Home > February 2010 Haiti Trip > Why go to Haiti Now?

Why go to Haiti Now?

Emotions are running high as Friday approaches. For the first time since the January 12th earthquake that destroyed parts of Haiti, American Airlines will resume passenger service in three days to Port-au-Prince via Miami, and the ticket I bought back in November is now in very high demand.

Palma Ceia United Methodist Church, where our family is growing up, has made a pretty big deal about this trip. Some other members are going too, along with some men from other churches. The people of our congregation have been incredibly generous. Everyone wants to help, and because of recent exposure, I get asked pretty frequently these days: “What are you going to do there?” Surprisingly, few people ask: “Why are you going now?” But in the hours and days immediately after the earthquake, that was a very big question for us.

Exactly five weeks ago today when the magnitude 7 quake struck just southwest of Port-au-Prince, people’s emotions around the globe were rocked. Suddenly, our low-key mission trip turned into a popular topic saddled with a huge question mark. The U.S. State Department immediately vacated non-essential personnel and issued a strict travel warning. The airlines indefinitely cancelled flights. The U.S. military took control of the PAP airport. A mission team on the ground where we would stay was swiftly ‘rescued’ and evacuated by retired Navy SEALs working for an insurance company. And some very intelligent, well travelled people intimately familiar with our trip plans strongly advised against going forward with the trip.

I said up front, and I still firmly believe, that time will tell us if this is the right time to go. And now, the time is nearly here. I have no doubt in my mind that the time is right.

Some of the objections to making this trip were cause for serious consideration:

First and foremost in my mind was the priority use of my seat on the plane. Wouldn’t it be better if occupied by a doctor, or someone trained in disaster recovery? Boy, have I learned a lot about how disaster relief is executed in the wake of something like this. Non-profit entities activate vast response networks. Private businesses band together to loan corporate aircraft, flying in volunteer doctors and medical professionals. (You rarely hear about the good deeds of these corporations, btw.) Military aircraft and ships from countries around the world shift assets to the troubled region. And even the American Airlines plane that is likely to fly us into Haiti this Friday has transported doctors, relief workers and supplies. Pre-earthquake, 18 flights a day made their way through PAP. Post-earthquake, more than 120 flights a day arrive and take off. The U.S. State Department has the final say on resumption of passenger service, and right now, Friday is a go.

Another objection we heard had to do with the skill sets we offered. We were not trained in disaster relief, and would be better off postponing our trip for 6 months. Last week, the on-site director of the school and orphanage we are going to support had this to say:

“Hello all: thank you for your sensitivity to the situation here in Haiti and your attention to the statements on the embassy website. To re-assure you, I would not hesitate to cancel your plans or ask you to postpone them if I felt it was necessary. For now I view your team as being a great boon and not a hindrance, as will be helping with some of our recocery (sic) from the earthquake and also helping me to get better organized in areas that I have been unable to give attention.”

People who have gone before us on mission trips, including my blogging partner on this trip, Andy Hafer, have tried to explain to us just how valuable basic project management skills are in Haiti. The people, as the media have shown, are resilient, hard workers. By helping with organization as well as rolling up our own sleeves, we expect to more than offset the drain our presence may introduce.

Finally, safety was cited as a justifiable reason to avoid Haiti. Food would be in short supply, and homeless people would resort to unmentionable tactics to survive. Well, guess what? Food was already in short supply in Haiti, and has been for years. Foreign aid focus is helping to rebuild the food distribution chains. Yesterday, the mission we will support distributed a month’s rations of food and vitamins to hundreds families in a peaceful and orderly fashion. Are there bad people in Haiti? Unfortunately, yes. But there are bad and desperate people in Tampa, too.

University students were assigned to get the signatures of receipt for the food and to give each person a piece of paper which they had to turn in to get their goods.

TV broadcast journalist and blogger Nick Dixon just came home from a couple of weeks in Haiti, where he stayed at the same mission headquarters that will accommodate us. In his February 13th report, he reflected on his stay and specifically addressed whether he “felt safe” while in Haiti. I urge you to check out Nick’s video reports from his trip. In my view, he has told the story of the typical Haitian people better than any of the major network personalities who have focused primarily on the ruins in Port-au-Prince.

