.”

From this American’s point of view, the most disturbing part of this is that almost no one is writing about it! Unless these ugly secrets become well known by Americans, not much will change. Most of the conservative press is focused on cleaning up our own economic and moral messes; the more  liberal press seems to be focused on blaming Americans for whatever bad exists in the world.

When I contacted the Miami Herald recently, asking them to write about the problem of Haitians Hurting Haitians, I was told that due to the large Haitian population in Miami, they have to tread lightly and be careful what they write about. Apparently articles about poor hurting poor do not sell newspapers. But if I had a story of Haitians helping Haitians, or Americans hurting Haitians, they would be more than happy to write about it.

Haiti has been a wasteland for as long as anyone can remember. It may seem like picking on them when they are down, but it is obvious when you go there that Haiti cannot continue to operate in the dysfunctional manner they have for the last 100 years. If they do so, it is likely that they will continue to suffer even greater tragedies.

Haiti is operating in survival mode with each citizen just doing what they can to survive. There is very little concept of savings, planning, investment, workmanship, beautification, etc., since each day is a battle to simply live. They have had their share of corrupt leaders and natural disasters, but at its core, they do not have a culture that promotes a strong work ethic, good workmanship, planning, and personal responsibility.

While our unique American culture is far from perfect (and perhaps getting less so by the day) it is obviously one of the more desirable nations on earth, and has been for at least 100 years. Perhaps unwittingly, we have historically employed a “melting pot” strategy: we invited immigrants to become part of a great experiment in a new world, and bring their best with them! Generations of various peoples have come here and thrived when they learned English, adjusted to our culture and became an asset to the community. By welcoming immigrants at all income levels, we provided a stable culture base where those from around the world could have a chance to prosper.

Consider the words of Theodore Roosevelt, known as one of the better American presidents:

“In the first place we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed, or birthplace, or origin. But this is predicated upon the man’s becoming in very fact an American, and nothing but an American…There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn’t an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag, and this excludes the red flag, which symbolizes all wars against liberty and civilization, just as much as it excludes any foreign flag of a nation to which we are hostile…We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language…and we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people.”
This quote is especially surprising coming from Teddy since he is also known as one of the first progressives even though he was a Republican. This Roosevelt is often vilified by conservatives due to some of his beliefs that the average person needed to be managed by the government rather than generally left alone to their own devices. 

In recent decades, we have encouraged immigrants with no skills and no ability to support themselves to come here. We have told immigrants to put a wall around their ways of living that have been transmitted from one generation to another and re-establish them here, even if they have failed to bring them sustainability. This can bring some of the best, but also the worst of their culture to a society that is not designed to deal with completely different culture standards.

Without embracing the freedoms and systems that our country has successfully developed over the years, many of these people have become liabilities, not assets.  They have not prospered, and have become a drain on our financial stability, not to mention their own.

The Great Society programs developed out of the European ideal of “equality”, over our traditional American ideal of “liberty”. Instead of a monoculture that is constantly improving with new immigrants desiring to become part of this great American experiment, we are told that entire societies can locate here, and does not have to make changes to prosper.

As the United States under President Obama has taken dramatic steps in an effort to move us more towards a multi-cultural society, Europe is seen moving the other way. At the same time that we have witnessed violent riots in France, Greece and great cultural dissension in the United Kingdom, liberal Germany is declaring the experiment a failure. As Chancellor Angela Merkel stated late last year; “This multicultural approach, saying that we simply live side by side and live happily with each other has failed. Utterly failed,” Merkel said.

While President Obama seems to be unfazed, the rest of the nation seems to be listening and are demanding that we not be so quick to abandon a culture that has been the most prosperous in history. We still have something of a core culture, a shared sense of moral beliefs and ideals, a desire to prosper and succeed to some extent our own merit.
But encouraged by a call for diversity, many cultures create  outposts of their own monoculture in America. They have not benefited from Judeo-Christian teachings that are at the root of our society. If a culture has led generations of its citizens to poverty in their own land, why do we think that they will thrive when bringing that exact culture here? It is antithetical to our unique society that we can be pulled in multiple directions, with different sets of eyes.

Even without Germany’s assessment, it should be clear that if we end up with many different cultures trying to live the same as they did in their homeland instead of blending into our culture, we will all have completely different sets of ideals, beliefs and mores. This causes friction between the cultures and keeps us from being a cohesive society.

