Changemakers in Haiti — Who is the Hero?

Changemakers in Haiti — Who is the Hero?

When people think of Haiti, they often think of incredible poverty, disaster, dependence, and despair. But there is another story. It is one of the church stepping into communities as beacons of light and agents of change, offering help and hope to struggling families.

Diamonds of Haiti: The Aftermath of Hurricane Matthew

[The following videos and blog post are detailed updates we've received from Joseph Bataille, World Relief's Country Director in Haiti, about the relief efforts taking place in Haiti in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew.]

Every year, my wife and I choose a new part of Haiti to explore for our anniversary. Our country is a gem, full of hidden treasures. And every year, we celebrate by uncovering one of these treasures together.

This past July, we explored Grand’Anse. We began with one of the furthest reaches of the region, Anse d’Hainault. The two and a half hour drive from the entrance of the city of Jérémie was scenic, but to tell the truth, it was a bit exhausting. We had already driven 6 or 7 hours that morning to get to Jérémie. We could only hope that this additional 2.5 hour, slow-paced, rocky trek, would be worth it in the end. After all, we would still have to drive back in a couple of days. 

We came up on the main stretch of the town of Dame Marie. It was almost evening and the sun was preparing to set. The colors of the sky dancing and glistening as they reflected off of the sea made us forget all about our uncomfortable drive. The people of the town—not accustomed to receiving many outsiders—each watched from the front porch of their homes as we passed by. Life seemed beautiful and simple. Children played in their yards and in the streets. Men tended to boats and nets after a day of fishing. Women conversed and laughed as they finished various late-afternoon tasks or as they braided each other’s hair, while they relaxed on the front porch. All the while, the sun, the sea, and the sky danced in the background. Beautiful and simple indeed. We took in similar scenes for the last half hour of the drive to Anse d’Hainault. 

The rest of our visit in Grand’Anse was equally beautiful. From Anse d’Hainault, we traveled to the city of Jérémie. The family of Alexandre Dumas (author of “The Three Musketeers” and “The Count of Monte Cristo”) hails from Jérémie, as do other notable Haitian writers. This historic city is rightfully known as “The City of Poets.” Traveling further to a hidden cove called “Anse du Clerc.” We sat mesmerized by the crashing of waves into the bay as we drank in beauty that few have the pleasure of seeing. All this while enjoying freshly caught fish served over boiled plantains, and of course, fresh coconuts to drink.  

Even more beautiful than the scenery, as usual, were the people that we encountered. We met with our friend and my colleague, Esther, when we traveled back to Jeremie. She showed us around over the next couple of days. Each day, Esther’s aunts fought over the “privilege” of getting to feed us. Every home that we visited had a table prepared; they would hear nothing of the meal that we had just eaten two hours earlier. They showed us around proudly, wanting us to love their town and region at least half as much as they do. They would give us everything, if we would ask, but would receive nothing but good company in return. Each evening we stayed with Esther’s godparents, in their home, set proudly in a Garden of Eden by the sea.

Last Saturday, I visited that place again. The house was still there, and so was the sea, but the garden was gone. So was everything else. 

Haiti Relief Update

The town of Jérémie was full of piles of debris stacked high. All along the ride through other parts of Grand’Anse, I saw homes that I don’t remember seeing before. Each had lost the trees that had once shielded them from view. Nearly all had also lost their rooftops and many had lost walls as well. With Grand’Anse accounting for a major portion of the nation’s remaining forest coverage, it was devastating to see the hills and mountains, literally stripped bare by Matthew’s winds. At the time, with images coming slowly and rarely, I could only imagine what Anse d’Hainault at the tip of the island might look like in the aftermath. I couldn’t bear to imagine what happened to the people of Dame Marie and their simple and beautiful life.

Nothing was the same in the region. That is, nothing except for the people. Esther’s aunt was excited to see us, yet slightly upset that we surprised her, because she didn’t have a chance to prepare a meal for us. She gently scolded her niece for not calling her in advance (although telephone lines were mostly cut off). Esther’s godparents were still the king and queen of hospitality and, despite the devastation, her godfather still wore his usual smile that you can be sure he’s had on his face since childhood. His wife insisted on preparing a goat for us, despite having lost several goats and their garden in the storm and despite the fact that we had brought our own provisions. 

