Thursday, November 27, 2008


Today, Thanksgiving Day, 29-year-old Heureuse, a mother of two young children will be on a plane from Port-au-Prince to the United States, where she will have heart surgery at Cleveland Clinic. As Heureuse has been sick for a couple of years, this is indeed something to be grateful for. We give thanks for her doctors, nurses, host family, helpers in Haiti, medical technology, and most of all for the grace of God, which animates all good things.

Many of Heureuse's fellow Haitians aren't as fortunate today. Below is a letter written by my friend Tonya Sneed. It was published in the Peoria Journal Star on November 21, 2008 and is posted here with her permission. May we all continue to examine our lives, question our government's policies, and work hard to alleviate the awful suffering of many of our brothers and sisters.

On Thanksgiving, while Americans raise their cholesterol feasting on hormone-fed turkeys raised in horrendous conditions, another atrocity is taking place. Children in Baie d'Orange, Haiti, are starving.
It's official that at least 26 children have died from severe malnutrition, a direct result of the four tropical storms and hurricanes that ravaged Haiti in August and September.
Their deaths are connected to us in ways too numerous to count. As one of many examples, consider that the U.S. government has in recent years "liberalized" Haiti's trade. Just a few decades ago, almost all the rice purchased and sold in Haiti was grown there. Now more than 80 percent of the rice purchased and sold in Haiti was grown in the U.S. Through the dumping of our heavily subsidized rice into their market, we have destroyed Haiti's food security and have run an untold number of peasant farmers out of business.
In short, we have made Haitians more hungry, not less, and have forced them to rely on the whims of the international markets.
Consider global warming. The experts agree that global warming won't necessarily cause more hurricanes, but the hurricanes themselves will come with greater intensity. That seems to be the case. My friends in Jacmel, near Baie d'Orange, have never seen such devastation. It's a cruel irony that the poorest of the poor, who don't eat much meat and who don't drive cars - things that contribute substantially to global warming - are the ones who are suffering the most as a result of the changes in global temperatures.
Consider the elephant in the room: our despicable use of public funds. We spend more than $1 billion every day on the wars and the Pentagon's budget, and yet give Haiti pennies in aid. If we could take one day off from this insanity, no one would need to starve. A billion dollars would make all the difference in the world to the people of Baie d'Orange and to all of Haiti.
But there isn't any profit for Blackwater, KBR and the other war profiteers in feeding Venecia Lonis, a 4-year-old from Baie d'Orange whose tiny body is so miserably emaciated that even our mainstream media could no longer ignore her. Perhaps the only real hope for Venecia is that this Thanksgiving we Americans open our eyes to the harsh and bitter realities of this world, especially those that are of our government's making, and demand change.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Mystery of Haiti

As I mentioned in the last post, John and I made a presentation on Haiti to the Sisters of St. Francis of the Immaculate Conception, who live just down the street from us on Heading Avenue. The Carroll family has a long-standing relationship with these wonderful sisters. Fifty-one years ago, my husband John attended the convent's preschool. His teacher was Sister Elaine. And would you believe that exactly 50 years later, our son Luke was a student at this preschool? Guess who his teacher was? Yes, the ever youthful and superlative Sister Elaine. John and his brother served Mass at the Sisters' chapel and continued to attend Mass there as adults. I currently volunteer at the Convent and the Sisters provide Communion to my mother-in-law, who is housebound.

Earlier this year, we applied for and received a grant from the Sisters' Little Portion Grant Fund. On John's trip to Haiti last week, we used the $1,500 grant to pay for food, medicines, vaccinations, and doctor visits for poor people who go to a clinic outside of Port-au-Prince run by the Daughters of Charity.
After the Sisters awarded us the grant, they invited us to speak when their congregation met last week. We had a really good time giving the presentation. We can talk about Haiti all day, and the Sisters were such a good audience; they were rapt and asked lots of good questions. They've inspired us to try to give our talk to other groups.

One of the good questions a Sister, who had been to Haiti, asked was, "Isn't it difficult to know the truth about Haiti?" The short answer is yes, especially for non-Haitians. Haiti is such a complex place: Creole and French languages, the widespread and extreme poverty and a few very rich families, the history of 64 different classifications based on skin color, voodoo and Christianity, poor treatment by the world of nations and internal corruption, gentleness and cruelty, joblessness and a good work ethic are all intertwined together in a way that reminds me of what Winston Churchill said about Russia: Haiti "is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma." There are many seeming contraditions about the place and it is hard to sort them out, interpret them. I think one of the keys to understanding Haiti is knowing that inhuman deprivation does terrible things in all kinds of way.