Multi-culturists cringe at the thought that one culture is more “successful” than another, and would counter that success is in the eyes of the beholder. But the world is filled with cultures that do not embrace those tenets, and few would refer to them as successful by any measure. Poverty has gripped many nations for hundreds of years, and it can’t be all blamed on bad luck or imperialist nations. Whether the reader is religious or not, it is hard to argue that the common sense and discipline that the Bible delivers, provides the basis of most of our broader beliefs and practices.

Would anyone here want to move to a nation anywhere on earth of any significance that does not have Judeo-Christian teachings at its core? Would we embrace a life that did not give people individual freedoms and equal rights, promote a strong work ethic, give them the opportunity to thrive, or allow for freedom of thought and expression?

I am not sure that the American Federal Government can straighten out Haiti at any price. But I do believe that if Haiti embraced the common sense and work practices employed in the last century in the United States, they would be well on their way to prosperity for the next generation.

So everyone on the mission team met one or more kids that especially touched their heart for whatever reason. Usually it is one of the beautiful 4-8 year old kids with smiles and bigger personalities.

Michelle has followed young Jo-El for three years now, and is haunted each time by his cries when she has to leave. She has not seen him grow very much between mission trips and is working hard at home to get him out of this place.

Usually it is one of the beautiful 4-8 year old kids with smiles and bigger personalities. Most of them had pot bellies (unfortunately swollen from poor nutrition and not overeating) and were diseased and filthy, but their desire for love and affection drew us in.

Maybe it was a young boy with an effervescent personality who could dance, sing, or just jump around and holler. Or a tender young girl dragging a filthy doll that was too dreadful to be stolen from her. Some of the girls instinctively looked out after the babies and toddlers- they could really warm your heart with the care they provided without much to offer. It is always worse for the women and we had a sense of dread of what the future holds for them.

Perhaps one of the infants, usually sick and especially ill-nourished as there was no pedialyte or anyone to give it to them. There were few wet diapers as they did not get enough water to wet the diaper- who would give it to them?

Few were drawn to the teen boys, who were relatively strong, were able to come and go and take care of themselves. Fewer still were drawn to the disabled, though we all felt very bad for them. I must admit that I am a very emotional person, and I feel so badly for the disabled that I find it hard to even speak to them. I just nod and smile, and move on my way.

But in Haiti everything is different and I felt God taking me in many different directions. I got to meet Jonathan, a blind teen who spent his days alone in a dark room, playing old hymns on an old toy piano. The familiar tunes haunted us a we tried not to think of his awful plight and get our work done, draped in healthier kids who were able to pursue us for attention.

But it was Baselais, a 14 year old boy with one leg that I really befriended. He has a warm smile that only leaves when he discusses his disability. He said that he lost his leg do to a “voodoo trap”: Haitian code for anything bad that happens. It is likely that he had an injury and lost the leg to poor health care or lack of antibiotics.

Out of the 71 kids, I chose him to lead a work party on the roof of Rose Mina, calling him “Le Boss!” and telling him he was “En Charge”. His beaming face told me that this was not a common occurrence for the young man. Still, he did a great job keeping the project moving, organized the other boys, and told us who worked the hardest, and who did not. He was smaller than many, had one leg and hobbled on a broken crutch, but still commanded respect from the other kids. This is a kid who needs some help. The other boys were thrilled to get $2.00 for a few hours work over two days. Perhaps out of emotion for his sorry state, I gave Baselais all of the cash I had with me on the last day: about $30.00.

I had him video a message to my son James; I taught him our secret handshake.

I have been trying to get someone to look after him, and handle money that I wanted to send him. The orphanage could not be trusted with money, so I needed someone else to look in on him. Despite asking several people that I have contact with in Haiti, nothing was going together.

Finally today, Jonas lined up  a man we met in Haiti named Paul, who agreed to check on him once per week and report back. I sent $150 today by Western Union to get him started. I am hopeful that he will get a prosthetic leg and the training to go with it. I want him to begin to learn English as the most successful people in Haiti speak that language. You cannot be more than a peasant in Haiti if you don’t speak English or at least French.

