501(c)3 Non-Profit | Empowering Haitian Families

The Show Off Chronicles, Part 2: The Formula for Helping Haiti

Apparent Project Photo Journal 1: A month After the Earthquake from Corrigan Clay on Vimeo.

These photos were taken by myself (Corrigan Clay), my wife Shelley, and some of our friends and the street kids and orphans in our program in the first month after Haiti’s big quake on Jan. 12. There is beauty coming out of the ashes.

I’ve had too many adventures since my last blog to really capture them all. Highlights have been the many miracles of provision and restoration that God has poured out. I will mention one of those in this blog and many more in the next blog. I’ve also been very blessed by the many visits from people who love me and my family: Thank you Robert Wade, Dan Randall, Becky Lee, the Jarrots, and Bono. Just kidding, a famous musician like Robert Wade probably wouldn’t have time to visit me in Haiti, but at least I can dream. Thanks for keeping up with us even if I struggle to find time to write.

Before you get into this post, you are going to want to listen to the first part of Roody Joseph’s story on NPR’s “The Story” : http://thestory.org/archive/the_story_965_Roody_Joseph.mp3
Roody is seen in this picture (on the right).

A few weeks ago a woman named Susan Goldfield emailed me after finding my contact info online. I’m not totally sure how she found me. Maybe she just Googled “Haiti” and “orphans”. At any rate, she had listened to the Roody Joseph Story and had decided that she wasn’t going to rest until she found a way to help him help the babies in Leogane. (That’s Roody in the picture above) Leogane was 90% demolished in the earthquake and there were many babies without moms and many moms without food. Roody had discovered and made great sacrifices to help these moms and babies (seriously, you have to listen to the story). So Susan emailed me and asked if I could deliver $1,500 worth of formula to Roody and a bunch of babies in Leogane. She would donate the money to Apparent Project and I would use it purchase and drive the stuff to Leogane.

The morning I was supposed to make the delivery Susan’s donation hadn’t yet showed up online, and I wondered if I should just go ahead and go buy the formula on faith (spelled “c-r-e-d-i-t”) or if I should just wait a few days for her donation to come through. I decided that the aid couldn’t wait and I’d just bite the bullet and buy the formula, but just as I started to shut down my computer I received an email from my friend, Richard Mears, asking if I needed any baby formula! He said he had some coming on a truck literally at that moment. I drove to the drop off point and they gave me 10 cases of Enfamil. That’s 240 cans of formula, which would sell for $3,000 here. So I received exactly twice the amount of formula I could have bought, for free mind you, 5 minutes before I was supposed to deliver it. God was showing off again!

The formula drop went well, and Roody and I talked about ways that he could better serve these women and children. Like virtually all of the aid groups distributing stuff, he had conceived of just pulling up to the tent cities and dropping off the supplies. The problem that he was facing was that when you do this you inevitably get bum-rushed by hungry Haitians motivated by fear and self-preservation. We saw women pass their babies off to other women so they could get a double supply of formula for their child (and implicitly deny another infant the opportunity to eat). With these mass distributions any attempt to establish a line or a perimeter just dissolves into a mob, usually ending with the truck being shut prematurely and the distributors leaving frantically or, if the UN is involved, rubber bullets or batons are used to “keep the peace”. The other problems with these mass distributions are that you end up with the most agile and vicious getting to the front of the line, people migrate between distributions to horde supplies, and the people who walk away with the most loot are seen and sometimes followed and beaten by those who didn’t get anything.

There is a better way to do all this. What the missions and churches in our neighborhood have decided to do is to distribute through a team of lay leaders. Each leader travels with another, carrying food or other supplies inconspicuously in backpacks between the two of them. These go together to 12 families, seeking to bring relationship first so that the arrangement is more centered around genuine personal care than some programatic “relief aid”. The carrier just enters into conversation with each person, assessing their physical, spiritual, emotional, vocational, and familial needs, encouraging and praying for the family, and then they report back to the larger group to see if we as a community can share our resources and outside aid sources with these families through a caring relationship. There is never any violence with this method, you always know the REAL needs of the recipient, (so nothing gets wasted), and the kingdom of God is represented through love and personal attention. Our assumption is that Jesus really knew what he was doing when he sent his disciples out, and that conviction has motivated our model of equipping and sending aid. When Jesus fed people he didn’t drop the food in the middle of a mob, but he sent out waiters. Through his healings he invited people into community relationships and he let others share in the work he was doing. His proclamation of his kingdom came in the context of addressing people’s needs. We believe that these lay leaders going to individuals to express care are preparing the way for Jesus himself to arrive and make his loving presence and provision known in these homes (see Luke 10:1).

