Thoughts from an Ordinary Guy

This journey through life is never boring......

“Beyond Mountains, There are Mountains”

I first heard this Haitian proverb when I read Tracy Kidder’s book about Paul Farmer, “Mountains beyond Mountains.” If you haven’t read the book, I urge you to do so as it will give you substantial insights into a man who is making a difference and insights into the country of Haiti.

So what does “beyond mountains, there are mountains” mean? Well it is two things, one is geographical and one is emotional, social/cultural. Step with me to the balcony on a house overlooking Port Au Prince. You look out over the city, over the masses humanity attempting to eke out a living in a hot dry and challenging environment and beyond them, you see mountains.

And if the weather is clear enough and the sky is clear enough, what do you see past the mountains?

More mountains.

Beyond mountains there are mountains. That’s a very simple geographical statement for a large part (but not all) of Haiti,

But the mountains in Haiti are more than geographical. The mountains represent the problems of life. The problems of life that come from living on an island that has been stripped of many of the ways that people can make a living. The problems of life that come from decades and decades of poorly run and corrupt government. The problems that come from an infrastructure of roads, bridges, hospitals, schools that all have not been taken care of the way they should. The problems that come from the lack of a decent health care system.

The list could go on. And the proverb does go on. It doesn’t say beyond Mountains, there is a mountain. It doesn’t say, solve one problem, get past one obstacle and you’ll only have one more problem.

Beyond mountains, there are mountains. Work on one problem, and as soon as you fix that problem, as soon as you conquer that issue, another issue pops up.

Well, it doesn’t really pop up, it’s just that you can finally see it because you made it over the first mountain. What was something off in the haze is now an obstacle that is right in front of you. You have three choices on how to deal with that obstacle:

Attack it directly. Take on the challenge, climb the mountain, reduce it to rubble. And then repeat the process for the next mountain.

Because beyond mountains there are mountains.

Try to find away around it. I don’t know of any mountains in this world that you can’t walk around. Some of them might take months if not years to walk around, but it can be done.

But beyond mountains, there are mountains. If you side step the challenge you are facing, soon you face another one.

Retreat. Go back. Say, I can’t do this.

And on your own, you probably can’t do “this.” No matter what problem that Haiti is facing right now, it’s too big for one person to fix, at least on their own.

But there are many many people trying to climb these mountains. They are trying to solve these problems – maybe for their community – maybe just for themselves. And why are they?

They don’t have a choice. For some reason I don’t believe we will understand this side of Heaven, God didn’t have everyone come into this world in first world comfort.

There are people climbing part of the way up the mountain. It might be their first mountain, it might be their fourth.

God, in his command to “love thy neighbor as thy self” has told us that He wants, no he expects us to make a difference and help those who need.

So even though there are mountains beyond the mountains of problematic challenges in Haiti, God calls us to help.

How are you going to help with the mountain climbing?

Tom

Temporary Protection Status

So, if this article is true (http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/haiti/article146100224.html) then we have a big problem on our hands.

Actually we have a number of them – but this is one more. Let me see if I can explain this……

On January 12, 2010, Haiti changed forever. A 7.0 earthquake shook the city of Port Au Prince and the surrounding area for 35 seconds. Instantly thousands of buildings collapsed, an estimated 300,000 people died and more than 1 million people were injured.

At the time of the earthquake, I was on the board of an orphanage in Haiti and we (along with many others) were able to obtain humanitarian parole – a governmental term for “get the kids in process out of Haiti and finish the adoptions once they are home” for the children in process at our orphanages.  Between the United States and Canada, we sent a vast majority of the children at the orphanage home to their adoptive families during that time.

I was not aware of it at that time, but in addition to that, the US Government was adopting a piece of legislation called “Temporary Protection Status.” My understanding of it is that if you were from Haiti and were in the United States, whether legally and your visa was going to expire or you were here illegally, the temporary protection status meant that you could stay in the United States.

Apparently, there is someone inside the current President’s administration that is saying, “We should no longer allow temporary protection status to apply to Haitians because their country has recovered and no longer needs to have this aid in place.”

Let me make a couple of points about that……

First, there are some places which, at least on the surface, appear to have recovered nicely,. Often there are ‘behind the scenes” stories that you don’t see – like the staff at the hotel who live in tar paper shacks or underneath tarps. Like the women who have lost more sons and daughters to malnutrition than you or I could dare even contemplate

Secondly, there is an ever increasing food crisis happening in Haiti. Between droughts in some areas and flooding and storms in other places, the agricultural arena in Haiti is in rough shape – many would say that it is in rougher shape than it has been in years.

Third, Hurricane Matthew. To say that Matthew caused significant damage to southern Haiti would be an understatement. One of the many differences between the earthquake in 2010 and the hurricane in 2016 is that the earthquake hit an urban area and the devastation was immense and complete. Hurricane Matthew hit an agricultural area. And it was an agricultural area that revolves around crops that take a long time to grow. You can plant certain plants and get a crop later that year. Some of the crops grown in the southern Peninsula take 3 to 10 years to grown the first crop. So a hurricane in 2016 will most likely take from 2021 to 2026 to regrow and start producing enough to feed the farmer’s family.

And there is soil damage. Apparently, the storm surge that came with the hurricane pushed millions of gallons of salt water up on the farm land in Southern Haiti. This is and will create significant problems in attempting to grow crops in that soil.

