The situation in Port-au-Prince remains horrific.  We’ve heard reports from Brittany, Danita, and Pastor Daniel, and all describe a choatic, desperate mess.  The smell of decomposing bodies is overwhelming.  There are shortages of everything.  People are sleeping in the streets.  Those buildings and homes that weren’t destroyed in the earthquake are not safe to inhabit. 

Brittany has posted some photos to her facebook page.  It is amazing that even though cell phones usually won’t work there, internet connections still do.

Here is the “status” Brittany posted last night:   “Johnnie’s surgery went amazingly well. Thank you to everyone who prayed for him. I can’t even describe what it is like in the hospitals here- there are no words to describe the devastation. Haitian people are so resilient- you walk by a tent of children in full body casts who have just had limbs amputated and they’re smiling.”

And here are two gut-wrenching images she has sent out, which  illustrate that.

Arm amputated, femur and pelvis breaks, but still smiling:

Tatiana, who just had an arm amputated, but manages a beautiful smile:

I’m looking forward to getting to know these kids.

Danita, Brittany and Pastor Daniel continue to need our prayers and support, as does all of  Haiti.

Love Wins

Ignorance and Desperation

I hate to see ignorance and desperation destroy something good.

Pastor Daniel Paul and his wife Clynie run the Lambs of God orphanage in Ouanaminthe, Haiti.  Pastor Daniel is Haitian, and is a university-trained agronomist.  He has wonderful and productive gardens on his facility, and while surrounded by squalor and want, he is producing healthy food for his kids and extra to sell in the market.  I was greatly impressed by him and his sustainable agricultural practices.

So imagine how I felt a few days ago when I learned that villagers had cut down one of his fruit trees for charcoal.  Our friend Emily, who worked there as a volunteer last summer and again over her Christmas break, says that Pastor  Daniel was “devastated” when he discovered what had happened.  Villagers had also stolen cassava and sweet potatoes he was growing.

Haiti’s dependence on charcoal for cooking fuel has destroyed the environment there.  A once lush tropical country is now sustantially denuded of trees–the country is 97% deforested.  The border with the Dominican Republic is cleary visible by air.  On the D.R. side are forests.  On the Haiti side is wasteland.

The deforestation has affected weather patterns and leads to deadly flooding.  It is not uncommon for a storm that does minimal damage in the D.R. to kill thousands in Haiti.

Haitians stubbornly resist efforts to move them away from charcoal.  They insist that food tastes better cooked on charcoal, and it’s how they’ve always done it. 

But it is not just stubbornness and ignorance that leads people to cut down a productive fruit tree that took years to grow, to cook beans and rice.  There is also desperation.  Since the earthquake the cost of charcoal has doubled and food prices have skyrocketed.  Many Haitians simply cannot afford  to buy charcoal, and they can’t eat beans and rice unless they cook it.  So they steal trees.

Haitians crossing the border into the D.R. to steal trees have been a source of increasing tension between the countries.  Both Haitians and Dominicans have been killed recently in skirmishes involving charcoal theft.

I am sad for Pastor Daniel.  I know how he must feel.  And how much more painful it must be for him, a Haitian who understands the importance of good stewardship of the earth, to see his desperate and ignorant countrymen dragging themselves deeper and deeper into misery.

My goats love to climb onto the waterers in their pature.  By nature they like climbing and jumping, and they just can’t resist getting on top of the waterers.  But, being goats, they poop wherever they’re standing.  So they often poop into their own watersource, and it is very difficult for me to get it clean.  I get very frustrated by their behavior, but they are, after all, only goats.

But why do we humans insist on pooping in our water?  Why do risk the future of our planet for temporary conveniences? 

Turning Haiti around is a monumental challenge.  It is perhaps the biggest such challenge on the planet.  In my opinion that turnaround will not occur unless and until Haitians understand and appreciate sustainability.

So God bless and strengthen people like Pastor Daniel Paul.  May their tribes increase.

Love Wins

Hello Johnny

This is Johnny.  A five year-old boy discovered by Danita and Britanny in a clinic in Port-au-Prince yesterday.  He was naked, with a broken leg, and wounds on his head and back from having a wall collapse on him.  He has the number 36 written in faint faded ink on his arm.  He’d been in the clinic for ten days, alone, on the same mattress, with no family.

And yesterday he became the first of many new kids taken in by Danita’s Children.

Johnny’s life just got a whole lot better.

Love Wins

Brittany Hilker

This extraordinary young woman is accompanying Danita today as they move out into the ruins of Port-au-Prince on a rescue mission (see my post from yesterday).  They have minimal escorts (one Haitian male staff member and a security guard) and are in need of prayers for protection, and for wisdom as they make the difficult decisions about which kids to evacuate.

Brittany has made the decision to live in Haiti and serve the orphans there, rather than live a comfortable, privileged life in the States.  Her blog reveals what an amazing person she is:

Danita has three buses waiting and ready to bring displaced orphans to safety in Ouanaminthe.  There is food, clothing and shelter waiting for these kids and there is a team of American physicians and nurses ready to treat the children when they arrive.

