The Real Truth about Haiti and What Your Church Can Do Now and in the Future

by Joanna Pritchard and Rusty Pritchard

Earthquake victims in Haiti/American Red Cross

Earthquake victims in Haiti (Matthew Marek/American Red Cross )

Going green as a church is an important thing to do. Getting outside is healthy and restorative. Recycling is sensible. Planting churchyard gardens that provide food for neighbors in need is huge. But if all your creation care actions are local, you’re missing a huge part of environmental stewardship.

Haiti is a country just hit by a devastating magnitude 7.0 earthquake, leaving perhaps a third of the country sleeping in the open, exposed to the elements.

Give Now

If you do nothing else today, give money and encourage at least two other people you know to give money to aid in this disaster. Better yet, activate your church mailing list, Facebook group, phone tree (what’s a phone tree?), and get your whole church giving. The need is great, and you may want to do more than one wave of encouragement.

Our recommendations for giving:

  • Give right now to the big, well-known relief agencies. That includes World Vision, CARE (which does food and nutrition relief),  the American Red Cross, and Partners in Health (which runs some of the only remaining functioning hospitals near the Haitian capital). They have the proven capacity to get aid on the ground fast; they have experience, competence, connection, and they’re already there. Now is not the time to give to startups, however innovative they might be.
  • Give directly. Go to the websites of the aid organizations you want to support and use their online giving systems. Don’t give indirectly, no matter how cute the campaign your roommate or second-cousin is organizing.
  • Give generously. It’s expensive to be poor (the poor pay more for life’s necessities like water than rich people do, both relatively and absolutely more). And it’s expensive to operate relief programs in poor countries.
  • Give money. Don’t start collecting shoes, blankets, medical supplies. The urgent need is for cash, so that relief agencies can get the right resources in the right places.
  • Begin now to make a plan for longer term giving for development work that makes people less vulnerable to natural disasters. Build in to your church’s creation care activities a fund-raising component for similar work in the developing world. If you do a stream cleanup, raise pledges for Living Water International for water projects overseas. If you plant trees, raise money for Plant with Purpose for reforestation work in the third world.

With so much talk in the environmental community about global warming, it is easy to forget that no matter what we do about it, all it means for poor countries is more of what they already experience–natural disasters that become social and economic disasters. Whether or not global warming is good science, whether or not we should cap-and-trade carbon pollution, we still should be ramping up our assistance to help poor countries. That doesn’t always mean more direct aid: it will also mean making economies more robust and less corrupt, less dependent on trade in commodities, encouraging private enterprise and finding ways for financial capital to stay in place.

Learn Real History

Haiti is especially vulnerable to natural resource disasters because of its unique history.

In the 1700s Haiti was the crown jewel in France’s slave-driven overseas empire. It produced more wealth for France than all its other colonies, but that was at an incredible human cost. The slave system on the plantations was one of the most brutal in the region.

The Haitian revolution of 1791 was inspired by the same ideals as the American revolution of 1776, and the French revolution of 1789. Some of Haiti’s revolutionaries had fought as volunteers in the American revolutionary war. The Haitian revolution was the world’s only successful slave uprising. And yet, because the largest economies of North and South America at that time depended upon slave labor, the Haitian revolution, rather than being welcomed, lauded and supported by the international community, was spurned and punished.

The French sent the Statue of Liberty to the USA as a gift celebrating our freedom from colonial rule. But no such goodwill came from either the French or the Americans to the world’s newest republic. Instead, the Haitian republic was a terrifying prospect to the slave-holding North Americans and Europeans. The fledgling Haitian leaders were left to try to reconstitute a working society out of the disorder of the plantation system, and were absolutely crippled by the peace treaty signed with the French that required Haiti to pay war reparations to France for 100 years afterwards, to compensate the French for the loss of its most valuable slave colony and regain diplomatic relations for trade purposes. Haitian goods were threatened with embargo by other developed nations unless they signed this treaty, meaning that Haitian development was damned from the start. They could enter the world economy only by paying a virtual bribe to their former French masters; they had to choose between being isolated and penniless or connected and penniless.

In the end, the only way to pay the reparations exacted by the French was to reinstitute something that looked like a plantation system for producing cash crops. It was almost inevitable that corrupt, dicatorial leadership would emerge. Sadly, US business interests in Haiti did not mitigate the corrupt culture, even when the US occupied Haiti from 1918 – 1934. During the 20th century Haiti suffered the tyranny of one corrupt government after another, not without support from the US which viewed Haiti as a strategic partner in the fight against Communism after Castro’s victory in Cuba. Brutal, despotic regimes such as the Duvalier dynasty were in fact provided with aid, yet they crippled the development of democratic ideals and leadership either centrally or in the regions. Basic services such as health and education are critically lacking for much of the population.