When visiting pastors in Pichon last week, the pastors, who had advance notice of our coming, would already have fresh coconuts ready for us to drink or something else for us to “taste” as we walked along the road. We would look to the few trees that were left standing to see if we could figure out where these gifts were coming from, but we found no sign that there was more to come. We were being offered their best. Their last. Their all. And they refused to be denied the opportunity to be hospitable. Wherever we went, there was a sadness in the air, but over and over we were awestruck by the palpable goodness that remained in the hearts of a people who still wanted to hope. 

That same charity and goodness has all but become a national phenomenon. Many miles away, on the first Sunday morning after the storm, churches in the capital were gathered as their usual custom. Surely, the faithful came with the usual personal desires that they wanted to ask God to fulfill, but that day, they also shared a common heaviness. Together, they lifted the burden of those suffering after the hurricane in prayer. Many also began collecting funds and items to send to the victims in distress. 

In Les Cayes, that same afternoon, our staff met with a group of pastors, all of whom have churches that have sustained damages. As we discussed with them the importance of preaching the gospel by loving acts, together they resolved to see to that the homes of their more vulnerable neighbors are rebuilt, even if it meant that their church buildings were the last to be repaired. We recently met with a group of pastors in Duchity (Pestel, Grand’Anse) who have agreed to do the same. 

Late last week, I participated in a meeting with more than 200 Haitian church leaders in the capital. The purpose was to join together collectively to reach out to the affected areas with short, mid, and long term relief efforts. We had similar conversations with our partners in the capital. All of them excitedly agreed that the primary responsibility for relief must go to the local church. In Belle Anse, church leaders are assessing the damages together, while reflecting on ways to help those who were hit the hardest. Immediately after the storm, some even worked overtime to finish a home that they had begun to build months earlier for a single mother of three. After many months of being stalled by various obstacles, they finished the project in only a few days.

Haiti Relief Update | Hurricane Matthew in Haiti

I could fill pages and pages with the difficulties and hardships that are still yet to come. But I would rather put a final exclamation point on what I have attempted say so far...

Haiti has a lot of good things. The best of all these things are its people. Haiti is gold. The Haitian people themselves are diamonds—hard-pressed but not hardened, and refined by many years of adversity. When they pull together, nothing is impossible to them. 

The local church is full of such gems, and across the country, near to and far from the disaster, they are pulling together. They are helping one another and looking out for the weakest among them. World Relief is privileged to know some of the best of them. They are a light to their communities. World Relief is working closely with these leaders as they help their communities to recover shelters, gardens, livelihoods, and autonomy. But we refuse to let our work to be the basket that covers and hides the goodness and the light of God’s love that is already present. Rather, we are working in such a way to put that light on the lamp-stand, where it belongs, that the world will see their good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:15-16).

The nation is full of people with hearts of servants who are more than ready and more than willing to carry the weight of their vulnerable neighbors. Our job in this time is to help them to find the resources that match the largeness of their hearts and to equip them with skills and knowledge to build back better. Our mission is to help them to accomplish their mission.

That has always been our mission, and it will never change. We empower the church. They seek out the least, the last, and the lost among them, and together we make a world of a difference.

If you have already donated, please consider a second donation to Haiti’s hurricane relief efforts, or a general donation to World Relief’s other work around the world. Also, we invite you to share a link to this page with your friends and family.

UPDATE: Relief for Haiti

Since Monday, when Hurricane Matthew struck Haiti, we've been getting reports from our staff and local partners in the country. The situation grows worse by the day. Please consider taking action and donating today.

Haitian officials are reporting that at least 400 people have died, and the death toll is likely to continue rising. The UN Office for Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs is also reporting that 350,000 residents are in need of immediate aid.

Because of our longstanding relationship with churches throughout Haiti, World Relief has a built-in system to deliver that aid, one that empowers local leaders in Haiti to lead their own relief efforts.

As the death toll continues to climb and reports of widespread damage and destruction pour in, now is the time to act.

For the sake of the men, women, and children of Haiti, please donate today.

The Greatest Recovery Effort Yet


Joseph Bataille serves as World Relief’s Haiti Country Director. Born in Port-au-Prince and raised in the US, he moved back to his native country after college to work with NGOs and churches as they assisted the vulnerable. The following is his personal account of the devastating earthquake that shook Haiti to its core 5 years ago today as well as the hope he sees in his homeland. I was in the bed of a truck when the ground started to shake. There was a magnitude 7 earthquake going on, yet I hardly noticed. This is partly because I was somewhat distant from the epicenter, but it is also because the “taptaps” that I commuted in to and from work always passed through numerous rough spots. Sometimes they cannot avoid the larger potholes strung along the road. I was used to bracing myself for a little bit of shaking. Aside from that, I had my headphones on and my eyes were closed as I was praying… for my workplace, for my church, for myself, and for the nation.

