Friday, January 29, 2010

Food is NOT a Weapon of War

If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 1 John 3:17

I am growing increasingly concerned about what has been termed, the Militarization of Aid.

Last week Dr. Christophe Fournier, the president of Doctor’s Without Boarders spoke out against the military control of aid saying that dispersing of food and medical supplies is usually done with strategic objectives in mind rather than humanitarian ones. Dr. Fournier cited Kabul, Afghanistan as an example where these supplies are still desperately needed but aren’t getting through because it is a politically stable area. Instead the military is diverting aid to outlying areas as a way to “win the hearts and minds of the people.” This policy is sure to backfire. Not only are they planting seeds of destabilization in the areas they neglect but by aligning with a military force in a hostile area humanitarian aid workers and even the recipients of aid are becoming targets themselves.

Of course the argument is that the humanitarian aid convoys need the protection of the military to do their work otherwise they wouldn’t be able to travel into some of these areas at all but is that really the case? What would happen if the Red Cross, or Red Crescent as it’s known in the Muslim world were to engage directly with the Taliban, no strings (or military convoys) attached?

Indeed what would happen if one man, acting alone, with a truck load of food were to set out from Kabul on a sort of Robin Hood mission to the first group of hungry people he met? Would he get shot or kidnapped? No - most likely he’d get arrested and brought back to the city for his own “protection”.

But what if he did manage to make contact with the locals? I think he’d be a hero and likely do more to win the hearts and minds of the people in one afternoon than the military could do in a month. Of course the other point is that he doesn’t need to set out from the relative safety of Kabul at all. There are plenty of hungry people right there in the city that aren’t receiving any assistance from the military and are slowly turning to the insurgency themselves.

This past week the United Kingdom hosted a conference on the future of Afghanistan in London. By my count there have been at least 5 such conferences held in various cities around the world since 2002, in Geneva, Rome and New York to name a few. There is always big talk about development and of weaning farmers off opium production but not once have we come away with any kind of concrete plan for addressing public health or food security. The conferences have never been held on Afghan soil and you cannot affect lasting change unless the most effected stakeholders are present.

It’s time to stop treating Afghans like children and give them a stake in their own future. Even invite some Taliban leaders to the table provided they aren’t affiliated with Al-Kida, and see what happens. If you truly want to win the hearts and minds of the people, put down your guns, pick up some bread and start talking.

What have these irreligious Christians come for that they write on their cards, “don’t approach, keep away”? If these bloody foreigners try to stay away from us, then for what reason have they come to our country? Posted on a pro-taliban website; Kabul, Afghanistan 2002

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Letter from Haiti

I just got this email from a friend of mine who works at a clinic on the outskirts of Port-Au-Prince. I read it with tears in my eyes and post it here in it's entirety as a first hand account of the events of January 12.

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I don't now how to start this e-mail.

Maybe with an "We are sorry" for the lack of communication.

Maybe with a thank you to my daughter Teagan for communicating with so many of you for us.

I don't know

I am exhausted, emotionally drained and in control at the same time.

It is time to tell our story.

We are all OK. Our house still stands. That is a blessing. If that were not the case, we would not have been able to help so many after the quake hit.

I was in the kitchen, my son Grayden was in his room. Bridgely was in the house but close to the door. We think one of the twins was in her bedroom and one was on the porch. Teagan and Laurens were on the porch. It started as a low hum and shake, then it grew....

My mind thought, "that is strange", then my mind thought, "what is that?". In a matter of seconds the house came alive and I was at the end of my kitchen table. The shaking was incredible. I remember seeing the concrete walls moving violently in a wave like at a wave pool. One to my right, one to my left and then one in front of me moving in a different direction. I also remember the ceiling was moving in a wave above me. The floor beneath my feet did not feel attached to me.

Grayden ran to me screaming. Hysterical screams and I clung him tight to me and instinctively semi crouched. All of this may have only taken a few seconds..i don't know. The next thing I remember was Laurens running in the house yelling "get out, get out, get out...RUN" As he grabbed my arm, I went into full action. Still clinging to Grayden, I ran to the door grabbing as many of my children as I could. Yelling myself, "RUN, RUN, RUN, GO, GO". We reached the steps to the garden and I remember how difficult it was to run down them as the concrete steps were moving. I remember running through the front drive with the land still moving. Laurens was still yelling to run further to get away from the building. The dog followed us all. When I got to the end of the driveway, I looked around and counted kids, I could not see Bridgely. I turned back to the building and screamed "BRIDGELY, BRIDGELY, BRIDGELY" as I thought he was still on the upper level at our neighbours. Then there he was in front of me. He had been holding my hand the whole time.

