Today was totally overwhelming. In fact, it was so much so that when we came back I fell dead asleep for 20 minutes. I don’t think I’ve ever crashed that hard at 4:00pm in the afternoon. It’s amazing how your daily troubles disappear here. I truly realize how I’ve won the most important lottery; the game of life.
My intention for this trip is to learn about what Medical Aid to Haiti (MATH) is doing, how we can set our strategic vision and how I can best be part of it.
We set out today with Father Frank from Outreach to Haiti, the non-profit originally founded from the Norwich Archdiocese . He is American and has been stationed here for 12 years, overseeing Outreaches programs. He is a wonderful man and a wealth of information. We went on a driving tour of Port-au-Prince. Here are some of the overwhelming facts:
– An estimate of 4 million people live in Port-au-Prince. It is the size of Chicago and there are no highrises. The sheer volume of people is completely overwhelming. You can’t imagine it unless you see it. And, because no one works, everyone is hanging around. There is no green space where the people live. It’s all ramshackled buildings and tented structures.
– 75% of the people live on less than $2 a day. The minimum wage is 150 gourds a day and there are 40 gourds to the dollar. And, goods and services, including food, cost the same in Haiti as they do in the US. Over 75% of the people are unemployed.
– There is no public sanitation. Imagine that? 4 million people with no public sanitation.
– There is no public potable water supply. None! There are water stations set up with reverse osmosis filtration. First, you have to get there. Second, you must have a clean container with you. Third, you have to pay for it with the money you probably don’t have. Lack of potable water leads to all kinds of fun diseases, like cholera and dysentery. Oh, and of course, there is no public health system.
– There is still rubble everywhere from the earthquake although from what I understand, it is significantly better than a year ago. The rubble and the concrete are overwhelming. There is nothing, and I mean nothing, that we as Americans would deem of value left, except for the National Museum (which was closed on Sunday morning).
After our tour, we went to a nice restaurant that exists for the pleasure of the international community (the UN, NGOs, etc) at the Hotel Oloffson. It was a very enjoyable meal. After that, we went to visit MATH’s center of operations at a clinic and girls orphanage outside of Port-au-Prince. Most of the girls at the orphanage are economic orphans meaning their moms are still alive but can’t feed them. We are going back to the clinic tomorrow for an in service day and a dry run of our eye and dermatological clinic with the staff.
After we had dinner at the mission house we talked with the house manager, Farrah, about the state of affairs in Haiti. That was also incredibly eye-opening. All day long, we’ve had many debates about whether organizations like ours do more good then harm and what the role of the government is in Haiti, etc. The debate is a rabbit hole of ethics and politics Farrah really put an exclamation point on our discussion. She is US college educated and very engaged in the future of her country. Her opinion is that Haiti is completely broken right now and one of the major reasons its broken is that the NGOS, the IMF and the World Bank made the Government ineffective. There has been so much aid poured into the country. The aid providers dictated the direction of the country. Therefore, the Government has been weakened. But, the aid does not provide long-term solutions. It provides palliative care and the aid waxes and wanes overtime. So, it’s a chicken or an egg thing. The country is so desperate that they need the aid. For example, the populations that MATH services have no healthcare. But, because the aid is more reliable than the government, people don’t trust the government and without trust from the people it is ineffective. If the aid stops, people starve and disease sets in but if it continues, the country never gets on its feet. It’s very overwhelming.
How do you come to terms with all that information as one individual? I think Mary from our group put it best by telling the starfish story. There was a boy on a beach and tons of starfish were washing ashore and he was throwing them back in the water. A man came up to him and said, “what are you doing? You are never going to make a difference.” So, the boy picked up a starfish and threw it in and said, “well I just made a difference to that starfish, didn’t I?”