It is hard to see how we could have gone to Haiti with anything other than an apology for the terrible legacy that white people have left the Africans of the diaspora. I don’t believe there is any other entry point than that of humility and recognition of the wrongs of the past – admitting what “our people” did and not pointing the finger at what “your people” did in return. Reconciliation and healing do not happen any other way. So even if it seems ‘too little, too late’ or a foolish and dangerous undertaking, at least it was better than doing nothing. We may have made a difference to a few individuals and planted some seeds of hope for the future but of course it remains to be seen what grows.
I don’t think I could have gone to explore Haiti simply as a tourist, enjoying the Caribbean sun and ignoring the plight of the population. We did enjoy the beauty of the island and the mountains and we did stay on after our 2 extraordinary weeks of travelling to take a short holiday, which was wonderful and gave us a chance to recover and to invest in the local economy, albeit the southern mulatto economy. There are some lovely hotels in Haiti, in secure compounds – of course, everything has to be in a locked and guarded compound to separate the rich and the poor who are likely to try and take what the rich have. We had breath-taking views of the idyllic Caribbean Sea: tourism is obviously an area that could bring wealth into the country, as it does in the Dominican Republic, if there was sufficient infrastructure in place… I don’t know if that can ever happen, but there has to be hope and vision and possibility.
How to give and who to give to?
All we did in this entire venture was bring our 5 loaves and 2 fish to feed a multitude. For me that was giving up my hair to raise the money – the £7000/$12000 I collected – and going to set foot on the land with a message of solidarity. Being able to tell the Haitians we met that our words were backed up with a sacrificial action to help them was actually quite helpful: Martin was always taking my hat off and saying, “Look, my wife shaved her head to raise money for you!” It became an even more weighty responsibility, an even more precious charge, as we travelled around and saw the huge need. How could we sow this small amount of seed to make any difference at all? There are innumerable charities working there – mostly American and many Christian, but we were looking for relational connections – we wanted to support and encourage the Haitians working for their own people and country.
The message of reconciliation has to go beyond the tit-for-tat mentality of reparations: ultimately it is always about being able to soften our hearts to one another and forgive the wrongs that have been done. Yes, of course it is important that is backed up by practical help given by those who are responsible for Haiti’s condition, but as ordinary citizens of our various countries we were not in a position to distribute millions – nor make sure the Haitian government spends the cash that has been donated for the benefit of their population. We can canvas and petition as activists, but our role was not primarily political: we wanted to bring a personal touch. Reconciliation is about being enabled to see things from a different perspective and work together for solutions. To give the Haitians all the money we have would not solve this key issue – in fact greed is the underlying problem that led to this state of affairs in the beginning, and no man is immune from the damage that can do… Not that we wealthy whites have the right to say that to the poor… how dare we?
The distribution of my sponsorship money
What happened to the cash you so generously donated?! Actually it has taken all this time to get it distributed – we have had no end of trouble trying to transfer funds to Haiti as if the banking system itself is biased against them! Everything financial seems to be in the hands of the Americans, but my attempt to use Western Union’s online system ended up with a 6 week delay, for some reason, which must have been incredibly discouraging for the young man who was turned away by their local agent 7 times!
“Money raised will be used to cover team expenses (NOT our own) and to make donations to Haiti Hospital and any other needs we encounter there.”
This was my commitment from the beginning and we sought to honour it. Back in October as the planning got underway and initial donations came in, I was able to give an initial £2000 to Joseph, our African team leader, who is a missionary in the US, first of all to enable Pastor Maula to buy fuel to travel round and set up our itinerary and accommodation and then the ‘gift aid’ portion of our collection was allocated to Joseph himself to pay for his travel and associated costs, like making the team tee-shirts and leaflets. He would not take any of the “sacred seed” but the UK government was allowed to subsidise him!
Although we were constantly short of money for team food and accommodation during our trip – especially after the pickpocketing in the crowd at Cap Haitien – I was careful to guard the headshave money to give to the poor. It was in the same charity account in the UK, but £5000 was tightly ring-fenced! However, we were able to raise the further funds we needed when the 2 Frenchmen shaved their heads on the first day and other team members found those who would sponsor them for that. This paid for the 3 Haitians who had joined us – Jonel, Kedler and Shmeed – because they obviously couldn’t afford to contribute their share to the journey. There were also several others, eg the slave descendants from Columbia, who could only afford a partial contribution so looking back it is miraculous that we were able to pay for the bus and all our other expenses at all! There were daily visits to banks and ATM machines, whenever there were any in the vicinity, those with cards and accounts drawing out what they could. I know and I had known from the start without the money I had raised it is unlikely this expedition would have happened at all.
