This year we observe the tenth anniversary of September 11th, 2001, a day in our nation’s history that changed everything. Before 9/11, most Americans had never heard of Osama Ben Laden or the Taliban, nor could they easily point to Iraq or Afghanistan on a map. The event was indeed a game changer, not only for the United States and the West, but for the entire world. The tightening of security in air travel, the creation of Homeland Security, and the forced collaboration of once competing agencies like the FBI, CIA, and local agencies are but the tip of the iceberg. Not to mention the “military action” we initiated with other members of the global community in this ongoing “war on terrorism.” The West received a rude awakening: “You cannot continue your dealings with the Arab nations with a ‘business as usual’ attitude.”
Such was the case when a 7.2 earthquake struck the island of Haiti a year ago in January, tragically setting off what some have called the “Haitian 9/11.” Before the earthquake most Americans couldn’t point to Haiti on the map, but the most devastating earthquake in the small nation’s history killed nearly 250,000 people and left more than a million homeless, and countless scores maimed and injured. Like our 9/11, Haiti’s earthquake was a game changer for the hundreds of missions and relief agencies and other NGOs (Non-Government Organizations) on the ground in Port-au-Prince.
NATION IN NEED: Haitians wait for the distribution of emergency supplies following the 2010 earthquake. Photo from Wikipedia.
One need only take a brief scan of the media outlets to hear pundits express their shock as to how little has been done in the past year in terms of relief, aid, and development. As Reuters reports, “despite billions of dollars of donations and aid pledges from some of the world’s most powerful leaders, a 12,000-strong United Nations peacekeeping presence and an army of relief workers, the debris that clogs much of the city and a million homeless people living in tents are blunt testimony to the unfinished recovery task. Meanwhile, the nation’s cholera epidemic, which began this past fall, continues to run rampant.” Oxfam, the British based charity organization, offered more staggering statistics and an even sharper critique of the relief efforts, saying that various projects had been crippled by lack of leadership and cooperation from the Haitian government and the international community.
“At the anniversary of the earthquake, close to one million Haitians are reportedly still displaced. Less than 5 percent of the rubble has been cleared, only 15 percent of the temporary housing that is needed has been built and relatively few permanent water and sanitation facilities have been constructed,” the report said. According to a Chronicle of Philanthropy survey of 60 major relief organizations, the same dire facts were revealed, stating that of the more than $1.4 billion donated to Haitian relief through such organizations, by Americans alone, only 38 percent of these funds have actually been used to provide recovery aid. But these statistics are faceless until you hear the voices of the Haitians themselves. Mackenzy Jean-Francois, a 25-year-old university student in Port-au-Prince is quoted as saying, “When you go around the country and through the tents (in the survivors’ camps) and you look at the situation people are facing one year after the disaster, it’s hard to see much sign of how that money was spent.”
This seems to be the question at hand, “Where has all the aid money gone?” However, I think this raises an even deeper question: How is it that, prior to the earthquake, thousands of aid organizations from the international community operated in Haiti for decades, spent billions of dollars, and yet failed to transform an island the size of Maryland into a prosperous nation? Despite the best of intentions, Haiti remained the poorest country in the Western hemisphere even before the earthquake.
HOMEGROWN RELIEF: While international efforts received significant media coverage, much of the rescue effort was conducted by Haitians themselves. Photo from Wikipedia.
Before our 9/11, it was commonplace in the U.S. to witness, even in our movies and television shows, the competition and lack of coordination and cooperation between agencies who existed to “protect and serve” — CIA, FBI, and local authorities. It seems to the average citizen, because of the ongoing threat of terrorism, that this has ceased to a large degree. However, it appears in general that “business as usual” continues in Haiti; insufficient coordination, lack of cooperation, exclusion of indigenous input, focus on quick fixes, it is with good reason that Haiti earned the moniker of the “Republic of NGOs.” “It seemed the more NGOs that came to Haiti, the worse off Haiti became,” said Pastor Louis Pierre, a Haitian expatriate living in Chicago. Indeed, Timothy T. Schwartz’s 2008 book, Travesty in Haiti, takes a graphic look into the world of food aid, orphanages, Christian missions, and fraud that is, quite frankly, frightening.
