Friday, January 30, 2009

Stop and Think Some More

I've been railing to anyone who will listen--as I'm sure many have--about the outrageous greed, arrogance, and even criminality of the corporate executives whose companies have received bailouts from us and who are using money to reward themselves with bonuses that are insane in the best of times and to buy lavishly appointed jets and outrageously expensive office furniture that doesn't even make sense. And then to justify their actions, they say things like if we don't pay these bonuses, we won't attract the best talent. The best talent?!!! You mean the talent to drive the financial system and everyone's 401K into the ground?

I remember in the 1980's when Reagen took on the welfare queens--women who were scamming the system and collecting multiple checks--regaling us with stories about a Cadillac-driving, fur wearing welfare mom. These guys from New York make her look like a piker. The sense of undeserved entitlement is mind boggling. These guys think they are playing a game--a winner's game--where there are no consequences and no matter how badly you screw up, you never lose. And in this game, we all are the bank, like in a Monopoly game, dispensing endless qualities of money whenever they want it. What kind of fantasy universe are they living in?

Apparently the same one I am and this is where this post finally relates to Haiti. For I don't want to let the above guys off the hook--they truly are criminal--but when I examine my assumptions and expectations about my standard of living as it relates to the majority of people in Haiti and other developing countries, I find my world view too similar to that of the head of Merrill Lynch. I have my comfortable, warm, water tight home, a never ending supply of food, vacations to look forward to, my own car, my own computer, and really all the books I want to buy. And the Haitians? Well, they're eating too many mud pies or not at all.

How do the terrible living conditions (to put it mildly) of the people in Haiti relate to the way I--or you--live? Well, they do, my friends, they do, even if it's as simple as that I could use more of my disposable income to buy food for people in Haiti. The more complicated, systemic reasons that the developed world's standard of living comes at the cost of those who were unfortunate to be born in poor countries is detailed in Paul Farmer's book, "The Uses of Haiti" which I will summarize in future posts.

For now, suffice to say, there is plenty of blame to go around.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Stop and Think

The picture of the above little girl is one my husband took on his most recent trip to Haiti. She lives in Carrefour, a large slum adjacent to Port-au-Prince. We have this picture hanging in our kitchen.
So one day this week, I was getting my lunch together in a hurry, kind of stuffing my face, to be brutally honest, and discontent with the offerings of our refrigerator. I turned around and my eyes caught the above picture. It stopped me in mid-chew.
How can I live my life the way I do when so many children are suffering? Why doesn't it matter more to everyone?
Painful questions with unsatisfactory answers.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Patient #136

One of the things that I'm most proud about John and Haitian Hearts for is the commitment made to patients. So despite my numbering Ronald patient #136, the fact is that he has a previous patient number also.
In 2004, Ronald and his father traveled from their home in Les Cayes to Port-au-Prince to see John because of Ronald's poor health. Ronald indeed had a heart problem, and in 2005, we brought him to the United States for heart surgery. He stayed with a wonderful family in upstate New York.

When Ronald was staying with his host family, and after consulting with Ronald's parents, this family decided they wanted to adopt Ronald. As is the case with many Haitian families, Ronald's parents were delighted that someone in the States wanted to adopt him. Life is very difficult for poor Haitian families, and the parents would love to give their children a better chance, even when it means giving them up. This is particularly true when the child has had serious health problems.
The idea of giving a child up for adoption like this is often very difficult for Americans and others from developed countries to understand. As heartbreaking and as un-ideal of a solution as it is, we would probably understand better if we spent even a day enduring what these families endure. They are doing it out of love. We need to work hard and urgently for a more just world where these kinds of Sophie's choice dilemmas don't exist.

So Ronald returned to Haiti to await the completion of the adoption paperwork. Haitian Hearts continued to keep track of Ronald so that we could monitor his heart. This ongoing contact allowed us to diagnose that his heart needed more surgery.

Thankfully, the same hospital and surgeon that first operated on Ronald are going to do the second surgery. He will once again stay with his host, soon to be adoptive, family.

Ronald's heart is very sick, so the news of his acceptance came in the nick of time. Now, we pray that the passport and visa paperwork will go quickly.

Ronald is pictured above.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Upstream and Downstream

Do you know the difference between upstream and downstream work? Sometimes they're called justice and mercy work. Upstream or justice work addresses the root causes of a problem, while downstream or mercy work concerns itself with delivering immediate help to people who need it now. It's prevention versus cure.

For example, Haitian Hearts mainly works in the downstream or mercy arena. We provide medical care to poor Haitians and bring children and young people to the United States for surgery. We respond to these emergency problems, most of which have their root in poverty. We don't more broadly address this poverty.

Some of our patients with heart problems have these problems due to rheumatic fever, a preventable disease. For rheumatic heart disease, upstream work might focus on educating doctors and people on strep throat and its treatment (penicillin) so that rheumatic fever doesn't develop. Work further upstream might be getting funds for more clinics and doctors and nurses in Haiti so that health care is more widely available.

A nun I know frequently talks to me about a friend of hers who runs an orphanage in Ecuador. This orphanage takes in mainly disabled children who have been abandoned. This seems to fall under the category of downstream or mercy work. But then it struck me: any work that benefits children must be considered upstream work, too. Children, we have so often heard, are the future. They will grow up and create the world anew. Helping children contributes to a just future, a future that is downstream for us now.

What could be better than that?

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Bring on 2009!

Whoopee! Happy New Year's everyone. It's a very big day in Haiti, as January 1 is also their independence day. In 1804 on this date, the bloody, more-than-10-years-long Haitian Revolution finally came to an end, with the former slaves defeating Napoleon's finest. Haiti became the world's first and only country established through a slave rebellion.

Here's an interesting and important way that the Haitian war for independence affected American history. As Napoleon and France went down in defeat to the Haitians, the Emperor decided to sell the Louisiana Territory to the United States for $15 million dollars, or less than three cents an acre. The Louisiana Purchase, which now comprises 13 states, doubled the size of the United States.

With the loss of Haiti, called the Pearl of the Antilles for its rich agricultural output, as a French territory, Napoleon lost one of France's cash cows. Some thought that Napoleon had designs on North America, but the difficulty he had in Haiti forced him to forfeit these plans and sell the Louisiana Territory.

So the United States owes Haiti. We repaid them by not recognizing Haiti for more than 50 years, as we didn't want our own slaves getting any ideas about revolutions.

Fast forwarding to today:with four hurricanes and their resulting damage, skyrocketing food costs, widespread malnutrition and even starvation, more kidnappings, etc. etc., 2008 was not one of Haiti's better years. I guess that's true for the rest of the world too, Obama's election notwithstanding.

And on a personal level, I'm glad to see 2008 come to an end.

Let's work to make 2009 a better year for Haiti and all of us.