If you're interested in the complexity of Haiti and how that applies to the current situation, check out the following short story, "Ghosts," by Haitian-American writer Edwidge Dandicat

Sunday, November 23, 2008

A Haitian Reflection

John and I gave a presentation to the Heading Avenue Franciscan Sisters last Sunday. Following is a little reflection that we ended the program with.

This is Haiti

And so is this.

Life in Haiti is sometimes the same as here.

But often, it is different.

We here in the United States are so fortunate in the material sense.

We live in an orderly world with building codes and paved roads.

And plenty of doctors.

We have regular meals, plans, goals, and schedules.

We can begin to think that how we live is just the way the world is.

In Haiti, many parts of life are different. It is dirty and smells.

And too many children


When there is no electricity, schedules are set by the rising and setting sun.

Haitians hopes for the future

Are in some ways the same as ours

And in some ways different.

To get through the day.

To feed their children.

And send them to school.

To work hard so that life might be a little bit better for them and their children.

And to smile.

In the lack of structure, people hear and see God more.

They aren’t caught up as much in their own plans and in many ways have less control over their lives.

“Give us this day our daily bread,” is a prayer Haitians understand very well.

Perhaps they will be more interested in talking with a friend, singing a song, and praising God for any little blessing.

I’m fearful that in talking like this, we will be tempted to say, “In their poverty,

They really are happy.

But the poverty exacts

A terrible price.

We do have much to learn from the poor people of the world. In living in such dire circumstances, they realize what is important.

Like how great God is.

They realize what is important like we would if we were told we had six months to live.

But the poverty exacts a terrible price, a price that the developed world should not tolerate. When we turn out heads, it hurts our souls.

A Polish sister we know runs a health clinic in a very poor area. She has been to the United States and echoes Mother Teresa when she says, “Americans suffer from a poverty of the heart. So what is the solution?

Perhaps a clue can be found in the Haitian motto on the Haitian flag: L’union fait la force. Through unity, strength.

Or to put it another way, we need each other.

She needs your time and talent.

They need your treasure.

All need your prayers.

But we need them too.

To save us from shallowness, self-absorption, and materialism and lots of other causes of sinfulness and unhappiness.

To remind us that the most important thing is how we treat one another. That the Way is both a means and an end. That we are charged with bringing the Kingdom of God to Earth.

To do our part to make the world a beautiful place. For everyone.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Real Story?

I think the way the media reports the news is sensationalistic and not always reflective of reality. (I know; stop the presses). Whenever a major disaster occurs in Haiti—hurricanes, school collapses, political upheaval—the country gets a little bit of ink in the newspaper and a few seconds of time on TV. Of course, this isn’t unique to Haiti. News all over the world is reported in this manner. We seem entranced by disasters while the more fundamental issues that create our world and affect us profoundly go unreported.

So when the school collapse in Haiti was widely reported last week with a death count approaching 90, I wondered the following things: how many children in Haiti died that day of malnutrition or diarrhea? How many died from malaria or typhoid fever? Of tuberculosis or HIV? What are the reasons Haiti is such a poor country? What are the policies and practices that keep them mired in a failed state status? Why don’t many people have access to clean water? How is the foreign aid that goes to Haiti spent? What are the well to do Haitians doing—or not doing—to make Haiti a more humane place? What are the stories of all the people who live in those two room cinder block houses across from the collapsed school?

Where is the reporting on these kinds of questions?

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


Four years ago, John and I were in Haiti during the U.S. presidential election. Most Haitians we asked were pulling for Kerry. They were also highly knowledgeable, knowing that the electoral votes in Wisconsin were up for grabs. When Kerry wasn't elected, they were stoic; Haitians are used to disappointment.

Well, I wasn't in Haiti yesterday, but I know the general reaction: jubilation. The happiness of having someone who has African roots, like they do, being elected president of their powerful neighbor to the north is a huge cause for celebration. The United States isn't just any country to Haiti; thousands of Haitians have relatives in the U.S., the promised land, who send money back to their poor, trapped relatives. I would bet that per captia, more Haitians have a dream of coming to America than people from any other country in the world.

And then there's this: the president of the United States often has a more profound affect on the lives of non-Americans than he does Americans. Just ask the Iraqis. Or the Haitians.

For example, in the last 15 years, the Haitians saw one American president, Bill Clinton, restore to office the democratically elected president of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide and another American president George W. Bush, depose the democratically elected president of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. When you study Haitian history, you realize that it's impossible to overestimate the influence, if not outright control, the the United States has over Haitians politics and governance. That is, when we pay attention or care one way or another at all.

So the hopes and promise that Obama represent are not just for Americans. The people of Haiti have a stake in these dreams too.