Not only are these smaller, personal deliveries within the community less wasteful, more broadly impacting, safer, and more true to Christ, they prevent corruption as well. Each lay person’s impact and control of resources is too small for them to do too much damage to the community if they decide to horde, sell, or otherwise abuse the system, and their 12 recipients will know if they stop showing up or if they are keeping stuff to themselves. Having each person go out in twos also provides further accountability. Decentralizing the power over the supply allows for more of a sense of community and shared achievement as well.

As we find unserved areas in the community we are trying to get more churches to provide lay leaders to distribute more aid and to team together. This is not about one physical church or missions group, it’s about the body of Jesus Christ using all its organs to make HIS kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. Hopefully eventually the church will be unified in this and provide a model that will help future disaster response efforts. If the global church doesn’t know the people in its community and doesn’t have a relationship of care and service, it won’t be quick enough to respond to disasters. We have learned that the hard way: our disunity before the quake has been challenged by this tragedy, and we know we could have done this all better if there had been greater unity and more of a presence of caring relationship in our neighborhoods amongst those outside the Body of Christ.

Meanwhile, in Aid-ville:
The large aid groups continue to fight for contracts and money, with still very little visible aid penetrating into the communities. Honestly, I’m kind of thankful for that. There are already enough folks destroying Haiti’s local economies by flooding the slums with free rice and no options for work. There is so much work to be done… the Haitians could clean the trash out of the streets and water ways, build toilets, and begin to move rubble in exchange for the food aid, giving more dignity and a better, cleaner, safer community living space. Those of us who have been here for a while know that empowerment and responsibility are probably Haiti’s truest needs, but the swoop-in-saviors can undo years of work overnight by providing everything for free, creating dependencies, and prolonging the poverty here until they eventually pull the plug and leave. The truth is, and I’m serious about this: there is more food in Haiti right now than before the earthquake. There is so much, I imagine, that when it finally gets into the streets it will be silly for merchants to continue to sell. Why would they sell? To feed their families? Why work to feed others when there is rice for free? Are people going to be buying? Not if there’s free rice.

The UN does aid through “cluster groups” aimed at specific issues of need. Water, Sanitation, Food, Shelter, Health, nutrition, child protection, Development, etc. These big groups hold meetings intending to plug NGOs working on the same issues into a unified response. The primary clearing house for this effort is the oneresponse website. Now, websites work well for NGOs with $10,000 satellite internet systems in the back of their Hummers, but most Haitians who know the culture, are on the ground and ready to help their neighbors don’t have much money or time to access the web right now from tent city, and they don’t speak English, which seems to be the main language being used. When I tried on various occasions to enter our info on the oneresponse real time map, the site’ server was too bogged down to do anything. When I asked some major NGO leads how to get food, tents, and water from the larger aid groups into our community they told me “Well, you need to be part of a large NGO in order to really work within those clusters, a small private effort is not really supported by the cluster system, we are dealing with big picture issues.” These people encouraged me to gather all the local missionaries together to form a big NGO so that we would have some clout with the big organizations and be able to receive aid through them. (Again, if only we’d been unified before) So, I’m thinking: I have an existing NonProfit, web access, speak Creole and English, have a record of service in Haiti, a typed assesment of needs in our community, and a million relational connections to back me up and it’s difficult for me to connect into the resource machine: how hard will it be for Haitian community organizations to plug in? What about Haitian families?

