This is part of my series of posts recapping our construction mission trip to Haiti. Click here to read them all. You can also subscribe to receive the updates by email by entering your email address at the top of the left column (under “email subscription”) and hitting submit.
On Wednesday we met a girl, Katiane, that I will probably never forget. In our brief encounter, she’s one of the people there that had the most impact on me.
She was wearing a beautiful, but tattered, cream dress, & she was carrying a trash bag full of possessions. She was maybe 7 or 8, and a beautiful girl. But she had some of the saddest eyes I’ve ever seen. Her dad or grandfather (we weren’t sure which, for their was a big age difference) tried to start up a conversation with someone in our group, but they couldn’t understand what he was trying to say. So at some point, he walked back up the path and came back shortly after with photographs & xrays, to help him get his point across. He was explaining to us in Creole (so the little Stephen could understand, plus using a lot of body language) that both of Katiane’s legs were broken in the earthquake. He showed us a photograph of her in the days after, laying on a sheet on the ground, all bandaged up, him stooping next to her. They were in front of a background of tents. With the xrays we could see that she now has 6 or so screws in her leg. Her dad/grandfather was trying to get work. He was asking for a job, but we couldn’t give him one. He really did try so hard, it was heart-wrenching to have to turn him down. He just wanted to provide for his family.
Katiane looked so sad. We couldn’t get her to smile. We tried so hard. Lisa communicated back to her that she too has some metal in one of her legs. Jason & Lisa gave her one of the dolls they brought and my dad gave her 2 cliff bars for some food (it’s all we had with us). A couple people from the group prayed over her. When it was just Katiane, Nicole, & I sitting on the log, I leaned over and quietly said to her one of the only phrases that I knew in Creole that could possibly be applicable in a situation like this – that Jesus loves her. I think a very, very slight smile appeared, but it was gone just as quickly.
In a way, I was very glad for the opportunity to meet Katiane & her dad/grandfather. It was a chance to make it personal. I would hate for our group to have left there without having heard some personal stories about the earthquake. Over 230,000 people died! Probably most everyone has lost a family member or their house or both. Everyone has a story and everyone was affected by it. There is still great fear there. A large proportion of the population is still sleeping in tents six months later – either because they lost their house or because they’re still terrified of sleeping in theirs, even if it had no damage.
And girls like Katiane, who have been so traumatized, it’s like they have forgotten how to smile. It is heartbreaking to see children like that. We had such an extreme language barrier that it was hard to find out people’s stories. We weren’t even sure if it’s something people talk about or they try to avoid the topic. Even the waitress in the little restaurant at the hotel, that we joked that she had such a bad attitude most of the time, I’m sure she has a story. Maybe she lost a family member. We just don’t know what each person there has been through.
It made me want to do even more smiling, and waving at people, and greeting them with a bonjou or bonswa (good morning & good afternoon/evening). I love to see people smile and it breaks down outer walls. So if we could spread a few more smiles there in Haiti, then that is a very good thing.
One thing we often wondered about was the unemployment issue. So many people come by asking for work and we can’t help them. We’re there working for free & Baptist Global Response only has the budget to pay for 2 Haitian workers per site. Otherwise they wouldn’t be able to build as many houses. The unemployment rate there is sky high. It really is a desperate situation. Do the Haitians see us as coming down there & taking their jobs? Do they think they’d get the work if we weren’t there working for free? It costs between $1500-$2000 to build one of those houses. Would it be better if we didn’t come & we sent the $1800 per couple that it costs us so that they could build more houses & employ more people? These are questions we kept thinking about.
It does send a good message though that we, as Americans, are there getting our hands dirty & doing the work, as opposed to just sending money down & telling people what to do. We were told at the beginning of the week that many of these people had probably never seen an American do manual labor before.
We did learn, at the end of the trip & since getting back, that part of what BGR is doing with these volunteer teams, is using these weeks to train the Haitian masons in how to build this quality of house – using the rebar, etc. It is, in general, a different style of construction for them, so they are being trained how to do it. That way, when the volunteer teams stop, they are able to continue the work, at this level of quality of construction. That also means that more Haitians will then be employed to do the work, as these volunteer teams are phasing out. I was very glad to hear that.
More tough questions we kept wondering about: What about those that don’t get a house? Baptist Global Response has enough to partner with Pastor Joseph’s church to build 40 houses in Petite Goave. He had to select which 40. What about the people who didn’t get selected? When & how will they get a house? How long will they be sleeping in tents?
These 2 houses that we helped build will leave behind a legacy of hope though. These are 2 families getting homes that didn’t have them before. And the home owners will always have a story of how they got their house – through the church & with the help of some American Christians who cared about them & obeyed the call to come work in the extreme heat in the name of Jesus. And their neighbors will know – the ones we visited with & the kids we played with. They will remember & hopefully it will have an impact. Plant or water some seeds. Hopefully it will have a wider impact than we may have first imagined. Maybe one day down the road someone will be more receptive to learning about Jesus because of the encounters they once had with us American Christians who were friendly with them & who showed a good work ethic. Maybe we are helping to sow a seed that someone else may help reap someday. I hope so.
Anyway, I vividly remember Katiane, and that there are so many other Haitian children in a similar situation. It shouldn’t be like that for any child. They need our prayers & they need our help.