My dream is coming true! My husband, Sam, and I are traveling with 410 Bridge on a mission trip to Haiti this summer. 410 Bridge is a powerful organization that helps individuals in developing nations lift themselves out of poverty. For those who know me, you won’t be surprised to know I’ve been learning all I can about Haiti and the people we’ll be working alongside. I like to study, read-up and be prepared as a way to create the most meaningful experience possible. As I’ve started to learn about the intricate details contributing to poverty in Haiti and around the world, I’ve begun to realize just how small and interconnected our world truly is. We say it all the time, but do we mean it? This time, I mean it. From a distance, poverty looks the same in many places. That’s because it is. Many of the same factors that plague Haiti’s development, plague other areas of the world, yet each of these factors manifest in different ways, making it actually appear quite different in each country or community. My hope is to share with you what I’m learning about Haiti’s specific situation before we go, so I can bring you with me on the journey to Haiti and back. Want to join? Here we go!
First, let’s set the stage. Where in the world is Haiti? Haiti is the third largest Caribbean country and occupies a third of the island Hispaniola, which it shares with the Dominican Republic (Source, 410 Bridge). According to Wikipedia, It was originally colonized by the French, who brought Sub-Saharan Africans with them as slaves. In 1804 the country was formed as the Republic of Haiti and is now the second most populous country in the Caribbean. Interesting to note: Haiti is the only nation in the world established as a result of a successful slave revolt, and all first leaders except the president were former slaves.
The more I learn about Haiti, the more I’m eager to go! Here’s why:
- Extreme Poverty: Haiti’s extreme poverty is the primary reason we chose to travel to Haiti as our first mission experience. The CIA World Factbook cites Haiti’s unemployment rate as ranking 213 of 218 countries compared worldwide, amounting to two-thirds of the labor force not having jobs. It’s the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with close to 60% of the population living under the national poverty line. Further, half of Haiti’s population is younger than age 20, and about 75% of Haitian households lack running water as cited in the World FactBook. Recently, I learned we’ll be driving right through an area of the capital, Port-au-Prince, called Cité Soleil. It’s regarded as one of the poorest and most dangerous areas of the Western Hemisphere and is one of the biggest slums in the Northern Hemisphere. That sounds scary, right? I’ve been told we’ll be “a little nervous”…I believe that’s true, yet I’m not afraid, because my focus is on the people we are going to meet. I’m bursting to spend time getting to know those of Figuier, Haiti and can’t wait to work alongside them to empower them through projects already established in their community.
- Disease: According to Wikipedia, 90% of Haiti's children suffer from waterborne diseases and intestinal parasites. The incidence of tuberculosis (TB) in Haiti is more than ten times as high as in the rest of Latin America and typhoid fever, hepatitis A and E, dengue fever and malaria are common. Four years ago, I wouldn’t have had the courage to travel to a place like Haiti simply based on these facts alone. The potential of contracting diseases is one of the most frightening things to me, yet again, I’m not nervous to go on this trip. The only explanation I have is that God’s at work here. I hope he uses this experience to stretch my fears through focus on the people we are helping, rather than my own needs.
- Natural Disasters: According to the CIA World FactBook, Haiti “lies in the middle of the hurricane belt and is subject to severe storms from June to October, occasional flooding and earthquakes, and periodic droughts”. Haiti was struck by an earthquake in January 2010 that nearly destroyed the capital of Port-au-Prince, and in October 2016 Haiti was hit by Hurricane Matthew, devastating much of the country. They are still trying to recover. It’s one thing to experience a natural disaster and have to rebuild a community. It’s another to get hit by a natural disaster (often) and not have the means to recover quickly enough to get ahead of the problems it perpetuates. The fact Haiti is in the path of recurring bad weather further prompts me to want to help. The way I see it, if we know people need help to rebuild it’s our responsibility to join them.
- Deep Corruption: According to Wikipedia, Haiti has consistently ranked among the most corrupt countries in the world on the Corruption Perceptions Index, leading to a strong correlation between corruption and poverty. Additionally, the nation ranked first of all countries surveyed for levels of perceived domestic corruption. Because corruption has such a strong link to poverty, I want to better understand the deep and intricate details that have led to such corruption. It’s my hope that walking with people affected by corruption will continue to inform my worldview.
While I believe the above facts to be true, I also believe there is so much more underlying these facts waiting to be uncovered. I don’t view Haiti as a destitute country lacking hope. It may be a country that lacks material resources, but it can’t possibly be a country lacking all things outside of resources. Where they lack materials, we may lack in joy, spirituality or relationships. Each of us lacks something, meaning we are simply human beings! I’m willing to bet the people we will meet have unending grit, and have overflowing joy and gratitude in their lives. This is what I’m eager to see for myself and share with you!
Be on the lookout for the “real” story on Haiti when we return later this summer. Until then, you can learn more about Figuier, Haiti and 410 Bridge or sponsor a child from the very community we’ll be visiting!