Then I noticed that the shaking lasted longer than I was accustomed to. I paused my prayer and I opened my eyes to see what was going on. That’s when I noticed that the taptap was actually stationary and I could see a cloud of dust all across the horizon. I had just been in an earthquake. My first reaction was to send a message home, but all communications had been cut off. All I could do is wait to see for myself how everyone fared.

I soon learned that everyone at home was fine. So was my workplace, so was my church, and so was I, but the nation, well, I was confident that God would help us to recover, and perhaps even build back better.

As I worked to lead my church’s relief effort, the days that followed passed like a blur. This was the first time that I had been in a place that was in a 24/7 state of emergency. Setting up emergency clinics, running logistics between several organizations on the ground, dispatching our local Scouts for rescue and clean up missions, organizing the transport of certain victims to a hospital on the Dominican frontier, translating for foreigners. I had my hands full at all times.

In those days I saw and heard of more tragedy than I cared to. Dealing with major injuries and amputations became normal, and I grew accustomed to the stench of cadavers hidden under piles of rubble that were yet to be removed. But perhaps the greatest tragedy that I witnessed was the sense of helplessness that I observed among many of my countrymen. I recall seeing several smaller camps with signs painted in broken English “We have no ting,” “We need help, plese!”

It was true. They needed help. They had lost everything. But the signs written on the walls and on everyone’s faces testified to the fact that we were looking mostly to the outside for help. We weren’t looking to each other. We weren’t looking to the local church. We weren’t looking toward the strength that God had deposited within our own hearts and minds.

While I can tell you many stories of local heroes, I was sad to see that of all of the people who could have given a hand to the relief effort by volunteering their time, their skills, or their knowledge, the vast majority of us “took our place” in tent camps, waiting for someone else to save them and their countrymen. It was almost as if we were used to this role-play from the many tragedies of the past. This, for me, was most tragic.

After the earthquake, World Relief responded rightly with food aid, temporary and permanent shelters, and with efforts to reach out to orphans and vulnerable children. We gave unnumbered thousands of people a much-needed boost back up onto their feet. After five years of recovery, most of the people that we have helped are now back to a sense of normalcy.

If you read the current news about the earthquake relief effort, most articles remind us of the vast amount of physical work that remains to be done. There are places where rubble still remains; there are tens of thousands still living in tent camps and sanitation remains an ongoing problem. However, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, are still living with a spirit of helplessness and dependency. This is where World Relief has chosen to focus our efforts.

Tomorrow we will hand over the keys to twelve brand new houses to twelve families in our Orphan and Vulnerable Children program. This is the last official earthquake-related effort on our agenda. From here on out we will be building the hearts and the minds of the ones who God has called to transform this nation. By this, I am speaking of the Haitian people, a nation with thousands of heroes-in-waiting.

This year we will continue our efforts to help small farmers to build up their livelihoods in order to increase their self-sufficiency. We have also chosen to spearhead two new and exciting programs that will help to rebuild the foundations of two of the nation’s most fundamental institutions: the Church and the Family.

In some of World Relief’s other countries of intervention, the Church Empowerment Zone has proven to be effective in uniting churches across a region as they work together to accomplish God’s call to preach the gospel in word and in deed. Through this program, we hope to help churches across the nation to take their rightful place as agents of spiritual, social, cultural, and economic transformation. We want the Haitian community to look first to the church when they look for agents of sustainable development in the nation.

Finally, the family is the building block of a society, and it is the very first institution created by God. By transforming families, we can begin to touch all of the underlying issues in our society, changing the state and the inheritance of the next generation. This is what we hope to do through our Families for Life program. By working in collaboration with the thousands of churches in our network, by building on the successes of many of our former programs, and by working alongside a number of local partners, World Relief hopes to spark a nationwide movement that will transform the life of the Haitian family for the current and the next generation.

In 2010, I was in the back of a vehicle on the outskirts of the epicenter of a disaster. This year, with World Relief, I have the privilege of taking a front seat in the most important “recovery” effort yet: the recovery of Haitian dignity, hope and responsibility.

Haiti faces a great number of challenges, but we at World Relief are very hopeful. Not only do we see and affirm Haiti’s beauty, significance, and potential, but we have also witnessed and can testify that Haiti’s “light” is already here. The light that can dispel the darkness that covers this nation is in the Church of Jesus Christ, which is alive and well here.

