in Latin America - 5 min read
Haiti’s Contrast: Plight and Potential
My knuckles were bright red as my hands clung for life to the sides of the veering motorcycle, hastily navigating the dusty roads under the scorching mid-day sun. The driver slammed to a halt outside one of the thousands of nondescript shacks. Before me, a dilapidated door lay ajar, and I was requested to go inside.
As I stepped in, the beating sun disappeared, yet the searing heat remained. Wood scraps, patches of tarp, rusted metal fencing, and woven garbage bags overhead was all that formed the corridor I found myself surrounded by. With each stride, my senses awakened further: the searing burn of urine hit my nostrils, the sound of a toddler’s inconsolable cry chilled me to the core, and the sight of raw sewage throughout the home made me aware of my every move.
This was Haiti’s plight—poverty.
I was in the home of a very sick infant named Valmyr. He had three older siblings—two brothers, just a few years older than him, and a six-year-old sister, who was essentially his caretaker—all of whom were hungry and exposed to intensely unsanitary conditions. Their single-mother, habitually absent, resorted to prostitution to find a means of survival. While all needed help, Valmyr was the one dangerously ill.
When I laid eyes on him, he was cradled in the arms of one of our rescue workers, too weak to even whimper—his ribs bulged, his breathing rapid and shallow, his eyes glazed, his temperature through the roof . . . classic signs of severe malnutrition.
As we rushed him to our rescue center, rows of shacks blurred past my sight, each housing so many impoverished people. I thought to myself, How many more Valmyrs live behind these rickety walls?
Having traveled to deprived regions across the world, seeing desperation wasn’t new to me, but this exposure left an enduring pang. Maybe it was the youthful innocence of the victim I met, maybe it was my expectation of progress after years of community development in the region by World Help, or maybe it was the rawness of the setting . . . whatever the case may be, it was a vivid portrayal of Haiti as the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.
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Hours later, I find my finger surrounded by the small hand of a boy wearing a popped-collared polo shirt. As he tugs at me to follow him, I couldn’t help but notice his bright white smile . . . perhaps the largest I’ve ever seen. Jeffrey holds a tragic past, somewhat unclear, but this much is known: He was abandoned, used as a child slave, forced to beg from strangers in the streets, and was terribly underfed to the point of starvation.
But to Jeffery, this is a distant memory. He was delivered from that life, and today lives at one of World Help’s children’s homes enjoying days filled with love, school friends, food, shelter, and enough high-energy activities to satisfy any 7-year-old boy.
This was Haiti’s potential—promise.
Two lives—the contrast blatant; the similarities remarkable. Jeffery lives just minutes from Valmyr . . . his story started just like Valmyr’s . . . but the two couldn’t be in more different places. One lives a life of full of laughter and unbridled hope, while the other struggles for each breath of life and merely hopes to survive.
– – – – –
Three years after the ground convulsed and the nation took a giant leap backwards down an already-steep slope, the statistics remain desperate. More than 80 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, 50 percent of the population is under the age of 18, and 1.5 million of them face malnutrition. The reality is: There are far more Valmyrs . . . far more desperation. Questions can’t help but rise:
How can we save millions of lives?
How can we change paths of destruction that are so deeply etched?
After all the investment so far, nothing . . . What is the point?
But then there’s Jeffery. One of the successes, one of those invested in, one of the sparks . . . bringing hope to the Valmyrs and hope to Haiti.
He represents the promise of commitment by individuals who have dismissed “Band-Aid relief.” He represents the promise of patient partnerships by hundreds of dedicated people, spanning nations, who have made it possible for him to become a brick in the rebuilding of Haiti. He represents the promise of a country restored.
Understanding that lasting change doesn’t happen overnight is key to World Help’s developmental approach across the world and in Haiti. Our supporters and partners see the value of this method, and that’s why today we have sustainable projects like medical clinics, clean-water systems, and educational programs at work in Haiti, which will serve to cultivate transformation for years to come.
And don’t get me wrong, you won’t find us saying it’s easy. It takes time, it takes patience, and it takes a promise . . . to make a difference, to make a Valmyr into a Jeffrey. But it’s here where true compassion lies and change occurs.