Immediately following the Earthquake it became apparent that food was going to be an issue. While Shelley patrolled our neighborhood to find wounded people, I began to cook food for all the people that would be staying at our house. Our 35 gallon Propane tank had fallen over during the earthquake, hissing from a cracked valve knob until the violent shaking stopped and I ran to shut off the tank. Some of our neighbors helped me carry the barbecue down from our roof and I began cooking food for those who would arrive at our house. This didn’t stop for about a week. We fed about 30 people 3 square meals, cooked entirely on our barbecue for a whole week, and the little propane tank never ran out of gas. We cooked through everything in our freezers and cupboards. Shelley and the kids left for the states around the time that Scott Salvant showed up at our house with a new propane tank for our indoor stove. Around the same time some of the markets began to open and most people had long since eaten the food they had in their homes… or their rubble.
The artisans would show up at the house, very thankful to see food, but saddened that their neighborhoods were starving. And then, when I got a chance to get online at the Quisqueya Christian School campus (Thank you CRI and Sean Blesh!) I was able to see the massive donations coming in through our website. I had very little cash left and many banks had fallen during the earthquake, including the grocery stores that many missionaries use as banks because of their relative safety and inconspicuousness. I gathered what little cash I had and prepared to set out to the one market I had heard had opened, intending to buy as much food as I could. Then I remembered that Shelley kept an Apparent Project checkbook at the house. I grabbed it hoping and praying that this market would take checks, despite the chaos and hunger and relative ease with which a check holder can lie about funds. The market agreed to take my checks! This opened up a door for us to use the donations coming in online to purchase food here in Haiti without a bank. This banking crisis, by the way, is one of the chief reasons why Haitians are starving after the earthquake… there is plenty of food, just no way to buy it.
I bought about $1,000 worth of food a day for the first week until I saw other aid being distributed. The larger distributors, like the UN and US AID were still setting up shop, working through red tape, and trying to get a station for operations going. Meanwhile, people were hungry and violence broke out in some areas because of fear and greed. I knew that getting food out in the slums was about more than just making people comfortable (aid would inevitably come), but a regular presence of food was also a way of promoting hope and peace during this already agitated situation.
As the UN began distributing food, it also became clear that their methodology (in my humble opinion) sucked. They were calling large groups together and then unloading massive bags of food from trucks. Nothing but chaos could be expected. CNN seems to delight in covering frenzied Haitian mobs, but, while I don’t excuse the mobs, I think the method of distribution was partially at fault. People fought for food because fighting was the only way to get to the food in such a mass feeding. Anybody who has fed children at an orphanage could tell you that making a single line for food does not work when real hunger is present. Have the hungry people sit at a table and then serve them, otherwise there will be a fight. Similarly, the most peaceful distributions have been those that bring food to tents, homes, and shelters, one family at a time rather than making a single drop point for food. Haitians know this… when they organize themselves in their communities, this is what they do. Such small scale localized distributions also allow the distributor to give according to where the real hunger is. This requires pre-existing relationships of care and understanding of the culture, things that only Haitian community organizations, local churches, missionaries, and families are capable of. But with so many people to feed, I’m sure it seems more urgent to the aid agencies to just “get food out there” than to make sure it is not horded by the people powerful enough to push to the front of the line. What I see happening is that the people who need the food most desperately; like nursing mothers or people who are sick, traumatized, or maimed by the earthquake, are unwilling to wait in the sun in a line that they know they can’t push to the front of. They stay home hungry, hoping that somebody might bring something back to them.
Apparently, in order to help make a more peaceful and orderly distribution, the UN is distributing cards the day before a food drop (the first in our neighborhood was yesterday). Only the people who have cards will get the food, and they have to wait in line. They get one 50 pound bag of rice (or apparently some get only half a bag…. which is still a LOT of rice. Many others wait in line, only to find out they needed a card. And nobody seems to be able to tell me what determines who gets a card or not. It seems to be arbitrary. The lucky people with the “golden ticket” have to parade their prized rice bag past a huge line of hungry people and get it home and hidden without getting hijacked. I heard of a lot of people fighting over the rice once they got back to their communities yesterday… SOO… it looks better on CNN, but it just takes the fighting off the screen and puts it into the heart of the communities.
