The 3-year anniversary of the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti is coming up this Saturday. When a massive disaster like this hits close to home, it is very trendy to give and support the cause. News crews bombard the country and we are fed constant streams of the devastation, motivating people to give.
But did you know Haiti was the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere prior to the earthquake? Now imagine where it left them. The reality is Haiti needs our love and partnership as much now as it did the day of the earthquake. What I’m amazed by is not that it’s no longer trendy to support Haiti, that is to be expected, but how certain individuals are actually hostile toward the idea. I’m the race director for the Lansing for Haiti 5K Run/Walk, a fundraiser to support World Relief‘s sustainable poverty relief in Haiti. I received an email last year during our race prep that I remember well. I deleted it after receiving it because if I kept it around, I knew temptation would overtake me and I’d send a scathing reply. The gist of the email was a woman ripping me apart for sending money to Haiti, when Detroit was in disarray. She said I should be doing a 5K for Detroit, not for Haiti, and essentially I’m a terrible person for doing so.
I was at the YMCA last week and had just given a 5K flier to the front desk worker, who I know is a runner. The front desk worker cheerfully invited the next member who came up to the desk to participate in the 5K. The member asked her to repeat what it was for. When she said “it’s a fundraiser for Haiti”, the member said as rudely as you can imagine, “If it’s not for the U.S., I’m not doing it” and essentially slammed the door on her way into the gym.
A friend who ran in our Lansing for Haiti 5K last year proudly posted a photo on Facebook recently of he and his wife wearing our 2012 race shirts after they just finished a race in Ohio. His caption was “Representing Lansing for Haiti 320 miles away!” The first comment underneath was someone who wrote “When are you going to represent Lansing for Lansing?”
What causes these people to be so judgmental? What causes them to assume that because we support the most vulnerable in Haiti, that we don’t also support people stateside? Why the outright hostility toward helping others who do not live on American soil? Are these people less human? Are they less valuable? Can they go ahead and die needlessly because they weren’t born under the red, white, and blue?
I think the hostility comes from a mindset that is more political than it is philanthropic. I think people equate helping devastated people in Haiti with outsourcing American jobs to other countries. If you add an American job to another country, it has taken one away from America. If you add a donated dollar to another country, it has taken away one from America. The fact is, these two things are not at all the same. Helping the most vulnerable around the world is not about economics, global trade, or politics. It is about love and human life. Money may be a limited commodity, but love is not.
What most people I’ve talked to about this do not realize is the vast difference in the definition of “poverty” in America versus third world countries. In every major city in America, a poor person is able to find free food, clothing, and shelter, and children across America all have access to free schooling. These are things that make our country great. The poor in Haiti do not have these basic needs at their disposal. Not only is school a luxury the poor cannot afford, but even the minimal means of survival are scarce.
During my first trip to Haiti in March 2010, we talked with a community appointed leader in one of the many tent cities. He described what it’s like for a 7-year-old Haitian girl. She has two choices: one is to starve to death, the other is to perform sexual acts with men so she can eat.
These are not choices Americans have to face. This is a different level of poverty. One that should break our hearts and fill us with compassion.
My point is not that we shouldn’t give to American causes. My point is that it’s not a competition. It’s not one or the other. I’m insulted by people who assume I don’t support the poor in Lansing and in America simply because I’ve decided to organize this 5K for Haiti.
I hope that our continued efforts in Haiti simply show everyone the value of a human, created in God’s image. Whether Haitian, or American, or Asian, every person is sacred, beautiful, has dignity, and is to be loved. Let’s uphold and support these efforts to love wherever we see them.
Thankfully love is not a limited commodity. Let’s make sure we are reaping its harvest and sharing it with those who need it most.
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