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Are We Helping or Hurting Haiti?

Haiti already faced many infrastructure challenges before the earthquake.

I've been involved with Haiti Missions for 10 years. It's received more foreign aid than just about any country on earth with little to show for it.

Most Haitians earn about $1 to $2 US a day.

An enterprising Haitian wanting to start his own business will have to pay the equivalent of one years salary for his license. He will then have to fight corrupt Government officials at all levels.

Among other challenges is the native Creole language, which makes it difficult to communicate with the rest of the world. Most of Haiti, outside of Port Au Prince, does not have electricity. In fact, you can see blown over power poles everywhere that were installed by the Clinton administration.

There are few trees in Haiti. Deceased dictator Baby Doc clean cut the nation's mahogany forests and sold them to help fund his $800 million exit plan. Deforestation broke the vegetative cycle and turned a large part of Haiti into a rocky moonscape.

I was fortunate to visit North West Haiti Christian Mission before the earthquake. My son and I worked with locals to build a baby orphanage. We picked up several hundred cinderblocks that were so fragile that they would completely crumble in your hands if you weren't careful. We were amazed at how they could build structures several stories high with such weak materials.

Once you built the walls up, you put plywood on top and shoveled concrete on top for the ceiling/roof. Plywood comes from the US and is expensive, so its cut out and reused once the concrete dries. When the earthquake shook the ground, the weak walls crumbled and concrete crushed the people inside.

We went with a friend who is a surgeon in the US. NW Haiti Mission had an impressive hospital with two operating rooms. The hospital was wise enough to charge for services, even if it was only pennies.

My friend had to weigh the risk of non-life-threatening surgeries. The locals had very little protein in their diets which led to long healing times. Combined with unsanitary conditions, infections were common.

When we left Haiti, we were able to help the hospital stock up on supplies and equipment. Months later, the earthquake hit and this was one of the few operating hospitals in the whole country. The Pittsburg Post ran a story on Marc Zboch - Tree Planting in Haiti, which described our efforts for the earthquake recovery and reforestation.

I'm a believer in self-sufficient giving except when it comes to disaster relief. NW Haiti Mission did an incredible job of saving lives and feeding the homeless. We were able to send out 60,000 emails soliciting donations for them.

Their crowded orphanages were able to take on even more kids. I was amazed at how babies would be dropped off at the fence. The orphanage would not touch them for 24 hours. The infants scream until they give up or become too hoarse. Often the family member or parent caves in and takes the child back. If not, the orphanage figures out how to support another child.

Churches started and funded by native Haitians are the strongest. The congregation is invested and take ownership. The churches financed by Americans seldom become independent.

A US friend of mine had built a Haitian church in La Baie and hired a Haitian Pastor to lead it. Church is very formal in Haiti. Everyone is expected to dress up. This is difficult in areas where many kids and adults can't even afford shoes. At the end of each service, my friend would give a brief message wearing flip flops and torn shorts. He was able to drop the dress code a few notches, but it was still formal.

La Baie had the prettiest Bay I have ever seen. It was totally untouched. We had to be careful about stepping on Sea Urchins. This is a big problem in the waters all around Haiti.

La Baie has a population of about 5,000 people. There are no cars, only donkeys. Most children don't have shoes and their parents barely have them. We brought a few hundred pairs with us. Definitely not enough for the large demand.

We wanted to first give the shoes to church families or those who were most needy. We went through the houses with the Haitian Preacher, handing out tickets for the shoe fitting. Many were asking for them and one guy even through a punch at the Preacher. Fortunately he missed and we were able to calm down the situation.

The fitting was chaos. We ran out with hundreds of people still needing shoes.

My 12 year old son was bothered by the lack of shoes when he got back home. He and his brother were able to gather 1,000 pairs that we sent over.

Most Haitians will say they are Christian but still worship VooDo. You pay the Voodo Doctor for a spell because there are not many other health care options. When you can't pay your rent you have a spell put on your landlord.

I was able to take some kids into a Voodo Temple during their annual rituals. Hundreds of people were drinking and sacrificing animals. Some would bathe in pools of blood from the slaughtered animals. We got a lot of odd stares, but nobody asked us to leave.

We slept in a tent as we visited several towns. Wherever we went, we could hear Voodo drums all night long. I guess that's how you know your Doctor is working.

Haitians are very friendly and outgoing. When you get away from Port Au Prince, most areas are safe.

Micro lending is a challenge because of low repayment rates. Some innovative charities have overcome this by holding a group of borrowers liable for each others debts. So if a group of women want sewing machines and one of the members does not pay her loan back, then the others will put pressure on her.

There are no simple solutions for Haiti.

Marc Zboch

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