Hazel, Flora, Cleo, Matthew. The list extends far beyond these four names, Category 4 and 5 hurricanes that have swept through the Atlantic over the past two hundred years, a history of destruction to the small island of Hispanola, particularly Haiti. On October 4, 2016, Hurricane Matthew wreaked havoc on the Southwestern region of Caribbean island, stealing innocent lives and destroying homes, businesses, beaches and anything else in the storm’s path. The devastation is unmistakable, but unfortunately, what Haiti lacks is immediate and legitimate access to reliable news sources. Most Haitians don’t own a television or a radio, much less have the ability to afford cable or consistent electricity. It is common to see groups of people gathered around a small t.v. screen on the street at a local barber shop or restaurant, in hopes of catching a glimpse at whatever has caught their attention. Chain messages are sent from one cell phone to the next, Facebook posts are created, and word by mouth spreads faster than wildfire, but there’s no guarantee any of the shared information is accurate. The people are unable to adequately prepare, but even if they could, to where would they evacuate? How would they stock up on supplies when they can barely afford to eat that day? They are trapped within the borders of a country roughly the size of Maryland in the middle of the Atlantic, a hub for hurricanes and tropical storms. So they buckle down inside their homes, many unstable, most made of materials that could never withstand a natural disaster, and they pray to their God, their gods, to anything that may protect them from what they cannot expect.
Haiti suffers from another disadvantage; its terrain, over the course of two centuries, has been stripped of a majority of their trees and forests, natural obstructions protecting the land and the people from flooding, wind and landslides. According to Dr. Jeffrey Masters, “as of 2004, only 1.4% of Haiti’s forests remained,” due to the production of charcoal, a main source of energy for the Haitian people. No one could have ever anticipated the devastation of Matthew. How could they even begin to pick up the pieces of their lives ruined in an instant? No insurance. No escape. No emergency relief (aside from local organizations). No systems of support. It is a situation most will never experience.
Last fall, I sat on the phone for what felt like hours, listening to the cries of a friend who had lost everything she had owned from. She spoke, I listened. I usually conjure up some words of advice, something consoling, but this time I couldn’t. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t understand. I couldn’t understand because we are two different people from two different cultures who have experienced two different worlds. She had spent a couple thousand dollars, her entire life savings, building a concrete home and it was gone in a moment. She had no savings, no plan b, no means to rebuild her life. Her possessions were soaked, many damaged beyond repair.
But what the Haitian people possess is beyond anything material they lack. Disaster after disaster, hardship after hardship, they carry on because they must. Rather than dwelling on the past, they move forward with resilience, unlike any I have ever experienced. There is no time for pity, so they choose to be strong, even in the midst of their pain. They wipe their tears and they rise, knowing that if they don’t, they will get left behind.
What the Haitian people need, and what they have always needed, is support. They need to know they have not been forgotten. To support Haiti is to support the economy, to invest into the people and their gifts. To support Haiti is to recognize they have something to offer the world, that they are not poor and pitiful people, but a nation of vibrance, of color and of incredible talent. Next time you consider helping Haiti, remember fair trade businesses like Papillon, where your purchase directly empowers the artisans – incredible Haitian people.