I want them to teach him about nutrition, cleanliness, fitness. Perhaps because of his disability, I want to see him have opportunities that other kids in Haiti do not have. Most importantly I want him to learn about Jesus, and know that any good that the missionaries do for him is out of Christian love.

I don’t know where it will lead, as I really can’t speak to him and don’t really know much about him. But I have to trust God who put him in my life and on my heart that some good purpose will happen from my involvement with Baselais. Below is a picture of me and him: he is not smiling as he knows I am leaving.

May God lead him to do great things in Haiti!

The kids of Rose Mina have very little excitement or activity of any kind to look forward to. So when we wanted to hire  of them to clean the debris of the roof that provided the major play area for the kids, I got a great response. Several of the kids worked hard; I put my buddy Basleigh in charge. He lost a leg he said when “someone set a powder” or voodoo trap for him and the “doctors” had to cut his leg off.

Payday for the kids. I wanted to hire 5 of them for $2 each. I ended up paying 17 of them. They were pretty excited and I relied on Basleigh to tell me who worked the most.

We tried to get some of the kids out of this hell hole, but Mrs. Fernandez refused. This missionary is still trying to get the boy she is holding, Jo-El, out of this dump so he can be adopted. Many Haitian kids are held captive by their adult caretakers who convince well-meaning Americans and Europeans to donate money, thinking that they are helping the kids.

What Haitian culture has wrought

Reflecting on her trip, one of my fellow missionary travelers referred to Haiti as a “nation of orphans”, because they largely do not have a tradition that passes God-given wisdom down to new generations. Haiti has been a basketcase for as long as anyone can remember, as they have not practiced and passed down traditions of diligence, independence, caring for one’s possessions, etc.

After spending time there, reading about Haiti, and speaking to many Haitians, I am convinced that nothing will improve without a change in culture. Many billions of dollars in financial aid have been poured into Haiti from all over the world, and things are worse than ever. The earthquake caused countless deaths, massive physical damage and great homelessness, all on top of the problems they already had. But as one veteran aid work put it, “instead of chaos, filth, disease, garbage, and despair, they now have more dilapidated buildings to go along with the chaos, filth, disease, garbage and despair”.

The Judeo-Christian tenets of hard work, individual effort, cleanliness and hygiene, order, organization, wisdom handed down to subsequent generations, avoidance of evil, and self-preservation have led to cultures seen by most as “successful”. America’s founding fathers embraced these God-given directives and we have benefited for hundreds of years as the American way of life has led to financial and political stability and prosperity.

Many books of the Bible, most notably Proverbs, left sage advice to future generations: Jews and Christians have benefited from this, as have all who lived under these principals. Our traditions of liberty and independence, freedom of speech, individual accountability and private property ownership have developed over the years from biblical teachings. It is no wonder that this God-inspired teaching have resulted in tremendous prosperity to whatever nations embraced it. America does not have a sole claim on this teaching, but has certainly made the most of it in the last couple hundred years.

Haiti on the other hand has embraced a survivalist mentality: nothing ever gets built properly and people do not take care for their future as they are always living in crisis. The United States and other prosperous nations that keep Haiti afloat and from complete anarchy should insist that some of the God-given wisdom in our culture should be utilized in using the funds provided. Their culture is dysfunctional, and has ruined their side of the island and the lives of its citizens long enough. Their way of life can only lead to more poverty, suffering and death.

Our plans to work at Hope for the Children of Haiti changed as we found that a very large mission group was working there at the same time. It was uplifting as we encountered many mission groups and volunteer medical teams wherever we went in Haiti. That may have been why we did not experience any racial hostility, as the only white people we met were there to help Haitians on a volunteer basis.
In order to best use our time in Haiti, some of us decided to work at another orphanage in much more desperate straits: Rose-Mina, an unapproved orphanage run in her home by Mrs. Fernandez ( Our sister Church, Grace Chapel has been supporting Rose-Mina for some time, giving them money to get the kids medical help, for building repairs, and for supplies.

To hear her tell it, Mrs. Fernandez has taken in the kids, along with an occasional widow out of Christian love. She offered to take us to two additional locations where she runs other “orphanages”. Although she claims to be a pastor of some sort, we never saw her once interact positively with the children in any manner. When we got to Rose-Mina, she cried the obligatory tears, told us how wonderful we were and that we came just in time! We tried to believe her, wanting to give her the benefit of the doubt under such difficult circumstances. Dr. Bernard, who also helped Mrs. Fernandez many times, advised us against helping her due to her questionable business practices and poor conditions for the kids. We still hoped that it could be turned around as we feared the children would be put on the streets.