Don’t get me wrong… I literally sang the Hallelujah chorus when I saw the line for UN food in the street outside our house. They are saving lives. I have prayed that they would come and I thank God that they did. I can’t personally feed this neighborhood alone. BUT that’s the beauty of it. The body of Christ is really coming together in our neighborhood to get things done. Quisqueya Chapel, The T.L.C. Barefoot school, Maison de Limiere, and other missionaries and local churches have been joining hands to help and we’re all getting more organized so that we’re not missing a pocket of hungry people, overlooking a desperate need for tents or temporary housing, or some other such thing. We are figuring out who is gifted at what, who has which resources, and we’re handing things over to each other to make this all more efficient and effective. We can’t reach the whole country, but we are hoping there are other churches and families coming together in the same way in the spirit of Christ, to share and collaborate and find creative solutions. I think it’s happening all over the country. It has to be.
When I found out that two of these groups were feeding the same people I was AND that the UN had come, I held back on food distribution until we could collaborate more effectively. The Clerville slums seem to be covered well, but Sinias, another nearby slum area, is really struggling. I will try to make another delivery there soon.
I was struck today, reading the opening verses of Ecclesiastes 11: “Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again. Give portions to seven, yes to eight, for you do not know what disaster may come upon the land. If clouds are full of water, they pour rain upon the earth. Whether a tree falls to the south or to the north, in the place where it falls, there will it lie.” Basically this is saying that nature gives and gives freely without worrying about the efficiency or sufficiency of its giving, whether it will hurt the economy of the forest, whether its giving negatively impacts the gross national product, whether a tree falling on the ground will make the woodpeckers and termites lazy, etc. So for all my concern about doing things right and stewarding resources, etc. The bottom line is to trust God’s provision and to have wide open hands and to give… Too often we polarize the truths of the word of God into a “Give to your enemies”/”Give all you have to the poor” camp VERSUS a “The man who does not work does not eat”/empowerment and stewardship camp. I’m beginning to think that when we make scriptures cancel each other out we’re not reading our Bibles correctly. We ought to work AND empower AND give RADICALLY and with EXCELLENCE. Whether somebody uses our giving improperly, or even pours it out on the ground is not our business. In fact, I’m learning to see abuses of generosity as merely opportunities for us to let go of OUR “right” to be the hero through our giving… when we give, it is not about us. For this same reason we try to find ways that best help the recipients of our giving, but ultimately, there is not a single Scripture that holds us accountable for what others do with our gifts. We are responsible to give and to use what is given to us well, not to manage or try to control the recipients of our gifts. And right now is a great time to give food to Haitians, no matter how we do it.
But… just in case you wondered, this is how we do it: We use old cooking oil jugs and ice cream buckets to hold all the food together. We first put a recycled 20 oz. bottle of cooking oil (thanks US military for drinking lots of little bottles of water and juice) inside the hole, then we fill the rest with rice, beans, seasoning salts, an onion or garlic clove, matches, and some kind of vitamin enriched juice mix. Occasionally we throw in a candle, tobasco sauce, peanut butter, crackers, sardines, vienna sausages, or whatever other kind of food aid we have donated to us or can purchase cheaply. As you can tell, food aid can get pretty gourmet! For families with infants we check to see if they are breast feeding. If they are, we try to give the mother more vitamins, and if not we provide formula for the baby. This is by far the most necessary AND the most expensive thing we are distributing. Occasionally, if malnourishment seems apparent, we are giving Medica Mamba (thanks Troy Livesay) to families with small children. We are also filtering, treating, and distributing drinkable water on a limited basis (our cistern is almost dry). Nonfood items, such as diapers, toilet paper, and laundry soap are also going out in our little packages.
We distribute the packages through people who know the communities well. We are trying to be sensitive not to take business from street merchants, as they are the backbone of the economies in these villages. This is the most difficult part of the distribution process… the discernment to know how much to give in order to protect, but when to stop so as not to deflate the local economy. We are buying all of our food on the local economy, but mainly from the larger markets. Sometimes, when delivering food, if I can get enough Haitian money from cashing a check at the markets, I will buy all the food from the merchants on the street before distributing food to their community, and then just throw that purchased food in with the distribution, so they make the best sale of their lives while their community gets fed. Before we show up the merchants are loaded with edible goods, but nobody is buying (they have no money) and everybody is hungry.
We will continue to do this as long as we have donations, as long as it seems to be the best thing for our communities, and as long as it does not disenfranchise or take away from local business. Please continue to donate at www.apparentproject.org and PRAY AND FAST for our discernment and our resources. We want to feed the hungry AND be able to help reconstruct homes when the timing is right. With every jug or bag of food we give out we pray for miracles of multiplication and for God’s continued sustaining hand to be present with each family. Please commit to pray with us. The President of Haiti has even called for 3 days of fasting and prayer during Carnival (Feb 12-14). Please join in fasting and praying for Haiti. Our idea of how to heal this mess is far inferior to God’s!