The images that came out of Haiti after last year’s earthquake were heart-rending, the devastation was complete. 230,000 dead, and the newly homeless numbering close to a million.
Almost instantly stories of displaced children and the tens of thousands of new orphans began to cover the web pages and blogs of the NGO’s and anyone with a humanitarian bent. Children, who days before had at least some semblance of a life, now were at high risk of being stolen, sold, or worse. But a year later the world has had another giant earthquake, the media has replaced images of Haiti and her children with a Royal wedding and trumped up pictures of dead terrorists. The talk around the office is gas prices and scaled back summer vacations and yet there are those that labor on, that are ceaseless in their resolve. Those like Louisiana native Megan Boudreaux. Conspiracy Of Hope interviewed Megan about the orphan crisis in Haiti and her organization, Respire Haiti's response to it. Through inexhaustible tenderness, food programs and education, Respire Haiti helps stem the tide of hopelessness in the beleaguered nation of Haiti.
In his book “A Crime So Monstrous” E. Benjamin Skinner decides to see how long it will take him to leave New York, get to Haiti and buy a child slave. I think it took him about 7 hours to get to the transaction point. Of course he didn’t buy the child but he could have. How much child trafficking goes on in and around Gressier and in Haiti in general?
Unfortunately, in a country where there is a population of 9 million people and there are nearly 1 million orphans, there is lots of exploitation of children. After the earthquake it was estimated that between 25 and 100 children were crossing the border to the Dominican Republic EVERY DAY! Many of the children came from the largest slum in Haiti, City Soleil. It’s only a matter of minutes when a young woman and her baby walk into City Soleil, before someone is offering to buy her child. Sadly, because SO many of these children lack paperwork and proper documentation, they are easily trafficked without people even knowing they are gone. I firmly believe we will never have a real number on how many children have been trafficked from Haiti in the past.
Restaveks are child servants, either orphans or children sent by impoverished families to work in the homes of strangers. Is this just a gray area of child labor- a part of Haitian culture that offends our western sensibilities- or is this very real slavery and wholesale child abuse?
The Restavek situation in Haiti is very troubling and sadly somewhat hidden. It is and has been part of Haitian culture so sometimes it is hard to uncover the child’s situation, but it is very real slavery and on several levels includes child abuse. The answer to the Restavek crisis in Haiti is not punishing the people who are enslaving these children, the answer is education. Educating the families who are giving their children away to people who tell them they will “have a better life”, and also educating the populace about recognizing Restaveks in their own neighborhoods and communities. To me, the Restavek problem is a solvable one with education and participation from the Haitian people and government. Many Haitians are actually shocked when they find out that their children or children they know are not taken away to be educated but are rather taken away and enslaved. With a number like 300,000 or more Restaveks it can be overwhelming, but I believe that through the Church in Haiti and through education, this situation can be solved.
Respire Haiti in Gressier's mountainous region is "away from the chaos and pollution of Port-au-Prince and Carrefour."
You make a great deal about these numbers: 163 million orphans in the world, 33 million children with AIDS, 1 billion people live on less than $1.00 a day, 800 million people won’t eat today, 300 million of them are kids….These are statistics that should shock us but so many times they fall on deaf ears, hard hearts…especially in the church….why?
Sadly, I have met many people who are shocked by these numbers yet continue their life undisturbed. Many people have the idea that it’s someone else’s responsibility to “fix this”. The truth is that God has called us ALL to be the Voice for the Voiceless and Fight for the Fatherless. I think that much of the American Church is so preoccupied with THEIR churches and THEIR numbers, that they forget that Jesus tells us, “Our life is not our own.” We should be more concerned with others, especially suffering children, then ourselves.
Please explain the name Respire Haiti? What it is? What you do?
Respire means to Breathe in Creole and in French. The name was chosen for two reasons: 1- because of our location in the mountainous area away from the chaos and pollution of Port au Prince and Carrefour. And 2- after Genesis where God talks about breathing life into each person. Our mission statement is to empower, encourage and educate orphans and vulnerable children in Gressier. We want EVERY child to know that their identity is in Christ as a Child of God and that GOD breathed life into each of them. We want them to KNOW that they were created with a purpose and they are not forgotten.
We currently have a school with 97 children, ages 5-17 (Grades 1st-5th). Since 50% of the children in Gressier are not in school, there are TONS more children who still need to be enrolled. Therefore, one of our goals is to encourage children to go to school and to help their parents realize the importance of education. For this reason, we are in the process of building a new school for over 300 children.
Additionally, we have free English classes throughout Gressier, this helps to educate and empower those children and adults who can’t afford to take classes. Also, each Saturday morning we have a bible study where we feed about 350 children and then we have another activity Saturday afternoon where we feed 300 different children.
Our goal is to create a effective and Christ-like way of educating children to know their identity in Christ and also give them the opportunity for education that will help them sustain their community and their families.
What are Respires greatest needs, greatest challenges?
First, our greatest need is ALWAYS prayer. God gave me this vision to start this non-profit with putting one child in school and only enough money to pay her $225 school fee. Now in only 5 short months, Respire Haiti supports over 1,000 children throughout the Gressier community through education, feeding programs, simple medical care and English classes.
Our greatest challenge is helping families who have Restaveks realize the importance of letting us put them in school, and through that, educating the family about the importance of equality and loving ALL children the way Christ does.
How bad was/is the devastation in Gressier from last January’s earthquake?
