Here are some things (in no particular order) that I learned from my brief visit to Haiti:
- When it comes to trash, to quote Gertrude Stein, "there is no there there" or anywhere else for that matter. All the trash we generate has to go somewhere and sometimes we run out of somewhere. There is no municipal authority to pick up garbage in Haiti. It is all dumped onto vacant lots which is sometimes burned to make room for more. Imagine the chemicals released from all that burning. Imagine having to breathe it. Imagine having to live with it. As we go about our lives, acquiring things, think about where it all goes in the end.
- Creation care is a serious matter. Haiti was once the "jewel in the crown," a rich, fertile land. No more. In the last 80 years, Haiti has been almost completely deforested; it's topsoil is bleeding into the Caribbean. Not so for the country that shares the island, the Dominican Republic, which is still a lush, beautiful country. One country nurtured the land, the other didn't. There is debate about whether global climate change is man-made or natural. The devastation in Haiti is definitely man-made. Let's all begin taking care of the earth.
- Self-sustainability is vital to a nation. If you do not grow your own food or manufacture your own necessities, you are at the mercy of foreign governments, politics, and embargoes. The global economy puts poor countries at risk. Almost all goods in Haiti, including food, have to be imported at high prices and sometimes with high tariffs.
- Fair trade shouldn't be considered a cute fad. Westerners are stealing from the rest of the world. While we demand high wages for unskilled labor, we expect to buy cheap goods at our local Walmart. And then we complain that our jobs are going overseas. How do we balance this equation? Either our goods are expensive because our wages are high, and maybe we should buy less stuff, or else we are paying some poor laborer in a third world nation pennies an hour to work in an un-air conditioned sweat shop without food or bathroom breaks. We need to think more about our brothers and sisters around the world and a little less about the crap we buy and quickly discard.
- A little love and care goes a long way. As Margaret Mead said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever does." The orphanages we visited, even the poorest one, was filled with love, care, and hope. They felt like oases among despair and squalor. Both Danita's Children and The House of the Lambs of God Orphanage in Ouanaminthe are run by dedicated, loving individuals who are making a difference in the lives of the Haitian people.
So much of our western world is filled with petty concerns and the quest for "necessities." Upon our return to the states, our small group was sitting in the Miami airport. CNN was playing in the background. For some reason, all four of us caught the headline announcement. Wolf Blitzer said the U.S. needed to brace for another round of swine flu. The burning question was whether the government was prepared for such a "crisis." We all burst out laughing. What is a runny nose, scratchy throat, and fever compared to all we had witnessed? It seemed so absurd. Saturday, when I visited our local farmers' market, I ran into an acquaintance of mine. After catching up on what had been going on in our lives, he launched into a monologue explaining why we need to fix health care in this country. Although I listened politely, I really wanted to scream at the top of my lungs that I had just seen a barbaric medieval "hospital" where the lucky Haitians were treated, that is, those who could afford it. It made our problems seem insignificant.
Although I've learned much more than these few things, I'm still processing my experience and trying to make sense of it. I know it will take a long time. In the meantime, I'll leave you with these thoughts and the knowledge that there is hope in Haiti.