So, the worst part about Olnite and Carmesuze (click on their names to read their stories) dying was probably what happened after they died. Since both of them had been a part of the Starfish program so long plus were both actively still repaying loans, there was clearly still a relationship we held with them.
Relationships can be a beautiful thing, right? But with them come a responsibility, right? In Haiti those responsibilities are kind of to the extreme, especially for the Starfish participants. Think about the last time you felt responsible for a friend’s health issues. Probably never. Of course if said friend had received a severe diagnosis you’d come alongside to support, pray and encourage your friend. You may put together a meal for the family or start a fundraiser on the internet. But, would you carry the responsibility to find the doctors; find the right hospital that even has the resources to care for your friend; pay for the transportation to make sure the friend gets to hospital; pay for the medication and/or treatment? You simply wouldn’t, because that’s not our reality here. Our healthcare has some pretty big flaws, I get that, but its availability and our access to it is something so profound. For my friends in Haiti, it’s a miracle just to find a doctor and a hospital that can treat you. For my friends, it’s another miracle to find the resources to pay for the medication and/or treatments as well. Sometimes my friends don’t even go to the hospital because they simply can’t afford paying public transportation $5 to get to the hospital. So, if I really care about my friends, or literally anyone who asks for help, I basically become responsible for everything.
So, with all of that information as the back story, let me tell you about a Tuesday.
It was this past summer. A few weeks have passed since both Olnite and Carmesuze have passed away. I’m pregnant and it’s a victory for me to be up and out of my house; the Haitian summer heat was my biggest foe. It’s Tuesday, which means it’s Starfish day. The thirty-five women in the program meet together to share worship, a lesson and a hot meal together. We have great Haitian leaders in place to take care of mostly everything, so I’m around just to help with whatever. Beljoy artisans are working on the balcony and so I’m also interacting with them. The Starfish meeting is held inside the adjoining room to the balcony. It’s a hot, busy morning.
To get to the balcony, you walk up a staircase and turn a corner to a small hallway before walking into the spacious balcony. People who “need” me are usually found in the hallway, waiting for my attention. This particular Tuesday morning the hallway seemed especially busy.
First I remember Marjori’s teenage daughter. Marjori has severe diabetes, also a graduate from our Starfish program, and she conveniently sent her daughter to remind me that their rent is up and they really want us to build them a new home. Yup, got it.
Two more women come in to make a payment on their small business loans. I can clearly remember the one talking to me about school fees and how she’s still in need of help. Yup, got it. “We will just continue doing everything for you for the rest of your life,” were my thoughts.
Then came Olnite’s eighteen-year-old daughter. Now that her mom was gone she became the adult of the house. She’s come looking for all the answers. Answers I simply do not have for her. Olnite still had over $200 saved up from her business loan, but I wanted to be cautious on how I gave her daughter the money, wanting to make it last as long as possible. The reality being that this 18-year-old was now responsible for her three younger siblings at home and how were we to ensure they would have full bellies at night and the opportunity to go to school without their mama around? We made the decision that day that she could come every Tuesday to get dry food to take home for the family; it’s something we give to all the Starfish participants, so what’s one more family? We would give her $20 a month from her mom’s savings to help her buy whatever else they needed; this would last her ten months, after that, I have no idea what we will do. We also paid the school fees for the three younger siblings, what will happen next year, again I have no idea.
But, the problems weren’t over yet, because next up was Carmesuze’s two daughters with their aunt. We sat in the small room where I store all the supplies for Beljoy. The four of us sat on plastic chairs and I had a small towel in my hand to wipe the sweat from my brow. I offered them a glass of water, so I could catch my breath before hearing all the problems.
That’s the biggest thing to recognize, they’re never there with a good report. If they’re standing in the hallway, needing your attention, it’s never for anything easy.
The aunt began to tell me about all the debt the family was now in due to Carmesuze’s medical treatments and funeral. She informed me of their decision to sell her house in order to pay off all the debt and that was the last thing I wanted to happen, because what happens to the girls in a few years when they become adults and need a house of their own? I asked how much the debt was exactly and after a few calculations on my phone, it was a bit over $250 American.
It’s kind of mind-blowing, isn’t it? That $250 worth of debt can be so destructive. I conveniently had had a friend visiting me the week before this nightmare of a Tuesday. When she left for the airport, she handed me an envelope with cash inside and told me to use it for whatever I needed. I received it with a grateful heart, but never took the time to count how much money was exactly in the envelope. Well, as I sat there facing these two young girls who just had their world shattered by the loss of their mama, I knew the money in the envelope would have the power to fix so many things for them.
The envelope ended up having $400 in it, so we paid off the funeral debt and the aunt promised me she would not sell the house. I tried to explain as best as I could how important that house was to Carmesuze when she received it and how important it will be to the girls as they grow. Please God, please, do not let them sell that house! We gave them the remaining $150 to help prepare for school. Up to that point, the girls had been going to a rather expensive school in Minoterie, our neighboring village. I told them I would be unable to pay those fees since their mom was no longer a part of our program, but I invited them to start coming to school in Simonette at our own community school. The aunt was concerned at first because that would mean a two-mile roundtrip walk for the girls each day to get to and from school, but the younger of the daughters perked up and started naming her friends she could walk with!
I write this blog because this day just stands out to me as one of the hardest days this year. The dying part is hard; the overcoming part is even harder. I feel like when I write I sometimes just sound like a broken record, writing things like “I’m constantly problem solving; the problems are so complex; it’s been a hard day” and this is me trying to explain those phrases. It’s still hard to paint the whole picture, because nothing is an easy fix. How do we overcome the lack of resources, the lack of knowledge, the lack of understanding, the lack of…every. damn. thing? The lack of everything makes it all seem so hopeless. Man, I just seem so hopeless, don’t I?
What I’m really trying to get at is I have this excessive amount of information from my experiences. The stories I’ve been told, the problems people have presented to me. Seriously, if I had a dollar for every time someone came to me and said “I have a problem,” I’d be well on my way to being a millionaire. I’ve seen the hundreds of ways short-term missions, hand-out mentalities and people with white-savior complexes have come in and done so much damage – all with good intentions, of course. I know the ways I’ve done more harm than good, too.
But, what do we do with that? When we realize that stuffing shoe boxes full of cheap crap and spending billions of dollars to ship the crap around the world just so the “poor” can have a Christmas gift is doing more harm than good, how do we stop and educate people on that? When we realize hundreds of thousands of children are living in institutions because their parents are so poor they believe it is better for the children to be there and the American church is funding the orphanages instead of investing in the families, how do we call them out and turn them towards a better solution? How do we stop the exploitation, when it’s all for the sake of the poor? How do we shift from the mindset of “I’m so blessed” and “poor them” to waking up and realizing Jesus didn’t die on a cross for there to be this dramatic margin between “me” and them”? How do we actually change the world when our society tells us to buy, buy, buy and materials, sex and booze are the only things that will bring true happiness? Jesus? He’s always second best.
How do we break these walls and allow the children of Olnite and Carmesuze to actually have a shot at making it? And not making it by our American standards, you know the ones with white picket fences, fancy cars and closets filled with expensive clothes. But making it meaning they have access to clean water, good education, maybe a job that pays them more than $2/day, safe shelter and food in their bellies at the end of the day. How do we stop Olnite’s kids from the facing the reality of cancer bursting out of their skin and Carmesuze’s kids from the reality of Tuberculosis, a very treatable disease, from killing them?
How do we take all of our knowledge, our resources, our wealth and share it with those who have none? How do we become Christians that radically change the world?