Saturday, May 29, 2010

A Perspective on Immigration

I know, I know, I jumped on the bandwagon and I'm blogging about immigration. In light of everything that's happened with Arizona taking a strong stance on enforcing immigration laws which by the way is in desperate need of reforming nationally, I thought I'd take my opportunity to give a perspective. To preface this blog, I think it's fair to warn you that I am a child of immigratted parents. If you haven't read my previous blogs, I was born and raised in Haiti; English is my second language.

I remember growing up in Haiti without parents but with the knowledge that I had parents who loved me so much that they would leave me and my three older sisters in search of a better future for our immediate family and generations to come. The funny thing is everyone in our community understood that, they got it and it's interesting that many people living in America don't understand why is that a worthy sacrifice. Many foreign families risk their own lives and sacrifice their own happiness and well being to break what seems to be a generational curse. Many survive but countless others don't.

When I tell people about our family, in their ignorance they would ask "why did your parents leave Haiti?" And my answer, sometimes in frustration that they don't understand is "Most foreigners living in places like Haiti live for the day when they might have a chance at a better life". A better life means a quality education, healthcare, enough food for everyone to eat, clean water; in other words an opportunity at living to the highest potential that God has created every last one of us with.

As a foreigner, I can't understand why a nation which was built by the hands of immigrants would be so against modern day immigrants? I can't understand a nation which is predominantly christian cannot understand the plight of immigrants when the Bible is plagued with examples of God Himself commissioning groups of people out of their land and into another, whether the reason was due to famine, religious persecution or war?

Yes I do understand that we have to keep the murderers and the strange and questionable looking people out of "our" country. I do understand we need to keep the drug dealers and all the craziness out of "our" country, I get it, I really do. I do understand we need laws, borders and boundaries in order to protect the hard working people of this country. I get it, I really do! However there has to be a better way to talk about these people. There has to be a better way to treat them. There has to be a better model for grace. There has to be a better model for love. You mean to tell me I can go to jail if I feed an illegal immigrant? I can't even show kindness and mercy to an illegal immigrant? Where's the 80% Christian of this nation?

Ok, I'm off my soapbox, last thought: Jesus was born in a stable and guess what he was at birth: an immigrant! Shocking! What do we do with that? Embrace the tension!!!! This issue is very gray, not as black and white as many think. That's just my perspective.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

May 18th Haiti Independence

Growing up in Haiti, we were always taught the rich history of Haiti. From Kindergarden to higher grades, we were taught to be proud of our rich heritage. To learn the big history textbook, we would sometimes memorize our lessons in songs. I can still remember some of the lines of those lessons starting with Christopher Columbus descovering Haiti to the Haitian Revolution and Beyond. Those history lessons have given my life depth and meaning because I am the descendant of hard working slaves who survived the middle passage during the transatlantic slave trade and who stood up for equality for all. For their sacrifices, I will be eternally grateful and pray that I can live out their legacy.

In honor of Haitian Flag Day on this day of May 18th, I wanted to share with you all some quotes from a book I've been reading "Avengers of the New World: The story of the Haitian Revolution". "In 1791 the colony's slaves began a massive uprising. It became the largest slave revolt in the history of the world and the only one that succeeded." After hundreds of years of being enslaved, hundreds of failed attempts of a revolution, these African slaves finally gained their freedom. "Through years of struggle, brutal violence, and imperial war, slaves became citizens in the empire that had enslaved them."

I'm not sure if you understand the significance of this revolution not just for Haiti but globally so let me give you some perspective. The only big event in our day I can compare the successful Haiti slave revolution to is a black man being the president of the United States. "The revolution began as a challenge to French imperial authority by colonial whites, but it soon became a battle over racial inequality, and then over the existence of slavery itself." In other words, the civil rights movement was only possible because of the Haitian Revolution. The end of Apartheid in South Africa was only possible because of the Haitian Revolution. "If we live in a world in which democracy is meant to exclude no one, it is in no small part because of the actions of those slaves in Saint-Domingue (Haiti) who insisted that human rights were theirs too."

The slave revolution lasted 12 years and on May 18th 1804, Haiti was declared a free nation!

So, to all of my Haitian, black and white friends, take some time and ponder the democracy that we are now enjoying in the USA and elsewhere, think of the sacrifices that were made and the millions of lives slaughtered for what we now take for granted. I'm not just proud to be Haitian on this day but I'm proud to be a human being who like my ancestors must stand for justice and equality for all. That's our God given right!

