501(c)3 Non-Profit empowering the poor in Haiti

Peanut Butter and Shelley

This blog is inspired by my wife Shelley’s passionate facebook plea with a Wisconsin church to not send peanut butter to Haiti.  I thought a more in depth explanation might be helpful, interesting, and possibly motivational, so here goes…

http://www.wqow.com/story/15278291/church-to-send-more-than-20000-jars-of-peanut-butter-to-haiti

Now that Haiti has dropped from fad-disaster-charity-icon status, it is good to see a few churches still caring, and more importantly, ACTING on behalf of the poor here.  After all, Jesus’ says he doesn’t have much to do with people who neglect those without food and income. Yet, while I’m infinitely appreciative of churches that take seriously the Biblical mandate to prioritize the plight of the poor and suffering, I’m concerned that so many of us have neglected that mandate for so long that when we recognize our grave oversight, we rush into service without thinking through the impact of our actions or getting to know those we intend to serve.  My friend, Ed Cook, once gave me some great advice about service:  “Don’t just do something, stand there!  …then do something.”  We need to venture out into the deep, vital waters of serving the poor, but we can’t do a cannon ball into a situation that deserves a swan dive. 

Landmark Christian Church in Lake Hallie, Wisconsin (see video & link above) is passionately offering its time and resources in response to Haiti’s malnutrition and hunger problems.  The pastor of LCC says “What we are hoping to do is send about 28,000 jars of peanut butter to Haiti. The children there just don’t have a good source of protein.  Peanut butter is a wonderful source. Ounce for ounce, about the same protein as pork.” I agree that many Haitians’ have a diet with less than sufficient protein and I’m glad that this Church cares enough to do something about it, but, in unfortunate irony, the well-meaning pastor named two of Haiti’s staple protein sources: peanuts and pork.  Mamba (peanut butter) and Grillo (salted fried pork) are beloved Haitian foods, both coming from native sources and farmed here on Hispaniola since before Columbus made his first landing.  What do you imagine 28,000 jars of peanut butter coming to this island and being given away might do to the local businesses of peanut farmers, mamba manufacturers, and retailers?  Good intentions to save Haiti have already all but ended the long legacy of the Creole Pig‘s positive nutritional and economic impact, and now the kindhearted, peanut butter-wielding, generous faithful of Wisconsin are posing a benevolent threat to Haiti’s “pistache”. 

The misguided declaration that Haitians “Don’t have a good source of protein,” reminds me of the recent adaptation of the U.S. State Department warnings against travel to Haiti.  You can read the whole thing here.  It offers a very strong discouragement from visiting Haiti, which is portrayed in bleakest terms.  Murders, kindnappings, political instability: all the makings of a Jason Bourne film (or a devastated tourism industry along the Caribbean’s most untouched beachline).  I’m told by people with connections to the embassy that the U.S. travel warnings are written by somebody whose pay scale is dependent upon how dangerous their station of duty is.  In other words, the worse Haiti sounds, the higher the threat level, the better the annual income that the author of the Haiti travel warning receives, because they have to work in this “hazardous duty station”.  I don’t know if that is true, but that’s the rumor here.  And even if it is only a rumor, it would have no life if those of us who live here weren’t so shocked by the things these warnings say.   They don’t adequately describe what we see here every day.  But, staying on the food topic, the part of the travel warning that raised my eyebrows was this:

“If you intend to work for an organization involved in relief efforts in Haiti, be aware that living conditions are difficult and the availability of food supplies, clean drinking water and adequate shelter is limited.  If you are seeking work with a relief organization you should confirm before traveling to Haiti that the organization has the capability to provide food, water, transportation, and shelter for its paid and volunteer workers.”

If this is true, at least humor us and give us a season of “Survivor: Haiti”.  I want to see Jeff Probst stir disputes at tribal counsel after somebody fails their tribe by refusing to swallow an entire fillet of cat.   This travel warning makes it sound as if working in Haiti will require you to scavenge the dilapidated ruins of some earthquake ravaged gas station mini mart, searching for the last crumb of a post-apocalyptic twinky that the roaches haven’t yet discovered. The travel warning also implies that the only reason an American might come to Haiti is to offer emergency relief, as if settling in and developing something sustainable or simply living a normal life is unheard of here.

