Can Haiti Still Be Saved?

August 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

ImageThis is an article I wrote for the July/August 2010 issue of RELEVANT, six months after the January 2010 earthquake that destroyed much of Haiti. I traveled to Haiti, interviewed everyone from USAID workers to church leaders on the ground. The trip (and article) changed my perspective on international aid, disaster relief, and political action, and gave me a newfound appreciation for the aid workers who spend so much time trying to get it right. This article was the recipient of the 2011 Folio Eddie award for best single article in the religion/spirituality class.

“We Need Help”

It’s a simple phrase, even an obvious one.

Simple because of its directness and obvious because, well, it’s spray-painted on a pile of rubble in the middle of Port-au-Prince. This one and countless other messages like it were painted throughout the city in the aftermath of the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake—one of the largest natural disasters to ever affect the Western Hemisphere. We need help. But how? How can we even begin to help? How did it get this bad? And, perhaps most pressingly, where is God in all this?

Standing on a hillside overlooking Haiti’s nearly destroyed capital city, that spray-painted phrase feels as accurate now, six months after the earthquake, as it did then. Even though money poured in from all sides (remember the $10 donation to the Red Cross via text message? The telethon with every celebrity ever known?), it seems like nothing has happened—as if this tiny half-island nation has somehow become a hope-free zone.

No one can prepare you for Haiti. Sure, as the buzz cause of the year, there’s certainly no shortage of articles to read, organizations to interview and experts to analyze. But to try to understand Haiti, to try to understand why it’s still this bad after so much time and, perhaps most difficult of all, to try to find hope in the entire mess, you have to make sense of a nation with a brutal history, a country that was a mess of corruption and poverty before a 7.0 earthquake destroyed its capital city. To understand what’s being done, where money is going, what the outlook of the country is—well, you need to go back to the beginning.

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