Happy Haitian Independence Day

Friday, May 14, 2010

Taking Chances

After months of contemplating and years of writing in my journal, I've taken the plunge to start a new blog. I don't know if you all are ready for me to share my deep and innermost thoughts as I freely write in my journal but you'll get a synopsis of it. I was born and raised in Haiti up until the fifth grade and since then I've been living a complicated life as a foreigner, sometimes American but all of the time Haitian. You probably can pick it up from my accent or maybe not; some say I don't but it's here especially when I'm upset.

Why taking chances? It's simple, life is not worth living outside of taking chances. Don't you get tired of playing it safe and always wondering what's on the other side of the door? Plunging is hard and sometimes debilitating but it is very important that you take that chance, go through the open door that God has opened for you.

Update on Haiti-February Visit

This blog was written over two months ago right when I came back from Haiti in February.

Someone asked me in the airport on my way back from Haiti “What is the greatest need in Haiti right now?” I wanted to say, “They’re all great”. But I went through a litany of needs and their importance; she probably regretted ever asking me what seems to be a simple question. Nothing in Haiti is simple right now. Before I discuss the needs of Haiti, I want to describe, or attempt to describe, the extent of the damages in Haiti.

Let’s put it this way, from my assessment, every area within a 30 mile radius of Port Au Prince was affected by the earthquake in some shape or form. Tremors w ere felt by neighboring countries like DR, Jamaica and Cuba. Some areas were affected more than others. In some areas every other home seemed to be destroyed as if the tenth plague was upon those communities. In some areas it was the entire block or the entire town that seemed to have been heavily destroyed. It almost seems as if the earth regurgitated Haiti from its belly. At first I was very doubtful that 250 thousand people might have died in the quake. But as we drove around PAP and the surrounding towns we started to understand how that number might be accurate or heartbreakingly, higher.

We drove through PAP visiting some of the places that were most affected; the palace, the cathedral, town hall, businesses, schools, residential properties and churches. The earthquake did not discriminate. Whether you were rich, poor, government officials or the lowest in society, there was nowhere to run from the wrath of the earthquake. My first thought after noticing the huge blocks of concrete on the streets of PAP was, “These people had no chance of survival.” It’s ironic, but homes in the Caribbean are designed with huge concrete to be able to withstand hurricanes and it was these same structures that devastated the country during another natural disaster. Homes were flattened and the people on the streets would report to us how many dead bodies still remained inside the different properties. The stronger the smell on certain streets, the more bodies remained dead in the buildings. I wish I could fully describe to you what I saw and experienced in Haiti; but time and space only allow me to give you snapshots.

The stories that moved me the most were the stories of the survivors. They all had one testimony, “God saved me.” I made the mistake of asking one survivor how he got out; he corrected me and said, “No, No, No; it’s how God brought me out.” I wonder if God wants us to walk around telling our testimony of how He saved us from whatever. These people will have that testimony for the rest of their lives. It is mind boggling that God is glorified in such devastation. The most moving testimony came from a young man named Rood Junior Lapointe. Rood is 13 years old and if you saw his smile, you would never think that out of a family of 11 he was the only survivor. He speaks French and Kreol fluently, and a little bit of English and Spanish. He was not too confident telling his story in English, he said he would only tell his story if I translated for him. I gladly agreed. Before we started the interview, Rood told us he wanted to be a doctor and a pastor. “Why?” I asked. So he can testify to what God has done for him. Rood watched his entire family die in the earthquake, but he insists that God deserves to be glorified and praised. All week long, my prayer was that God would remove the veil between Him and me; that I might worship Him like those survivors; that my testimony of His saving grace in my life would bring glory to His name. He’s still working on me.

The needs in Haiti are tremendous on every level. Many people are living in tents; some out of necessity and some out of fear that another earthquake is imminent and I don’t blame them as they have experienced over fifty aftershocks since Jan 12th. The problem with tents is that they are a temporary fix until permanent housing is in place and there is no sign of permanent housing. Hurricane season has arrived and tents will not be able to withstand the strong winds and heavy rains that come with hurricanes. Even worse, people who were not able to receive tents built their own tents out of sheets. This could be a big problem in terms of diseases if the government does not act soon.