Of course, not all aid work is intended to harm or wreak havoc on those they serve, but sometimes our good intentions can create a “pathway to hell” for those whom we meant to help. Fonkoze.org, Haiti’s alternative bank for the organized poor, and CHFinternational.org, whose goal is to “to build the capacity of local partners, governments and the private sector to create communities who are economically, socially, and environmentally self-sufficient,” are but two NGO’s that need to be modeled. Empowerment, sustainability, and self-sufficiency appear to be the very things they are accomplishing. Every organization will “say” the latter is their goal, but outcomes are what tell us the truth. How many times have we personally made a New Year’s resolution to lose weight and at the end of the year found out that we actually gained? Goals and outcomes are not the same.
When completely unexpected catastrophic events occur, the world reacts in horror, chaos unfolds, and there is a generous outpouring sympathy, not to mention cash. Will we continue to donate funds to aid organizations for whom it is in their best interest to solely “feed” people in crises rather than to, at some point, equip them to feed themselves? Furthermore, will we support “development” organizations that use funds to exclusively fund American-owned and operated “contractors” so as to keep the funds flowing through their organizations and to their own, while under-developing the communities they are claiming to help?
By not calling them to accountability, we are only continuing a state of dependency whereby the beneficiaries are never equipped to build, sustain, or grow their communities and economies independent of Western oversight and funding. This was the state of Haiti before the earthquake, and it seems to be the case a year after this tragedy.
Is development about the nation being saved, or about the development of the organizations and corporations that are ostensibly there to serve? To many of us watching, it seems they are serving themselves rather than those who are suffering. Just as our extended “war on terror” has dragged on with no assurance that there will ever be victory, the prolonged aide to Haiti that we foresee must also have a definitive exit plan, one in which this nation is not further crippled but truly “aided” and “developed.”
Kory Westerhold is a graphic designer, and accidental activist, who’s using his skills to help Haiti, one T-shirt at a time.
It’s just past 1 p.m. in Brooklyn and designer Kory Westerhold is getting anxious. His e-commerce site for Haiti relief, Thread & Water, was supposed to launch by now, but there are … shall we say … technical difficulties.
“Um, let’s make that 2 p.m. Sorry y’all,” he tweets, and disappears online to tinker with the infrastructure of the site. A community of friends and colleagues stand by, waiting for his signal and building excitement amongst one another via Twitter and online chat programs. “It’s going to melt your face off,” says one friend. She’s had a sneak preview of the site and can already vouch for its quality.
Everyone’s eager to see the custom T-shirts and prints Westerhold’s selling, designed by a who’s who of top creatives, hand-selected for this project. One hundred percent of the proceeds raised will go directly to help provide clean water in Haiti (most of the participating designers have kicked in cash to pay for the back-end costs, and Westerhold is making up the rest out of his own pocket).
In the wake of the disaster, water is crucial. Newly erected tent cities with makeshift latrines and food storage can turn into breeding grounds for cross-contamination from sewage to drinking water overnight. The threat of a cholera outbreak is very real in such a situation, potentially leading to more deaths than the 7.0 earthquake that leveled the already poverty-stricken country two weeks ago. Thread & Water donations will help reduce the spread of disease and prevent the devastating effects of starvation and dehydration by contributing funds to The Water Project, a charity that provides clean water and supplies to survivors … that is, if Westerhold can get the site running.
An hour later, he reappears on Twitter triumphantly declaring, “WE ARE LIVE!” Within minutes word is spread throughout the country as friends and friends-of-friends log onto ThreadnWater.com to donate $25 in return for a shirt.
“It’s just so much more than I imagined it would be,” he explained the night before the January 25th launch. Westerhold never set out to be an activist. Like most of us attempting to process the images of devastation daily streaming in from the media, the young designer just felt compelled to help. Enter project Thread & Water. “This really didn’t start off to be ‘something’ — I just wanted to sell some T-shirts and allow that to help me give more than I could have otherwise — and if it is ‘something’ now, it surely wasn’t me who came up with it … it just kind of happened.”
And happen it did. Within a week, Thread & Water quickly expanded to a community project, as numerous people from Westerhold’s close-knit web of friends raised their hands to get involved. Some contributed back-end skills to get the site off the ground, like publishing guru Kristen Ball and finance journalist Erick Bauman. Others offered designs for the Thread & Water T-shirts, including Ness Higson, Danny Jones, Phil Coffman, Aaron Grauer, Joshua Blankenship, and Steven Abraham.
