PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti-On the furrowed roads of rural Haiti, foreign faces in the back of an open pickup truck draw attention. Some children shout the common moniker for a foreigner-"Blan!"-and others display their English skills: "Hey you!" But some Haitian children display something else they've learned about foreigners, as they stretch open their arms and cry in Creole: "Give us something!"
Short-term workers sometimes toss toys and other trinkets to children from the back of trucks. The well-intentioned gesture has an often-damaging result: It leads Haitians to equate missionaries and other foreigners with immediate, free-flowing goods.
After last year's 7.0-magnitude earthquake in Haiti, immediate goods were critical. One year later-with close to a million living in tents and thousands suffering from cholera and other diseases-overwhelming needs fester in a complex system of deep-rooted problems that span generations, and raise the big question: What kind of help does Haiti need most?
Steve Corbett, co-author of When Helping Hurts, says the best help among Christian groups has a common thread: Helping Haitians to be productive over the long term instead of continually focusing on immediate needs. Good help also emphasizes vital lessons about God's design of men and women as workers made in His image, and waits patiently for change that sometimes takes years-not months. Efforts that fail in these areas often fail to produce lasting change.
With thousands of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) operating in Haiti, here's a look at just two of the Christian groups applying a long-term philosophy to a race for Haitian recovery that's less of a sprint and more of a marathon.
In most corners of Haiti, the laborers are plentiful, but the harvests are few. A nearly 80 percent unemployment rate cripples the economy, and a radically deforested landscape leaves hillsides barren and Haitians dependent on imported food.
But on a recent Friday morning in a series of lush, green fields less than 10 miles east of the dusty streets of Port-au-Prince, handfuls of Haitians bent over long, straight rows of beans and spinach, reaping what they had sowed. The workers are local, and the fields belong to Double Harvest, a Christ-centered, agricultural project serving Haitians since 1978.
The organization, which has projects in eight other countries, maintains nearly 200 acres of land in Haiti and a work-driven philosophy. "We don't like handouts," says director Frantz Angus. "So we have the people participate."
Nearly 150 Haitians work directly for the ministry, cultivating and caring for crops like sorghum, corn, carrots, and tomatoes. Others tend to a series of tilapia tanks that hold over 100,000 fish. The organization sells the produce and fish to locals at reasonable prices, and the locals often resell the food at market, allowing the ministry to bolster local economies instead of compete with them.
Crepsint Claibime is a Haitian who has mastered all the stages of planting and harvesting and now teaches others how to produce crops. Standing near a row of workers moving through the deep green fields, Claibime holds up a full, leafy bunch of fresh spinach: "I like to show people that they can do this for themselves." Plenty of locals do just that: The ministry allows nearby residents to use plots of land on a rotating basis to grow food for selling or eating.
Workers at the group's vast seed bank have also begun the process of distributing some 300,000 trees for planting this year-one tree for each victim killed in the quake. Helping reverse the catastrophic deforestation in Haiti is critical to the country's ability to produce food on a large scale, says Angus, the director.
Poverty-stricken Haitians have felled the country's trees for fuel and building material over the last two decades, making the soil far less viable for growing crops. Angus says early efforts to make 2010 "the year of reforestation" quickly changed into "the year of rebuilding" after the January quake.
With rebuilding efforts moving slowly in Haiti, Double Harvest has launched a project to build at least 200 homes in nearby villages, already completing more than 75 houses, and allowing village committees to decide who gets the homes. Unlike the thousands of temporary structures built by other groups, these houses are permanent: Haitian construction workers build the 350-square-foot structures with reinforced concrete.
On a recent afternoon in the adjacent village, Eva Benu stood outside mixing cement for her Double Harvest home with local construction workers. The earthquake destroyed her house, along with the homes of nearly 40 percent of the village residents. Benu's makeshift shelter leans sideways next to her developing concrete home. A small door is the only opening in her squat, temporary structure built with pieces of salvaged metal. A single mother, Benu looks at her new home and smiles widely: "I like the windows best."
Though the ministry does offer other relief efforts through a medical clinic and a cafeteria that serves hundreds of meals to workers each day, Angus says that fostering productivity instead of dependency is central: "If people want to help Haitians, we have to stop thinking about short-term improvements, and start thinking long-term."
