As we ponder the horrific results of the earthquake in Haiti, we can’t help but realize the greatest problem suffered by Haiti is poverty, not natural disaster. But for their severe, intransigent poverty, the damage done by the earthquake would have been orders of magnitude less.
But the world — particularly the United States — has been pouring money into Haiti for a very long time. And according to David Brooks, with the New York Times, Haiti has more NGOs — non-governmental organizations — per capita working to improve things than any other country. And yet it remains desperately poor.
Meanwhile, many churches are looking to Haiti and considering whether to launch their own efforts there. Perhaps they can make a difference? But so many have tried and so few have succeeded. What do we do?
Obviously, in the short run, we give money and do what we can to help them deal with the immediate tragedy. But if all we do is return things to normal, well, Haitian normal is a very sad thing.
And so, once the immediate catastrophe is over, what can we do to make things truly better for the Haitians?
Obviously enough, merely sending money doesn’t work. We may feel better for having written a check, but contrary to what you might expect, money doesn’t fix poverty. It hasn’t worked in this country to end the cycle of poverty and dependence. Why do we think it would work somewhere else?
Some have tried micro-loans, encouraging entrepeneurs, particularly women, to improve their lives by starting small businesses. Again, there have been lots of micro-loans made in Haiti, and the country remains in abject poverty.
Well, David Brooks has a fascinating column wrestling with this very question (pointed out to me by Scot McKnight in his Jesus Creed blog). Brooks notes that economists have carefully researched how successful various approaches to relieving poverty have been. One book summarizing their conclusions is What Works in Development?: Thinking Big and Thinking Small. (You should also buy and read The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good.) The economists find that countries that prosper are rarely the ones that have received large amounts of aid or intervention by nonprofit groups. In fact, no one form of outside intervention has been found effective.
Brooks, therefore, suggests building on models proven to work in this country.
We’re all supposed to politely respect each other’s cultures. But some cultures are more progress-resistant than others, and a horrible tragedy was just exacerbated by one of them.
Fourth, it’s time to promote locally led paternalism. In this country, we first tried to tackle poverty by throwing money at it, just as we did abroad. Then we tried microcommunity efforts, just as we did abroad. But the programs that really work involve intrusive paternalism.
These programs, like the Harlem Children’s Zone and the No Excuses schools, are led by people who figure they don’t understand all the factors that have contributed to poverty, but they don’t care. They are going to replace parts of the local culture with a highly demanding, highly intensive culture of achievement — involving everything from new child-rearing practices to stricter schools to better job performance.
It’s time to take that approach abroad, too. It’s time to find self-confident local leaders who will create No Excuses countercultures in places like Haiti, surrounding people — maybe just in a neighborhood or a school — with middle-class assumptions, an achievement ethos and tough, measurable demands.
If a church wants to go to Haiti to make things better beyond the immediate earthquake recovery, they need to do more than send money and paint houses. For that matter, converting Haitians to Christianity isn’t enough either. After all, they are 80% Catholic and 16% Protestant already. The problem is that their religion hasn’t changed their culture.
As Lawrence E. Harrison explained in his book “The Central Liberal Truth,” Haiti, like most of the world’s poorest nations, suffers from a complex web of progress-resistant cultural influences. There is the influence of the voodoo religion, which spreads the message that life is capricious and planning futile. There are high levels of social mistrust. Responsibility is often not internalized. Child-rearing practices often involve neglect in the early years and harsh retribution when kids hit 9 or 10.
Imagine a nation that’s supposedly 96% Christian where people do not feel personal responsibility for their actions and children are neglected and the victims of parental retribution on a national scale! Christianity as we so often practice it is not the cure. I mean, teaching them threer services a week, five acts of worship, and a plurality of elders and deacons isn’t the cure.
Rather, they need to experience a comprehensive redemption —
- a right relationship with God, which is necessarily exclusive. Christianity has to replace voodoo.
- right relationships within their families.
- right relationships among brothers and sisters in Christ.
- right relationships with their neighbors.
- right relationship with their environment, the Creation. Haiti was an environmental disaster area before the earthquake.
- right government. No government is perfectly just, but corrupt governments make it particularly hard for people to dig themselves out of poverty. And sometimes fixing the government is as simple as teaching those working in government to follow John the Baptist’s teachings,
(Luke 3:14) Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely–be content with your pay.”
We can’t go in there teaching an other-worldly religion — a relgion that tells them Christianity is only about going to church and where you go when you die. No, Haiti — like the rest of the world — needs the full dose of Christianity, a Christianity that changes everything.
For those not familiar with the programs mentioned by Brooks, here’s some background. I’m not personally familiar with these and so can’t endorse them myself. But they are intriguing.
What makes [executive director] Canada’s project unique is that it addresses both problems at once. He keeps the liberals happy by pouring money into schools and day-care centers and after-school programs, and he satisfies the conservatives by directly taking on the problems of inadequate parenting and the cultural disadvantages of a ghetto home life. It’s not just that he’s trying to work both sides of the ideological street. It’s that Canada has concluded that neither approach has a chance of working alone. Fix the schools without fixing the families and the community, and children will fail; but they will also fail if you improve the surrounding community without fixing the schools. …
Canada’s new program combines educational, social and medical services. It starts at birth and follows children to college. It meshes those services into an interlocking web, and then it drops that web over an entire neighborhood. It operates on the principle that each child will do better if all the children around him are doing better. …
The leaders concluded that the public schools were inadequate for the needs of these children, and so they founded a charter school Promise Academy, carefully not selecting students based on aptitude. The results?
- 100% of third graders at Promise Academies I and II tested at or above grade level on the math exam, outperforming their peers in New York State, New York City, District 5, and black and white students throughout the state
- Over 98% of Promise Academy II’s students scored at or above grade level on the math exam, outperforming their counterparts in New York State, New York City and District 5, as well as black and white students in New York State
- In English and Language Arts (ELA), over 93% of Promise Academy I third graders tested at or above grade level, outperforming New York State, New York City and District 5 peers, as well as black and white students in New York State
- Over 84% of Promise Academy II’s students scored at or above grade level in ELA, outperforming on average their counterparts in New York State, New York City and District 5, as well as black students in New York City
- In 2008, 93% of Promise Academy High School ninth graders passed the statewide Algebra Regents exams
The philosophy taught in such books as No Excuses : Lessons from 21 High-Performing, High-Poverty Schools rejects the notion that the poor, blacks, and Hispanics cannot succeed, insists that parents be involved in their children’s education, and demands that teachers get results. As explained in this article —
Educators frequently cite a lack of parental involvement to explain student failure. That’s not a problem among the “No Excuses” principals, who insist on having a home environment conducive to education. To ensure that the home is a “center of learning,” these schools establish contracts with parents, who pledge to support the school’s efforts by checking homework and reading to their children. At Cascade Elementary in Atlanta, for example, parents are even required to have their children in bed by 9 p.m.
Hard work breeds success, these principals say. The students at the Marcus Garvey School in Los Angeles, for example, routinely score two or more years above grade level in core subjects. In 1999, three Garvey 7th graders began attending West Los Angeles Junior College after testing at the post-secondary level in all subjects. Advanced math is customary: Pre-schoolers add and subtract two-digit numbers, four-year-olds know the multiplication tables, and 4th graders study elementary algebra.