Hope survives even as Haitians struggle to rebuild

People are anxious to work and ready to rebuild their country Join the discussion

Additional insights and behind-the-scenes excerpts are posted on my blog today. Join the discussion about this column series at http://blogs. post-trib.com/davich/

gallery online

To see more photos from Jerry’s trip to Haiti, visit www.post-trib.com.

To help

Living Hope Church in Merrillville is hosting a Haiti relief fund for its sponsored churches and volunteer work in that country. to donate, visit www.lhcweb.org or call 769-3601.

Since the quake, she found a security guard job with the United Nations, and she’s thrilled to have it. but she has a more pressing need.

“Excuse me,” she politely told Christian Rath in her native Creole language, a mixture of French and West African. “Would you happen to know where I could find a tent to live in?”

Rath, a deacon with Living Hope Church in Merrillville, told her he will search for a tent and return later in the day.

“Thank you very much,” she told Rath, who was visiting Haiti for the third time to inspect damaged churches there.

Weekend before last, I traveled with Rath to Port-au-Prince to see the devastation first-hand and up-close in a 28-hour whirlwind tour. my Sunday column set the stage for today’s column, where I promised to explore what prompted Northwest Indiana residents to donate to Haiti relief funds — hope or hopelessness?

In Haiti, I met dozens of residents with different stories to tell, just like here. but the stereotype is someone such as Vincent, a middle-aged Haitian man who approached Rath and me at the airport, begging for money.

“You help me?” he asked in broken English.

All I had left was spare change in my backpack, which I gave him after I tried conversing, to no avail.

He wandered away counting the change. I wondered away how many Vincent-types approached me during my visit. not too many actually, considering the thousands of Haitians I encountered.

Instead, I met more Marie France-types who worked for a living yet also politely asked for help. or Haitians such as Shirley, a hotel desk worker who lost a few relatives in the quake.

Shirley, 27, has dreams of traveling to the United States someday to attend college and get a better-paying job. her mouth said so, in broken English, but her eyes didn’t believe she could pull it off.

During our chat in the middle of the night at the hotel front desk, we determined she should start a college fund of sorts, saving money to someday use for a university in this country. She smiled politely but, again, her eyes didn’t believe the plan would ever become a reality. And I couldn’t blame her.

Before I left for Haiti, I studied media articles on TV and in print regarding that country since the quake.

Most seemed to focus on the hopelessness of Haiti, I thought. And yes, the poverty, despair and desperation were obvious and impossible to ignore.

But what I didn’t expect to find was all the hope, faith and even joy in the Haitians.

David Wagner, founder of Builders International, the charitable builders group Rath works with, summed it up best while we drove through the slums. “Too many people only see the doughnut hole,” he said, pointing out the piles of rubble, the collapsed buildings, and a refugee camp’s handmade sign in bright red lettering: “WE NEED HELP.”

“But too often they don’t see the doughnut,” he said, pointing out the happy smiles, the bustling workers, and faith-based hope in the eyes of many.

This prompted me to wonder which one touches the hearts of outsiders more, or prompts them to help others at all — the victims’ hope or the hopelessness of their situation?

For me, it’s hope. but I didn’t know this until I met Shirley, Marie and dozens of other Haitians struggling to survive in the slum of the world.

Rush to judgment?

Before I left for Haiti, several readers contacted me, asking me to investigate “where all our money is going down there,” as one told me in a huff. they have a point. Billions of dollars and millions of pounds of food and medical supplies have been pumped into that country these past three months. but to where exactly? And to whom?

Plus, it’s no secret Haiti is infamous for rampant graft, bribes and corruption. The country also has been raped, pillaged or plundered for centuries by other countries, including the United States.

Still, is that reason enough not to donate to myriad relief funds since the quake? For me, yes, and I wrote about this a few weeks ago, catching hell from many angry readers.

But I’ve since changed my mind after meeting some of the people who’ve been receiving relief aid. Collectively, they put a face on what was a faceless relief fund.

“Until you visit here, or other countries in similar situations, you really have no right to pass judgment,” said Wade Gayler of Salt Lake City, who visited Haiti on behalf of the Southern Baptist Convention.

I bumped into Gayler at a Home Depot-like warehouse in Port-au-Prince, loaded with (albeit overpriced) rebuilding and construction tools.

“The Haitians I met all craved to work and to begin rebuilding their country,” said a volunteer from Christian Service International Ministries, based in Muncie.

This was a common theme among volunteers, missionaries, and even businessmen I met in Haiti.

“It’s an intellectual ignorance based on nothing,” explained one Northwest Indiana businessman who conducted a $500,000 deal under the shade of a tree, not an office.

Just like that blind man who feels parts of the proverbial elephant, thinking he knows what it is, we too often believe we see the big picture and of course we don’t.

And just as Haiti is a so-called “developing country,” most outsiders (including me) have developing perceptions of that country.

Haitian officials are expected to ask for another $11 billion to rebuild their country. And although relief aid fundraising may have waned, it’s still a possibility.

I’m not blindly endorsing every relief agency. however, I can vouch for the relief aid I witnessed from Assemblies of God World Missions, Builders International and Living Hope Church.

I also watched Rath track down a new tent for Marie France from a Convoy of Hope warehouse, and return to her workplace to surprise her. but she had already left for “home,” whatever that means.

Rath left the tent with her Christian co-workers, reminding them that if she doesn’t get it, “you will have to answer to God,” he said in French, pointing to the sky.

Finally, I may have finally paid my penance for not donating to a relief fund. before I checked out of my hotel, I gave Shirley $25 with a scribbled note: “This is the start of your college scholarship fund.”

Will she ever make it to a college here? I don’t know. but that’s not the point.

Hope survives even as Haitians struggle to rebuild

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