Somewhere between the driveway and the road, the movement stopped. For a moment..... then it started again, smaller but almost as big as the first and long as well. I gathered the kids and instructed them to sit and we huddled until it stopped. Then it started again.......Finally the earth rested for a while.

Then I stood up and turned around......From our rural hill not far from Port au Prince, we have a few of the whole city. As I looked out towards the city and the ocean, that is when I realized what had just happened. The entire city went up in dust. One huge even dust cloud arose from the entire massive city. It was like a bomb had gone off and it was the smoke rising. I looked to the right and saw a similar smaller cloud over our local village Source Matlas. I looked to the left and saw a large cloud of dust and smoke from the flour factory. I was speechless regarding what all this may have meant.

That may have been enough to deal with except that we realized that we had a team of 53 Canadian's visiting on a short term mission trip. We went into leader mode. Laurens went to check on a few things and I gathered the team. Grant went to get the ambulance and I gathered the visiting nurses and doc. We jumped into the ambulance and headed down to the clinic. Grant took the team in and I rushed to the front gate of our mission. By the time I got there, the injured started arriving. They came in tap tap (pick up truck taxi) after tap tap. Children, woman and men.

Their arms and legs were crushed, their bones sticking out of their bodies, their heads gashed open. Some crying in pain, some barely alive. 5, 6, 7, people per truck.

After a few minutes I left the gate and security took over letting them all in and I rushed back to the hospital. For the next 33 hours straight we worked on the traumatic cases that lie before us. It looked like war. We did not know the integrity of the clinic yet so we could not go inside. The aftershocks started to come and were frequent but less in intensity. We had to get supplies in side but ran back out every aftershock we got. The injured were lying all over our outside walk way. Grant, our visiting nurses and myself worked on triaging the worst patients. We are not a full service hospital, we are just a clinic.....we started to get reports that the biggest hospital in PAP, General hospital had crashed down, Doctors without Borders had crashed (the only 2 main ER's in the entire city!). We got further reports that other hospitals were down. We started to realize, that we were all there was for miles and miles and miles.

At the 20th hour, we told the gate we could not accept anymore patients as we still had to get through many many more. We sent our nurses (except for a few) and our helpers to work in shifts and Grant and I worked on. We reduced (tractioned bones back in place) open compound fractures.......putting tibia bones, back into people's legs that were sticking out. We reduced and set many many femur fractures, lower leg fractures, arm fractures. We sutured arms, legs, heads. We put scalps back together and we cleaned concrete out of wounds for hours. We stabilized pelvic fractures and we helped babies with head trauma breath on oxygen.

We had 3 die. 1 baby, 1 two year old and 1 ten year old. We had 4 others on the brink of death. We saved a lot. Because we had no other choice (as there was no where to send them), at the end of 33 hours, we had discharged all but 5 to follow up. The last few we attempted to take to hospitals. 3 refused and wanted to go home to die.

The other 2 Grant and Laurens tried to find somewhere that would take them in Port Au Prince. It was true, most hospital's were not functioning and those that were, were full of bodies, inside and out. Everywhere, some alive and some dead. Bodies were pilled up in the parking lots as there was no where to put them. Most of the doctors that used to work at the hospital's were dead or not heard of. Families had no where to take their loved one's bodies because their houses were crashed down, they still were missing family members or the funeral homes were they left them.

We went home and slept 6 hours. Then opened the clinic again. We worked another 10 hours, seeing the same things. Finally it stopped. There were no more tap tap's running as there was no more diesel for their vehicles.

That same night, our president of Mission of Hope arrived. We started into disaster relief planing with some partner organizations. By this time reports of what the damage in the country looked like were becoming clear. We had US and CAN doctors start to come in through the dominican to help. We have had doctors coming now since Sat. We have been coordinating a grand scale disaster relief plan for the 100's of thousands of people that have not yet got into the hospital and for food distribution. It is to say the least, no small task.

We have hardly slept, we have not been able to communicate with you. Tonight it was time.

