I recently shared some moments from Haiti with our congregation a few Sunday’s ago and I figured if I could put something into words for them, then I could do it for you too! Sorry for the repetitiveness to those of you who heard these in the service.I thought that these might be a good place to start in sharing about my time there.
Obviously there are many stories and moments that come to mind when I think back to Haiti but there are three that are very close to the surface for me. In all three situations my heart was stirred and broken and left wondering about my life back in North America.
It was the car-ride through Cap Haitien that opened my eyes to the drastic differences in culture, it left me rather frazzled and speechless, but it was our first morning at the clinic where my eyes were opened to the depravity Haitians seem to face every day. I had been hauling buckets of water for the guys to use for mixing concrete when my attention was turned to a woman and her three-year-old son approaching one of the Haitian men we were working with. While I don’t speak enough Creole to get by in conversation, I understood through her signs and gestures what this woman was getting at. Further-up the hill where we were working was an outhouse for all of the patients waiting to be seen by the clinic staff and I had notice a steady stream of people trekking up that way all morning. The woman was obviously taking her son to use the facility (actually, facility is probably too fancy a word for what it actually was) and had spotted one of our empty paper bags that had housed our concrete mix. She stopped and asked our co-worker if she could rip a piece of the bag off to use for toilet paper…I froze. Cody (our group leader) saw it as well and turned and asked me if I knew what was going on. I said yes and shook my head a bit then got back to work. As the day wore on the bag got smaller and smaller and smaller as people ripped chunks off to use for themselves or their children. It was such a small thing but it hit me in such a huge way. As I watched that mom rip that bag I found my heart ripping right along with it. That poor little boy, having to wipe his bum with concrete paper…but you know, it’s probably better than what he normally has. I never thought a lack of toilet paper would bring tears to my eyes.
I think I tiled for all of 30 minutes before everyone realized I was totally useless. Thankfully there was another job for a few of us to do! I ended-up bagging food rations for a mobile clinic that was going to Port-au-Prince that weekend. That was hard work! We had so much food to bag and not a lot of time to do it in so we put our heads down and got to work. Each family got two scoops of rice, one scoop of beans, one scoop of flour, one scoop of sugar, one little jug of oil, one small can of fish and two small cans of milk. That was their food ration for two weeks! It felt great to be a part of putting some aid together that was going to be getting to families the next day. While I think it’s great to give to Red Cross and similar organizations donations it was nice to be a part of something tangible, something I could wrap my mind around. I felt good about the work we were doing until I looked outside. Out the door and across the fence were people with outstretched hands looking me in the eyes wanting the rice and beans and milk. At one point there was a little boy standing there, rubbing his tummy saying “hungry!”…and what can I do? I’m surrounded by food and I can do nothing. nothing. nothing! The food is leaving one hungry community and going to another hungry community. Now, I understand that in Port there just isn’t any access to food at all, even if you had money, so I get why the food was going there but let-me -tell-you, it was still hard. I was heart-breaking to meet the gaze of a hungry person while I sit and bag food and have my hands tied. I so badly wanted to take a scoop of beans and a can of milk and give that boy food. I can’t tell you how much it broke my heart to say no to him and turn my back to keep working. It was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.
It was on the way back from Cap Haitien one day when I spotted a little boy playing. I only saw him for a split second but my mind stayed with him for quite a while after. He was running beside the road playing with a handmade toy. It looked to be a car-oil bottle tipped on its side, fastened with some bottle caps for tires and attached to a string making it into a pull-toy. I saw this and instantly thought that this was probably, most likely, almost guaranteed the kids only. actual. toy. But as he pulled the little make-shift truck behind him he ran with a kick in his step and a grin on his face. I witnessed this joy time and time again. The kids would be decorating some cactus, playing with paper airplanes, making garbage into toys, singing simple songs all-the-while smiling and laughing. I thought back to just how many toys are in our home instantly felt a pang of guilt. The contrast was too much to ignore. I was thankful for observing their joy in simplicity and yet I was heartbroken in wishing I could give them more. Since being home I’ve often looked at the toys that we have and thought of just how much fun these kids would have if I could give them some, even one.
Since being home I found it hard to think about just how much we have here in North America and just how little they have down in Haiti. I wish I could just fill-up sea container upon sea container of food and clothes and toys and toilet paper! Obviously I can’t. Obviously it’s unrealistic. But maybe the point isn’t in finding a way to send Hot Wheels to Haiti (although we still need to search for ways to help), maybe the point (or just one of the many) is that I saw these things and my heart broke. God wants us to see. He doesn’t want us to turn our eyes from the poor and the needy and the broken. Yes, it hurts. Yes, it’s been hard being home but sometimes you just need to jump-in so that you can see and feel and know as God sees and feels and knows. Make sense?