So with all of that, what does the US government want to do? According to the article in the Miami Herald, they want to deport 58,000 Haitians who are living in the US under Temporary Protection Status.

Why? Well, they are saying that Haiti is in “good shape” now.

I would love to believe that. If they were, then organizations like The Apparent Project, Real Hope for Haiti, Ebenezer Discipleship training center, Hope House and more wouldn’t be needed.

But they are.

And we need to do something. What do we do?

Pray. Because God cares about these 58,000 Haitians more than we do.

Write/email/call your senators and representatives in Washington and let them know that you don’t approve and you don’t believe that Haiti is in better “enough” shape to end Temporary Protection Status and increase the population in Haiti by 58,000 people.

58,000 people when the unemployment rate is already over 70%.

58,000 people when there are already thousands and thousands living in tents and other “partial”” shelters.

58,000 people who deserve better.

I know some of you are going to say, “but wait, it’s supposed to be temporary!”

The first time I visited Haiti was in 2003, so 14 years ago. Can I say that a I’ve seen any significant country wide improvement since then?

No – sporadic partial improvements yes. But we need to keep working for system wide changes before those 58,000 can even have a fair chance to go back to Haiti and be part of an economy and a country that can support having them live and work there.

Now is not the time to deport 58,000 Haitians to a country that is already in crisis. We’re better than that.

TJV

What Did God Do?

If you have been hanging around here long enough, you’ve heard this story before. My former church sent a team to work at the orphanage where I used to be on staff. We got home and like all dutiful church groups, gave a report to the church one Sunday morning about how the trip happened and what we did.

There was a LOT of “we did this……” We finished that……” “We helped with …….” It was a busy 8 day trip. Given the total of what was spent on the trip, we had a lot to justify……

After the church service, a lot of people were talking to us about the trip and asking more questions about Haiti, about the organization we went with and more.

One of church members kind of hung back a bit. That’s not like him because he has been my daughters’ Spanish teacher for going on more years than either one of us would care to admit.

After a bit he came up and said, “Tom, thanks for the report on what the team did. I appreciated it and as someone who takes school teams to Honduras and other places in Central America, I know what kind of work that involves. But I really wanted you to tell me one thing and I didn’t see or hear it……..”

“What did God do? Where did you see God?”

I am going to attempt to do a lot of writing on that topic over the next week and more. Given the potential for pictures to be exploitative, I’m going to purposely use a minimal number of pictures that have people in them.

I will share pictures of what I see but not of the people. Those I will attempt to get you to see in word pictures.

Why not people pictures? A couple of reasons……

1. Pictures of people in poverty, extreme illness or malnutrition are pictures that are often shared by places where the goal is to manipulate the viewer into action.

2. Taking pictures, specifically of people in a 3rd world country who are living a very hard life, is often viewed as degrading to the person(s) who had their picture taken. Especially if permission wasn’t granted before the picture was taken.

What is God up to in Haiti?

Where can I see God on this trip?

I’m going to attempt to share that with you. It’s not me who is “doing” things. God is doing things, we’re just riding along and trying to help.

I hope you’ll “join” me on this trip.

Tom

My last post about Haiti

So, my last post about Haiti brought about some very important conversations with some people I know and respect.

It had to do with not “doing” anything.

Or at least not doing anything that people in Haiti could do.

A couple of caveats to that statement:
1. If there aren’t people in Haiti who can do “this” then it is okay to bring people in. If there aren’t people who can do, say the procedure involved in helping kids with hydrocephalus, then by all means, bring them in. Don’t make someone suffer needlessly if it can be helped.
2. But there’s an important part of that which is often usually overlooked. That is the teaching component. If you know how to do something and someone in Haiti needs help, don’t just do it. Help them learn how to do it so that they can do it next time. Or better yet, teach them and then supervise them doing it this time.

Help where it is needed. It’s only needed if it can’t be done locally, and then teach them to do what you are currently doing for them.

Some day, they won’t need you to help and do it for them, instead you can come visit and be encouragement to them.

That’s when you really help…..

Tom

I’m Going to Haiti Next Week

Next week, I’m going to Haiti.

The first thing that people ask when I tell them I’m going to Haiti is:

What are you going to do?

I’m not going to DO anything. That’s right, I’m not going down to paint a building. 1’m not going to go down and perform surgery. I’m not going to go down and dig a trench.

Why not? Because there are people in Haiti who can do those things. People in Haiti who need jobs. People in Haiti who have children who might very well go hungry if they don’t get that job.

So, that’s why I’m not going to do anything.

Because if possible, we should always aim to have the local people do the work. Because that’s why we are there. To help and helping through different ways than handing out stuff.

Because giving away stuff isn’t the answer – except in cases of emergency – like Hurricane Matthew and the earthquake of 2010.

Giving away “stuff” hurts more than it helps – just ask the Haitian rice farmers who saw their industry wiped out by US Donations.

When there are things that Haitians can’t do, then it is appropriate to bring people in to do those things. But I can tell you this, the number of people who meet those criteria are very small. Medical professionals and skilled construction people are the main ones I can think of.

So, if I’m going to Haiti and I’m not going to “do” anything, why am I going?

I’ll have more thoughts on that shortly……

Tom

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