Those of us who live in Haiti and frequent one of the hundreds of local markets or the scores of grocery stores here know that food scarcity in Haiti is simply not the issue.  There is plenty of food in Haiti… if you have money.  The food is not cheap and the produce is not always as cosmetically enhanced as what you may see in your American super market, but it’s here.  All around.  And it’s for sale.   If you have an income.  Oh… and 70-90% of the food is American.  That’s a big part of why there are no jobs in Haiti.  The unemployment rate hovers hauntingly around the same percentage as the imported food rate.  As American imported goods, largely sent as food aid, have swept into the Haitian market, Haitian farmers could not compete with the low prices offered by U.S. farmed grains.  The prices of American grains have been lowered dramatically by excessive production and government subsidies.  (Have you seen King Corn or Food Inc?)  Our cheap food is not only making us fat, but it’s making the world poor and dependent.

Bill Clinton, in what has to be one of the most redemptive moments in international politics I’ve ever seen, publicly renounced American international food aid policies and apologized for the way in which his own tarrifs and relief strategies in Haiti effectively increased poverty and sapped the dignity of the poor.  He says, ““It was a mistake. . . I have to live everyday with the consequences of the loss of capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti.”  Why?  Because of the rice we gave away to Haitians.  Clinton says our generosity helped Arkansas farmers while hurting the Haitian people. 

I’m very excited to see the film “Hands that Feed” when I get a chance.  This film promises to give a more thorough treatment to the issue of Haitian food sovereignty.  You can see a trailer of sorts here: Hands That Feed- Video Pitch.   If we don’t change our ways of thinking about charity, Haiti will be kept in poverty as a result of well meaning, good-hearted, generous people who don’t understand the dynamics of poverty, aid, relief, and development.  

Landmark Christian Church is not the only ministry gearing up to ship peanut butter to Haiti.  Lifeline Christian Mission has a goal of distributing 90,000 jars of peanut butter to Haiti every year, and has already sent 350,000 since 2002.  Comparably, we see far more boxes of “Feed My Starving Children” rice than we see bags of Haitian grown rice.  This is bought by churches and private Christian donors from American sources and then shipped to Haiti.  This is poor stewardship.  If just the shipping cost were invested into developing sustainable agriculture, developing compost programs, and purchasing seeds an irrigation technology, the aid rice would not be needed.  I’m not saying to cut off all aid, but that anybody involved in food aid ought, as a matter of conscience, be investing at least as much into development of sustainable food sources as they are into the expensive and unsustainable practice of shipping in foreign food.  They also ought to purchase as much as possible of the food they are contributing from the nations that they are trying to help. 

After the earthquake we saw a charicature of Haiti: Merchants sitting trying to sell their produce while banks did not yet function.  Everybody was hungry, there was plenty of food, and nobody had any money.  That’s not so different from the macroeconomic picture in Haiti today.  I encourage anybody who can do so in as kind a manner as possible to personally contact food ministries and aid organizations and suggest that they buy indigenous foods, seek to sharply discern the moment at which emergencies that demand relief are no longer emergencies, and strive to develop agriculture in places of hunger.  Call Lifeline Christian Mission.  Call Feed My Starving Children.  Don’t call Landmark Christian Church (We’ve already overwhelmed them from Facebook traffic).  Contact the news station that ran the Landmark Church peanut butter story.  Definitely contact your favorite orphanage or charity in Haiti and tell them that you want to help them find ways to spend your money to purchase local goods so that your giving doesn’t further break the Haitian economy.  Make a big no-strings attached financial donation to show your unconditional support. (People don’t make positive decisions for change when they feel controlled by somebody’s funds, they make changes because you care and are committed to them, no matter what they do).  At the Apparent Project we are working on making it easier for organizations to find locally produced items and will soon blog a list of resources along those lines.  In the meantime, if you are thinking about sending something to Haiti, a good place to start looking for indigenous Haitian alternative products is haiti.buildingmarkets.org or the local “509 Business directory” that is available in print at locations such as Handal.  Your money will go a lot farther if you don’t have to ship something and if you don’t undercut the local economy.

If you want to help address the broad malnourishment and emergency food needs in Haiti, the best option, in my opinion, is to buy Medika Mamba for local distribution from Meds and Food for Kids, or to make a donation to their overall mission.  Medika Mamba (“Peanut Butter Medicine”) is amazing stuff.  I have distributed this peanut butter after the earthquake and have seen my friends at Real Hope For Haiti save hundreds of lives using this completely Haitian-made miracle food.  It tastes like a cross between a Power Bar and a Reese’s peanut butter cup, and it makes skinny kids chunky (No, that’s not Jackson’s secret).  Best of all,  Medika Mamba undercuts the root causes of malnutrition by providing jobs and sustainable agriculture to Haiti.

