"Americans Know Nothing of Suffering"

I think we all get our turns in the crucible and suffer in different ways, but G. Dalrymple, writing of his experiences in Haiti, puts the complaints of day-to-day living into context:

* I was approached by an elderly woman on our first day at Petionville, asking for some food. I had none to give her, so I approached a US soldier who was there and asked him about where there might be a food distribution so the woman could get food. He said he had no idea…the UN used to do that, but the Haitian government stopped them, telling them that they wanted the UN to give the food to the local food distribution organizations to distribute. The UN complied. As it turns out, the local aid organizations took the free food that came in from all over the world and were not selling it; they were hoarding it in order to sell it. But the people, for the most part, had no money to buy it with. The Haitian government is so corrupt and I’m sure they’re in cahoots with the local distribution organizations. Someone will get rich off the backs of the poor, and many will die for someone else’s greed.

The stories could go on and on forever. Sadly, it isn’t only the Haitian government and food distribution organizations that aren’t getting the job done in Haiti. We saw very few organizations that were effectively doing anything. It is the NGOs (non-governmental organizations) that are caring for the people.

Suffice it to say: I hope never again to complain about anything in my life. The huddled masses, living 6-8 people in a “tent” that is about 6×6, the smell of the tent cities, the disease (malaria, dengue fever, tuberculosis, typhoid, diarrhea, HIV/AIDS) is beyond belief. I foresee no end to the misery in Haiti short of the return of the Lord. [...] Americans know nothing of suffering. If that devastation had happened in America, we would at least have a government with the means to provide equipment to move rubble, dig out bodies, provide food and water and shelter, but there is no such government in Haiti. I struggled with my parishioners who complained about the value of their stocks going down in the midst of the economic crisis. I wanted to literally grab them by the collar, slap them, and say, “Wake up! You have nothing to complain about! Nothing at all!” Not very compassionate for a pastor, but that is how I honestly felt.

But I also learned that Americans are perhaps far poorer than the Haitian people when it comes to faith. I saw people who had lost everything. At night, as dusk would fall over the Petionville camp, one could hear tens of thousands of voices rising up from the tent city in the valley below, singing songs of praise and thanksgiving to God. It was eerie, beautiful, and otherworldly. They were thankful for the gift of life itself. It wasn’t much of a life, by American standards, but it was the only thing they had left. And they were earnestly grateful for it. They were thanking God that they were spared from death in the quake and that they’d made it through one more day.

This piece is really much too long to excerpt justly, but I urge you to read it and pass it around.

I know some people hate looking at Haiti because of the overwhelming feeling of powerlessness that accompanies all of our sympathies; “my church should do something, maybe we can raise funds…” but even if a parish can raise thousands of dollars–even if they could purchase a boatload of the basic necessities of life, and toys for the children–getting the goods and provender into Haiti is staggeringly difficult, and distribution even more so.

Dalrymple says he cannot see Haiti being helped by anything but the coming of the Lord, and everything I read about Haiti, everyone I speak to of Haiti, expresses similar sentiments.

This makes all the more inspiring the life-commitments made by people like our friend “Missionary Ed” and Fr. Rick Frechette and Kent Annan–people who make their lives a prayer with Haiti

If Haiti can only be saved by the coming of the Lord, in the meantime let us pray for the people who are able and willing to “be” Christ for others in such a way, such a small, limited way, and support them as much as we can. I think of Mother Teresa’s notion of doing “small things with great love” and realize that even if the help and aid they can render is limited, their presence–their willingness to be present to others and to literally “set their tent” among them, as Christ did–is the great love that will last beyond their days, weeks or years of service.

On January 24th, Team Rubicon–that intrepid organization formed by ex-Marines and Jesuits, after the Haiti quake–will be reactivating to Haiti. From their newsletter:

Team Rubicon, in partnership with the International Medical Corps, will be returning to Haiti January 24th to establish and run cholera treatment centers on the periphery of Port au Prince. The IMC recently reached out to Team Rubicon, seeking TR’s assistance in the establishment of clinics following the election and anniversary. Recently, NGOs have been reducing their presence inside of Haiti because of political turmoil and an escalation in violence; this has created a gap in aid that Team Rubicon will help the IMC address.

