Why is Haiti so Impoverished?
I wouldn’t call myself a world traveler by any means, at least not yet, but I have visited a few countries whose cultures clash greatly with America. Honduras, Panama, and a few different places in Mexico have been the extent of my travel until just recently, a visit to Haiti impacted me to the point where I realized short-term mission trips are not enough. I’ve held orphans before, fed the hungry many times, seen poverty levels that most American citizens are unaware of, but as I looked out the window of perfectly farmable land covered in piles of trash, I knew my little five day visit to Haiti wasn’t going to be enough to even make a dent in what I would refer to as some kind of a plague- a dark plague that has gripped the land and citizens of this country.
Upon meeting with Brad and Vanessa Johnson, directors of Mission of Hope Haiti, I heard a startling story about how their ministry in Haiti had begun. Brad’s parents acquired 75 of acres of land for Mission of Hope Haiti by donating a church organ to a local pastor. Brad and Vanessa had come down to Haiti to assist in the beginning of this fast growing ministry. A local Haitian family had sent for Brad and Vanessa for help for their sick baby. Upon their arrival, they saw that this baby would not survive without immediate medical attention. The closest clinic was 45 minutes away. Brad and Vanessa loaded the baby in their truck to seek the help needed. They arrived at the clinic just as soon as the baby took its last breath. After speaking with the doctor, they found out that if the baby had received medical attention when symptoms were first noticed, the baby would have been fine, but with no money and no transportation, this family was left vulnerable and helpless. Vanessa held the baby’s body on the way back into the village. A hopeful mother greeted them, confident her child was well. Vanessa presented her lifeless child to her, and the mother collapsed on the ground. When she came to, she screamed with grief.
This is the nation of Haiti-a nation screaming with grief. Such loss and devastation have occurred here that it is hard to put into words or even begin to scratch the surface discussing the problems of this country. The problems are many, all connected to each other, all rooted in one another. Haiti is a nation of just over 8 million citizens. Of these 8 million citizens, 60% are infected with HIV/AIDS. There is an 80% unemployment rate, and those that are employed live on less than one dollar per day, thus making it the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. There are over 400,000 orphans mainly because 60% of children are sexually active before age 12. These children can’t raise children, so the babies are many times left abandoned. As a result, 75% of the population is under twenty-five, and 53% of the population is under fourteen. Twenty percent of Haitian children will die before age five, mostly due to malnutrition. Education is not free, so most Haitians only have a third grade education level, along with a 50% illiteracy rate.
The first questions that would enter a person’s mind about these striking statistics are “how?” and “why?” This is a simple question to which, unfortunately, there is no simple answer. The reasons, I believe, are both spiritual and practical, the spiritual being parental to the practical. First, lets begin with a summary of the spiritual. Haiti has often been referred to as a “voodoo democracy.” Haitian voodoo was birthed out of the African slave trade when Africans who practiced voodoo were forced to come to the island of Hispanolia and serve their Roman-Catholic masters. The slaves were forced to convert to the religion of their masters, but they secretly continued practicing voodoo by disguising the names of their voodoo gods with names of Catholic saints. Thus, contemporary Haitian voodoo appears, in form, to be Catholicism, but in fact it is not. This is why most statistics of Haiti will declare Christianity as the official religion, but this is a lie. Voodoo is deemed to be a religion marked with greed, power, and demonic possession. One of the most historically important practices of voodoo, Bwa Kayiman, took place in 1791 when the demon called Ezili Dantor possessed a priestess, and all those present pledged themselves to fight for freedom from the French colonials. As a result of this slave revolt, the first black republic was established in 1804. Voodoo has continued to infiltrate the Republic of Haiti, especially in political offices. In the voodoo religion, one can be initiated to be what is called a houngan or a mambo, which is a person of high power and status, able to make a significant amount of money. This position in the voodoo religion has actually become an occupation among the Haitian people and can be very attractive because of the impoverished state of the country. Many of these houngans and mambos have worked their way into government positions, exploiting their own people for money and power, continuing the cycle of poverty instead of fixing it. Only in the past 10-15 years has the face of the Haitian government changed, not yet assisting their people, but allowing other help, such as Mission of Hope, into the country.
Because of the historical state of the government, Haiti has been rated to be one of the most corrupt countries in the world, with its people struggling as a result. Brad Johnson, director of Mission of Hope Haiti says, “In America, people strive to climb the ladder of success. In Haiti, people struggle to even get on the bottom rung.” Why? Let’s go back to the 80% unemployment rate. Of the 20% that are employed, 66% are in the business of agriculture. Sadly enough, 60% of Haitian food is imported, so you have an over-saturated market with those 66% fighting for the leftover 40%. And the Haitian farmers can’t keep up with the global market, because they have no technology, no plows, nothing. They have donkeys and their hands. Plus, the soil that was once considered to be some of the richest farmland in the world is being poisoned by the amount of trash that is being dumped into undesignated landfills, because the government hasn’t designated any landfills. “I consider it a blessing from God to farm this land,” says one villager. I look at the land, and I see rough dry empty terrain, I feel the scorching sun, and see a few dying cornstalks and rotting melons over about one hundred square feet of what once was flourishing with vegetation and trees. So, choose a different niche in the market one might say. Unless you’re selling something, all other jobs require a college education, and even primary education isn’t free. What’s a man to do for his family and wife who just gave birth to a baby in a tent in the middle of the mountains? I assure you, these people don’t dream, they survive. “They work today, to hopefully pay for the food they will eat today,” says Brad Johnson. If you ask the children what they would like to be when they grow up, they will look at you funny.
Mission of Hope Haiti exists for many reasons-to provide Christ centered education for 1400 students, healthcare, homes and care for 240 orphans, a place of worship and fellowship for 600 members, but they know these are all short-term solutions. If something isn’t done in the government, the cycle will continue. It’s vicious, dark, and very real.
I boarded the plane in Port-au-Prince, Haiti to head home to the United States. I had just seen an elderly woman urinate on the floor of the airport and a young girl vomit in the corner-neither one of these messes were being cleaned up. There was barely enough help to keep order among the pushing and shoving crowd that was about to board the plane. I put my purse underneath the seat, covered myself with my red American airlines blanket, and began to sob. I saw her beautiful face just looming in my mind. Dumhi was the size of a five year old, but was actually eight. She was an orphan at the Mission of Hope-smart, deep, and full of attitude. Dumhi was beautiful, but you could look into her eyes and tell that she had experienced hardships that no eight year old ever should. I felt an overwhelming responsibility to make it better for her, not just her, but for the other 400,000 orphans in this nation. As big as this burden of responsibility felt, I felt so little in comparison, so unable. I wanted to make a difference, but I might have made a dent. This is why I must be a voice for Dumhi, for this nation, because I hear the silent screams for justice. I pray that God will use me to be an advocate for the Bible tells us “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.” Amidst social chaos, political corruption, and desolate poverty, I hope one day, I can be a voice of truth.
For More Information on Mission of Hope Haiti
- Mission of Hope, Haiti (MOH) - Hope For The Nation of Haiti
We strive to meet the physical & spiritual needs of the Haitian population. View our ministries and get involved with Church Partnerships, Mission Trips or Child Sponsorships.