by Joanna Pritchard and Rusty Pritchard
Going green as a church is an important thing to do. Getting outside is healthy and restorative. Recycling is sensible. Planting churchyard gardens that provide food for neighbors in need is huge. But if all your creation care actions are local, you’re missing a huge part of environmental stewardship.
Haiti is a country just hit by a devastating magnitude 7.0 earthquake, leaving perhaps a third of the country sleeping in the open, exposed to the elements.
If you do nothing else today, give money and encourage at least two other people you know to give money to aid in this disaster. Better yet, activate your church mailing list, Facebook group, phone tree (what’s a phone tree?), and get your whole church giving. The need is great, and you may want to do more than one wave of encouragement.
Our recommendations for giving:
- Give right now to the big, well-known relief agencies. That includes World Vision, CARE (which does food and nutrition relief), the American Red Cross, and Partners in Health (which runs some of the only remaining functioning hospitals near the Haitian capital). They have the proven capacity to get aid on the ground fast; they have experience, competence, connection, and they’re already there. Now is not the time to give to startups, however innovative they might be.
- Give directly. Go to the websites of the aid organizations you want to support and use their online giving systems. Don’t give indirectly, no matter how cute the campaign your roommate or second-cousin is organizing.
- Give generously. It’s expensive to be poor (the poor pay more for life’s necessities like water than rich people do, both relatively and absolutely more). And it’s expensive to operate relief programs in poor countries.
- Give money. Don’t start collecting shoes, blankets, medical supplies. The urgent need is for cash, so that relief agencies can get the right resources in the right places.
- Begin now to make a plan for longer term giving for development work that makes people less vulnerable to natural disasters. Build in to your church’s creation care activities a fund-raising component for similar work in the developing world. If you do a stream cleanup, raise pledges for Living Water International for water projects overseas. If you plant trees, raise money for Plant with Purpose for reforestation work in the third world.
With so much talk in the environmental community about global warming, it is easy to forget that no matter what we do about it, all it means for poor countries is more of what they already experience–natural disasters that become social and economic disasters. Whether or not global warming is good science, whether or not we should cap-and-trade carbon pollution, we still should be ramping up our assistance to help poor countries. That doesn’t always mean more direct aid: it will also mean making economies more robust and less corrupt, less dependent on trade in commodities, encouraging private enterprise and finding ways for financial capital to stay in place.
Learn Real History
Haiti is especially vulnerable to natural resource disasters because of its unique history.
In the 1700s Haiti was the crown jewel in France’s slave-driven overseas empire. It produced more wealth for France than all its other colonies, but that was at an incredible human cost. The slave system on the plantations was one of the most brutal in the region.
The Haitian revolution of 1791 was inspired by the same ideals as the American revolution of 1776, and the French revolution of 1789. Some of Haiti’s revolutionaries had fought as volunteers in the American revolutionary war. The Haitian revolution was the world’s only successful slave uprising. And yet, because the largest economies of North and South America at that time depended upon slave labor, the Haitian revolution, rather than being welcomed, lauded and supported by the international community, was spurned and punished.
The French sent the Statue of Liberty to the USA as a gift celebrating our freedom from colonial rule. But no such goodwill came from either the French or the Americans to the world’s newest republic. Instead, the Haitian republic was a terrifying prospect to the slave-holding North Americans and Europeans. The fledgling Haitian leaders were left to try to reconstitute a working society out of the disorder of the plantation system, and were absolutely crippled by the peace treaty signed with the French that required Haiti to pay war reparations to France for 100 years afterwards, to compensate the French for the loss of its most valuable slave colony and regain diplomatic relations for trade purposes. Haitian goods were threatened with embargo by other developed nations unless they signed this treaty, meaning that Haitian development was damned from the start. They could enter the world economy only by paying a virtual bribe to their former French masters; they had to choose between being isolated and penniless or connected and penniless.
In the end, the only way to pay the reparations exacted by the French was to reinstitute something that looked like a plantation system for producing cash crops. It was almost inevitable that corrupt, dicatorial leadership would emerge. Sadly, US business interests in Haiti did not mitigate the corrupt culture, even when the US occupied Haiti from 1918 – 1934. During the 20th century Haiti suffered the tyranny of one corrupt government after another, not without support from the US which viewed Haiti as a strategic partner in the fight against Communism after Castro’s victory in Cuba. Brutal, despotic regimes such as the Duvalier dynasty were in fact provided with aid, yet they crippled the development of democratic ideals and leadership either centrally or in the regions. Basic services such as health and education are critically lacking for much of the population.
Grinding poverty has meant that natural resources are overused, forests destroyed for short-term needs, and soil lost from farming slopes too steep to support agriculture. 75% of Haiti’s land is mountainous, a challenging starting point for agriculture. Desertification and deforestation combine with frequent hurricanes to ensure that the landscape is absolutely devastated by landslides and soil erosion. Water that once might have seeped into a forested hillside runs off without adding to soil moisture or the aquifers that supply water wells, so there is a water crisis as well.
Haitian poverty is the result of what you might call an overdetermined system. So many factors that by themselves would have crippled a strong economy have combined.
Disregard Bogus History
Wacky, discredited ideas from some Christians claim a Satanic pact during the Haitian revolution has crippled the Haitian economy and corrupted its culture. It’s clear from Haiti’s history that human greed by so-called Christian nations (including Haiti’s own leaders) has a great deal to do with Haiti’s present situation. There’s a technical word for the mental condition that leads to crazy claims about pacts with the devil: idiocy.
If you want to read a Haitian Christian’s careful debunking of the Satanic-pact myth, look to the three part article, “God, Satan, and the Birth of Haiti,” by Jean R. Gelin, Ph.D., a Haitian Christian and agricultural expert.
Organizations like Plant with Purpose are working to restore productive agriculture, forestry, and private enterprise in Haiti and in other similar places. In the long run, find ways that your church can support those kinds of ministries.
Joanna Pritchard is a community advocate with a research background in Haitian history and culture. Rusty Pritchard is a natural resource economist and president of Flourish.