Haiti Update from Lauren Stanley

Last night I went to hear Rev. Lauren Stanley speak about the relief efforts in Haiti (after catching the end of the Daytona 500, of course, which made me a little late). She is a missionary of the Episcopal Church appointed to serve the the diocese of Haiti and has been asked to remain in the United States, coordinating immediate relief efforts and long-term development through the Episcopal Church and Episcopal Relief and Development.

So basically her boss is the Bishop of Haiti, Jean Zache Duracin (last I heard he was living in a tent). The Episcopal Church of Haiti is running something like 20 refugee camps and caring for more than 20,000 people. Among those are the priests, parishioners, parents and students of the churches and schools with which my own church has had a 20-year partnership.

So Lauren Stanley was giving Twin Cities churches an update on what’s happening on the ground in Haiti. I went to hear what’s happening in Haiti and learn how the money Color4aCause has raised is helping (a tiny, tiny fraction of the money that’s been raised). Lauren had sobering updates, butt-kicking statements and in-depth stories and history to share. She’s a firecracker.

A few random updates:

  • 300 students were buried in the rubble of the Holy Trinity trade school.
  • Another 200 students were buried in another collapsed school (I missed the name of it), one of the premier schools in Haiti. They managed to save 12, though some of those have since died.
  • When asked about clearing rubble, the bishop’s response has been, “We will not bulldoze our children into oblivion.”
  • As a result of all the students killed in collapsed schools, “Haiti has lost a generation of intellectual leaders.” That fallout of that will be felt for generations.
  • The Episcopal Church is going to be in crisis mode until they can give everyone who needs it food, shelter and medical attention.
  • As they plan for rebuilding they’re already seeing ridiculous bids from contractors and are going to be ripped off royally. They’re trying to find ways to minimize that as much as possible.
  • She talked about the urgent need for tents and temporary shelter in the face of the coming rainy season (see the work of one Atlanta church: A Home in Haiti): “Don’t give me a stupid-ass pup tent. I need a tent that will fit an entire family!”
  • Of money donated to Episcopal Relief and Development, 93 cents on the dollar ends up in the hands of the people they serve in the form of food, water, medicine, supplies, etc. The remaining 7 cents goes to getting those supplies to the people. None of it goes to administrative costs (those are picked up by the Episcopal Church. “You’re not going to see a lot of press releases for Episcopal Relief & Development or see our logo on anything. We just want to feed the people.”
  • “We ain’t got much, but we perform miracles.”
  • While in the U.S. the Episcopal Church is perceived as being a church of the elite, in Haiti, “We are the church of the poor.”
  • In the next 5 years Haiti is going to need people with these kinds of skills:
    • Construction
    • Pastoral care
    • Trauma care for children
    • Medical care
    • Teaching
    • Physical and occupational therapy
    • Art therapy (for children coping w/ trauma)
  • There is another 6.0-earthquake predicted for Haiti in the next six months. This one is expected to be more widespread.
  • Haiti is a country of with a long history of faith. The first eucharist was served in Haiti in 1493 (didn’t happen in the U.S. until 1608).
  • It’s also a country with a long history of getting stomped on by the rest of the world (and by their own corrupt leaders). Haiti has been getting the short end of the stick since Columbus landed in 1492. When Haitian slaves defeated Napoleon’s army and declared their independence, no country in the world would recognize them. They had to pay reparations to France for stealing their land and have faced tariffs and sanctions of one kind or another almost all the time (the U.S. just recently lifted some sanctions against Haiti before the quake). The U.S. invaded Haiti in 1915 and occupied the country until the 1930s. During that time we apparently reinstituted slavery. Thanks to tariffs and U.S. farm aid, it’s cheaper for Haitians to buy rice from the U.S. than to grow it themselves.
  • Recommended reading: Paradise Lost: Haiti’s Tumultuous Journey from Pearl of the Caribbean to Third World Hotspot by Philippe Girard for a history of Haiti and War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning by Chris Hedges, which explains national mythology and how that can hinder development. This is going to be a big issue for Haiti, especially the divide between those who survived the earthquake and resulting devastation and those areas that had minimal or no damage.
  • There’s an African term, ‘wabenzi’ that literally means people of the Benz, as in Mercedes Benz. These are the people who get rich or powerful and forget the people. It’s a derogatory term for those who don’t give back.
  • “Poverty is a sin. Poverty is caused by people who refuse to share of their bounty. When people are in poverty it’s because someone has turned their back. And sometimes that someone is us.”
  • “Right now Haiti is about pissing matches, organizations more focused on egos and wanting to be heroes than working together. And God’s children are suffering because of it. Stop the pissing matches.” (I couldn’t write fast enough, so this quote is summarized and not word for word.)
  • The Holy Trinity Cathedral was completely destroyed, which housed an incredible collection of Haiti artwork. Only one mural survived. (I realize artwork ranks pretty low on the scale of importance in the face of a tragedy like this, but it is an incredible cultural loss.)
  • “God says to you, you do your part and I will do my part. God has always done God’s part and the Episcopal Church of Haiti has always done its part. We ask that you do your part because we are one body and when any part of the body suffers the entire body suffers.” (again, paraphrased quote)

Lauren Stanley speaks with passion, conviction, fire and humor. She has quickly become one of a small group of folks I recognize who refuse to take a nickel and dime approach to stopping injustice and practice an inconvenient compassion that’s I find tremendously inspiring and at the same time personally shameful. These people routinely kick my butt for my own comfort, wealth, inaction and apathy. These are folks like Mark Horvath and Shaun King who get righteously angry. I find it both easy to ignore them, and also impossible. I want to turn away and not listen because what they say is hard. But I also find deep in my soul that I have to listen, I must listen. And more than listen, I need to act.

Afterword I went up to thank Lauren and quickly told her about Color4aCause. Not because we’ve done anything great with Color4aCause, but because I wanted her to know that we were working hard to help in our own small way. I gave her one of Lexi’s pictures (the crab) as a small thank you. She loved it and told me she was going to hang it in her office, and to be sure to tell Lexi that she was going to do that. I told Lexi this morning and she took it in quiet stride. I’m not sure if she really understood or if she was distracted by Sesame Street or if she was in awe that someone helping people in Haiti would hang her picture on their wall. Either way, she went back to work coloring more pictures for Haiti.

So do not forget Haiti. There is so much work to do and there will be for years and years. God is doing his part, the Haitians are doing their part, and we need to do our part.

You can do you part:

  1. Haiti has mostly fallen off the media’s radar, but you can stay updated. Lauren’s blog is packed with daily updates. It’s easy to turn away if we’re not aware of what’s happening.
  2. If you’re the praying type, pray.
  3. Donate. There are plenty of places you can donate. I’m pushing Color4aCause and we’re supporting Episcopal Relief & Development, but I don’t really care where you give as long as they’re doing good work. Do some research and give, give, give.

Thanks.

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