Secondly, aid is being distributed, but only the fittest are able to stand in line for 8 hours a day and fight for a voucher and then turn around to stand in another line to redeem the vouchers. So that leaves out the elderly, the sick and children (especially orphans), the people who are most in need of aid.

Medical needs are still great, there are thousands of amputees, and thousands more injured. All of the survivors have some kind of injury. Many were seen by a medical team once and have not seen any other medical professional. Wounds are becoming infected and some people are self medicating due to a lack of resources; my aunt became one of them. Now you all know I’m far from being a medical professional, I can’t even stand around my children when they’re getting their yearly shots but after this week you can call me nurse Dieula as I was able to change the dressing on my aunt’s wound. Yes, I know it’s only one procedure, but if I had stayed longer I would be well qualified. A medical team was setting up the day I was leaving and the line was in the hundreds. I am not even sure they were able to see all the people lined up.

Although the psychological needs in Haiti are enormous, they are not the most pressing. People are afraid to go back to work in tall buildings. Children are afraid to go back to school. Schools are still closed mostly due to fear. Churches are not meeting in their usual locations. All of this is due to the trauma. Many buildings are cracked from the earthquake and the government is not allowing certain buildings to reopen. People are trying to hold on to the life they had prior to the earthquake, but this is the new normal and many don’t know how to move on. Many have pitched their tents right next to their destroyed homes. Some are still living on the fragile mountains that can crumble in the gust of heavy hurricane winds. All because they don’t know where else to go; they can’t go back to the villages where many are from because there’s nothing there– no schools, no hospitals, no work and no technology. So, many decide to remain in PAP in tents with the illusion that things will change soon. But if you drive around PAP, you know that things will not change overnight.

My purpose for going to Haiti was to join a team called Haiti Orphan Relief Team (HORT), a team initiated by World Orphan leaders in addition to leaders from Watermark, Bent Tree and other organization leaders around the US to assess the needs of the orphans. The vision for this team was to visit churches in Haiti as they would be the key people that can help manage Orphan care. We visited churches and orphanages that were already involved with orphan care prior to the earthquake to see if the churches in the US can partner with a church in Haiti to bring relief to orphans. What we found is that orphan care in Haiti is a very complicated issue. If you need more information of its complexity, let’s talk in person. We have not yet debriefed about the trip as a team to discuss next steps, I will keep you updated.

As for me I’m doing ok, and slowly recovering. I spent many nights in tears crying out to God trying to understand how this happened and how he was going to make it right again. But then in the morning I would see a group of believers congregating in the open air praising and worshipping; their faith in God kept me strengthened.

Mahatma Ghandi once said “whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it”. It has been very difficult trying to figure out how to help my people knowing that whatever help I can bring will be like a drop in a bucket but I am reminded that filling up a bucket requires the first drop and the drop of many others.

The question now is, “what can we do?”

Stay engaged and pray
If you have even a little bit of medical training, there are several medical teams going each week, find out how you can go. And if you can’t go, give towards those who are going.
Vaccinations and medical supplies are in highly demand. If you know of a company providing medical supplies please let me know.
There are thousands of amputees with no one to visit them because their families have died. Consider going to be of encouragement to them.
Orphan care is a major problem right now, adoptions are closed and these children are on the streets, parents are willingly giving up their children because they cannot take care of them; find an organization providing orphan care and ask them their strategy.Don’t feel helpless and whatever you do, don’t be apathetic. We can’t do anything for those who have died, so let’s help take care of the survivors.
Our drivers and translators are all students and all of them have dropped everything to provide relief. One was studying in the DR and he speaks Spanish, English, French and kreol, he’s doing his degree in management. The other is a linguist who speaks English, Spanish, French, kreol and is now studying Portuguese. Since the earthquake, he says he’s translated for so many doctors that now he can perform many medical procedures. The third is in university and wants to be a cardiologist. There are only two cardiologists in Haiti, she would be the third. These students all need laptops to further their studies. If you would like to contribute towards that need please let me know.
Lastly, we are continuing our partnership with HIM (Hosean International Ministries) through Caleb Lucien and with his guidance we will help rebuild Haiti.

And finally, I am reminded of the words of Job in 42:2-3 “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted…But I have declared without understanding things too wonderful for me to know”.

May we all remember that the Lord in whom we trust is always faithful, always loving, and always at his good work even in the midst of the earthquakes, hurricanes, and tsunamis.

With a hopeful and grateful heart,