I would FULLY support Lifeline and Landmark Christian Church’s efforts if they were purchasing and distributing Haitian made peanut butter instead of spending a ton of money on shipping containers of American peanut butter to a country with the capacity to produce peanuts and loads of excellent peanut butter. Americans pack Haitian peanut butter back to the states in their suitcases because the stuff is so good.  Some of it is made with a spicy pepper added to give it a real creole kick.  Heck, Haitians even write songs about their peanut butter!  There are many local peanut butter producers, such as REBO (who also makes some of the best coffee in the world) or PIDY, not to mention hundreds of local ma & pa mamba makers that sell in the grocery stores.  You can even order Haitian mamba online to be delivered in a gift basket with other Haitian foods: http://haititrading.com/Goupam/index.html

George Washington Carver, the freed slave and inventor who re-discovered peanut butter and revolutionized farming practices in the south, once said,  “Anything will give up its secrets if you love it enough. Not only have I found that when I talk to the little flower or to the little peanut they will give up their secrets, but I have found that when I silently commune with people they give up their secrets also – if you love them enough.”  This is such perfect wisdom for those who wish to help the poor.  Don’t treat the poor like a problem.  When we hear “malnourishment” let’s not think of skinny kids with gaping baby bird mouths grasping and gasping for food.  The only answer to this image is food.  But if we treat starving people as people before we treat them as an issue, we will get at their secret.  Let’s ask, why are they starving?  More importantly, let’s ask THEM.  Let’s love people enough to speak their language and serve them according their needs and their requests.  Haitians are asking for education and jobs far more than they are looking for handouts.  Let’s listen to them.  Poverty is almost always avoidable.  Our earth is too rich and ready to burst forth life for poverty and starvation to be natural.  God didn’t abandon anybody to poverty… other forces have separated the poor from the bounty that is readily under their feet.  We must love the poor to get at their secret and team up with them so that they can liberate themselves from the internal and external forces that make them hungry.  This love for the poor, attention to creation, and quite a bit of prayer, is exactly how George Washington Carver discovered so many uses for the peanut in the first place.

When Jesus told his disciples to be the “salt of the earth”, I think he meant to be the spice of life, people of taste, people that bring out the best in others, people that keep the odor of death from touching the sweet things of life, people that preserve what nourishes so that it doesn’t go to waste… Unfortunately, often in spite of our best intentions, we Christians can sometimes end up being more like stinging salt in the world’s eyes, and its wounds.  Of the many tears we see in Haiti, more than I’d like to say are flowing as an indirect result of the uninformed actions of the Church and others who come to help.  It doesn’t have to be this way.  I hope that this blog will inspire action and more thoughtful help from those of you who, like myself, want their life to be lived in the love of God, creation, and humanity.

by Corrigan Clay

32 Comments
  1. Thank you, Corrigan! This is a great post, and I hope it opens eyes and hearts to truly help Haiti!

  2. Thanks for taking the time to write this Corrigan. I shared it on my facebook page.

  3. Well-said. "I'm not saying to cut off all aid, but that anybody involved in food aid ought, as a matter of conscience, be investing at least as much into development of sustainable food sources as they are into the expensive and unsustainable practice of shipping in foreign food."
    Cute title. 🙂

  4. Wow, definitely food for thought. Thanks for posting.

  5. Would love if you opened up a "share on facebook" option…it links much better!

    I think this post was really needed — people don't realize that some times "humanitarian" aid actually HURTS a country rather than help it!

  6. Hopped over from the Livesays' blog. LOVE this. You did an amazing job being loving but firm. Thank you!

  7. So well said – thanks for this. We can do better.

  8. Fantastic post, Corrigan. I, too, was pretty disgusted when I saw the press release and sent the church and news outlet a letter a few days ago. (I blogged about it yesterday as a matter of fact, but not with this level of depth and empathy!)

  9. Excellent post – may I re-post here in Canada? – I recently did a series on responding to poverty and I would love to share this link…..
    Nicky Byres
    nickybyres.blogspot.com

  10. another church sending peanut butter? there was a story of this in the news about 5 years ago here, pre-quake, about the same thing. i also wrote to the church highlighting much of what you said. sigh….how do get through to people?!?!?

  11. Thank you so much for sharing those IMPORTANT words and for offering real solutions!!

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  14. I am sooooooooooooo glad you keep posting things like this, informing us all of what works and what doesn't. PLEASE keep posting such vital information!!!!!!!!

  15. Love this post. Love the way you speak the truth in love. Hoping lots of people will read, ponder, and change the way they think about poverty in general, and Haiti specifically. Keep it up.

  16. Thank you all for your encouraging comments. Madam Pemberly, thanks to your kind request, we now have a "share to facebook" button, along with a share to twitter, share to Google Buzz, share to Blog, and a +1 option. Thanks for the tip!

