I recently went to Haiti to film a video for a malnutrition clinic. The clinic is run by Jordan and Rebecca – two normal white girls, much like myself, who happen to care a whole lot about people.
Jordan and Rebecca run Potter and Clay Ministries in Mare Rouge, which is located in Northwest Haiti. When Moore Media Group was asked to come shoot some footage for them, I almost immediately said yes. I thought this would be an exciting adventure. A chance to explore a new country and film in an unfamiliar environment. To make memories I’d carry with me for the rest of my life.
I had no idea it would totally wreck my world.
We arrived in Port-au-Prince early on a Sunday afternoon. We had been traveling since 3 that morning, so I was glad to finally embark on the last leg of the journey. Port-au-Prince was loud and vibrant and chaotic. There were people everywhere. Drivers followed virtually no traffic laws. As we navigated our way through the narrow streets in our Land Cruiser, tiny trucks whizzed by us with 10 passengers riding in the bed. People squeezed by on motorcycles and bicycles. There were so many pedestrians, I’m still amazed that we didn’t hit anyone. A nice Haitian man was our driver. I say “nice” because he had kind eyes. He didn’t speak English, so I don’t actually know if he was nice or just tired and ready to be home.
Once we made it past the noisy pandemonium that was Port-au-Prince, we went through a few other smaller cities and then the road was no more. It just stopped. The Crusier on the other hand, pressed onward.
This is where we began our ascent. I’d like to say we were on a trail, but there were parts of the trip when I felt like we were cruising along aimlessly into the wide open wilderness. If you’ve ever been on a motion ride at a theme park, you will not have a hard time imagining how this 10-hour car ride felt. We bumped and rocked the entire way – sometimes front to back, others left to right, but we were never just stationary.
The terrain changed probably five times during our 10-hour drive. At moments it felt like we were in a desert – cacti (I don’t think that’s the proper term but I like it) appearing on either side of us. Other times we rolled along a beautiful beach, and I really felt the tropical island vibe. Then we went through what felt like a jungle – trees closing in on us – animals running across our path. It was quite a journey, and while I’d like to say I enjoyed taking it all in, my carsick-prone self kissed the ground when we finally arrived to Mare Rouge and I may have cried happy tears.
Mare Rouge is a world away from Port-au-Prince. There are no streets – only dirt pathways. There are no tall buildings – just small homes, some of which might collapse if a strong wind passed through. There are far fewer motor-vehicles – more people leading donkeys with baskets of rice or beans on their backs. Mare Rouge is what you picture when you think of a third-world country, but it is not just an image in our minds, it is a very real place with very real people.
The next three days were scheduled out for us – packed with hours of filming interviews and b-roll of the day to day lives of Jordan and Rebecca and their team of 14 at Potter and Clay Ministries. Out of the 10 interviews I conducted, Jordan and Rebecca were the only ones who spoke English. It was fascinating to work with a translator for the other interviews. My translator’s name was Rousier (pronounced like woozy-ay). When we broke for meals, he told us riveting stories about his life. He had been accidentally separated from his parents as a small child and grew up in an orphanage. He is a genius, and I don’t remember the number of languages he spoke, but it’s more than I will learn in my entire lifetime.
Rousier is just one of the hardworking, giant-hearted individuals who helped Jordan and Rebecca get their clinic on its feet. There is a mass of others who deeply believe in the work they are doing. It brought me to tears to see the community coming together to be a part of this ministry. As Americans, because we are privileged and a bit entitled, it’s tempting for us to look at Jordan and Rebecca and think of them as the white girls to the rescue – going to Haiti and saving the lives of innocent, impoverished, malnourished children. But that’s not what’s happening. They are living life with the people of Mare Rouge, and the people have taken them in and accepted them as their own, and as a team, they are changing the culture.
At Potter and Clay Ministries, the team is taking in and caring for sick, hurting children, but they are doing so much more. They are teaching parents how to keep this from happening in the future. They are showing them how to grow and purchase affordable products to prevent malnutrition before it steals anymore precious lives. They are sitting with women and with their own hands, showing them how to pump milk from their breasts. They are teaching courses on hygiene and nutrition. And as a team, they are making a difference. They are saving lives.
This was a lot for my typically emotionally-detached self to absorb in three short days. I saw a great deal of poverty, but even more hardship and just sheer exhaustion. What bothered me most about all of this is I didn’t know this was happening.
That feels embarrassing to admit – to say aloud that I didn’t know people were hurting so badly in places like Mare Rouge. But that is the advantage of the privileged, white, middle-class American that I am. I have the option to be misinformed and uneducated on the conditions around the world. It’s far too easy for me to buy into the lie that I’ve been told my entire life that “people in third-world countries are happier than most Americans” because it makes us feel better to believe that.
I think we say this, especially in churches, in a well-intentioned attempt to compel Americans to be grateful for the possessions they have, as opposed to always wanting more. And while I agree, we could all use a little more gratitude, I think this lie blinds us to the actual circumstances people are facing.
Most of the mothers I interviewed in Mare Rouge have lost a child to malnutrition. And several of the people I talked to weren’t sure where their next meal was coming from. One woman walked through the mud for three hours every week, carrying her newborn twins in her arms, to get formula for them because she didn’t have any other means to do so. And then she walked those three hours back home. I don’t care how persuasive you are, you will not be able to convince me that that woman is happier than the people sitting next to me in Starbucks right now sipping on their lattes and comparing the multitude of toys they bought their children for Christmas. It’s a lie, and I don’t believe it anymore.
I will say, the people of Mare Rouge are content with their lives, but what other option do they have? Where are they supposed to go? What are they supposed to do? They don’t get to have dreams of traveling to Italy or publishing a book or running a business or going to see the northern lights. They just go to the market every Tuesday and Thursday and do what they can to provide for the people they love most. And that is their lives. That is their world. And we have forgotten about them.
We have chosen to believe the lie that they are fine and look the other way to their suffering. I’m not saying they want our lives. Because Lord knows we are a mess over here in the States. But on a whole, we are not hungry. Not like they are. We are not losing our children to malnutrition. And we can’t pretend it’s not happening.
So I don’t know where to go with this. But I can’t just act like it’s not there anymore because I’ve seen it. I’ve held the babies in my arms and hugged a woman crying as she told me about her baby’s death and heard the heartbreaking stories of suffering. And I have to do something.
When I told my husband this, his face got white and he said “Are you saying we have to move to Haiti?” I laughed and told him “No, I don't think so.” I don't know what I’m supposed to do, but I do know what Jordan and Rebecca and their awesome team of Hatian people are doing. And I can support them. And so can you. Because the anguish and exhaustion of day to day life in Mare Rouge is real. And the people are real And we can't forget about them.