The problem is that at the end of the day there are not just a bunch of “big issues” in Haiti. There are people. Families. Dad. Mom. Sister. Brother. Small needs: One 5 gallon jug of clean water. One cast for a broken leg. One package of diapers. A little bit of dinner. And when you ask a big aid organization to provide THAT, it’s not worth their time. But THAT is the ONLY kind of need in Haiti: personal needs. And when you drop a resource in the middle of a bunch of people and families with needs, you turn them into Issues rather than people: a violence issue, a sharing issue, a selfishness and fear issue. At very least you are treating them as if they have only one need: They are a food issue (or whatever else you are dropping). But when we go serve ONE AT A TIME, wanting to bring the kingdom of God to individuals in whatever way they need, we serve people. We listen to stories, we comfort the mourning, we feed the hungry, we laugh with the bored, we rebuild with the homeless, we reunite the separated, we find work for the jobless, we heal the sick, we look at all the crappyness of a person’s situation and imagine to ourselves “What would this person’s life look like if heaven came to earth right now?” And we pray and spend ourselves to help that person find that Kingdom growing within and changing things inside, outside, and around. And we don’t do that alone, we do that with the gifts of the body working together. All the world is waiting for “relief” workers that are not seeking their own kingdom but the kingdom of self-sacrificing love. All creation will moan and pine until every square millivanillimeter of this planet has been returned to its owner.

So, what is the formula for aiding Haiti? I think it is doing what Susan Goldfield did: let a particular story connect you with a particular people, and then form relationships with those people and spend your resources to help and empower them through particular problems. Said another way: Don’t donate to a problem, donate to people. Not all needs, after all, are met through money, food, water, or shelter, and when we address issues we miss the more precise nature of each individual’s needs. One of the greatest needs right now, for example, is for the fears of Haitians to be relieved. Many of the people living in tent cities have homes, they are just afraid to sleep in them because of the fears of the masses. We need more structural engineers and counselors to help bring peace to families so they can go back home, or give them the information to decide whether their home is safe. Susan, having helped connect us to the unmet needs of people in Leogane in their time of trouble, is now finding other needs that her funds can help, and she has been asking me specifics about who needs help and how she can contribute. As I share with her these many needs, she is choosing ways to help that she believes in personally and can connect to. This personal involvement is the best, most efficient, and most holistic form of aid possible. I encourage you to find more stories and respond where your heart is touched by forming a relationship through which help can flow. Thanks to the hundreds who have done just that! I am so blessed and full of joy to be your arms and feet and eyes in Haiti.

  1. Corrigan,
    Let me introduce you to Marilee Viox- a mom of two who lives in Morrow, Ohio. During Roody's NPR broadcast, she phoned me sobbing. I had been working with the Hotel Montana families on line for days and I was pretty well versed on what was happening in Haiti. Through her sobs, I was able to make out the name Roody Joseph, babies, and the words starving in Haiti. I told her, "It's Ok, we're going to do something about this." And she instantly stopped crying and began to breathe. I spent days trying to track Roody down, and finally armed with real people who knew him (Rebecca Williams and Susan Harrel at Promised Provision in Florida) I then had Roody's phone number. We began looking for someone in Haiti to come to Roody's aid. We had formula landing in PAP but no way to get it to Leogane. I put out a desperate plea for help to the Haiti Earthquake Hotel Montana Facebook page, and Susan Andrews Goldfield (who was already a friend through the page) came to our aid. Susan answered this call for help in more ways than I could have ever imagined. Not only had she remembered reading about Apparent Project, she took it upon herself to try and reach you. And when she did, she did a lot more than I ever imagined possible. From a housewife listening to NPR and crying out to a friend, who then reached out a few times more, came Susan, and then you, Corrigan. If that is not the Work of God, I have no idea what is.

  2. sounds like a lot of folks, other than just Roody, have a big heart. God bless and keep you all.

  3. Corrigan, thanks for the positive feedback! I do need to give credit to Kristin for sure. It was through our support at the Hotel Montana Facebook page that I learned of Roody's need… Kristin was the real "I will not let this problem go unsolved" person" and she continues to be for various other personal and family level issues in Haiti every day. But I whole heartedly agree, that the best way to provide real help to any group in crisis is via the organizations and individuals who understand the local social and economic situations and their culture so that they can provide REAL help. Personal help.

    One more deserved recognition should be pointed out here. There were a lot of US people doing aid work in Haiti who fled right after the earthquake. Corrigan and Roody both stayed to help, Roody at great personal cost. This is the ultimate gift, the rest of us are just vessels that provide some meager resources to help you meet really incredible hurdles.

  4. God's angels on earth. You all have given so that others may live. There is no greater gift. Thank you.

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