While Hunter and Andrea were in Haiti for the last two weeks, Jill Higgins and her daughter Ivy took time to fly in for 6 days to visit and get a look at several of the Aid Still Required programs around the country. Below is Jill’s reflection on her time there.
I chose to go to Haiti with Hunter and Andrea of Aid Still Required for several reasons. My daughter has spent time in Ghana and Liberia and will be getting her Masters and teaching credentials in May and she was really excited to go. We both believed she could be of service in Haiti. I was asked to donate a not inconsequential amount of money, which in my job as a private investor means I’d be an “owner” of the projects and the work, so, while all the portraits of the people were exquisite and I’m all for being of service (for those given much, much is expected), I needed to know exactly what I’d be “buying.”
Aid Still Required is a small NGO (with a lot of heart) which is the plus and the minus. Could they accomplish as much or more than a large non profit? They certainly don’t have a lot of overhead and fixed costs. While I did get very hungry during our 12-14 hour days there often wasn’t time for a sit down of rice and beans. I did pack enough protein bars for all, a habit that stems from raising six kids, and I was on this trip with the hungriest of them. We stopped at grocery stores for fresh water and snacks. It’s also not feasible to eat in front of people who don’t know where their next meal is coming from. And, another observation is Hunter is thrifty. He is not about to “splurge” on a buffet of $25.00 when that amount of money could literally change a life. Father Joseph, founder of the University of Fondwa, provides all food for the college students at the cost of $6.00 a day.) Besides, I brought all those protein bars and nuts. I imagine that larger NGOs were the ones in the two or three nice places where we met them. They could afford to stay where they’d be most comfortable and have such delicacies as fresh vegetables and identifiable meat. I don’t know, as we were not allowed to scope out the buffet. On our last day we did eat at one if the best local Haitian restaurants. The local food was satisfying and delicious and about half the price of the big resort. So ASR uses most every dollar directly on the recipients.
So while my reasons were sound they were very American. For six days I was dropped into Haiti and began thinking like I was a Haitian. More like an American Haitian Mom.
Nothing can describe the feeling of seeing a child in a settlement camp come to you, see you, grab your pinky and hold on for an hour. In my head, I was raising him. I was thinking of his needs today, as well as his needs over the next 18 years.
He chose me. I don’t know what was going on in his head. In my head I felt responsible to him and for him. I felt responsible for his brother, who tried to keep him from following me and getting into trouble. He trusted me to do right by him as did the dehydrated orphans we checked in on later. I am responsible. The help is doable.
To build a school in Haiti and to train teachers can be done for tens of thousands of dollars, not millions of dollars. To support a student to be educated in Agriculture, animal husbandry or business management, and then sent back to one of 570 villages (which is approximately 75% of the Haitian population) costs approximately five thousand dollars a year plus small stipends of around $6.00 a day to eat. The students work for part of the money and go back to improve their village for some defined to time. This program as well as micro finance for people has been championed by Father Joseph, he himself the son of a mother who was a street vendor, his father a laborer, both pushed him to be educated. That is job one according to most of the experts we met with.
The problems are big and complex but the people are optimistic and spend the majority of their meager funds sending their children to school. It doesn’t take a lot of money to change people’s lives. Creative solutions like the Art of Living and programs helping children to learn English and showcase their talents, learn other skills that will make them employable and think of themselves as leaders are being piloted now.
Some just need a few thousand dollars for space so children aren’t packed on top of each other They show up in droves for these programs. The parents allow them to attend instead of cooking and washing and being entrepreneurial to keep the household running. Children emerging from tiny cement shacks with dirt floors arrive to class groomed, scrubbed and perfectly clean. We saw the kids come down the stairs barefoot to go out by the toilet pit. We cringed. They smiled and helped the littlest ones down the stairs and took their belts off so they could use the facilities.
All of these children are the future of Haiti. They will have to accomplish much with not much food to grow their brains. These were kids that are being helped.
We visited an unregulated orphanage where what food and water and care was available was not being provided. Emergency intervention of the magnitude of hundreds of dollars could change the course of these children’s lives. Here were 30 orphans, most with bloated bellies, skinny arms, some very listless and apathetic, some grabbing hands to hold and rock them. All babies that I rocked instantly relaxed and fell asleep. It wouldn’t take many dollars to bring in consistent love and care, nutrition, water, books and loveys of their very own. It is a matter of life and death.
My work is cut out for me. The cost of one if my children’s tuition could cover a rural school, teacher training, three scholarships and the life of thirty kids.
What would you like to “own?”
Jill and Ivy Higgins