Grinding poverty has meant that natural resources are overused, forests destroyed for short-term needs, and soil lost from farming slopes too steep to support agriculture. 75% of Haiti’s land is mountainous, a challenging starting point for agriculture. Desertification and deforestation combine with frequent hurricanes to ensure that the landscape is absolutely devastated by landslides and soil erosion. Water that once might have seeped into a forested hillside runs off without adding to soil moisture or the aquifers that supply water wells, so there is a water crisis as well.

Haitian poverty is the result of what you might call an overdetermined system. So many factors that by themselves would have crippled a strong economy have combined.

Disregard Bogus History

Wacky, discredited ideas from some Christians claim a Satanic pact during the Haitian revolution has crippled the Haitian economy and corrupted its culture. It’s clear from Haiti’s history that human greed by so-called Christian nations (including Haiti’s own leaders) has a great deal to do with Haiti’s present situation. There’s a technical word for the mental condition that leads to crazy claims about pacts with the devil: idiocy.

If you want to read a Haitian Christian’s careful debunking of the Satanic-pact myth, look to the three part article, “God, Satan, and the Birth of Haiti,” by Jean R. Gelin, Ph.D., a Haitian Christian and agricultural expert.

Organizations like Plant with Purpose are working to restore productive agriculture, forestry, and private enterprise in Haiti and in other similar places. In the long run, find ways that your church can support those kinds of ministries.

Joanna Pritchard is a community advocate with a research background in Haitian history and culture. Rusty Pritchard is a natural resource economist and president of Flourish.

Comments

  1. Rusty and Joanna, thanks for this. so informative and very helpful. i’ll make sure to get it in front of others it can help.

  2. Weren’t the American and French Revolutions vastly different in their ideals?

    You are supplying great practical ways to help now and in the future. I love your list of recommendations for giving. Common sense!

  3. Thanks for a solid article that broadens our vision of what true aid looks like and bolsters our understanding of Haiti’s history.

  4. Thanks, Karen. The American and French and Haitian revolutions had many differences, obviously, but also a lot in common. People fighting on the same side in a revolution may have very different ideas, but there was some sense in each of these revolutions that people should govern themselves, that there should be freedom of religion, that monarchy should be abolished or at least checked by democratic institutions, that nobility should be governed by the same laws that apply to common people (so that feudalism should be abolished), and that there are some fundamental, inalienable human rights. Some ideas are rooted in the dignity of humans upheld in Scripture, and some are Enlightenment ideals deriving from secular thought. All of the revolutions went astray in significant ways from the expressed ideals.

  5. Great article! May Flourish flourish! Many thanks, Joanna.

  6. A well thought out overview of the Haitian problems. I would just caution giving funds “right now” to anyone who isn’t on a front line need basis. Although we raise funds ourselves, first response units should be the main focus of giving. Lots of people with good intentions get in the way of other people with good intentions…been there…done that….do these folks need help????ABSOLUTELY…think short term…medicine, food, water….next medicine, food, water, shelter….next….medicine, food, water, shelter,….more of each of these….then some order…then others..k.h.

  7. I think that the Red Cross and Doctors without Borders are excellent first responders for disasters like Haiti, but that is just the very beginning! Getting the people into more earthquake resistant housing along with getting a fresh water supply and a way to grow food in Haiti as soon as possible has to be next. It will take a few years to get all this put together, but hopefully it will make Haiti more independent from the world than it has been in the past and with what is going on now. God bless all those organasations and individuals helping now.

  8. JoAnn Foote says:

    I am surprised to hear you say it’s a “bogus” report about Hatti making a pact with the devil during the revolution (or whenever it was made) . I heard Pat Robertson (700 club) say that they did . Perhaps Pat needs to read your article to be ‘more’ informed so he doesn’t make “bogus” statements before the world. I have great respect for him, but evidently he doesn’t have all the facts?

  9. Thanks for commenting, JoAnn. Yes, sadly, Pat Robertson was repeating a much-repeated myth about Haitian history, without checking his facts. I’m sure he cares about Haiti’s people, and we are all prone to try to look for spiritual causes for such an unmitigated disaster. However, Robertson’s story sounds an awful lot like blaming the victims of the earthquake, instead of showing compassion.

  10. I know a lot of time has passed since these posts – I only just found this while researching Greg Lyons and his new book.

    Anyway, there is some good info in this summary. If you want to read more, I highly recommend Peter Hallward’s Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide, and the Politics of Containment.

    This piece hints at some of the US complicity in the poverty of Haiti, but there is much more to tell on that side of the story, from economic and aid policies that aid US interests at the expense of Haitians, military support and intervention of Haitian dictators, and opposing the one good president they’ve had, Aristide.

  11. Ethan, thanks for commenting, and for paying attention to Haiti. I hope the book you read was “The Next Christians” by Gabe (not Greg) Lyons. Haitian history is indeed wrapped up intimately with US foreign policy, for good and ill. And the US did make it nearly impossible for Aristide to succeed, but it’s not such a tidy storyline. In the end, he proved no more immune to corruption and the desire for power than other Haitian leaders.

  12. Oh oh!

    Really nice data, thanks for sharing.
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    thanks for sharing this info!!

    Parti

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