by Kelvin Belfon
In early December last year, I took a trip to Haiti. It was an 8-day thought shifting experience! The people and culture there reminded me of the things I love about growing up on my island, Grenada. In many ways it felt like going home.
Susie Krabacher, the co-founder of Mercy and Sharing hosted Micah, a work colleague and me. This non-profit organization has provided care and education for the abandoned, orphaned and disabled children in Haiti for the last 20 years.
Our schedule included touring the schools in Port-au-Prince and Cité Soleil. In the town of Williamson, we visited an orphanage, school and trade center. Then we hiked into the remote hills where we visited children and widows in that village.
Last, we flew to Cap-Haitian, located to the northern part of the island. There we marveled as we watched in full operation Mercy and Sharing’s feeding program that supports over 900 people every day.
As we walked along the earthen pathways, it was hard not to be submerged in sadness for the people, who by First World standards, would be viewed as destitute. The 200 Haitians employed by Mercy and Sharing are the true heroes. Together they care for over 5,000 people in various capacities!
It would be easy to lose hope!
The needs in Haiti are overwhelming.
- Haiti is considered the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
- About 80% of the population lives in abject poverty (making less than $2.00 USD per day).
- The Life expectancy is 57 years.
- Less than 50% the population is literate.
- Only 25% of the population has access to sanitary water.*
Haiti have also experienced several natural disasters, like the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that killed over 230 people and displacing 1.5 million in 2007.
In sum, it would be easy for anyone in Haiti to complain about living in such a deplorable condition, and many do. Life on the island for most is tough. But I also met many people who were resilient and filled with hope and joy.
I went to support, but very quickly the roles were reversed. The Haitian people inspired me. Their fortitude and determination were exemplary. I observed their behavior in the crags of crisis and heard their stories. In the process I learned a few lessons I’d like to share with you today.
Things I learned in Haiti
- Smile! No matter how bleak your situation might seem. You may lose everything but never lose your smile.
- Hustle, hustle, hustle. Too many of us give up so easy after the first “No.” Haitians are known for finding alternate means to make things happen. Avoid excuses, explore your options, and put in some extra time. Fight for your dreams. It’s time to hustle!
- I’m the solution. It’s not up to the government, your employer, friend or family member to bail you out. Be the solution to your problem. In the process you’ll succeed. Someone said that people who learn to solve problems will prosper.
- Greed is universal. Yes, even people in a poor nation can be materialistic and accumulate junk they don’t need. We all desire more. Greed is a human condition that affects the rich and the poor. So guard your heart against extremes.
- Recycle. In Haiti most people don’t have the luxury of changing their wardrobe every 6 months or buying a new car because it’s over 60,000 miles. Use your possessions to the fullest. Be creative and re-purpose for your possessions when possible.
- Start something. The sidewalks of Port-au-Prince are filled local merchants. Everyone is selling something! In the United States, we have more resources and opportunities. So I asked myself, “Why not me? Why not you? Now!” Write the book, open your dream store, or start an online business. Be entrepreneurial.
- Contentment is possible even when you own little. There is nothing wrong in owning really nice things. The problem is when we continually want more and more things as a source of happiness. Did you eat today? Did you sleep in a building with insulation and doors? Learn to be content with what you have no matter how little it might seem.
- Love yourself. Your self-worth should never be motivated by the size of your bank account. Even with little you can make yourself presentable and gain the respect of others. Be proud and walk with your head up high.
- We all have something to give. Giving a financial gift can make an immediate impact in someone’s life. I give regularly. But giving money is not the only way. In Haiti, the Mercy and Sharing staff give sincere smiles, motherly kisses, heartfelt embraces, verbal affirmations, and their time to children they serve.
- Be grateful. Appreciate what you do have such as your life, self-worth, character, health, family and other valuable relationships. No matter how depressing our situation might appear, we can always find something in our life we can be grateful for.
How about you? Have you learned something by observing another culture or just by the way other people live their lives who are less fortunate than you?