But those things could not have happened had Brittany and Danita not been willing to put themselves at personal risk.  They are heroes.

Please keep them in your prayers today.

Love Wins

Danita Estrella

Early this morning our friend Danita Estrella left the relative comfort and security of her life to travel into the heart of devastated Port-au-Prince on a mission to rescue orphans.  She will be travelling with minimal security, into a dangerous and unstable situation.  Please pray for her safety and for God’s blessing on this mission of mercy.

Back in Ouanaminthe the staff at Danita’s Children are frantically preparing for the influx of new children.  We anticipate that this crisis may double or triple the number of kids they’re caring for.  The needs are great.  The cost of everything will correspondingly increase.  They need more furniture, more clothes, more food, more pots and pans, more stoves, more staff, etc.  And these children will need long term support.  It costs about $100 a month to care for an each orphan.  While the world is generously supporting Haiti relief right now (in a magnificent way) experience teaches that once this isn’t on the news everyday, the donations dry up.  But the children are still there.  So please prayerfully consider sponsoring a child.

On this day, as we are surrounded by material wealth, let us remember Danita and keep her constantly in our prayers.

We’re not safe, but we will rise.

Love Wins

Hospital of Hope

Medieval.  That’s the word Cherie used to describe the so-called hospital in Ouanaminthe, Haiti, which we visited during our trip last year.

This is the labor and delivery room.

There isn’t even an effort at sterilization.  We just walked in and wandered among the few rooms there.  In the front room a child with a very deep and serious cut in his head was being attended to, with no anesthesia and no sterilization.  If the boy survived the injury, I suspect he later had to battle infection.

And even this primitive clinic will not provide treatment to anyone who can’t pony up cash first. 

Danita and the other missionaries at Danita’s Children have literally waded the Masacre River in the middle of the night to try to get dying children to decent medical care in the Dominican Republic.

But the day is soon arriving when the children of Ouanaminthe Haiti can get medical treatment from competent physicians in a sterile, effective environment.  Construction has begun on a pediatric clinic at Danita’s Children.  Eventually Danita hopes to build an entire hospital.

It is so awesome to see someone who refuses to accept an unacceptable status quo, and who is unfraid of challenges.

Help is on the way. 


Love Wins

Haiti in the Balance

Very few people understand just how bad things were in Haiti before the earthquake.  To appreciate the magnitude and tragedy of the suffering we’re all seeing now, I think it is important to understand the setting of this disaster.

The following are facts I’ve taken mostly from the book Haiti in the Balance, published by the Brookings Institution in 2008.

  • the average Haitian survives on $1 a day; is unemployed and has no prospects of a job; is unable to read, access potable water, or turn on the lights; and will die prematurely, most likely by violence.


  • about 3/4 of the population lives on less than $2 a day.  More than half live on less than $1 a day.  To Haitians in this predicament, this means living, for example, by acquiring a  bag of rice and selling it one cupful at a time to try to make a dollar a day.


  • The annual gross domestic product per capita as of 2007 was $360 to $400, roughly equivalent to the income of Haitians in 1955, when controlling for inflation.


  • The GDP per capita growth rate for Haiti from 1990 to 2005 averaged 0.


  • Half of the population has no access to potable water.


  • One third have no sanitary facilities.


  • Only 10% have electrical service.  In the few areas that have them,  children read their school books under streetlights  because they have no other way to do their homework.


  • Only 5% of Haiti’s roads are in good repair (before the earthquake).


  • One-half of the population is less than 18 years of age.


  • Life expectancy is 53 years.


  • According to some studies, maternal mortality (death during childbirth) is the second leading cause of death in Haiti.  HIV\AIDS is first.


  • Haiti has the highest fertility rate in the Western Hemisphere.


  • More than half the population is illiterate.


  • 80% of the schools are private, and many Haitians cannot afford to attend them–and they are of dismal quality anyway.


  • Less than 1/4 of rural children attend elementary school.


  • Official unemployment rates range from 50% to 70%, but no one really knows how many people are employed or unemployed.


  • 95% of employment in Haiti exists in the underground economy, where workers pay no taxes, receive no employment or unemployment benefits, and engage in illegal activity.


  • About 4/5 of people hold real estate assets without legal title.


  • About 4% of the population owns 66% of the country’s wealth.  Some 10% own literally nothing.


  • Only 28% of Haitians have access to health care.


  • 90% of Haitian children suffer from waterborne illnesses and intestinal parasites (worms).


  • There were an estimated 480,000 orphans in Haiti, before the earthquake.  Some estimates say that number will now triple.


  • There are thousands of Haitian children who are abandoned, and living on the streets.


  • Haiti has the highest infant mortality rate in the Western hemisphere.   An estimated 1 out over every 8 Haitian children die before reaching age 5.


  • 3-5% of the population has HIV/AIDS.  Only an estimated 5-10% of those with HIV/AIDS receive any treatment for it.