The damage in Gressier is immense. Gressier is only a few miles from the epicenter of the earthquake. It’s estimated that 70-75% of all of the buildings in Gressier crumbled, but even that number doesn’t include the houses and buildings that were damaged in the quake.
Although the devastation was bad, the most disheartening part is that there are still thousands of people living in tents in Gressier, and there is little help for those who need assistance in repairing their houses.
Being from South Louisiana, do you feel a special connection with Haiti’s common Creole heritage? Are there any unique similarities between the two cultures?
Growing up in South Louisiana we had always heard about “Creole” and even ate some Creole food, but really the Haitian Creole Culture is quite different then the Louisiana Creole culture we have in Southern Louisiana. The most obvious similarity between the two are the foods, in Louisiana we eat a lot of rice and beans and so do Haitians.
You quote Mother Theresa a good bit. Is she one of your heroes?
Yes, she definitely is. Her tireless effort to love the unwanted, forgotten and abandoned is inspirational and her walk with Christ even through uncertainty is an amazing role model of faith.
In one of your blog posts is the Mother Theresa quote. “When you don’t have anything, then you have everything.” Did you find it freeing to leave the bulk of your possessions behind? What do you miss the most? When you come back to the states for a visit is it culture shock in reverse after living without in Haiti?
I definitely found it freeing to sell everything and leave the rest behind, even though it was difficult (having a house sale and seeing people pick through my stuff), when it was all said and done I felt like a burden had been lifted. I don’t really “miss” any of my possessions, but I did have the realization of missing simple pleasures such as hot showers (or even running water), washing machines, internet, etc. (But really the thing I miss the most is Starbucks Coffee haha) When I come back to the states for a visit it is really overwhelming. It’s hard to enter the land of plenty after only an hour and a half flight from a land of nothing.
An hour and a half flight from the Land of Plenty, the "REAL World consists of people searching for clean water and struggling to find food for their families."
Your deep love for the people of Gressier, especially the orphans is evident in everything you write and do. And your passion bleeds through especially when mincing no words about the church’s responsibility for the poor and for orphans. What will it take for the church’s heart to break with what breaks God’s heart?
I think continuing to raise awareness and share information about the orphan crisis is the first step for the churches’ eyes to be opened and their hearts to be broken. The Church is so very consumed with what they see every day, it’s easy to have the idea that “Our World” what we see every day IS “The World” , but in actuality, “the real world” is not worried about what they’ll wear to dinner or where they will go on vacation….the REAL World consists of people searching for clean water and struggling to find food for their families.
Respire Haiti shirts!! Buy them HERE!!
You seem to stay broken-hearted a lot, your writing certainly seems to reveal that. How do you keep from drowning in a flood of despair?
I always tell God, the day I am not broken-hearted anymore by the poverty, hurt and pain in Gressier, is the day I need to leave. I never want to become numb to what I see or what I hear about in Haiti. This CAN be a draining way of life and experience to constantly pray that my heart would be broken for what breaks Gods, but I KNOW that this is how God wants us to live, seeing things through his eyes and loving people the way Jesus did and does. What keeps me afloat is knowing that Jesus is with me every step of the way, and knowing that I am completely inadequate, weak and scared, but Christ is the one who makes me adequate, strong and courageous. So short answer is Jesus (and funny answer is singing, I sing A LOT when I feel overwhelmed in Gressier. I feel like it brings me back to the place where Jesus is in charge)
You wrote in one of your first blog posts that orphans change you, you called it being “Blessed with a burden”, and named your blog that. Would you share one story of a particular orphan who changed you the most and how?
Actually, the reason I named my blog “Blessed with a burden” was because of a particular little girl I met in Gressier. Her name is Michaelle Dimanche.
I met her back in December on the mountaintop in Gressier when she was throwing rocks into the sky, as I approached her and asked her why she was throwing rocks she said she was throwing them at the bird. She said she was hungry and she was going to eat it. After that I was a bit rocked by her response and was drawn to her so I began asking about her life a little bit and found out that her mother died and her dad didn’t claim her, so she was living with a Caregiver on the side of the mountaintop. Michaelle was 7 years old and had not yet been to school, so the day after I met her I put her in school and I saw Michaelle beginning to change. In the last 6 months I have seen Michaelle go from a hardened, fearful and angry little girl, to the most gentle, loving and happy 8 year old. God has used Respire Haiti to remold her (and the people she lives with) life. After meeting Michaelle Dimanche, I knew that there were plenty of children out there just like her and this was what God called Respire Haiti to do in Gressier.
What is the Creole word for Freedom?
What about for Conspiracy Of Hope?
Anything you’d like to add?
Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to share what God is doing in Gressier and through Respire Haiti. I believe it is SO important to continue to raise awareness and fight for these children, because We are ALL called to FIGHT for these Children of God.
Every once in awhile there comes along a person of such faith and devotion to humble service that you forget to be jaded, you forget to be cynical, and in that moment you realize what is real and what is worth fighting for. Megan is such a person. We hope you fell in love with her and Michaelle and their lovely mountain in Gressier like we did.
And we hope that you will fall in love with Haiti, her orphans, and Respire Haiti as they fight for Haiti's forgotten, as they raise their voice for Haiti's voiceless. Please support them with the full force of your prayers and the depth of your generosity. You can donate directly to Respire Haiti here.
And as always from all of us at Konspirasyon Espwa, thank you for being a Voice for the Voiceless.