People often ask me to share some of my experiences while working overseas. Predictably I usually offer up the times I found adventure or thrills in some exotic location.
I seldom discuss my times in the slums of Kolkata or especially what I saw while living in Haiti. The memories are disturbing but still educational so there are times when I can bring myself to offer at least a glimpse.
Recently I was directed to a blog called WastedFood.com. This blog provides many insightful articles on the topic of all the food that goes to waste in the U.S. and other developed nations. Occasionally the author addresses the subject of hunger.
The following is a small excerpt copied from the daily journals I kept while working on relief projects all over the world.
Hunger in Haiti
In Haiti, the majority of the urban adult population only consumes a full meal every other day. The children do eat a meal every day. People chew on clay during days they do not eat. The women get by eating any spoiled fruit and vegetables they are unable to sell for a pittance.
This is a fact, I lived there for two years and witnessed the situation myself. I am in-touch with aid workers in Haiti now and the situation has gotten worse.
You cannot imagine starvation at these levels. A worker that cannot find any day labor for a week typically loses one child to starvation. Families must make weekly decisions as to who lives (a family member that can work) and who dies (a family member that suffers from an illness curable in the U.S.).
Compassion is lost in these situations. Life becomes a daily struggle for survival. Hungry people are like hungry wild animals sometimes, fighting over scraps thrown on a waste pile. Humanity is reduced to basic animal survival instincts.
Fresh Water Well
Near the clinic where I worked a 5-year old child took care of her infant brother Monday through Friday. This child could start a fire, prepare US AID rations and collect water from the well behind the clinic. The mother could only return to the cracker-tin shack on weekends. Her job was prostitution.
The daily scenes of starvation, illness and death are too disgusting to relate here. Picture Europe during the times of the Black Plague perhaps.
Of course this is not the whole picture of this complex island nation. The Haitians that decide to remain in mountain villages usually do get enough to eat but they get very little other public services like education, health care, or farming assistance.
At least living away from urban areas reduces the chances they will catch certain communicable diseases or become crime victims. The United Nation's forces have brought some civility back to the Haiti that exists outside greater Port au Prince.
There are also millionaires on Haiti, living in the heights about in places like Petionville and Kenscoff. For the most part they are concerned only with with increasing and guarding their wealth. Some do help the less fortunate yet very little food or medicine trickles down to the masses living exactly as I described at the beginning of this article.
Foreign aid workers and agencies do their best to alleviate some of the suffering in Haiti. Unfortunately the public health situation makes it difficult for aid workers from developed nations to remain healthy for long when working among the poorest populations. Haiti is not a popular destination for most overseas aid workers.
I received initial disaster project management and personal hygiene training in Kolkata, India, prior to working in Haiti. A Filipino man provided me with additional training after I arrived on the island of Hispaniola. I was able to remain healthy in Haiti for long periods of time because I closely adhered to my initial training. I often witnessed aid workers from church organizations or NGOs* arrive healthy and soon leave Haiti in haste, with dire symptoms.
The Haitian projects of Dr. Paul Farmer and Partners In Health should be commended along with Doctors Without Borders, AMURT, and many other NGOs. It seems to be a work without end and that is a shame. The problems in Haiti could be solved if world governments and great minds would only spend a tiny faction of the time and money spent on warfare, greed, and wasted food.
Daily life in Haiti is also not a popular topic for major newspaper and television audiences in other countries. Eating contests, crime shows, and dog competitions tend to score much higher television ratings.
Government corruption, the drug trade, and other organizations have certain vested interests in Port au Prince. These activities make it more profitable for them to maintain the status quo in Haiti. The situation inside the country is unlikely to change soon.
Haiti is not alone on the list of starving nations. Zimbabwe, Equatorial Guinea, and Somalia are three more places that immediately come to mind. There are many others.
Simple changes by millions of people around the world can make a difference. Finish the plate of food you are served. Take only the food you need when serving yourself. Question why so much food is being trashed or destroyed when you see this happening. Educate yourself about the problems faced by the poor in other nations. Read what is written at WastedFood.com. Write a term paper or book report on this subject. These actions and all knowledge of the true situation are important in the fight against starvation.
Other Posts on Haiti:
Lessons of Hate
The Unbearable Pain of Injustice
When Governments Fail
Reaching the Millennium Development Goals
Partners In Health
Doctors Without Borders