When we saw 71 filthy, malnourished kids living in the open covered courtyard of a small  home with no running water, no supplies, a dangerously filthy play area covered with  sewage, rat-infested dirty latrine, rancid oils in a small open “kitchen” with flies covering  everything, we realized that even by Haitian standards, this was deplorable. When her  son-in-law Ernst pulled up in a white BMW to pick up some of his things, our shock  turned to revulsion.
All of the children had ailments including skin diseases, rashes, parasites, and were very  dirty. Our nurse Marnie held back tears as she told us that there was no point in treating  most of these kids for communicable diseases, parasites and infections as they would just  get the ailments back as soon as we left.

We were there for six straight days and most of the kids had the same clothing on the entire time. At the insistence of Grace Chapel, Mrs. Fernandez hired a few local workers who occasionally would bath the smaller children. Since it was the rainy season, some of the kids would be showered by the runoff from one of the leaky tarps during storms. When the clothes were washed, they were laid out on the filthy roof to dry.
Among the children were: two very sick infants who were not getting any liquids or nutrition; a girl whose head was enlarged from an untreated ailment; many toddlers with hard, bloated stomachs from malnutrition; a young teen who had a leg amputated but could not get to the free American clinic to get a prosthetic; a young girl with a mild case of Cerebral Palsy that was getting worse because she could not get to a clinic to receive physical therapy; a blind teen was kicked out of the school for the blind due to lack of funds.
The blind boy, Jonathan, spent his days playing familiar hymns on a toy piano the entire time we were there. He had almost no interaction with any other children. I am haunted by the thoughts of what he will do with his time when the batteries run out.
When these examples were pointed out to Mrs. Fernandez, she simply stated “the kids are fine and I want nothing to do with any clinics!” When Jonas gave her $100 to take the infants to the clinic, she said she would. When we came back the next day, she kept the money but had not taken the children to the doctors. The babies also were not there.
Despite significant investments by Grace Chapel, each year that they return they find even more kids in this make-shift orphanage and the kids in more desperate straits. We found piles of donated water bottles scattered around the house; boxes of medical supplies that were damaged from improper storage; a cistern with an insecure cover that one of the children recently fell into. A child apparently died at the orphanage last year, but we could not get information on the circumstances.
Mrs. Fernandez always offered a number of excuses, but this was something of a final effort for Grace Chapel. They hated to pull their support because of the kids, but it became clear as we worked there that this was a profit-making business for Mrs. Fernandez and not the humanitarian effort she pretended it to be. (It is my opinion that she belongs in jail doing hard labor, not in responsible charge of beautiful children).

Still, since we were there, we wanted to make things better for the kids as a whole, and perhaps a lot better for a few of the kids. So our plan was to clean the filthy place, get the water system working, build and stock a pantry, and were considering paying for the electrical lines to be brought in.

The video of the grounds I show here is only a few of the videos I will share unedited.

We set up our base of operations at Bethel House, a large, secure missionary retreat in the mountains which provided a great base for the mission teams. The retreat, secured by a large gate, concrete wall and barbed wire, can host up to 150 Christian lodging guests at a time. Amazingly, it even has a chlorinated swimming pool, which we all used each day to disinfect ourselves after a day in the city.

