Post-Matthew Haiti

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Threatening Weather (2012)

The last post on this blog asked this question:

If all people need land upon which to live and from which to draw sustenance, what does it mean for exiles and refugees to be landless? What are the effects on their social stability, sense of identity, and connections with the land? What is my responsibility with respect to their plight?

This week, we might substitute “exiles and refugees” with “the people of Haiti.”

In the past couple weeks, we have been coping with Hurricane Matthew and its after-effects. Anyone who thinks that disasters – natural and otherwise – do not disproportionately affect the poor has not been following this storm. (Who felt the biggest impact from flooding in North Carolina?) It’s not that we can control whether a hurricane passes through as a Category 5, 4, or 3. It has more to do with the level of resources we have to endure the storm and to recover from its consequences.

Which brings me to Haiti – the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. The people of Haiti have barely recovered from the devastating earthquake in 2010, and once again, their homes, land, and lives are shattered. For the first few days, we had news and images of Haiti. The cynic in me wonders if we followed the storm primarily because we wanted to know how close Matthew would come to U. S. shores. The news-weary me also welcomed news of Hurricane Matthew because for a few days, it knocked the presidential campaign off the front page.

What happens now? Haiti is in ruins. International relief organizations are responding as best they can. The needs are so great that we can easily be overwhelmed. We might feel as though one person cannot possibly make a difference in the recovery of Haiti. Yet, we contribute to climate change one person at a time. Why can we not contribute to repairing its damage one person at a time?

What can we do? I don’t pretend to have the answer to this question, but let me share a few ideas. First, we can keep the people of Haiti in our consciousness even though their plight has faded from the media. We can pray, not that God will “step in” and magically fix things, but that we “step up” and take responsibility to repair our relationship with the people of Haiti.

Certainly, we can send money to organizations that are addressing immediate needs of food, water, and shelter. I would recommend organizations that currently have projects and missions in Haiti, for example, Catholic Relief Services (www.crs.org), religious congregations of men and women, or local U. S. churches with missions in Haiti. In the long run, we might contribute to efforts that address the social and economic structures that will support the Haitian people in recovering their lands and livelihoods. I would like to suggest two of these: Heifer International and SERRV.

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Highlands (2011)

Heifer International (www.heifer.org) empowers families to turn hunger and poverty into hope and prosperity – but our approach is more than just giving them a handout. Heifer links communities and helps bring sustainable agriculture and commerce to areas with a long history of poverty. Our animals provide partners with both food and reliable income, as agricultural products such as milk, eggs and honey can be traded or sold at market. When many families gain this new sustainable income, it brings new opportunities for building schools, creating agricultural cooperatives, forming community savings and funding small businesses. If you go to their website, you will see that you can specify your donation to purchase farm animals. I love the idea of “buying” llamas for the people of the Andes region, for example! Haiti will need cows and goats and chicks.

The second organization that you might consider is called SERRV (www.serrv.org). SERRV is a nonprofit, fair-trade organization dedicated to lifting disadvantaged artisans, farmers, and their families out of poverty. Behind every basket, tunic and necklace that we offer, you’ll find a story of positive changea story of an empowered artisan or farmer who works in a safe environment, can send his or her children to school, and can save for the future with the reliable income he or she earns through fair trade. We partner with 55 small-scale artisan/farmer organizations and cooperatives to bring you unique, handcrafted product collections. We emphasize the word “partnership” in our work because that’s what these relationships are–we’ve created a system of creative collaboration built on mutual respect and trust, creating high-quality and well-designed items using sustainable materials and production techniques. Some of these partnerships have lasted for over 35 years!

Two of these partnerships are with CAH – Comité Artisanal Haitien, who make beautiful sculptures and wall-hangings of recycled metal drums and local river stone, and Singing Rooster that sells locally grown coffee. SERRV pays artisans and farmers ahead of time so that they have the materials they need to create their produce and objects of beauty. If you go to the SERRV website and type “Haiti” in the search box, you will see these Haitian products. Think of your donation not so much as a “purchase” but as a support of the artisans and their families – with beautiful gifts as a reward for your generosity.

May we be always be grateful for our resources and use them to serve others in our human family.

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One thought on “Post-Matthew Haiti

  1. A postscript to today’s posting: I pushed the “Publish” button too soon. I meant to add to the list of organizations that have been working in Haiti for many years, Partners in Health (PIH), founded by Dr. Paul Farmer. Also, if you live in the Sarasota area, you can find many products of SERRV partners at the Artisans’ Marketplace on Pineapple Avenue.

    Books you might want to look for: “Haiti: After the Earthquake” by Paul Farmer and one that was recently recommended by a friend, “Farewell Fred Voodoo” by Amy Wilenz.

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