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#2656: Antoine replies to Grey on basic charity groups (fwd)

From: Guy Antoine <GuyAntoine@windowsonhaiti.com>

Kathy, both you and I know that there are Vodou clergy people in Haiti and
outside of Haiti that rob their followers blind, abusing their misplaced
hopes only to fatten their pockets.  Should we then universally blame ALL
houngans and mambos for this sordid aspect of religion as an exploitative
business?  I don't think so.

So why do you appear to do so (again and again) when speaking of
missionaries?  A lot of them are well-intentioned and do a lot to address
basic charity work... A few of them (and perhaps even increasingly so) are
even getting involved in working FOR structural changes, such as in
establishing some work cooperatives and contributing to literacy programs
where none existed before, and development programs initiated with some
microcredit loans.

Instead of unfairly casting the missionaries in such a negative light, why
don't you inform us about how the Vodou clergy in Haiti helps the
Vodouisants in their temporal lives and their human and economic
development.  Since according to some reports, 90% of Haitians practice
Vodou, I can't help but wish very strongly that all sectors of our society
(including our core religious sector) would promote the well-being of the
Haitian masses.

I am NOT claiming that the Vodou clergy is not acting in that direction, so
please do not read any such accusation in my post. I am only asking for
additional insight into this matter.  This particular knowledge would be far
more enriching to me personally than finding out about the sexual
inclinations of this lwa or that lwa, their praise names, or even their
origins.  Not to say that people should not be speaking about those things,
because obviously A LOT of people ARE INTERESTED in them, but all I am
asking is for information of how Haitian people's religiosity helps them or
works against them in their human development out of a state of general

Regardless of whether my views are Weberian or Western Protestantist
(according to Mr. Bellegarde-Smith), I will continue with my queries.  By
the way, I may be an uneducated person who has only vaguely heard of Weber,
and I have yet to take the time to look it up.  I certainly do not have a
Ph.D.  But my general ignorance has never stopped me from wishing to learn
and asking questions, and occasionally dabbing in humor that some people
must find truly obscure as they simply do not get it.  As for my possibly
Western Protestantist views, let me just say that this truly strikes me as
purely accidental if it were such.  I was raised a Catholic, but I have long
ago discarded their doctrinaire baggage, their general dogmatism, and their
equally rich pantheon of saints (well perhaps not as rich as the Vodou
pantheon, since the Catholic saints also get adopted by the Vodouisants
among other divinities or near-divinities).  I have never adopted
Protestantism (except for my zealous protestantism against the resurrection
of duvalierism.  I may not understand the spiritual dimension of
spirituality, but I do not think that my spirituality is lacking for the
want of a truer connection between our spiritual and temporal lives.

My view of spirituality is that it enriches the human being, and religions
as man-made institutions either support our spirituality or, as is so often
the case, work against it.  Whether Catholic, Protestant or Vodou, religion
is often indistinguishable from business, and it is sometimes a brutally
exploitative business. Should this lead me to reject ALL clergy members of
this faith or that faith as being all the same?  No!  I can also see the
good that many of them do.  So let's open our eyes critically to what people
do, rather than praise or condemn them all, as doing so is both naive and

Lastly year, I raised my voice vehemently against the negativity portrayed
by a member of this forum who always claimed to buy tons of rice that he
would donate to Haitians, and then would complain about their total lack of
initiative.  You know, I would protest against the manifestation of such
attitude whether the person was Catholic, Western Protestant, a Vodou
priest, Islamic, Jewish, or whatever. Later, through personal
correspondence, I found out that the person was well-intentioned, but failed
to see the harm of his approach.  This is my own problem WITH SOME OF THE

Yes, you are right that sometimes this works against  structural change, in
a way that is so counterproductive that in the end we are better off without
it.  I do not have a problem with any thing that Bob Corbett has stated up
to this point in relating his view of why both approaches are necessary, but
I would only add that even basic charity work need not be mindless.  There
are ways to improve people's lives in the immediate without deepening their
dependency and working actively AGAINST structural change.  Haiti should
feed her people, and except in the case of disastrous calamities, where
people's instinctive (as mindless as it can be) charity can be used to bring
in desperately needed supplies, local initiatives and local means of
production SHOULD and MUST be encouraged.  Helping people with food brought
in from the good old U.S.A. and not expecting them to work for it in any
way, shape or form, is simply misplaced charity, and I dare say that we
would be better off without that sort of charity, whether it comes from
religious sources, private initiatives, or from U.S. government agencies.

