We have many mixed feelings as we depart Jacmel and ultimately Haiti. There is quite a lot to ponder regarding what we have seen this past week.
Last evening I had the opportunity to ask President Marky Kessa what the earthquake meant to him as a native Haitian. He expressed that while there was poverty before the earthquake, the difference for him, besides the loss of life and suffering caused by the event, was that the livelihood and property of many people was taken away in just twenty-eight seconds. Shanty towns and tent cities sprang up over night, and there is no easy way to imagine how they can recover their homes. In many cases, twenty years of work is gone with no way to recover it. Haiti will face challenges for many years into the future.
The large NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) have a role to play in these kinds of disasters. They do good work but often have a specific goal. For instance, the Red Cross comes into a disaster, and once people have the opportunity for food on their own, they pull out and move on to the next disaster. The point is that smaller organizations, like LCMS World Relief and Human Care, fulfill a different role. While we cannot bring to bear the same kinds of resources as the larger NGOs, we can continue to work with and through our partner churches for months and even years into the future--something that most large NGOs cannot.
It was interesting to note that most of the United Nations activity we saw was near the U.S. Embassy and the International Airport, not on the streets of downtown Port-au-Prince. There were numerous convoy trucks from a variety of governments and NGOs clogging the streets. It is heartening to see how the world has responded. On the other hand, without law and order (and crowd control), the aid and supplies cannot reach the intended people.
Yesterday, driving through Port-au-Prince, breathing in the concrete dust, and smelling decaying corpses trapped beneath tons of rubble gave us a small picture of what many in Haiti will be living with each day for sometime to come. All the problems of Haiti cannot be solved by any one organization, nor even by many organizations and governments, we can do what we are able to assist some in need.
And President Kessa was hopeful in the Gospel and the promise of Jesus to work good through suffering.
We are departing Jacmel, taking off for the Dominican Republic and our return home. These are some reflections on the trip, with more to come. The world has probably reached its saturation point with news of Haiti. Please remember that there will be work for us to do for many months, long after the media has lost interest or moved on to the next disaster or world crisis.