haiti Social Action

Social Currency

If this were your house, what would you do?
If this were your house, what would you do?

“Why don’t they just fix it themselves?”

If I had a dollar for every time someone said that to me about the people of Haiti I wouldn’t be $1700 short in my fundraising!

There are a few answers to that question. At least from my ├╝ber limited perspective.

  1. Haiti is so poor that they just don’t have the infrastructure and resources to even conceive of a solution. It’s just too big and they have been too dependent on the outside world to help them to solve it themselves.
  2. Culture has put up some major barriers. There are laws and traditions to be obeyed which make seemingly easy problems to fix nearly impossible. For instance, you’d need a permit (which costs money) to haul away the rubble of a home you rent. (which you are still paying the rent for) You have to find the owner, (who might live in Haiti or the U.S., you’ve never met him but only paid his cousin) who has to provide the government (which fell down) with proof of ownership (which was destroyed when government buildings collapsed) before you can hire workers to remove the rubble. (which costs money, and the government hasn’t yet determined where to take all of the rubble)
  3. The poorest of the poor don’t have the social currency to not worry about breaking the law/culture and looking past a lack of resources for the sake of doing some good.

What is social currency?

I first thought of this often debated online phrase in the real world while in Haiti in February. Like a lot of relief workers I struggled with what I saw. It just didn’t reconcile with the world I know.

I’m not a sociologist. But this is how I think of social currency.

If my house partially collapsed, killing my family, what would I do? Obviously, I’d call 911 and 6 minutes later a miniature army of highly trained firefighters would show up. Then a news helicopter would fly overhead so that the entire metro area would know what had happened within the hour. In shock and not knowing what else to do, I’d get in an ambulance and go to the hospital. At some point soon after that my insurance agent would call me. I’d call some friends who would rally around me. Within about 48 hours I’d be planning funerals, talking to endless insurance people about life insurance and property insurance, while a group of friends would help me “get back on my feet.” In the meantime, I’d probably stay with some friends or relatives before settling into a long-term hotel that my insurance company would pay for (and going to a years counseling that my health insurance company would pay for) while they took care of hiring contractors to pull permits and level the house before rebuilding it.

That’s a lot of social currency. I’d call on all of those government and financial institutions without thinking about it because I’ve paid into those institutions! I’d call on friends to help because we have a perceived reciprocal society. Just the thought that “they’d do the same for me” would compel them to help.

How would that change if I were the poorest of the poor, living in a country with no infrastructure, and the entire city I lived in collapsed? Those with financial means would leave immediately. This would be the land-owners and business people. Those with no means (the homeless, the orphans, the widows) are just kind of frozen. They don’t know what to do because they don’t know the questions to ask nor the ramifications of what would happen if they “just fixed stuff.” Nor do they have the resources to fix stuff. Nor do they have the energy or equipment to fix stuff.

I remember Seth Barnes asking people what they were going to do and the dialogue always went like this:

What are you going to do about your home?

– I don’t know. I’m waiting for the government to help me.

Has the government ever helped you in the past?

– [laughter] Of course not.

The poorest of the poor are, unfortunately, dependent on help. The real question for them seems to be… what will accepting help cost them? Remember that Haiti is a place of both spiritual and real oppression. Accepting help may land them into a debt that costs a lifetime to repay. This is a place where children are trafficked and labor is unregulated. This is a place where, on a good day, the police are uncaring about your plight. But on a bad day, the police are just as dangerous as the oppressors. They may even be the oppressors in some neighborhoods.

What would you do? You’d laugh at those silly barriers in full knowledge that the landlord wouldn’t care that you cleared the property. At the very least you’d knock down your condemned home and pile up the rubble to be hauled away. Chances are pretty good that you’d also try to organize your neighbors into a group of workers who would go around clearing rubble for other people. Say, old women. That’s the power of social currency. You aren’t frozen. When everyone is stuck, you’d naturally rise up and take action.

This is why you should consider a relief trip to Haiti

If you are a reader of this blog I want to encourage you to find an agency of relief and pray about going to Haiti in the next 12 months. You have resources. You are ignorant of culture barriers. And you have social currency to spare.


3 Reasons I’m Going Back to Haiti

On July 19th I will return to Port-au-Prince.

In some ways I can’t wait to go back and see how things are progressing. And in other ways I am scared to go back because I think things are a lot worse.

I’ve heard mixed reports.

I’m not going alone.

As our team van lumbered out of Port-au-Prince last February I challenged myself to return in 2010… and to bring others who might catch a vision for how to help the church in Haiti rebuild both spiritually and physically a collapsed nation.