We should ALWAYS think of helping people to help themselves.  Haiti needs a
lot of CAPITAL in order to engage itself in an economically productive
capacity that will provide its citizens the means to feed themselves and
work their way out of misery and even poverty.  The truth is that there is
an awful lot of capital making its way through Haiti, whether it comes from
the trade of drugs to the insatiable North American market, or from the
well-meaning Haitian Diaspora, who have always taken care of theirs in
Haiti, in absolutely remarkable fashion.  They pour their money and their
hearts into Haiti.  Those in Haiti use that money to buy food and products
made in the U.S.A. and most of that money makes it way right back to the
good old U.S.A.  How much money does the Diaspora invest in the building of
health care centers, of schools, of ti machann and peyizan support programs,
in local means of production?  My guess is... precious little.  Sure some in
Haiti get richer and richer at our expense, and the dependency will never
stop until our money is invested rather than just given.  On the other hand,
there are a few rather quiet small programs of economic development (even in
some of the remotest corners of Haiti), sometimes-or-often--guided by
enlightened missionaries that accomplish far more than the Diaspora has ever
been able to do, with only a very small fraction of the money we send to
Haiti every year.

These people loan (not give) money to our country men and women, and provide
them with some small business technological assistance to encourage their
local initiatives, and expect them to pay their loans back (or they do not
get any more). The success rate of those programs is eye opening, and only
begs for a multiplicity of such undertakings.  As a condition of the loans,
the children MUST go to school, and learn how to read and write in KREYOL.
While our educated elites continue to treat Kreyol with the greatest
disdain, some of the foreign missionaries have long understood the necessity
of teaching Haitians in Haitian.  One of the initiatives that I know about
from one of these programs is the establishment of a donkey farm.  Have you
ever heard of a donkey farm?  Yet, a donkey (just like its more famous
cousin, the creole pig) IS a source of economic sustenance (and even
economic well-being) for many of Haiti's small farmers.  Yet in Haiti,
people do not know how to treat donkeys well, let alone farm them, as they
beat them up all day long (the extraordinary mistreatment of animals in
Haiti, and most especially our dogs, will be the subject of another post.
This is a matter that people simply hesitate to ever talk about, given the
high level of HUMAN misery, what with our restaveks, our malnutrition, our
high rate of mortality, our rising criminality, etc. -- yet, most people
fail to realize that all aspects of Man's environment and respect for life
are deeply interconnected).  To go back to the development of a donkey farm,
since donkeys and mules are necessary for travel in Haiti's mountainous
environment (after all, even with all the drug money circulating in Haiti,
we are not close to seeing small Haitian farmers driving their own cars to
market), let us just hope that U.S. interests will not move in some day and
proceed to the eradication of our donkeys as they have our creole pigs.  But
as an example of basic charity work, we can certainly help a Haitian farmer
who could make use of a donkey to enhance his productivity,  we can help to
provide him the credit that he needs to obtain the tools required to enhance
his local business activity, and not simply give him a ticket to free food
and permanent dependency.

I do believe, as Corbett said, that there is only a false dichotomy between
basic charity and structural change. There certainly exists one between
MINDLESS charity (including sometimes perverse AID programs) and structural
change.  But I don't see any reason that the people who prefer to engage in
the immediate relief of misery cannot work in concert with other people
whose purpose is to bring the country to a higher level of economic activity
and less dependency.  In fact, the danger of being mindless resides WITH
BOTH CAMPS.  Only by talking to each other, and seeing the good and bad in
both approaches will they be able to work for a greater synergy of their
generally well-intended efforts.  Mercilessly attacking each other does not
serve anybody's purpose, and least of all those who need help the most.

Guy S. Antoine
Look thru & Imagine!