This past weekend I returned from spending a week in Haiti, participating in a medical missions trip with my church family from Grace Chapel. We had an amazing week that will forever change my life and I want to share some of my experiences with my friends and family who have been so supportive during this experience.
I just spent about 30 minutes trying to write a note that expressed the little that I know about the history of Haiti, the political problems, the economic problems, the health problems. But that’s not what I really want to say. You can look up Haiti in Wikipedia if you want to know more, and I think that you should because what has happened in Haiti is important, including how the United States is largely responsible for the current situation there.
The fact is that people die young in Haiti. The average Haitian family lives on $1US per day. Children are starving and mothers are dying in childbirth. The government is corrupt, they have been devastated by multiple hurricanes, the northern part of the island has been stripped bare and crops will not grow. Clean water is scarce. There is a massive epidemic of HIV and AIDS with an estimate that 19,000 children may be infected. The superstitions, curses, and fear related to the practice of Voodoo have a chokehold on the island. Haiti is literally starving both physically and spiritually.
But the people of Haiti are beautiful and resilient. I was struck by the broad smiles and waves that we received as we drove through the crowded streets of the villages, lurched down the rough dirt roads, and passed by the humble, one-room, tin-roofed homes that dot the rural countryside. The men and women continue to rise early with the crowing of the roosters (which I can testify happens every morning at about 4 a.m.), load their donkeys, and go to market. The children continue to put on their colored uniforms and walk to school during the occasional and often sporadic times that their parents have money to pay for it. The people continue to gather for worship on Sunday, fall to their knees, and call out to God in the most desperate and passionate way that I have ever witnessed.
We traveled to 7 orphanages during our stay, and saw anywhere from 500 to 700 children. When some of these orphaned children were originally found they were living with animals and eating dirt to survive. We provided medical care to 5 of the 7 orphanages, treating intestinal worms, scabies, fungal infections, ringworm, colds, flu, ear infections, eye infections, and open sores. I hope that by holding the children’s hands, looking into their eyes, and asking them their names that we may have somehow treated fear, loneliness, and isolation. These children receive medical treatment maybe once every year or two and only when medical missions teams come through their villages.
I am still haunted by the feeling of driving away from these orphanages, knowing that it would soon grow dark, and the children would go to bed on their small thin mattresses, with only each other for company. I wonder if they remember their parents. I wonder if they will remember me like I remember them.
It was difficult to travel from the 3rd world to the 1st world in one day. To go from seeing grinding poverty on the streets of Port-au-Prince to seeing Brooks Brothers shirts on sale 3 for $399 at the Fort Lauderdale airport. To know that for the price of my monthly cable bill I could send 3 orphaned Haitian children to school for one month. Before I left on this trip friends who had gone before told me that I would be forever changed by Haiti and I was. I am. Thank God.