I want to start by making one thing perfectly clear.   I never was in Haiti in 2010.   I did not feel the ground shake when the big one hit or the countless aftershocks.  The only way I saw and felt the quake was through the words and pictures of others.

But that doesn’t mean that God didn’t use me during that time.   But God knew that I could do more good from “here” than I could if I went “there.”  So, I stayed in Michigan and worked the phones and the internet and organized and coordinated and calmed and collected and had, as I described it then, “a front row seat to watching God at work.”
I’m privileged to be able to “watch” a discussion among people who are living and working in Haiti as they come to grips with what Hurricane Matthew means and how do we attempt to minister to and care for the devastated victims of this awful storm.   There are a couple of things that I find very encouraging….

  • An overwhelming sense of the importance of learning from the past.   Let’s not make the same mistakes that were made in 2010.
  • A greater understanding of the importance of knowing who you are and what you can do.   If you are a medical clinic, don’t get into the house building business, support those who do.   If you are, well, know who you are, where you are and do what you can inside your area of expertise.  
  • Ask hard questions – questions about money, questions about plans, questions about whether there is a way to do “that” and support the local economy at the same time.
  • If an organization is not willing to answer hard questions or gets offended by hard questions, take your support elsewhere.

Besides for the obvious difference of the type of natural disaster (earthquake vs. hurricane) there is another significant difference that I think is going to be very challenging as we attempt to move forward.

  • In 2010, the complete damage was known rather quickly.   The vast majority of the damage happened in 37 seconds at 4:53 PM on January 12, 2010.  It very rapidly went into the disaster relief mode because it was very obvious what was needed, where the damage was and what the damage was.
  • In 2016, this is looking like it’s going to be the disaster that never stops causing problems.   OK, never is probably too long of a time.
  • Because of the nature of the disaster and where it hit, there are places where we haven’t been able to do anything other than air drop some food (thank you U.S. Military) and take pictures flying over.   
  • We don’t know whether clean water will reach enough people before Cholera runs rampant.
  • We don’t know how the people in the southern part of Haiti are going to make a living.   If you made your living selling mangoes and 100% of the mango trees are destroyed, you not only lost this year’s income, but you probably lost the next 5 years worth of income.  
  • The entire country of Haiti was already dealing with scarcity of food supplies – and they just lost 35% of their total agricultural production.  How are they going to replace that before people starve?

And then don’t forget the Rice and Peanut Catastrophes.   What?   In the past, the US government has granted significant subsidies to US rice and peanut farmers and has “donated” the excess rice and peanuts to places like Haiti.   Guess what the unintended consequence of that was?

The U.S. government effectively wiped out two agricultural industries in Haiti and put many many Haitians out of work and out of a way to support their families.

After Hurricane Matthew, we can not allow a government, any government, or any big non-profit to do things that will jeopardize what the Haitians need to be able to come back from this.  

There is a lot that we can do to help Haiti.   There’s a lot we can learn from 2010.  May we have the grace and patience to learn and to help in ways that really help.

More to come,
Tom

photo credit to Troy Livesay of Heartline Ministries