The Worst Epidemic in Haiti

“There’s an epidemic in a small port town in Haiti called “White Savior-itis” and it’s killing all the families in a 3 mile radius.”

- a friend working in the community

I had the opportunity to speak at the Global Health and Innovation conference at Yale last year about the greatest health crisis in Haiti - hypertension, also known as high blood pressure. High blood pressure is killing more people in Haiti than HIV, Tuberculosis, Malaria, and Cholera combined. Note that high blood pressure won't actually kill you, but stroke, heart disease, renal failure, and peripartum cardiomyopathy will.

Today, I want to talk to you about what a real and unknown epidemic in Haiti. It's killing the family unit, it's raising up fewer capable and whole children, and I hope that in 10 or 20 years (or tomorrow would be better) the people of Haiti will say "Why did we do this?!"

This topic was in my face every day throughout my time in Haiti, but if you live in America where we don't have orphanages, it might not be in yours, so please allow me to share some of the knowledge I gained on the field.

It's an appealing concept to the western church to take care of the “least of these.” Caring for under-resourced communities is Biblical. But perhaps not in the ways you would assume.  It's also important to be informed. There's an industry around the world - mostly in developing countries - and it centers around “orphans.” People with nefarious motives have found that sad-looking children attract money. Building orphanages and improving living conditions for “orphans” attracts money, too. This perfect storm of conditions in under-resourced communities has produced the orphanage system whereby well-meaning people funneled money. Well-meaning people who wanted to  improve the quality of life of children in developing countries. This is an honorable endeavor at first glance, that is, until you look closer and find that 80% of orphans around the world have a living parent and the rest have at least one living family member.

This is a crisis of the family unit. Not an orphan crisis.

In Haiti, an orphanage is treated like a boarding school. In theory, the orphanage is responsible for feeding, housing, and educating a child, while the parents may visit the child regularly in the orphanage. Most of the time, the child is expected to return to the community they came from to take care of the family once they leave the orphanage at 18 years old (according to the laws of the land).

Far too often, what ends up happening is well-meaning folks and churches are funneling money through a corrupt system. This system is essentially a business whose model is expansion. The more kids that come “off the streets” or right out of the arms of their mothers, the more money is donated to the cause. The real-life horror stories are of mothers who loved their children, wanted to care for their children, and who were convinced by a short term volontourist that if they gave their kids to an orphanage, they would get a sponsor and essentially be better cared for. That they would lose a mother, but gain a sponsor. As if a sponsor could ever replace a mother’s loving care.

Lumos put out a report on the state of Haitian orphanages in 2016 and essentially stated that someone can can buy a Haitian child for $40 or $70 to put in your orphanage. You can read a bit about my experience coming into contact with the orphanage close to our clinic here.

This message is killing us. It’s killing Haitians- cutting right into their soul. It’s tearing the heart right out of us expats who are living this and seeing the atrocities on the ground. They have to stop. I can’t help but think that we have to stop this. How, God? How are we to stop this? These are your families and your children and you care about them more than I ever could.

I want Haiti to wake up to these injustices! To wake these mothers up and empower them. I can’t bear to watch this story be told even one more time.

If you run a global non-profit, ask yourself some simple questions:

  1. What is the true need in the community? And how do I know that? Is it from one or two sources or is it something that the community truly expresses it needs? Keep in mind that the community may not be truly honest with you out of deference to the foreigner.

  2. Is there an NGO/ ministry/ Haitian-run ministry nearby doing similar work? Partner, partner, partner.

  3. Do I have trustworthy people on the ground? Closely examine this question. A foreign person in an under-resourced area represents money. The elite. Even ‘Pastors’ do horrible things in the face of poverty to grow their “business.”

  4. What is my true intention within my ministry? Why am I really here?

  5. Why is it a good idea to solicit Americans to come to Haiti on a regular basis? Can a Haitian do what my team will be doing better? Can we create a job instead of creating dependency?

God help us, examine our hearts, see if there is any wicked way in us and lead us to the way everlasting.



Children from an orphanage visiting the clinic

This post was originally written on May 21, 2017