Restore Haiti, pt. 1

by Matthew Hansen on March 7th, 2011

As many of you know we joined forces with New Song, Austin New Church, the River Conference, and Soma Austin to travel with HELP End Local Poverty for a research/vision trip to Haiti. We have been here now for about five days, and are learning much.

The first reality that cannot be denied, is that Haiti is a place that is a complete composure of chaos and beauty. When you look at the Haitian countryside, the mountains, the trees, the exotic fruit, the oceans, you wonder, “is this what Eden was like?” However, packed inside this breath taking Eden-like landscape, is anything but Eden, it is brokenness in the form of a culture. Haiti is a people who are absolutely beautiful, resilient, and determined, yet at the same time they are surrounded by such devastation, loss, and peril. Hope seems to be a slight whisper, that easily gets lost in the noise of breaking hearts.

Mumford & Son’s has a song called, After the Storm, and I think a few specific lines describes the very despair seen in the eyes of the Haitians:

…now I cling to what I knew, I saw exactly what was true, but oh’ no more, that’s why I hold with all I have, that’s why I hold, with all I have. And I will die alone, and be left there, well, I guess I’ll just go home, oh’ God knows where, because death is just so full and mine so small. Well I’m scared of what’s behind and what’s before…
Yesterday, we stood in the home of a new friend, who recounted his experience in the earthquake. I won’t do it justice nor will I mention his name for his sake, but it went something like this:

“For some reason, I went to work without eating anything. Then after work, I had to go to school, so I went to school with nothing to eat, and while in class, I told the teacher, ‘I have to leave, I have to go get something to eat, I am sorry, but I have to.’ So I did. I got up, and went home. Went inside, grabbed a quick bite to eat. As I walked out of my front door, it happened, the ground shook like nothing I have ever felt before, and I have felt earthquakes. I looked up just in time to see the top of a neighboring house explode. I grabbed the closest thing to me, a tree and held on tight. I knew it was not an earthquake, but it was the end, I really thought the world was coming to an end. As soon as I realized it was over, I went through the village to check on my sisters and father. Then I check on my mother. All was good, they were alive. Then I remembered, my girlfriend had been in school that day, where I was supposed to be when the earthquake struck. So, I went to find her sister. We ran to the school together, and were assured, she was fine and had made it out. So, we all slept through the night. But it didn’t feel right. No one had heard from her. So, her sister and I grabbed a snack put it in our pocket, and headed back to the school. The same people who had told us she made it out were now saying, they hadn’t seen her. So, we started walking through the rubble screaming for her. Then I heard it. I heard her voice, calling my name. So, I yelled to her sister, ‘I hear her, I heard her voice, she’s under here.’ We began to throw the rocks off, dig through the dirt until we found her. From the waist up, she seemed fine, minus some cuts and bruises, but from the waist down, she was crushed under a huge rock, that none of us could move. So, I asked her, ‘what can I get you, what can I do.’ She said, ‘I am glad you are here to save me, but for now, I’m hungry.’ I remembered, I have a snack in my pocket, and so does her sister, so I sit next to her, took the food out of my pocket, and fed it to her as I stroked her hair. She ate it, and said 'thank you.' Then just seconds later, she threw-up all the cheese we had given her, and then took her last breath…”
He later let us know, that every day he lives with the ‘what if’ of being there the day before. I know, there is nothing this brave man could have done even had he been there a day earlier, but it the deamon he lives with. As we stood there in tears listening to his story, Jacob Vanhorn turned to me and said, "now multiply that by 220,000." Silence.

These are the stories that scar the Haitian people, and yet for some reason they find a reason to fight for another day. We spent the next days, seeing the pain he heard in the eyes of many people. Hearing one story after another. What used to be top-notch golf courses now housed tens of thousands of Haitians in tents…not tents you can buy at REI, but tents with no floor covering, no insulation from heat, cold or rain. We’ve heard of people who have had to learn to sleep standing up, leaning against trees or each other. Parents offering you their kids. What one may imagine as the worst imaginable environment, came to life in Haiti.

The worst part of all this, is that when a society becomes this desperate bad things begin to happen. People become commodities. Survival is the filter of decisions. Poverty is not the absent of money, but the absent of options. Humans were not made to live in poverty, so when options are absent, we will go to depraved levels in order to make those options. When that happens – poverty is perpetuated, orphans are as plenty as the water in the ocean, and slavery becomes a part of the culture.
This is a devastating story. The rest of the blogs, will be the glimpses of hope we are seeing on the ground here. We have found if you are fighting slavery here, then you are involved in the orphan crisis. If you are fighting the orphan crisis, then you are fighting slavery, and to do this you have to begin to take up the fight to end poverty. Because, poverty is the lack of options, and when we don’t have options, we will turn people into commodities that we use and abuse to create those opportunities.

In closing, let me finish that Mumford & Son’s song, After the Storm, as sort of a hope, a prayer, a dream for the country and people of Haiti…

…I took you by the hand and we stood tall, and remembered our own land, what we lived for; but there will come a time, you’ll see, with no more tears and love will not break your heart, but dismiss your fears. Get over your hill and see what you find there with grace in your heart and flowers in your hair…

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