The Free Christian team included Marianne, a chemist who is on the board of one of the orphanages; Dana, a Raytheon engineer; Cheryl H., an environmental consultant; Marnie, a nurse practitioner, Jill our organizer, in addition to myself. Marnie immediately became a critical team member, as several missionaries got sick.
Grace Chapel added Michelle, a veteran of four Haiti mission trips; Trevor, an electrical engineer, Stephanie, Julianna, Cheryl F., Dave, and Aaron who were, like me, making their first trips. Cheryl F.’s fluent French was invaluable to us.
Our interpreter and leader was Jonas, an ex-Haitian business executive from Boston who supports many children in Haiti, and makes regular trips. Without his fluent Haitian Creole, French and English we would have been lost.
Each day we would travel out of the mountains in early morning, spend hours in traffic or in stores looking for supplies, not reaching our destination until at least 11:00 a.m. We had to be back on the road well before dark, as an already dangerous city becomes extremely dangerous.
In today’s Haiti, many parents try to get their kids into orphanages where they can get food, medical care, housing and education. Sadly, if they disown their own kids, they know that it might be their best chance for survival. They might tell their kids to lie and state that their parents are dead.
At a legal, well-run orphanage, spartan as they might be, a child would get stability, shelter, food, education, care, discipline, security and perhaps a little kindness. On the streets, waiting for them is a perpetual striving for shelter, food, and safety in a dangerous, polluted environment, with little chance for work or opportunity. I noticed it was especially tough on the girls and women.
But there are not enough legal orphanages, especially for the newborn and the teenagers. The newborns are difficult to care for, it is harder to feed them and are more likely to get gravely ill from malnutrition. We saw many malnourished infants. The teens eat more, are more difficult to control and even harder to get adopted. Once they turn 16, under Haitian law they cannot get adopted.
The toddler to eight year olds are those that attract the most interest and get the best donations from prospective adoptive parents. They still look somewhat fresh and show the potential ability to thrive in a different environment that might be offered to them. Amazing as it might sound, some orphanages, are reluctant to part with them. The unlicensed ones in particular, need the younger children to draw donations from abroad.
When we left for Haiti, our plan was to do construction work at the Hope for the Children of Haiti (HFC) orphanage and school ( in Bolosse, an impoverished neighborhood in Port-au-Prince. We also planned to do some construction work on the homes of some of the widows that work or teach at the school. These are actual people in desperate need, and I was interested in hearing their stories and understanding their plight.
HFC, and New Life Link (, an orphanage and nursery for younger children, were founded by Dr. Jacob Bernard, a Haitian-American who returned to his country to help impoverished children. Dr. Bernard also runs Bethel House.
We found both of those orphanages to be reasonably well run under poor conditions in the country- but not by American standards by any means. The school-aged children are getting ample food, a good Christian education, and a large dose of love and care. They generally can speak some English, while fluent in French and their native Haitian Creole. Some of the HFC kids hope to eventually seek an education in the United States, while the younger kids at New Life are mostly scheduled for adoption by Americans or Europeans.
Dr. Bernard recently adopted 10 of the kids at HFC, as they were just about to turn 16, the age barrier that prevents the kids from being adopted. While it is very difficult to choose who to adopt and who to support, Dr. Bernard makes it clear that he adopts those that he believes will have the best chance of having success at the next level. That might mean a meager career in Haiti, or a college education in the United States. There is around 80% unemployment in Haiti, so not much is here for them.
We brought HFC much-needed medical supplies, money, food, clothing and other necessities. In addition to normal protein foods like peanut butter and tuna, we brought flip flops, church clothes, underwear, towels, shoes, deodorant, shampoo, shoes, lotion, toothpaste, soap and feminine products for the girls. We even brought some of the HFC boys soccer shirts from our home town of Andover. (See photo) With the shirts on, they look like any other American kid, free from poverty and language barriers.
The kids at both orphanages are desirous of interaction, especially the smaller kids, and we enjoyed playing with these wonderful children. The saddest part is, if we could bring a child home with us, many of us would have. But the archaic adoption laws in Haiti can stretch the process to as much as four years! It was temporarily shortened for humanitarian reasons after the earthquake, but is back to the same bureaucratic nightmare it generally has been. There would be many more adoptions, but couples need to be married for at least 10 years and be over 35 years of age, for example.
Dr. Bernard hoped that we would get to know the students personally and perhaps develop a life-long relationship with the school. Several of our group support specific children financially. It costs somewhere around $200 per month to support a child in school, food, clothing, etc. Some pay all of the cost, some share the cost with others.
The older kids at Hope for the Children of Haiti understand that a sponsor from afar is paying for their stay and education, simply out of Christian love and concern. It is heartwarming to see the kids glued to the side of their sponsor whenever they are around. They know that this selfless effort means the difference from a dangerous life on the street, and the relatively comfortable life and schooling at HFC.

A few months ago I would not have considered the possibility that my older son Ben and I would be in two of the most economically depressed areas of the world at the same time. Native New Englanders from an upscale community north of Boston, neither Somalia nor Haiti were on our travel list.

