I shook my head again today while remembering just where I am.  Dusty air, roosters crowing, goats crossing the road, street vendors, poverty… No.  I am not in Africa.  I am 600 miles southeast of Florida.

I am in Haiti.

I came here a few days ago with Curtis Honeycutt (one of WND’s Board Members) and Kerry Snyder (Grace Community Church’s high school pastor).  Our mission for this one-week trip is the same as it always is with World Next Door… to see what life is really like in this place, and to see what God is doing here.

Me checking out the striking countryside in Haiti.  (Click for a larger version of the panorama!)

Me checking out the striking countryside in Haiti. (Click for a larger version of the panorama!)

Hosting us for our time in-country is Nehemiah Vision Ministries, an organization dedicated to bringing the village of Chambrun out of extreme poverty.  Through an orphanage, an elementary school and a medical clinic, they are slowly fighting back the poverty that has gripped their community (more on that in upcoming articles).

NVM is working in a country that is by far the poorest in the Western Hemisphere.  Although Haiti shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic, it might as well be half a world away.

The Land

One of the many barren hillsides in Haiti.

One of the many barren hillsides in Haiti.

The crazy thing is, Haiti is a Caribbean island.  It should be lush and beautiful, with tropical jungles covering every mountain and sandy white beaches along every coast.  The people living here should be feasting on fruit and fish and crops grown in rich soil.

But since coming here to Haiti, I’ve realized the truth.  The land is desolate.  The people are starving.  And the world has turned its back on this tiny nation sitting right at the doorstep of America.

One of the first things I noticed upon arriving in Haiti was the lack of trees.  As we went on an errand with Pastor Esperandieu Pierre that took us half-way around the country, I was shocked to realize that every mountain-top is completely bare.

I am not exaggerating.  All of the trees are gone.  In 1923, over two thirds of Haiti was covered in forest.  By 2006, less than 2% was.

Deforestation by loggers and poor locals looking for firewood has left the hills bald. Brown streams of dirt and mud flow down from each hillside, evidence of the massive erosion that now causes so much flooding in the lowlands.

As we drove around the country, all I could think about was what the island once looked like.  I imagined the hills alive with vegetation and wildlife. Understandably, the whole thing got me really upset.

The Economy

But deforestation isn’t the only thing that has blown me away here.  As far as industry goes, it’s clear that Haiti has fallen prey to the same upended priorities that have so devastated many developing nations in Africa and East Asia.

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.


Because of a lack of capital investment in industry here, Haitians are left working long hours in sweatshops to manufacture things like baseballs and t-shirts for the U.S. while their children kick around rolled up plastic bags and depend on donated clothing to get by.

Just the other day, Pastor Pierre made the startling (and bitterly ironic) realization that the school uniforms worn by the kids at NVM were manufactured here in Haiti, sent to the U.S. for packaging, and “donated” right back to where they started.

The People

But the most shocking and disheartening thing for me was digging deeper into the makeup of the population.  Seeing the people of Haiti was a constant reminder to me of past injustices that still manage to claw their way into the present.

First of all, there were the people I didn’t see.  Native Americans.  Hispaniola, like every other Caribbean island, was once home to native tribes.  Until European settlers arrived, they lived in a relatively peaceful balance with the land.

This scene could just as easily be in Senegal or Guinea...

This scene could just as easily be in Senegal or Guinea...

However, as settlements began to spring up and trade began to increase, the natives started dying off from unfamiliar diseases and brutal living conditions.  Today, though you can still find a few of their decedents in neighboring Dominican Republic, Haitian Natives have been almost completely wiped out.

But then there are the people you do see.  The vast majority of the population…  People of West African descent.

As I met more and more people in Haiti, it became obvious to me.  Facial features, physical build, even a few cultural similarities… They all had what I have come to understand as West African characteristics.

And how did West Africans end up in the Caribbean?  The answer, of course, is slavery.  The overwhelming majority of Haitians are direct descendents of captured slaves.  Their great-great-great grandparents, captured by French merchants and brought to the New World to work the fields, fought for, and eventually gained, their independence in 1804.

But imagine a brand new nation comprised of largely uneducated ex-slaves from many different tribes and speaking many different languages.  They didn’t have an easy road ahead of them…

That is why I am so deeply moved and troubled by the poverty I see here.  I am standing at the other end of that road, witnessing the direct influence of 200 year old injustices.

The Road Ahead

Smiles at NVM's school.  These kids have a real hope for the future!

Smiles at NVM's school. These kids have a real hope for the future!

Now, with all of that super depressing stuff I just learned, it would make sense for me to just roll up into a ball and give in to hopelessness.  But I won’t.

I won’t because of the other things I’ve seen here.  Hope.  Life.  Joy!