I donate to Team Rubicon because they are bringing fresh energy and new ideas to this land-of-ongoing-crisis. Perhaps you could talk to your church or your bowling league or quilting club, or your work crew, about doing some fundraising to send their way. Or buy this book to aid Haiti Partners, or consider a small donation to Fr. Frechette’s Medical Aid endeavor.

Small things, we can do. Small things with great love–they make a difference, because real love lasts.

One year later, Letters from Haiti.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • http://twolfgcd.wordpress.com Galen Dalrymple

    Thank you, Elizabeth, for helping get the word out about the poor, but rich souls in Haiti – many our brothers in the Lord, but all our brothers and sisters in humanity.

  • francesca

    I can say also from experience that when you meet people from some of the African countries or from some South American places or Haiti it is so very hard as an American where just on instinct given calamity or crisis we rightly look to and expect aid and help to be provided from the government. Just as we are astounded to find that it does not happen that way they are also sometimes astounded to know of the resources that exist here as a starting point even in times of peace and without disaster. And the trust in God and thanks for His goodness! It really serves to shame us here in the dominant US.

  • dry valleys

    My own support went to Medicins Sans Frontieres as they are the most agenda-free aid organisation I can think of, just doctors treating sick people. They came in useful in Pakistan because so much innocently-given aid money reaches Islamists there, so naturally any donor would want to avoid that.

    They are not a theistic organisation, (as you can imagine I don’t shed tears over that), just people who have met their own needs in life & now want to use their talents on behalf of others.

    I do feel that giving has to be done so carefully when there is such potential for malign organisations to prey on people’s good will (Pakistan again makes that obvious).

    What I find impressive is that in countries that are so often sneered at, such as Haiti or many sub-Saharan African countries, people will make massive exertions on their own behalf or that of their children. They have to work much harder for few gains because they have so little capital, such poorly developed infrastructure, so through no fault of their own they are not very productive. Yet I will not see these countries as somehow permanent victims or inferior.

  • Suz

    Food For The Poor’s weekly emails serve as a reminder that I have NO problems. Even if, you know, I do. Lack of compassion for the lucky souls around you doesn’t translate into greater compassion for the staggeringly unfortunate, does it? Haiti is exhausting and frustrating. You do little things, or sometimes little bigger things, struggle for that elusive great love, praying to be less sick and tired of that same Lazarus on your doorstep day after day, knowing you can’t change the world but maybe just briefly alleviate some tiny bit of suffering somewhere—like lighting a candle for a forgotten soul in Purgatory—trust that it will do good, and persevere.

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  • Jennifer

    Elizabeth,
    Thanks for the information about Team Rubicon. I visited their site and they sound remarkable. Worthy of support. I like that you can donate money or purchase a piece of needed equipment so you know exactly what your support provided. God bless them for what they’re doing. Brave, generous souls.

  • Gringo

    Working outside the US in the third world will usually lead to two changes in attitude. 1)One is less likely to complain about the relatively smaller problems encountered in the US 2) By seeing that things are pretty good in the US by comparison, there is less tendency to condemn the US for its shortcomings compared to other “enlightened” countries.

  • http://www.lisagraas.com Lisa Graas

    Just watching a brief report on the news yesterday, I broke down crying.

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  • http://jenniferfitz.wordpress.com Jennifer Fitz

    It is easy, I think, to want to give up and do nothing, in face of such impossible odds. We want to be God, and swoop in a fix everything. When we realize we can’t be, that we are small and limited and can only help in some tiny way, we are tempted to think that it isn’t worth helping at all.

    Which is a bit like not giving your own children dinner on account of how you could never manage to feed all the other hungry children too.

    There are good organizations working in Haiti. Some are in the business of simply keeping people alive one more day — which is a great gift, and so important. Think of it as battling Roe v. Wade for the already-born. Others are providing education or infrastructure — the building blocks for civil society.

    These deserve our support. Do you really have the bank account to fund the UN anyway? So pick an organization that isn’t corrupt, whose money is used for these kinds of basic good works. The same things you would give your own children.

    And then forget about “all the people of Haiti”. Just add one more kid to your family. Fund one “family member” worth of medika mamba or school tuition or whatever you picked. And then if you can get that one fed and educated, add another. And another. Until you run out of cash. NFP for spiritual parenthood.

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