“I just took inspiration from them,” Westerhold says, identifying the collaboration of his friends as the driving force behind the relief effort.
And while he’s certainly no saint, this isn’t the first time Westerhold has used his design skills to effect change. He rarely talks about it, but he’s the creator of the logo for To Write Love on Her Arms, the popular non-profit started by Jamie Tworkowski to help teens battling depression and suicide. Embodying the same community-driven quality of TWLOHA, Thread & Water may see similar success. But success isn’t Westerhold’s goal. Like most of us, the accidental activist is just trying to be faithful to the small opportunities before him and join his friends to help others.
Only four days after the launch, Thread & Water is doing well. Inspired by the site, a New York City school invited Westerhold to share with students various ways they can help with the relief and inspire the children to design their own shirts, which will be sold specially on Thread & Water’s site.
The momentum around Thread & Water is exciting, but Westerhold is keeping some perspective. “There are actually lots of fantastic designers responding to the tragedy in Haiti with their talents and checkbooks. In fact, a good friend of mine, Mike Fretto, who runs Rosa Loves in St Augustine, has already sold over 1,000 shirts for the relief effort! I’m just glad that our group had the heart to respond and is doing what they can to be a part of that.”
For more information about Thread & Water, and to purchase a T-shirt for a $25 donation that will help provide clean water for Haiti, visit http://threadnwater.com.
Haiti does have a long history of “dealings with the Devil.” But not in the way the televangelist suggested.
Last week’s earthquake in Haiti has turned the world’s attention to this poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. Haiti was rocked to its very foundation by a 7.2 earthquake that decimated its capital city, Port-au-Prince, leaving countless thousands dead and millions more homeless, hungry, and in need of medical care. As much of the island is reeling from the recent devastation, without electricity and water, this is but the most recent disaster in a string of tragedies to hit Haiti’s shores.
Over the past several decades Haiti has suffered famine, civil war, hurricanes, and floods just to name a few of its many unfortunate trials. And now the most devastating earthquake ever recorded on the island has the world watching and praying. Many of us are also taking crash courses in Haitian history in our need to know more about this Caribbean island that has suffered hardship after hardship. We’ve watched the reports from Haiti on CNN and Fox News, listened to scholars and commentators on NPR, and tried to understand the complicated story of this star-crossed nation.
Sadly, not everyone watching the events in Haiti have come away with the normal humane sentiments of shock and grief. As we’ve all heard by now, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh is more bothered by the fact that President Obama will be viewed as “humanitarian” and “compassionate” as a result of the tragedy rather than the fact that millions of human beings are in crisis.
But Limbaugh is a political rabble-rouser who thrives on drawing fire with his ridiculous (and often racially tinged) remarks. More disheartening were the comments from TV preacher and erstwhile presidential candidate Pat Robertson, who used his 700 Club platform to offer an impromptu history lesson on why Haiti may be the recipient of such catastrophic misfortune, even as he asked for donations for relief efforts. With his helpless co-host looking on (the poor woman’s face seemed to plead, “Please don’t say something crazy, Mr. Robertson!”), Robertson said this:
Something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French. You know, Napoleon III and whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, “We will serve you if you will get us free from the French.” True story. And so, the Devil said, “OK, it’s a deal.” And they kicked the French out. You know, the Haitians revolted and got themselves free. But ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after the other. Desperately poor.
That island of Hispaniola is one island. It’s cut down the middle. On the one side is Haiti; on the other side is the Dominican Republic. Dominican Republic is prosperous, healthy, full of resorts, et cetera. Haiti is in desperate poverty. Same island. They need to have — and we need to pray for them — a great turning to God. And out of this tragedy, I’m optimistic something good may come. But right now, we’re helping the suffering people, and the suffering is unimaginable.
By now, most reasonable people have rebuked Robertson for the insensitive tone and poor timing of his remarks. But what about his take on Haitian history? Looking at the events through Christian eyes, did Haiti’s historic grab for freedom truly constitute “a pact with the Devil”?
A Voodoo Legacy?
In his controversial remarks, Robertson seemed to be referencing the legendary Bois Caïman voodoo ceremony that some believe took place in 1791, though scholars now disagree as to the historicity of the event. The ceremony, led by voodoo priest and activist Dutty Boukman, supposedly inspired the Haitian revolution.
