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Lessons Learned in Haiti

Does anyone have any questions?” I am standing inside an 8 foot by 8 foot corrugated metal shack with a fabric roof in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.  It is stiflingly hot with not a breath of wind.  It’s hard to imagine spending a half hour sweating inside this metal box let alone living there.  But it is the home of a single mom who is resolutely raising her daughter with a little help from her church (whose pastor has asked whether we have any questions) which is in turn helped a bit by an American church.  But there is no mistaking that if there is a hero in this little room it is this uncomplaining resilient mom.

Unable to think of what to ask I just inquire whether the fabric roof keeps off the rain when it comes.  Through the interpreter, the mom responds with soft strength, “We do fine when it rains; we are OK.”  And she smiles with her arm around her daughter’s shoulder.  Honestly my gut instinct is to bow at her feet, to somehow honor her.  Instead I merely tell her it was so very good to meet her, and head back to our vehicle.

Over the next two days we see several hundred Haitian children and adults for a range of medical problems.  Most of them are caused by their environment: parasites from contaminated food and water, anemia and nutritional problems, neck and back problems from the loads carried on their heads, eye irritation from the dust and headaches from the heat.  We give medicines to treat the parasites, knowing that they will be re-infected by the same food and water in a matter of days.  But at least we can knock back the body’s burden of parasites temporarily and allow them to rebound a bit nutritionally.

The chronic problems like diabetes and high blood pressure cannot be adequately addressed.  The numerous blood pressures in the 200’s over 120’s or 130’s that would punch a ticket to the ER in the states, can only be given a short supply of BP meds with the advice to be sure and see another doctor before they run out.  But the odds are hundreds to one against that happening.  There is no access and no money for such things.

And so we put the equivalent of band aids on gaping wounds because it’s all we have, and hope that the brief attention given them brings some bit of comfort.  They are amazingly grateful.  The rest of the team prays with them, gives the children balloon animals that light up their faces and generally tries to minister and encourage.  In the end we hope we have left some small drops of blessing in this ocean of need.

What have we taken back?  A conviction that we need to complain far less and give thanks far more.  We also understand that we cannot fix the whole of Haiti, or even this little section of Port-au-Prince.  Yet, through this church in Haiti that ministers to and knows these families, we, as representatives of our church can minister to twenty orphans and vulnerable children.  They are given help to attend school, eat a good lunch, live within a family setting, and get to know the God in whom they find ultimate hope.  The group facilitating these church to church connections is World Orphans, a ministry that has earned its stripes over many years and has become wise in a type of helping that really helps. This steady life-on-life help and attention over many years, given by those who know and love these children best is where there is hope for at least some in Haiti.

In all this I am reminded of the quote by Edward Everett Hale, “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”  We got to do something for a short time in Haiti.  A Haitian mom, uncomplaining in her small metal shack, continues to do those things she can do every day to see her daughter grow up strong.  In my mind I still bow at her feet.

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