  17. Awesome. I would love to share this on my blog. It's something I too believe in, and would love to send some of my followers your way.

  18. A great post that was very informative. It's hard to know what to do and what organization to give money too. I have to admit I am a bit distrusting of alot of agencies because of mismanagement of funds, but if you can get us a list of agencies to send money too, I would so appreciate it.

  19. Excellent and so true… "Don't just do something, stand there! …then do something." Continuing to lift you and Shelley up in prayer, Corrigan. Thank you for this important blog and your ongoing efforts to serve Haiti.

  20. Thank you so much. I'm going to share it on my blog, too. People are always asking me how they can help Haiti, and I never feel as though I have enough information. I do say that donating directly is the most efficient way – but yes, I quickly saw what you were saying about peanut butter and pork, and I'd already read about the rice issue. I wonder what else there is I don't know about.

  21. Agree! We've been working in Haiti for 13 years and part of our work is encouraging Haitians to grow Moringa trees-the leaves are full of protein and vitamins. No need to import!! I too get upset when hearing groups and churches collecting items that can be bought in Haiti. Support the local Haitians who sell these items. Support the local Haitian business folks! Help folks to grow their own food and then be able to sell any extra. Help Haitians to be able work and earn money to support their own families.
    http://www.portmargot.blogspot.com for more information about Moringa and our work.

  22. YES! YES! YES! I whole-heartedly agree. Thank you for being so thorough. I will now point people to this post when I can't find words to explain why so many short-term solutions have the exact opposite effect than intended. We give out Medika Mamba at our clinic on the mountain. I love that it's made locally.

    Thank you for writing this!!!

  23. Thanks for writing this. Since I reposted after Britney (above comment) posted on facebook, I've seen this link spreading through many various circles of friends on facebook. This type of information NEEDS to go viral.

  24. I re-posted on my blog in Canada (with link back to you) and friends have re-posted in South Africa…… THANK YOU for such a thought provoking post – God is using your words.

  25. Corrigan, thank you for doing your work in ministry and for the assistance you give others in doing their work of ministry. You are by far my favorite ministry to partner with. I'm honored that I can support your efforts!

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  27. I could spend weeks reading books trying to get a good picture of the problems of aid.. or I could read your blog. I passed it on and it blessed many more. thank you so much for putting the effort and words forward. it's readable in the time span this busy american mess offers us.

  28. Well and thoughtfully written! We need way more of this kind of information to be saturating the media so that people wanting to do good can do so effectively. Thanks for taking the time and effort to put this out there.

  29. Thanks for writing this post – I really appreciate your concern and thought on the subject. As an employee of Feed My Starving Children (FMSC), the effect of food aid on development is a subject our organization thinks about a lot (and has studied with tools like the book "When Helping Hurts" and other resources). Dependence can be a real result around the world, especially in Haiti.

    Since FMSC is very aware of this reality, we've made an effort to focus on sustainability. Here are a few areas where we are active:

    – When evaluating who we’ll partner with to receive meals, FMSC studies each potential recipient’s commitment to sustainable and progressive work in their communities. We are committed to making sure our food is not a hand-out, but rather the fuel in the engine of momentum towards progress. Our partners do work in many areas of community development including micro-enterprise assistance, farming practice development, clean water initiatives, education and business training, sustainable tourism, and many other long-term focused initiatives.

    – Working with partners such as Compatible Technologies International, FMSC is developing strategies to help the people of countries, like Haiti, become more self sufficient (http://www.prweb.com/releases/2011/1/prweb8058592.htm). Along with helping provide grain grinders and other equipment, FMSC has facilitated consulting in crop processing, food formulations, and water purification systems.

    – The FMSC MarketPlace is a store (online and at our pack sites) where shoppers can buy goods produced by the people in communities that receive our food. FMSC purchases goods like jewelry, baskets, soap, and coffee (from artisans and co-ops in Nicaragua, Haiti, Uganda, others) at a fair price to resell. We believe this will help provide local businesses with a sustainable income, dignity from their work, and a possible path towards independence.

    While sustainability is complicated, FMSC is dedicated to making it a core priority in our work. I’d be more than happy to answer any other questions about our involvement in development, Haiti, or food aid.

  30. I'm a year late to finding your blog and reading this but THANK YOU for sharing. This was enlightening to me.

    We have seen food inc, now I want to watch King Corn! I love that the Mamba you said was made in Haiti. I will try to donate to that group sometime soon (I pulled up all the websites you linked to).

    I shared this on fb and will add it to pinterest at all. 🙂

  31. May I share this… I have never met you just your lovely wife! I live in Gonaives!

  32. thanks for sharing.

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