That’s one reading of the history, but unbeknown to most Westerners, Haiti’s dealings with the Devil started long before its rebellious slaves overthrew their French oppressors — and it continues to this day. The bargaining for the soul of the island began when Christopher Columbus happened upon this Caribbean paradise and its natives in 1492, supposing it was part of India. He renamed it “Hispaniola.”
In less than a century the Spanish had exterminated the indigenous population, the Taínos, and imported slaves from the continent of Africa to cultivate what would soon be called the “Jewel of the Antilles.” The French, seeking possession of this valuable piece of real estate, went to war with Spain a century later and was only able to conquer half the island. As a result, the island once known as Hispaniola is today divided, with the eastern side now called The Dominican Republic and the western side, Haiti.
A Myth That Keeps Giving
Before the fateful Haitian revolt, the island of Haiti produced half of the sugar, coffee, and indigo consumed in all of Europe. By this time, North and South America, as well as the Caribbean, were engaged in colonization and the slave trade by various European nations — Spain, France, Portugal, England, etc. It is here where we begin to witness the Devil’s doing … or undoing. After many failed attempts by the black people in Jamaica, the Virgin Islands, and the United States to free themselves from the satanic practice of the West called slavery, the Haitian slaves began a revolt in 1791 that eventually surged under the leadership of Toussaint Louverture. The Haitians finally won their independence in 1804.
Battle at Santo Domingo is a painting by January Suchodolski depicting a struggle between Polish troops in French service and the Haitian rebels during their revolution.
The Haitian revolution became the first successful slave revolt in history, and Haiti was the second European colony, after the United States, to win its independence. However, many white Christians continue to believe the not only false but ridiculous rumor over the centuries that the Haitians secured their freedom by making a “pact with the Devil” in exchange for their freedom from French rule.
Not long after Haiti declared its independence, Napoleon Bonaparte, the then-leader of France, often hailed an “anti-Christ” by many of Robertson’s peers, failed in his attempts to regain control from the rebels and France lost the war — and, I might add, most every war after that. Why anyone would need to strike a bargain with the Devil in order to beat France in a war is beyond me. Perhaps the thought of “ignorant savages” having the ability to overthrow their white masters to secure their own freedom was too much for some European minds to grasp. Therefore, these “mere slaves” must have required the assistance of some “supernatural power.” And this “supernatural power” invoked by the Haitians naturally must have been of satanic origin because the Christian God served by France and the other European nations obviously smiled upon the slave trade and the many blessings colonial imperialism was inflicting on His other children throughout the world. He certainly couldn’t have come to the aid of slaves who cried out for centuries for God to deliver them; surely there is no biblical precedent for this.
Perhaps, by now, you’ve picked up on my sarcasm.
The Devil’s Triple Play
You don’t have to be a military strategist or have ever read Sun Tzu’s The Art of War to know that you never just give up territory to the enemy. “A house divided against itself cannot stand,” said Jesus. And He was not referring to the house of France, but the House of Satan itself. If the Bible be true, and I believe it is, why would Napoleon, a supposed “anti-Christ,” release one of his greatest trophies in Haiti? Especially since he had a “two-for-one special”: 1) One of the most prosperous islands in the Caribbean at the time, supplying massive amounts of cash crops to the rest of Europe in the name of “Mammon,” while 2) extracting it at the expense of untold human suffering and carnage in the form of “slavery.”
It is apparent to anyone who knows the history of Haiti that the real dealings with the Devil have been three-fold: First, its initial contact with European colonization and the satanic institution of slavery; second, the nearly century’s long embargo that the West imposed on the island as retribution for liberating itself; and third, the economic exploitation perpetrated against Haiti by those very same Western players in modern times, as well as the poverty prostitution the nation has been forced to perform for the Devil’s spawn — the Bretton Woods system and its minions.
The fact that the Haitians themselves have had a hand in their own suffering is well publicized, sampled, looped, and mixed. But it takes two to tango. I’ll address the second and third aspects of Haiti’s “Dealings with the Devil” more fully in a future article. Until then, Pat Robertson, like the rest of us who profess to be believers in Jesus, should engage in “religion that is pleasing to God.” That means guarding our tongues against saying cruel things; it means coming to the aid of the widowed and orphaned in their distress; and it means keeping oneself unspotted from the world (James 1:26-27).”
Haiti needs our help and prayers at this time, and in doing so we should heed what God has shown us to be good: “to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly” with Him (Micah 6:8).