The mission of World Relief in Haiti is to help the light of the church to shine brightly. We seek to support the Haitian church in such a way that its light takes its rightful place up high, for all to see, not hidden under the basket of our organization’s accomplishments. In this present darkness, the Church of Haiti will shine, and God will get the glory.

“…Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 5:16

Empowering Family Farmers in Haiti


Derivaux Lesson is a young entrepreneur from Gressier, Haiti. He has a wife and a seven year-old son. Before the tragic earthquake of January 2010, he used to provide public transportation as a source of income, which allowed him to buy his own car and build houses for his family. But when he lost everything in the earthquake, Derivaux was left with great debt, despair and pain. “I was worried about my honor, integrity and respect in the community. I saw no future for myself and my family,” he said.

After some time, Derivaux learned about World Relief’s work through local affiliate DANRE in developing value chains for farmers to help restore their livelihoods, generate revenue and establish economic sustainability. Through this program, World Relief provides farmers technique training, technical assistance and loans and improves their access to inputs and markets. Derivaux took out a loan from DANRE’s poultry program to start a small-scale business. Starting with only 100 chicks, Derivaux has since grown his business into a large barn that houses about 1,500 chickens.

Derivaux' Chickens

“I am happy and proud for the support I received from DANRE,” said Derivaux, who has also just purchased two plots of land for vegetable production. “My economic situation is much better now than before.”

In 2012, Derivaux was able to go back to school. He aims to receive his high school diploma so he can attend college and become an agronomist while continuing to grow his own business.


Investing in agriculture has proven to increase the income of the poor in Haiti by 2.5 to 3 times. Agriculture growth in places like Haiti is the primary source of poverty reduction because it builds local capacity for transformational, lasting development (IFPRI, 2012). For World Relief, agriculture development is a vital aspect of empowering the local Church to serve the most vulnerable. We are excited to celebrate stories like that of Derivaux as we enter 2014, the International Year of Family Farming.

Changing the Reality in Haiti

By Jean-Baptiste Francois, Agriculture Manager, World Relief Haiti When I was a child, I had the opportunity to live in the rural area of Haiti with my uncle for two months every year during school vacations.  For two decades, I saw my uncle always laboring the soil with a rake, pickaxe, hoe, and a cow when necessary.  During that time, he was never able to buy a much-needed motorcycle to help him and his family because the income produced was not enough. 

He always talked about losses.  Many were the factors for the low income and the losses: lack of rain (because there wasn’t any irrigation system), pests and disease invading the plantation, among others.

Today, at World Relief’s Demonstration Farm in Christianville, we are producing vegetable seedlings (pepper and tomatoes) in one of the high-tunnels - similar to greenhouses, but made for warm climate, such as Haiti’s.  With this high-tunnel, the impact of pests and disease can be reduced and controlled.

mango trees flowering

Agriculturally speaking, plants are similar to human beings, as they are most vulnerable during their first 30 days of life, a period called the ‘nursing stage’, which includes seed germination and the emergence of a new plant.  It is important to provide maximum care in order have healthy plants ready to be transplanted.  Often, crop deficiencies and diseases noted in the field initiate during this nursing stage.

As agriculture specialists, it is easy for us to understand the importance of producing seedlings in a controlled area. Plants are easier to manage, transport and transplant, develop a healthier and fuller root system to sustain the plant and provide ample nutrition for a better harvest.

However, small-holder farmers in Haiti, accustomed to using traditional methods, do not adopt these practices and technologies quickly. They require a much greater investment in the short-term than farmers are able to afford.  We continue in our work even if more time is needed for the farmers to both understand the importance and have the ability to adopt appropriate technology in the rural areas. We know it will be more beneficial and profitable for them in the long-term.

tomato farm

We want the farmers to experience what can be accomplished by adopting appropriate technologies, so they can be as successful in agricultural production as farmers from other countries.

As Agriculture Manager for World Relief, I can now help small-holder farmers in Haiti, like my uncle, to change that reality of loss.

Desperate People – We Go Fix It?

Tina O'Kelley, World Relief Communications, serving in Haiti Christians help people, right?  It is our privilege to step in when there is a need and respond with compassion and our abundant resources.  Desperate people – we go fix it.

Isn’t that what Jesus called us to do?


Here is a story that might end differently than you would think. Table du Seigneur (The Lord’s Table) is a little church in Bertain, a town just 15 miles outside of Port-au-Prince, up on a steep hillside perched over a river.  Pastor Bertrand Lynché has been leading the service here in a building too small to hold his congregation.  Every Sunday, churchgoers stood outside, and Pastor Bertrand dreamed of a larger building that could accommodate everyone. Not being on the radar of any foreign aid organizations, Pastor Bertrand felt he would never see his dream come to pass. One day, he was invited to an UMOJA seminar by Romnal Colas of World Relief.  It was explained to him that UMOJA is a new approach to development using the Bible as a tool to help communities identify their strengths and use their resources to help themselves and others.