I had promised to give a large donation to Haiti Hospital in the north, near Cap Haitien. You may notice, if you have read through all the posts, we never got there! It was far too difficult to travel and we couldn’t have separated from the team: our schedule was too full. Martin and I thought about going north again at the end of the trip, but we were too tired to attempt the gruelling journey or even pay for a plane flight. So on returning home we made contact with them and apologised – they understood perfectly! – and sent £2000 toward their amazing work with mothers, children and rehabilitation. Haiti Hospital Appeal is a home-grown UK charity that is always worth supporting – and some day we may even manage to visit it!
January 1st is Independence Day in Haiti. Throughout the island the people share in a feast and the soup they eat is a deliberate celebration of freedom: it is apparently what the French slave-owners used to eat at new year and the slaves who made it were not allowed to have any. See this link. In his preparatory travels around the island, Joseph had met a lady who was planning to gather communities across Haiti to a feast on 1st January 2014, and although we would all be at home by then we felt it would be appropriate to make a contribution as an act of reconciliation and to promote unity around the table between the different groups who would be there. I sent $1000 of ‘hair’ towards this, which was gratefully received :-)
Seeds sown in Gonaives
Pastor Maula and his wife Elda run the church, school and orphanage we visited in Gonaives – see Independence City. As we travelled with this man and he served us in so many ways it was not difficult to realise he was going to be a reliable and worthwhile recipient of a good proportion of my precious headshave money: it is exactly these native Haitians who are working so hard for their people that we most wanted to sow into. We know their vision to build an orphanage – and more than that to network with others across Haiti who want to see change brought to their nation through investing in the children – is the most effective way of spreading hope. It is a privilege to have sent them $3000 towards this work.
It was wonderful to find an equivalent person to connect with in the place we felt most drawn to on our travels – the small town of Mole-Saint-Nicolas on the NW tip of Hispaniola. Pastor Wisler Portillus is also a member of the city council and has been working with 2 other pastors to improve the lot of his townspeople since 1979. He and his wife run a church and radio station and try to help as many of their local families as possible. We have had a lot of communication with him since coming home and sent $1000 of the headshave money to help the hungry children we encountered in that lovely place.
Investing in young people
It became very clear to us in Haiti that any investment in a young life is not wasted – not just in a country like that, but anywhere in the world! As well as the many children and youths we met in the towns and villages we were living in close proximity for 2 weeks with 3 prime candidates on our team, whose lives had been changed by our visit and who had to go back to managing without us when we came home: Jonel, Kedler and Shmeed.
It is so hard to know how much money to give when everyone is in need: I had to feel my way and it took a while to decide what was the wisest course of action. We felt so attached to Kedler in particular and Martin warned me about a ‘holiday romance’! It was important to come home and cool off and pray before doing anything. But it was obvious Kedler’s main need was to have his own computer. At 27 years old he had become stymied in his development and education through lack of money – unemployed, living with and dependent on his mother, yet a very gifted and intelligent young man with leadership qualities who was keen to continue spreading the message of Lifeline among his countrymen. Kedler eventually received $1000 of the money and has been in constant communication by email and facebook since then, telling of his adventures, sending photos and news in a mixture of French and Google-translated English. We love Kedler.
Jonel is younger – 23 years old – and has had the benefit of having trained for a year with Youth With a Mission. He speaks reasonable English and Spanish and has some US sponsors for a mission he calls ‘YouthinChrist Minstry’ based in a village outside Saint-Marc. He is also in regular contact via facebook and really impressed us when he took a 3 year old malnourished boy who had no-one to care for him into his home as his adopted son. So Lovenshe got $300 and we are continuing to support Jonel as he educates and feeds another 88 children every week in his ‘youth club’. Well done, Jonel!
Finally, Shmeed, who had worked with Kristian from YWAM making a film about our expedition – watch this space!?! – was in need of some fees to pay his way on his course and in danger of having it terminated if he didn’t find sponsorship. When you have a specific need like that which will make the difference to a young man’s future it is obvious to help if you can. My last $500 went to Shmeed.
I am gratified to have been able to give my hair and your money to such varied and appropriate people and projects: to me it feels like collecting 12 baskets full of leftovers from the tiny portion of loaves and fishes :-) Not that my sense of satisfaction means much when faced with the magnitude of the problems there. But at least seed has been sown that otherwise would not have been and now we have some specific places and people to focus on and invest in as we look for a harvest in Haiti.