While Ben was serving as a Search and Rescue swimmer on deployment with the United States Navy helping to keep the waters of the Gulf of Aden free from pirates, I was safe at home, thinking there might be more important things to do with my time.

During his deployment I decided to join the Free Christian mission team, hoping for an opportunity to put my engineering and construction skills to good use during a slow time in my career. I travelled with several dedicated Christians, some of which have made many mission journeys as family “vacations”.

As we approached Port-au-Prince from the air, I had the same thought I had when first landing at LAX- “I can only imagine how nice this was before man ruined it!” Here of course damage is many times worse, but it had the same feeling of unplanned sprawl with people appearing to aimlessly spend their life traveling about in traffic.

In Los Angeles there are still many beautiful natural areas of course; in Haiti almost all environmental beauty has been destroyed by neglect and abuse. This has been going on for generations; the earthquake ironically has brought international attention to the crisis and perhaps some much-needed restoration will occur.

Getting through the airport terminal was a challenge, as we had men fighting for the right to carry our bags: this is not the place for the physically weak or the weak in spirit! There is very little real employment in Haiti, so beggars and men aggressively offering their assistance for money are everywhere. (photo of street scene)

Our Haitian driver Lamar, cautiously herded us into our “tap-tap”, a caged trucked that allows us to see out through the wire, but keeps us relatively secure inside. A lot of the aid workers and missionaries ride in tap taps as they safely limit interaction with the population while stuck in the abominable traffic.  (photo of tap tap) A padlock keeps anyone from getting in, or out! It is an understatement to say that visitors should not travel alone in Haiti.

While loading our tap tap, vagabonds and street sellers tried their best to sell us their services, sell us some trinkets, or otherwise encourage us to part with our money. There are many sad sights, with the elderly, disabled, desperately poor youth and just plain desperate making their case for our largesse. We were immediately accosted with the sad drama of life in Haiti: filth, debris, disease, air pollution, a constant fight for survival, amid what I call “calamitous inefficiency”.  It seemed so unnecessary, as the waste of resources, human and otherwise, was inexplicable and startling.

Virtually all of the vehicles are in disrepair or damaged, and no effort goes into maintenance or improving emissions. Other than brand new United Nations vehicles, the springs of every vehicle I saw were long past their useful life, as the abuse of damage roadways have taken its toll. There are traveling repair trucks, available to pump up or repair damaged tires while they are in traffic. The only signs of efficiencies are the ubiquitous small motorcycles and the trucks overloaded with Haitians hitching rides.

It was a daily ritual for us to sit for hours in barely moving gridlock, as we traveled from our missionary compound to various destinations in Port-au-Prince. We were surrounded by dirt and garbage piles, dilapidated buildings and thousands and thousands of people with not much to do. Does any visitor actually eat any of the food endlessly offered for sale on the streets? It is hard enough to stay healthy here by breathing the air; we certainly would not want to invite in parasites, disease and other illnesses. We started to lose sanity and entertained ourselves by playing “punch piggy”: punching each other each time we saw a pig roaming the streets eating garbage.

One enterprising 10 year old boy used the only English he knew on all of us one at a time as he held out his hand: “you don’t remember me my friend…you don’t remember me?”

As a civil engineer it struck me how tragic and unnecessary all of this pollution, refuse and traffic is! But it also occurred to me how overwhelming the task would be to change it; they have a history of corrupt governments, no money, no infrastructure, few trained workers, and a culture that does not promote planning, timeliness, or quality work. Haitians are constantly fighting for survival, so there is no reason to build things right, take care of their surroundings, or clean up their environment.

Haitians for generations have focused on their immediate needs, and not given much thought to pollution, deforestation, and erosion. When coupled with dramatic population growth, the result is a tragically poor population living with polluted water, tainted food supplies, and almost complete deforestation of their part of the island.

In the United States we fine businesses and individuals millions of dollars per year for not filing reports on time, or getting the right paperwork; procedural things that cause no ecological damage. In Haiti, like much of the developing and third world, significant environmental catastrophes happen on a daily basis with no thought or action.

