Overwhelming is the word for the need that exists in Haiti today. It has countless beginnings – in the lack of shelter and the shattered buildings and rubble that remain two years after the earthquake, the faltering response of governments, the lack of food for people – but no endings to it. My trip there to see the distribution of donated U.S. chicken to hungry Haitians (see “Chicken for Haiti: US producers send aid to children”) showed the disaster is bringing out the best in scores of people.
Haiti is an abyss that swallows up the efforts of governments, NGOs and the army of aid workers flowing into the country. The human reaction to this can be crystallized in an exchange between two U.S. poultry industry executives who had just made their first visit to Haiti following the earthquake. Said one, “I am going to help these people.” The other responded, “What do you think you can do?” The pledge to help was audacious when weighed against the vast need, but Mike Welch of Harrison Poultry did help, and others joined in (see cover story), and the reverberations are still being felt.
Love A Child is hands-on ministry
Among those making a real difference in Haiti are missionaries Bobby and Sherry Burnette, the founders of Love A Child, where 94 percent of the charity’s funding goes to services (see financial audit at www.loveachild.com). It was their ministry that distributed the chicken donated by Welch and his industry partners.
Bobby Burnette chuckled about the hands-on nature of the ministry and said, “When I first came to Haiti, I thought I was going to be the kind of missionary who just sits under a tree and teaches the Word of God. I never dreamed that all this work would happen – feeding 13,700,000 meals last year, running the orphans' home, the schools, the vocational programs and the medical center which treats thousands of people every year.
“Most of our work is in the interior of the country. We operate feeding programs and schools and support churches. We focus, of course, on churches, but also on education, because of the children. They are the future of Haiti, and without them the country is not going to move forward.”
Burnette is in his element out in the villages with the people: “I love it out here. I just love these people. The farther you go into the mountains, the people get sweeter and sweeter and sweeter.”
Haitian people’s small steps forward
Welch said he is encouraged by the Haitian people. In new villages constructed by Love A Child for people displaced by the earthquake, vegetable patches grow outside the small but neat homes. The villagers are required to pay $30 a year for five years, and then they own their houses. They have to sign a contract and abide by the village rules that they, themselves, make.
Life is different in the country’s interior. “Out there is the real Haiti,” Burnette explained, “no economy, no jobs, no money.” Parents typically give their children coffee with sugar in the mornings so they have the energy to get to school. A few children attending the Love A Child school in Lastik, for example, walk three hours one-way to get to school, where they are taught subjects including mathematics, history, French, reading and poetry.
Reason for hope
One Haitian with whom I spoke said, “All the other countries are going forward in recent years, but in Haiti we are going backward.” But Welch sees it differently: “It is not accurate to say that there is no hope for the people of Haiti. There is all hope, because we can see the results when food, medical care and education are provided. We can see the before and the after in the children, and it gives me courage.”
A well-educated Haitian believes in the people and the future for a different reason. I asked what has been the biggest help for the people of Haiti since the 2010 earthquake – aid from foreign countries, the government of Haiti, the work of private charities? She thought for a long moment and replied, “It’s their faith – the people of Haiti’s faith.”