Against all odds, the Kingdom of God is breaking through.  I am baffled to see it, but chains of generational poverty are actually shattering.  Organizations like Nehemiah Vision Ministries are taking root and giving impoverished villages a chance to succeed.

Over the next few articles, Curtis and I will try to capture what we have seen and experienced here in Haiti.  As we bring you with us through our experience, we hope that you will begin to see, as we have, that for a country at America’s doorstep, the injustices of the past don’t have to play out in the present…

Enjoy this post? Get future updates sent to you for free! Join by email or RSS

About the Author: Barry is the founder and Executive Director of World Next Door. A storyteller, traveller and giant nerd, he lives to compel suburban Americans to get engaged with social justice and find their place in God's kingdom revolution. His ultimate dream is to adopt a pet monkey named Kevin.

More posts by Follow Barry on Twitter


Comments

  1. Dave Rod said... 

    Reply

    November 6th, 2009 at 8:47 am  

    Thanks guys for going there and “going there”. Looking forward to seing the points of light in the darkness. Let justice roll like a mighty river!

  2. Aaron Sherrick said... 

    Reply

    November 6th, 2009 at 12:07 pm  

    Great job Barry. Looking forward to hearing more about your experience in Haiti.

  3. Rick Radcliff said... 

    Reply

    November 6th, 2009 at 12:32 pm  

    Barry–my wife (Kitty) and I sponsor Widley Marius who is one of the children at NVM. Did you meet a kid with the biggest smile?

    Thank you for seeing the promise of what Pastor Pierre is accomplishing down there and connecting that to Grace.

    We’ve been going to Grace since 2002 and absolutely love it.

  4. sara said... 

    Reply

    November 6th, 2009 at 1:14 pm  

    My trip to Haiti nearly 15 years ago (yikes) sparked many of the same feelings and realizations that it sounds like you guys experienced. I can’t wait to hear and see more about your trip!

  5. Natalie Parks said... 

    Reply

    November 6th, 2009 at 3:39 pm  

    Barry – you have captured Haiti in such an amazing light. My husband and I are adopting from there and are also very close to Pastor Pierre and his family. I am actually preparing my own trip there to see our son in the coming weeks. Thank you for sharing this…it is awesome to see other people walking away from this country with so many different emotions. I’m never the same, no matter how many times I’ve been! Thanks again!

  6. Jo Nading said... 

    Reply

    November 6th, 2009 at 3:48 pm  

    It seems like – from an overly simplistic (actually seems childlike) to wish that we – being America – could sponsor a mountain…like sponsoring a child. Get some trees planted and some netting or whatever is used to help with erosion. I know it took so many years to totally wipe out forests, but it would sure be interesting to see what it takes to secure like an acre of mountain soil. I mean, do you think that God would bless that effort in a huge way? You guys have uncovered and shared more in this one article than I have read in many articles on Haiti. Thanks for taking the time to put things into perspective and into “plain english” so that we can more fully see and understand the depth of these injustices. I truly appreciate your work and your heart Barry.

  7. Angie Brown said... 

    Reply

    November 9th, 2009 at 3:23 am  

    Thank you for sharing this truth. KEEP IT UP. May truth and justice sweep this world like a wildfire.

  8. Emily said... 

    Reply

    November 11th, 2009 at 7:19 pm  

    Barry – Thanks for sharing your thoughts and feelings in this wonderful article. I can’t wait to see what else you have to say. I met you your first night in Haiti at the Pierre’s, and sadly, had to leave the next morning. God bless you in your endeavors to share the truth about Haiti, and God’s heart desperate to reach the oppressed.

  9. Ron said... 

    Reply

    November 11th, 2009 at 8:46 pm  

    Thanks Barry for taking me back to a different time in my life. Margaret and I had the privilege of spending two months in Haiti in 1983. In 2002 I returned to find the poverty/people/country to be caught in a time warp…absolutely no significant change…except for less trees. During my 1983 visit, AIDS was just being discovered and there was so much discussion about its possible origins in Haiti…based more on fear than fact. Seems to be a recurring theme across the world of extreme poverty…often being suspicious of who they are and how they came to such a place in the world…never wanting to consider that I probably benefited from their demise. Never stop asking us to be accountable for our rightful place in their struggle…both good, and sad. Thanks again. Ron.

  10. Rob Yonan said... 

    Reply

    November 13th, 2009 at 7:58 pm  

    I love Jo’s idea of sponsoring a mountain. Imagine a reforestation effort that gets kick started from kingdom minded people and sustained by Haitians?
    I can’t wait to see how your trip (with Curtiss and the one and only Kerry Snyder) will impact the future of student ministry at Grace.

Leave a Reply