Pastor Bertrand accepted and with two deacons in his church, joined about twenty other pastors and church leaders to hear about overcoming problems by using the resources at hand.

During the week long seminar, Pastor Bertrand got the point - If I can expand the vision of my church members with this new approach, WE can expand our church building.  After months of encouragement on the part of their pastor, Table du Seigneur responded. Without waiting for outside aid, they gathered money, materials and community support for the addition.  “We are almost finished with the work. We did it ourselves and are very proud,” reports Pastor Bertrand.

Work in Haiti is often accomplished against a backdrop of thoughtful discussion: How can aid be given so that we promote community initiative and avoid fostering dependency?  Are we taking over when we should stand at the sidelines and cheer on the Haitian church?  How can we encourage local pastors to envision their own solutions and not wait on ours?  These questions are not unique to work in Haiti, of course, but are especially important here where so many come, wanting to fix problems and help out.

World Relief Haiti did step in and give a gift to Pastor Bertrand, a way of moving forward that is not dependent and powerless but connects the church directly to the creative power of God.  Now, if we visit, we’ll fit inside, but soon, perhaps, Table du Seigneur will need a new addition.  Any church with this kind of vision is likely to see God bring an increase, more than they could “ask or imagine.”

*Thank you to Jeff Saintphard, World Relief Haiti Facilitator for the eyewitness account of Table du Seigneur.

Haiti Now: This Feels Like Progress

Driving through Port-au-Prince after the earthquake on January 12, meant seeing every version of brokenness imaginable; collapsed buildings, flattened cars, and streams of people ready to tell their stories of loss. World Relief Haiti with its staff of over 40 national employees did not escape the trauma. Befriending the staff meant entering into their stories.  World Relief’s building collapsed during the earthquake and one of the pretty, young program managers, Nerlandé Pierre, had to be dragged out, thankfully suffering no permanent damage.

Fougeré, a driver for World Relief, tried to describe the horror of Jan. 12 and its aftermath.  He told me on one long drive that he had vomited every day for a week, that he was unable to think or function several weeks, and that he had to pass a building where his friend, trapped, called out to him until he died. Fougeré could do nothing to help him.  Foungeré’s family was left without a place to live, especially difficult as he has a handicapped daughter.

Madame Elima, the employee who has worked the longest for WRH, lost her oldest daughter to the earthquake. This daughter was in her last year at a Haitian university.  I heard that Mme Elima and her three small adopted children lived for a time in a tent on the median of a busy road.

Life is split for most people in Haiti into before the earthquake and after the earthquake.

However, there are signs of progress.  Though articles abound on the mismanagement of aid money given to help Haiti and the tragically slow progress, many of us who live there day to day see progress everywhere.  Fewer streets are impassable due to rubble. Buildings have been repaired or taken down and the materials used to rebuild.  Haitians are healing and moving on.  Last year, every church had a memorial service on Jan. 12th, and the beauty of standing room only congregations with candles in their hands, praying, brought hope like nothing else.

I look at World Relief Haiti and am so encouraged by the nearly one million coffee trees planted in Thiotte, the houses built in Leogane, the wells giving water to hurting communities. Carrefour Feuille has a school now, built by WRH.  Our staff of over 40 continues to strategize on how to reach the most vulnerable through a network of churches.  Many are committed on a small or large scale – Haitians and ex-pats – to rebuilding Haiti.  Many are thoughtful and compassionate.  No one is foolish enough to imagine that Haiti is “out of the woods” or that there are not enormous and complex problems needing years and the gospel to address.  We know that partners around the world will not forget the long-term commitment necessary which was so evident just after the earthquake two-years ago.

Nerlandé, the program manager in charge of OVC, Orphans and Vulnerable Children, just married and the staff went to celebrate with her. She will not forget her time trapped in the rubble of the old World Relief office, but she is joyfully starting a new life. Recently, Fougeré built a small house on some land he bought a while ago and has moved his family into it.  Mme Elima, a faithful and respected worker for World Relief, has housing now and continues to diligently serve the children at 40 churches giving vaccinations and health advice.

This feels like progress.

-Tina O'Kelley, World Relief Staff Writer (lives in Port-au-Prince, Haiti)