Art Spalding is also thinking long-term. Spalding-the only American on staff-is a missionary who helps oversee a church and a school with 500 students. Teaching Haitian workers and church members a biblical view of work in a country where work is undervalued by low wages and a struggling economy is central to Spalding's efforts. "We have to go teach this: that God has put me here to accomplish a job, and that's to glorify Him-whether that's working out in the fields or producing fish or fixing a tractor. . . . Let that be the goal of my life: ministry in whatever vocation to which God calls me."
Nearly two hours southwest of Port-au-Prince, along Haiti's southern peninsula, signs of widespread agricultural efforts are scant. Small-scale rice farmers tend plots of low-lying paddy fields, but most Haitians in the rural community of Cadiac focus on modest efforts that drive the market economy: small gardens, handfuls of animals, buying and reselling goods like clothing or sandals.
Beyond the hand-to-mouth lifestyle, hundreds of local residents are doing something counterintuitive to many Haitians with few resources: saving money.
In a busy outdoor market teeming with clothing, bread, chickens, shoes, eggplants, cooking oil, and candy, Janin Trismesin stands behind a long table full of butchered pork, talking about how saving money has improved the business she's operated for years.
Nearby, other sellers with long machetes chop fat from freshly slaughtered pigs, and line goat heads along wheelbarrows full of the fresh meat. Animals can be a form of currency, and Trismesin says saving money has allowed her to buy and sell more. "It's not easy to save money," she says. "Only with the group."
Trismesin's group is a local savings group organized by HOPE International, a Pennsylvania-based Christian organization that helps Haitians and thousands of poverty-stricken workers in 14 countries worldwide use the resources God has already given them.
Though the organization sometimes uses a mission compound in Cadiac, it doesn't maintain official headquarters, vehicles, full-time staff, or even signs in the small town. "It's a success for us if they don't even know who our organization is," HOPE staffer Katie Straight says of the villagers.
Instead, HOPE sends staffers to meet with local pastors who agree to promote the program in their churches and identify community members able to teach courses and facilitate meetings. HOPE supplies material and training for the facilitators, using a curriculum from the Chalmers Center for Economic Development that emphasizes the centrality of the gospel for addressing material and spiritual poverty.
The result is an effort organized and executed on a local level by local churches and residents. (HOPE provides oversight with periodic visits and with Esperanza, a Christian development organization with offices in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.)
In northern Haiti, the group conducts microfinance programs, offering small loans of $50-$100 to local residents at a reasonable interest rate. But in Cadiac, where many residents live on a more subsistence level, that kind of loan doesn't make sense if Haitians may be unable to repay, says Straight: "Microfinancing gone wrong is putting another burden on the backs of the poor."
Here the approach to finances is simpler: Each member of a rotating savings group brings a fixed amount of money each week. A weekly payout of the group's full amount rotates between each member until every member has been paid. Accumulating savings groups save money over a longer period of time, with the option of making loans to members of the group.
Group members save anywhere from $.25 to $2.50 a week-admittedly miniscule results by North American standards, but substantial savings for low-wage Haitians who have often never saved money.
Off Cadiac's main road, in a one-room rental house with no plumbing or electricity, Marimat Batis arranges chairs near two single beds and talks about saving money for the first time in her life. Batis, who lives here with her four children, sells clothes in the market. She's using her modest savings for a long-term goal. "I'm buying sand," she says with a smile. "I will build a house."
Owning a home will allow Batis to stop paying rent and eventually save more money. She says she's committed to continuing, though the process could take a long time: "Only God knows."
Luisfils Molisin is accustomed to lengthy ordeals: To reach the home of the 45-year-old father of seven, visitors must wade across a river and cut through a field of tall corn. Near a tarnished pot over an open fire for outdoor cooking, Molisin talks about his role as president of a savings group that meets at a local church. Members of the group learn about how to live in relation to God, themselves, and the community-even in the uncertainties of Haitian life: "I've learned that prayer is the key."
(Paul Vital, pastor of the local church, says Haitians need more biblical teaching about finances. Vital says though some locals originally thought they might get outside aid from the effort, he's now seen the reverse: Church members' giving has increased.)
On a rocky hillside outside of town, Jean Mack operates an outdoor bakery, producing basketfuls of bread each day in a large, brick oven. Mack says his ability to buy flour and produce bread has increased since he started saving. So has his confidence: "Before this I was nothing." Mack says he enjoys his savings group, but not just because of the financial teaching: "They show me how to live in the community."
Mack shows his appreciation for community when a visitor asks to buy bread before leaving. The baker proudly wraps two dense triangles of bread in a crisp sheet of paper, and smiles broadly as he presents the gift: "From me."