Some of Haiti’s seafood has been contaminated by failed sewage facilities; collapsing buildings have displaced snakes and other creatures; the soils are loaded with dangerous spores of all types. Tainted water is the biggest source of disease, spread by the lack of suitable sanitary facilities and good sanitation practices.

In addition to stark living conditions, residents live with erratic electrical power, almost no visible organization or authority, and little infrastructure to speak of.  The grid-locked muddy streets are filled with potholes and are often barely passable. There are no traffic signs, and the few solar-powered signals do not work at night or when it is cloudy. No one pays attention to them anyway.

Here is a typical street scene driving through Port-au-Prince in June 2010. It is quite choppy, but you get a good idea what a dump the city; there is no comparision in the United States as nowhere I have been is this bad.

Along the main streets of Port-au-Prince, sellers work to ply their trade next to piles of garbage, often accompanied by rabid dogs, roaming pigs, goats and chickens.

In spite of this dire need for organization, management, and infrastructure improvements, we did not see one piece of construction equipment working in Port-au-Prince during eight days there. Remember this is over four months after the earthquake! One aid worker I met on the plane, told me that there is brand new construction equipment being stored on a dock in the harbor.

We saw a few United Nations trucks moving about, but no UN troops or workers actually working. We did see one UN water truck delivering water to an orphanage. We did not see any signs of US government presence, military or otherwise. There was not much of a Haitian police presence, but they certainly could not have much of an effect anyway, as piles of debris, garbage, vehicles and people prevented any kind of reasonable access.

There is still the scent of death over parts of the island since the earthquake. While construction equipment sits on the docks, there could be over a hundred thousand people still buried in the debris. Of course the actual count of the dead will never be known.

A May 15, 2010 article by Leslie Berliant on aptly stated “At the end of a day moving through Port au Prince, your hair will feel like straw, every part of your body will be covered in sweat, dirt and dust and you will spend the night coughing up and sneezing out what you hope is dirt but are pretty sure is something more sinister.”

Your main concerns are your safety getting out of the city before dark, what ailments or diseases you might have contracted, and how sick you might get in the hours to come. Only then can you reflect on the sights you have seen, how overwhelming the challenges are, and how you might fit in the hope for eventual solutions. How can I help the people I got to know? How can I leave them behind in this place?

May God bless and protect the aid workers, missionaries and medical teams that provide help and hope to the island. Many of them have made many, regular trips out of a calling to serve those in desperate need.

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I am going to post several times here about a trip to Haiti with a 14 person mission team from Free Christian Church in Andover, MA and Grace Chapel in Lexington, MA in May/June 2010. Our primary goal was to visit the Hope for the Children of Haiti orphanage and school in Bolosse (, an impoverished neighborhood in Port-au-Prince that many in our area support. These are actual people living in tragic situations, and I wanted to bring back a report on those that I met.
We were to bring medical supplies, money, food, clothing and other necessities, along with love and hope to the orphanage. We hoped to get to know the students personally and perhaps develop a life-long relationship with the school. We also planned to do some construction work on the homes of some of the widows that work or teach at the school.
Everyone knows that Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world, and the conditions there are deplorable, especially since the earthquake in late January. Starvation is a big problem in the rural areas, with malnutrition the norm in the cities. There is still the scent of death in many areas, and many tens of thousands of people likely still buried under rubble. The actual count of the dead will never be known.
The people live with rampant diseases that are under control in the developed world such as hepatitis a/b, typhoid, tuberculosis, diphtheria, malaria, meningitis, measles, rabies, the deadly dengue fever, in addition to all our diseases and ailments with very crude medical care available. There are many unnecessary amputations, and the victims are lucky to have working crutches let alone prosthetic limbs.
We were allowed two 50 pound bags each, and our personal items were in the carry-on luggage. We tried to get input from Haiti of what items were most needed or most scarce, but the response was not very informative. So we decided to bring a mix of medical supplies, money, construction equipment, food, shoes, and clothing.
In addition to normal protein foods like peanut butter and tuna, we brought flip flops, church clothes, underwear, towels, shoes, deodorant, shampoo, shoes, lotion, toothpaste, soap and feminine hygiene products for the teenage girls. At the request of my daughter, Laura, Stride Rite’s corporate offices donated a box of 30 sneakers from their Ked’s division.
Filled with a desire to learn and help at least a few people, we flew to Port-au-Prince via Miami.