The other day I was sitting in traffic by the well-known Gran Cimetiere (Grand Cemetery) of Port-au-Prince. As is often the case during busy days on the streets of Haiti’s capital, cars were lined up bumper to bumper, numerous moto-taxis were weaving in and out of traffic, and many pedestrians were walking along the side of the road under the scorching mid-day sun. I along with my companions Roody and Wilson were hungry, tired, and irritable. We were on our way back from the store, a trip that we hoped would last no more than an hour, but we had now been in a virtual standstill for going on three hours.
As I sat there wondering when we would ever arrive home, I glanced up and noticed some graffiti on the wall of the cemetery. There in large white letters read, “Enstrìksyon + Travay = Libète” which means “instruction + work = freedom.” Underneath it was signed “Jeune Haïti” which is French for young people of Haiti.
Just three simple words, but they said so much.
In that moment, even as my head throbbed with hunger, I was struck by how blessed I am. I knew that when we finally did make it to our house in Carrefour there would be a big plate of food waiting for each of us; however, I realized that in the extremely poor neighborhoods surrounding Gran Cimetiere not everyone is so fortunate. I also knew that when I returned home my wife and son would be waiting for me. I thought about the brand new crib that I had just purchased for our baby boy, Koa. I thought about the hopes and dreams I have for my son as he grows up. I imagined him going to school, making friends and discovering his passions. It occurred to me that the mere fact that I was considering possibilities for his future showed what an amazing amount of freedom we have.
This freedom, the freedom to choose between multiple good paths which lie before us, is a freedom we so often take for granted, yet it is one of the greatest gifts that anyone can be given. However, the sad truth is that an entire generation of young Haitians has been robbed of this freedom.
Most Haitian kids never think they’ll actually go to college, learn a trade that can provide adequate pay, or find a good job. The young people of Haiti have been born into a broken system that is stacked against them from the second they leave their mother’s womb. They have precious little chance of pursuing their passions or discovering their God given abilities. Instead most of them are just trying to get by.
Too often we as foreigners come into Haiti and wax eloquently about the many problems we see and what the people of Haiti need. I’ve been guilty of it too, but when we do this we’re not accomplishing a thing. It’s like walking out amidst a crowd of people with an umbrella in the pouring rain all the while explaining that if they only had umbrellas they wouldn’t get nearly as wet.
The young people of Haiti know what they need and that’s why they wrote this message on the cemetery wall: “Instruction + Work = Freedom.” They captured the very heart of the issue in three simple words. They need training and work. The problem is there’s not enough jobs and it’s hard to get a good education. To put it another way, people have been getting drenched for a really long time, but there’s not enough umbrellas to go around.
These young Haitians are the children of the brave men and women of African descent who were once enslaved, yet they rose up and fought against their oppressors. Valuing freedom over life itself, they shed their blood that they and their children might be free. Sadly, many of their children are experiencing a different kind of bondage today. The chains may not be visible, but they are there nonetheless. They are enchained by the shackles of poverty, lacking the freedom to choose their own destiny.
As a Christian, I can’t help but think of the example of Jesus. He too shed his blood that we might be free. Whether it is poverty, violence, addiction or any number of destructive forces which bind us, I believe that God wants his children to be free.
It must grieve the heart of God any time his children are enslaved, but surely whenever people find freedom it is a continuance of Jesus very work on this earth. Our sincere hope is to help young Haitians to experience the freedom that God wants for them through the work of Thrive Ansanm.
It’s not that we’re so smart or that we have the power to bring this freedom. Rather, it just so happens that some of us were dealt a better hand of cards than others, and those of us who were dealt a better hand have the responsibility to share with those who received a poor hand. It’s only when we as human beings live out of this spirit of generosity that more people can be free.