  • As many as 300,000 Haitian children are held in virtual slavery, given by their parents (who cannot afford to feed them) to wealthier people, where they are often mistreated and abused.


  • About 2,000 Haitian children per year are smuggled into the Dominican Republic as slave labor or child sex slaves.


  • 1/3 of the women in Haiti have been violently sexually abused, the highest percentage in the hemisphere.


  • Haiti has by far the highest homicide rate in the Western Hemisphere.


  • Haiti is among the worst countries in the world environmentally, ranking 141st out of 155.


  • Haiti is 97% deforested.


  • From 1990 to 1999, Haiti experienced 16 hurricanes, 25 major floods, one earthquake and 7 droughts.


  • In 2004 tropical storm Jeanne destroyed 3.5% of Haiti’s GDP and killed thousands.


  • Virtually all of the services available in Haiti are (now, were) available only in Port-au-Prince.


  • But even in Port-au-Prince, 75% of the people live in shanty towns in extreme poverty.


  • 67% of Haitians say they would leave Haiti if they could.


  • 80% of Haiti’s college educated citizens live outside of Haiti.


  • As of 2006 Haiti ranked in the bottom 2% of all countries on absence of corruption, and 6% on governmental effectiveness.


  • It is estimated that 90% of Haitian police superintendents are involved in drug trafficking.


  • The government has failed to support the investigation and prosecution of major crimes, including drug trafficking, murders and assassinations, political violence and corruption.  The system relies on outdated legal codes and time-consuming, complex procedures.  Court buildings have no windows, running water, bathrooms or electricity, not to mention legal texts, office supplies and telephones.  There are severe personnel shortages in the judicial system.  Proceedings are conducted only in French, yet the lion’s share of the population speaks only Creole, and many who appear before the court are illiterate.  Many judges are not current in Haitian law.  Judges are frequently intimidated by members of gangs, the military, the police and politicians.  Many thrive on bribes in a corrupt system.  Communication is sparse between the courts, police and prosecutors.


  • Despite the pervasiveness of corruption, no Haitian judge has ever been prosecuted for corruption.


  • World Bank surveys in 2005 and 2006 showed that 91% of Haitian households, 87% of enterprise managers and 88% of public officials say corruption in the public sector is a major or serious problem.


  • 70% of public officials say that bribes are a common practice in avoiding taxes or customs duties.


  • In 2006 the Heritage Foundation ranked Haiti 147th out of 166 countries in economic freedom.


  • Haiti is an extremely difficult place to do business.  On average in takes 203 days to start a business, 683 days to register a property, and five years to purchase government land.  The World Bank ranks Haiti 142 out of 175 countries in investment protection.


  • Virtually from its colonization to the present day, Haiti has been plagued by political instability, violence, tyranny, corruption,  and autocracy, not to mention foreign and internal exploitation–including slavery–of its population and, not surprisingly, extreme poverty.  A small aristocratic elite has always controlled the country or, more accurately, its political leadership, regardless of the political regime in power.  Haiti exists to fulfill the needs of this elite–the “predatory state.”


  • Depending on how one classifies them, there have been 55 “presidents” in Haiti since 1804 when it gained its independence.  Of these, three were assassinated or executed, seven died in office (one by suicide) and 23 were overthrown by the military or paramilitary groups.  Two were overthrown twice.  Only 9 completed full presidential terms.  Thirty one held office for two years or less.  Twice a military junta ruled without a president.  Nearly all presidents were military officers or were closely affiliated with the military.  Throughout Haiti’s history, many presidents have attempted to becom rulers for life.  Every president has exploited Haiti’s impoverished people and its resources, for political gain, personal aggrandizement, or both.  There have been very few months in its history when Haiti went without a revolt, uprisings, riots, political murders or mass killings.  During the 20th century the U.S. compelled five presidents to leave office.


  • The United States has played a determining role in Haiti, dispatching the Navy or Marines dozens of times to restore order, protect Americans and their business interests or meddle in political affairs. The United States occupied the country from 1915 to 1934.


  • Over the decade between 1998 and 2007, Haiti received about $3.5 billion in foreign assistance and $5 billion to $7 billion in remittances, not to mention billions in military interventions and drug interdictions–but had little to show for the effort.


  • Haiti has the lowest ratio of physicians to population, by far, of any country in the Western Hemisphere.  35% of Haitian physicians live outside of Haiti.

I could go on and on, but that should be sufficient to make the point.  The earthquake, as tragic and heartbreaking as it is, is like a punch delivered to a person already on his knees.

Despite all these depressing statistics, the situation in Haiti is not hopeless.  Far from it.

As I’ve pointed out in several prior posts, when Haitians have access to the basics of life–clean water, food, health care, shelter, loving families–they excel.  That is why the Hope for Haiti Children’s Center (Danita’s Children) in Ouanaminthe seems like such an oasis in that desert of misery.  The kids there are living proof of the potential of Haiti.

In the future I’ll blog about my thoughts on the future of Haiti.  It will be a long, hard climb.  But as we watch the struggle, we need to keep in mind where the climb began.

Love Wins