Safety from disease has been widely discussed too. Back in November when I put my cash down for the plane ticket, I accepted the stats on disease in Haiti. Frankly, that was my biggest concern up front. Education has helped me appreciate even more how much the Haitians need outside help to get their healthcare crisis under control. Curable and treatable diseases kill tens of thousands of Haitians, due to a lack of modern medicine. The Hillsborough County Department of Health, in Tampa, on the other hand, provided me with free immunization shots for Hepatitis A and B, Typhoid Fever, common Flu & H1N1, and Tetanus. Publix supermarket gave me a free supply of a precautionary antibiotic to protect against Malaria. My personal doctor checked me out and gave me a clean bill-of-health ($15 co-pay). I’m not heading into Haiti blind of the disease and sickness present. Quite the opposite. I’m going in large part because of the terrible condition the people there face every day.

With more than 200,000 dead and countless permanently disabled and emotionally scarred in Haiti, there is no doubt that we will witness the unimaginable. I’m ok knowing that in advance. Thanks to really good digital journalism like this mashup from the LA Times, we go in knowing far more than the first-responders. The area approximately 15 miles northeast of Port-au-Prince – where we will be based – experienced significant damage. But nothing like the images we see from the city center.

I headlined this post “Why go to Haiti Now?” because initially that question consumed us. Ironically, most people I’ve run into this week have said something like “I wish I was going with you.”

The people’s lives we go to serve have been disrupted like we may never comprehend. But their lives go on. And I accept any risk that comes with this trip, knowing that small contributions can make a big difference.

  1. Bill Cole
    February 16, 2010 at 7:16 pm

    My good friend Paul has eloquently stated what the men going on this trip to Haiti will face and how we will try to cope with the situation. The call to go to the mission field comes from the heart and often defies worldly conventions. Therefore my beloved brethren, be steadfast, unmovable and always abounding in the work of the Lord, for as much as you know that your work is not lost in vain in the Lord.

    I pray that we go and experience the people of Haiti and see what the power of God’s love can do in our hearts as well as theirs.

    A fallen and forgiven servant of God,

    Bill Cole

  2. February 17, 2010 at 2:47 am

    Great entry Paul. I am right there with you…literally and spiritually.

  3. Lesley
    February 17, 2010 at 4:24 am

    Paul–awesome you’re going down there.As I read your blog about safety and disease, was reminded of the call I got from my mom in 1986,two days before my mission trip to Haiti to see if I REALLY knew what I was doing….you know, disease, danger, etc. Wouldn’t I consider not going?

    Was told to wear close-toed shoes b/c of raw sewage in the streets back then. Can’t imagine it now. The hospital we worked in there in Port au Prince is probably demolished.

    Blessings to you all on your journey. Your life will never be the same.

    • Paul Harris
      February 17, 2010 at 4:36 am

      I hear ya, Lesley. In 1986 I made a trip into Mongolia via Siberia. At the time, the USSR was still the USSR, and the USA was not maintaining diplomatic relations with Mongolia. My mom made more than one call to say it was o.k. with her if I decided to stay home.

      The good thing about this Haiti trip is I know what beans and rice are. Never could get an ID on some of the stuff I ate in Asia. And because of my age, I never even considered safety.

  4. Bill Rozier
    February 19, 2010 at 3:38 pm

    Best of luck….

    • Paul Harris
      February 22, 2010 at 2:01 pm

      Thanks Bill. Awesome trip so far.

  5. Kell
    February 19, 2010 at 4:38 pm

    Paul – this entry was so well written. It is though you were speaking it. You all are a huge inspiration – safe travels – can’t wait to keep up via this blog.. Prayers!!!!! 🙂

  6. Colleen
    February 20, 2010 at 4:51 pm

    Hey Paul, bless you and all those who are there helping, my prayers and good thoughts are with you. Be safe and pay it forward!
    Love Ya, Colleen

    • Paul Harris
      February 22, 2010 at 2:03 pm

      Thank you Colleen. Yesterday at church a young boy opened the service with a prayer. The first thing he did was thank God that they were all alive. Pray for the people of Haiti whose lives have been shaken.

  7. February 23, 2010 at 11:49 am

    Hi Paul,
    Our prayers are with you all and the people of Haiti. I know your hard work there has been a blessing to them as well as the experience being a blessing to you.
    Safe return home to your loved ones.
    Love you,
    Cathy, Chris and Ellen xoxo

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