Thankfully, 19 others said yes to my appeal to go with me. It’s a full trip. I was completely shocked and amazed to see who joined the team. It’s an amazing hodgepodge of people from my life. And I cannot wait to see how God uses their service to be both blessed and do some form of blessing.

Without overloading you with information, I want to give you 3 quick reasons I’m returning to Haiti.

  1. While the cameras and celebrities (and the money they bring) have left Haiti, millions remain homeless. 2/3rd of the cities residents still sleep on the ground. Can you imagine “camping” for 6 months, sleeping on the bare dirt, trying to find food every day? The hard work of rebuilding has not begun. This is still very much a relief effort.
  2. The local church is still the primary instrument of relief. My entire adult life I’ve listened to pastors say, “We just need to move the church back to Acts 2.” Well, it is happening in Haiti! And I want to support them however I can. I don’t want to sound judgmental, but I openly wonder where those church leaders are who claim they want to see Acts 2 in their communities. If they were serious they would be in Haiti.
  3. The situation for the orphans and widows is dire. Last week the New York Times published a beautiful piece about a young girl named Daphne. You should read it. Its a story of hope and despair. As you read it ask yourself what I have been asking myself, “Why aren’t believers telling these stories to churches?” I hope to meet some Daphne’s and tell you their stories.

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27

Three ways you can get involved

  1. Pray. Commit to praying for our team. 20 people, most of whom have never met, will come together for a common purpose… to serve the Haitian church. Pray for our unity, our physical health, and that God would take our efforts and multiply their effectiveness supernaturally.
  2. Give. Kristen, Erin, and I have raised about $800 of the $2400 we need to fund our travel. We are thankful to those who have given already. Here’s how you can give to help our travel costs. Additionally, if you live locally and would like to contribute something for Kristen and I to take… we would like to fill our bags with this stuff to donate.
  3. Go. Just like last time– you will be able to follow my trip online as I post photos, videos, and blog posts. Will you commit to considering a trip to Haiti in the next 12 months? All I am asking is that you consider it.

It would greatly encourage Kristen and I if you’d simply let us know which of those 3 things you can commit to. Leave us a comment. It can be as simple as your name and which of the three options you can commit to as a way to get involved.


1.5 Million Still Homeless in Haiti

In a city of 3 million people roughly half are still homeless four months after the earthquake.

Why is a country, once rich in natural resources, a nation whose slave population rose up and defeated Napoleon’s army for independence, and given aid for generations by rich nations like the United States and France, still steeped in such poverty?

The answer is simple: Corruption.

There is corruption at every level of government. There are oppressors and the oppressed. And the people with social status to do something about it? Their idealism is often overcome by greed.

Even the relief aid workers who have gone— too many have succumbed to temptations. Too much talk, too much skimming, and not enough work getting done.

According to this New York Times editorial, only 7500 of the 1.5 million left homeless have been moved to a resettlement site. Not even a permanent home.

The cameras are gone. The news attention is now fixated somewhere else. (On the gulf oil spill.) The American publics attention, like that of a mosquito, is looking for the next story that bleeds.

$1.5 billion in aid was given. About $1000 per person displaced. [In a nation where the average family makes under $200 annually] And yet no one has a new place to live. Tents? Yes. Homes? No.

7500 people resettled. 1,492,500 still sleep on the ground tonight. Mothers will lay down their babies on dirt, under a tarp with your countries name on it in tent cities that would make your knees buckle when you see them.

I’ve heard snarky Americans say, “Why is Haiti our problem?” Or “Won’t our help just further the problem?

Haiti is our problem. We have funded the corruption. We have turned our attention away from the corruption there… we’d prefer to not think about it. We have stood by and gotten rich off of their natural resources. We have gleefully paid unfair wages to their workers for generations so that we can buy socks at $2.99 for six pairs.

And while we wear their socks their children sleep on a piece of cardboard under a tarp tent with “USAid” flapping 12 inches above their face.

Shame on us.

Why can’t Haiti fix its own problems? Why can’t people just move? Why can’t they just go get jobs? Why can’t they rebuild their own homes?

My reply to that is plain: Why don’t you go to Haiti and discover the answers to those questions for yourself. If the problem is so simple– why not go and fix it?

This much I know. This I can assure you. One day a poet will rise up from the squaller of a tent city and cry out:

How long, how long must we sing this song?

One day the shame of our inaction will get to us. We will pay $100 to watch this poet pronounce shame and guilt on us for our inaction to a stadium of people who nod their heads in agreement.

While your children sleep safely in their beds tonight I want you to think of this song…