The capital is devastated. The national palace is on the ground (white house), the ministry of transportation is on the ground, the huge justice palace (the whole judicial system) is on the ground, the ministry of health is on the ground, the ministry of finance is not down but destroyed, the entire downtown core has almost every building down to rubble, the insurance bureau is on the ground, every national bank headquarters are crashed to the ground except one that stands severely damaged, the head police headquarters is in rubble, the hospital that Laurens was in after his accident (the best in the country) is severely damaged and non functional, the building that has all the adoption papers in the country is destroyed, the only grocery store that all the missionaries shop at (that I almost was at that day) is rubble on the ground killing and trapping everyone inside, the Montana hotel where we had lunch not so long ago is completely rubble killing everyone inside, many collages and schools and crashed down, Digicel world headquarters (cell phone) and the tallest building in PAP is to the ground (hence we have no cell communications and on.....and on.....and on.

We have 160 staff on our mission and we already know of one that has died and we still have not heard from about 100 staff. Everyday that someone shows up is joyous to see that they are alive. Most everyone has a family member that has died. One security guard has 4 children that died. Many of our Haitian staff suffer severe post traumatic stress after what they have been through or seen. One of our friends was trapped in his school next to 50 of his classmates that were crushed by the building. He heard them screaming but could not save them. He watched them die, as he was trapped inside for 3 hours with a dead man on his chest. He was pulled out eventually.

Every time a plane passes over, or a car drives up, we all brace ourselves and jump until we realize that it is not another quake. Aftershocks are stressful. We often have a false sense that the ground is moving. People have a fear to go in buildings. Our building is structurally OK but I do not like to be in my bedroom for is too far from the door. Laurens sleeps on the couch. A protective move I know to be closer to the kids for evacuation. We sleep with the front door open for quick steps. It is better than the tents we slept in at first to make sure the building was safe.

This earthquake was like no other. Mainly because it hit a country with such poor infrastructure. It was completely unexpected. It is like kicking a baby down before it knows how to stand.

But we are moving on. We are alive and our house is fine. Mission of Hope is an oasis compared to the city. The kids are good. They are resilient and they started back to school today. Diana has been amazing and the Canadian team was amazing being there for them too. We have a great team on staff at Mission of Hope.

Despite the destruction, we are seeing hope, we know that God will use this to show his light. We know many people that have come to Christ already because of this event and now is the body of Christ's time to shine. So many things destroyed....yet most of the Christian missions survived. God has big things planned for this country. God has used us in mighty ways this past week. He has used us for the Haitian people, He has used us in the media, He has used us to bond with each other and He will continue to use us mightily.

I have learned more in one week than most in a lifetime. I now know how to reduce compound open wound fractures, I know how to cast, I know how to suture and have become proficient enough that I sutured the flap of someone's nose back on (quite good too I might add :) ), I know how to handle cases when there is no other option, I know how to stab an attempt at coordinating disaster relief and to run functional field clinics. I have been on TV and am part of meetings at the UN logistic base with the World Health Organization, UN, military and other NGO's. I am one of the few North American doc's on the ground right now that lived in Haiti and I am visiting and coordinating inside many field and broken down hospital set ups. It is strange. It is surreal.

Rachel (missionary here) and I were just saying today that if someone had told us that this is what we would have had to do this week prior to this event, we would have "quit". We would have said no way God! I can't do all of that. We would have underestimated our abilities based on what we were comfortable with. We have learned that God knows more than we do, that He knows what we can handle and He has more faith in us than we have in ourselves.

We thank you for your prayers this past week. This is not over, it is a long road ahead. Please pray for the Haitian people. Every person was affected by this. Please pray for supply chains to open up, pray for the port to be fixed, pray for timely food and water distributions, pray for organization of relief organizations and military. Pray that now eyes will be opened to the need we had prior to this earthquake...our clinic and hospital, and that funding will come in. Pray for our family and the other staff.


Friday, January 15, 2010

Haiti, Sustainable Aid or Flavour of the Month?

Slowly and painfully, we are seeing worldwide acceptance of the fact that the wealthier and more technically advanced countries have a responsibility to help the underdeveloped ones. – Sir Edmond Hillary

By now everyone knows what happened in the city of Port-au-Prince on Tuesday afternoon. The images of devastation are hard to look at and even harder to ignore.

I am heartened by the outpouring of support from wealthy nations like Canada, the United States and Britain. The Canadian government yesterday pledged to match dollar for dollar everything Canadian citizens give in support of the relief effort. This is estimated to be as much as $100 million. Aid Organizations like World Vision, The Red Cross and Mennonite Central Committee have had to bring in extra staff to handle the volume of donations. But I worry that as the media spot light fades the support will dry up. As one exasperated Haitian put it “we don’t need the media, we need help.”

Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere. According to 2008 numbers from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) the gross domestic product per capita is only $1,660 per year and only 50% of the population has even a primary education. 10 million people are crammed into a land mass roughly the size of the Canadian province of New Brunswick. Haiti didn’t get this way as a result of an earthquake or even repeated direct hits by hurricanes in 2007-08. Haiti got this way as a result of bad government and a combination of international neglect/meddling. In the 90s Canada and the United States launched a joint military intervention in Haiti that ousted a corrupt president and installed a new government. They promptly left the country and never followed up with the kinds of support an emerging democracy and economy needs. The result is the Haiti we have today.

Compare this to the Dominican Republic which shares the same island; the population is roughly the same but GDP is nearly 6 times higher at $8,220 and 75% of the population is educated. Still poor by G8 standards but much better off than its neighbour to the west. As recently is 50 years ago Haiti was the stronger country and at various times throughout its history the island has been unified under one government based in Port-au-Prince.

The reasons for the differences between the two countries could take days to dissect. For a detailed analysis check out Jared Diamond’s book Collapse; How Societies Choose or Fail to Succeed.

My point is this; the problems in Haiti and other destitute countries throughout the world will not be solved by writing a cheque to the Red Cross. After the media spotlight fades your money will most likely be used to rebuild and life will somehow return to normal. Granted some of your money will end up in the hands of corrupt individuals or lost to administrative costs, that is just the way things are and I really have nothing to say to that fact. But normal in Haiti is still deplorable to most of the world.

What Haiti needs is long term assistance. Not just money but expertise in education, resource management, entrepreneurship, and government reform. $100 million dollars from Canada will rebuild a lot of infrastructure but to maintain that infrastructure and build human capital to lift the nation out of poverty takes commitment. Years and years of commitment.

Let’s hope that we don’t repeat our mistakes of the 90s and this time we follow through and support our Haitian neighbours as they rebuild not only their homes but a better life.

Friday, January 1, 2010


The Christmas Season has been hectic, as usual, and I haven’t had much of a chance to sit down and work through some of my more recent Earworms. I wanted to take this opportunity though to let you know what has been on my mind even if I can’t give it the thorough analysis it deserves. That will just have to wait a bit longer.

First off, a story that has been largely ignored by main stream media but exploded in the blogosphere lately has been the Canadian Government’s defunding of Kairos, a Christian Ecumenical Aid Organization that has been running development projects throughout the world for decades. The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) has been providing tax-payer funding to Kairos for 35 years and up until November 30 all indications were that the funding would continue. Reasons given for pulling the funds (CDN $7.1 million dollars over 4 years, amounting to nearly half of the organization’s budget) are a bit suspect and seem to be more politically motivated than anyone is willing to admit.

The Earworm that has been settling in my head however has very little to do with the politics of the situation. My main question centers more around what happens when so called non-partisan organizations accept huge amounts of money for one source, be it a specific individual, other organization or government. Should they not then accept the risk that their benefactor my change their mind? Don’t put all your eggs in one basket, he who pays the piper calls the tune and all that.

The other thought that I’ve been working on centers around Corporate Responsibility. Around the time of the UN Climate Change Conference last month, one of my friends told me that he believes the world economy is increasingly being controlled by a handful of the wealthiest individuals. If that were expressly true I’m sure we would know who they are but when people talk about this idea it’s presented as some vast conspiracy with shadowy puppet masters pulling strings far from the public eye. “The Company” in the Fox television show “Prison Break” is a good example of what this might look like but the theory just doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

Corporations are in business for one reason, to make money for their shareholders. In fact under US, and similar laws in almost every territory of the world, if the board of directors of a corporation makes a decision that they know will cause the company to lose money they can be sent to prison. It’s called “violation of fiduciary responsibility”.

In most cases the shareholders of the world’s largest corporations are not small numbers of the super rich but an army of individuals with their mutual funds and other forms of retirement savings. Thomas Friedman in his book “The Lexus and the Olive Tree” termed these people The Electronic Herd. If the herd decides a corporation, or country for that matter, is making bad financial decisions they pull their money out in droves and literally bankrupt them in a matter of hours. In recent memory that is exactly what happened to Enron, Bear Stearns, Hollinger and the country of Malaysia.

So the bottom line is that changing the way corporations or countries behave in the world is more a function of influencing individual consumers like you and me than a handful of super rich untouchables. If we stop buying their products or trusting our retirement to their stability they will be forced to change the way they do business. Even if my friend is right those shadowy overlords of industry want to keep getting richer and they can’t do that if we stop buying their products. We cast ballots for corporate boards and the economies of entire countries every time we go to the mall.

May this be the decade when the world finally gets it.