Haiti is getting better? That’s right! I’m sure there are a lot of missionaries, aid workers and local Haitians who would disagree with me, so I need to explain. Yes, it’s true that the political situation is a mess. That’s usual. It’s also true that violence seems to be on the rise again and we’re nowhere near to recovering from the earthquake. Any of us could write for pages about Haiti’s problems and the inadequate ways the problems are being addressed. However, I’m sure that in the ways that are really important, Haiti is slowly and steadily getting better.
The Haitian people are changing. Slowly, and certainly not all at once, the people are turning to God and away from black magic and Voodoo in its various forms. In our own small area, there is clearly much less of a voodoo influence than there was 10 years ago when I moved here. The distinctive Voodoo art and flags are gone and whereas we used to be kept awake by loud voodoo ceremonies we are much more likely to be kept awake by an all-night church service. The result is that people’s lives are changed for the better. The folk religion is one of cursing your neighbor before your neighbor curses you which lies in stark contrast to “Love your neighbor as yourself”, the message of Christianity. The old ways are certainly a strong influence, but Christianity is clearly taking hold here in a way that’s distinctive of the Haitian people.
Of course, everyone has a cell phone now and it really does make a positive difference in people’s lives. More children are born in hospitals and clinics now, which means fewer mothers and newborns die. Literacy is shooting up http://www.indexmundi.com/g/g.aspx?v=39&c=ha&l=en, life expectancy is increasing http://www.indexmundi.com/g/g.aspx?c=ha&v=30 although the earthquake gave us a big setback. Most significantly, the fertility rate is dropping http://www.indexmundi.com/g/g.aspx?v=31&c=ha&l=en. Families with fewer mouths to feed are able to send more of their children to school and are far less likely to send a child off to become a restavek (child servant/slave). I hope you all don’t mind the charts so much – demography was one of my favorite subjects in college, especially how it relates to development. Lowered birth rate is one of the most powerful indicators there is – a more highly educated, better fed population tends to have fewer children which then leads to still higher education levels and better health in the next generation. By the numbers, we should have positive expectations for Haiti’s future.
From our own particular water-centered perspective, it’s pretty clear that the water problem is starting to improve. Much more so than when I arrived here, Haitians understand the importance of safe drinking water. We very rarely have a problem taking orders for filters anymore. The cholera epidemic actually helped with this situation. Many thousands of people have died from Cholera since it arrived in Haiti in 2010, but another missionary pointed out to me the other day that Typhoid has been around for many years and kills more people each year than Cholera. The increased awareness about Cholera and the importance of safe water has undoubtedly led to a much lower incidence of Typhoid and all the other types of waterborne illness as well! We still have a long way to go, folks, don’t worry about us running out of people that need filters anytime soon!
So Haiti is getting better even though almost all of the news we hear is something negative. Perhaps the positive difference over the past ten years has been negligable, but it has been noticeable. I’m feeling cautiously optimistic, maybe even excited for the next ten years.