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Date: Wed, 12 May 1999 22:08:05 -0500 (CDT)
From: Haiti Progres <HAITI-PROGRES@prodigy.net>
Organization: Haiti Progres
Subject: This Week in Haiti 17:7 5/5/99
Article: 63922
Message-ID: <bulk.19345.19990513121755@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

Fencing out the People

Despite Humanitarian Claims, Milwaukee Church's Haiti Project Serves as Retreat from Problems of the Poor

By Babette Wainwright, in Haiti Progress,
Vol. 17, no. 7, 5-11 May 1999

Haiti has the highest number of missionaries per capita of any country in the world. Take any flight to Haiti and you are bound to see them, ranging from clean-cut Midwestern types in Gospel- emblazoned matching T-shirts to elderly Bible thumpers in seersucker to Jesus look-alikes with backpacks and sandals.

Of course, Rome got the jump on the pack during colonial times, and statistics say Haiti is formally three-quarters Catholic. But Protestants have been coming on strong, including mainstream denominations like Lutherans, Methodists, Episcopalians, and Baptists to more obscure sects with names like Heart of God Ministries, Compassion International, Love-a-Child Inc., and, our favorite, the Ministry of Money.

Make no mistake, proselytization is big business in Haiti, perhaps the biggest.

Some missionaries are lured by the desire to do "God's work" through humanitarian projects like distributing food or medicine or building schools, often in some concert with the U.S. State Department. But others are crusading to convert Haitian heathens. For example, World Team, a giant Pennsylvania-based outfit with over two dozen missions on six continents, including 284 churches in Haiti, calls the country a "land of mystery, spiritual warfare, and poverty" which is "steeped in voodoo and spirit worship."

Some missionaries take their crusade very seriously, at times overrunning sacred vodou sites and, in recent history, killing vodou priests. For example, the Rev. Gerry Seale, General Secretary of the Evangelical Association of the Caribbean, reports on the Cornerstone International Ministries web-page of "the glorious victory the Lord gave us over the devil on August 14, 1997," when he led a "holy invasion" of Bois Caiman, "a very sacred high place for the devil where no one could ever set foot, except the witch doctors when having voodoo services." Bois Caiman is where the vodou ceremony which sparked the Haitian revolution is said to have taken place. "They had a satanic ceremony, killed a pig, and drank the blood, swearing and dedicating Haiti to serve the devil," Seale informed his Christian soldiers. But now, "Satan's kingdom has been demolished and Haiti taken back for God."

Through such tales of battle or through glossy brochures showing hunger-bloated children being fed, missionaries raise millions of dollars every year in the U.S. to finance their work in Haiti. Touched by such advertizing, Babette Wainwright, a licensed psychotherapist and a painter who lives in Madison, Wisconsin, returned to Haiti, where she was born, with a missionary delegation last year. But she discovered that advertizing can be misleading, even in God's kingdom. Worse yet, the situation she witnessed is far from an exception and closer to a rule. This article is reprinted from the April 15th edition of Shepherd Express, an alternative Milwaukee paper.

Boarding the van to go to the southern Haitian community of Jeannette, I intentionally sat separate from the missionaries. This was a humanitarian work mission, not a vacation tour, and I wasn't there to socialize.

Instead, I sat next to my friend, Kathy, who had volunteered to provide free dental care to the people in Jeannette for 10 days; I was serving as her Kreyol language translator. Riding in the seat directly behind the driver, we spent the time chatting and gossiping with him in the Kreyol language.

The bus driver talked about his failed marriage and his ambitions. He revealed himself to be a very bright young man with many interests and a deep curiosity about life. I saw the way he was greeted by the street vendors along the road, who ran toward him yelling and teasing him affectionately. He suggested that we buy the local candy from four different stands. "That way, we can help each one make a little money today, instead of giving all the business to just one person," he explained.

Despite his charm, however, there was something disturbing about him. He clearly liked me, but kept on warning me against my socialist beliefs. He told me that it would not be safe for someone like me to live in Haiti. We talked about ways to uplift the country. I preached self-reliance -- ways to teach people to earn their own living. We talked about ways for people to help each other, imagining something like the volunteer system in the US. His ideas resembled mine, but he cautioned me all the same not to speak that way "around the priest." He advised me to keep my eyes open and my mouth shut.

I liked this young man, yet I knew that at any point he would "inform" on me. I could see that even after Duvalier, Haitians still distrusted each other. It was still the old regime of my childhood.

We were on our way to a poor southern village to provide free dental care and conduct some needs assessments in association with the Haiti Mission of the Episcopal Church of Milwaukee, which has been in contact with Jeannette for over 11 years. The Mission coordinator had approached me a year ago for Kreyol lessons, and told me of the wonderful help they had been providing to that community.

The promotional literature for the Haiti Project boasted of making long-term differences in people's lives by doing "hands-on missions" to assist the community. The most appealing aspect was their statement that "95% of the project budget goes directly to Haiti." They talked of treating the poor with respect, and I believed it. I decided to pay more than $1,000 for a trip back to my homeland (although the true cost was under $500). I was told that it was a fund-raiser for the project, and I gladly accepted. The actual journey, however, began to raise disturbing questions in my mind.

We were traveling through the most nightmarish section of Haiti which, paradoxically, took us to the loveliest parts of the island. We made our way through thick curtains of dust, pedestrians, donkeys and brouettes dodging broken-down trucks and camionettes. People came out of that stretch of road covered with a fine coat of white powder, looking more like zombies than living souls.

For four hours the scenery remained dreary, sometimes eerie. The poorest country in the Western hemisphere gave us its best display of rags, huts and seaside dumps. Cadavers of young men choked the gutters. According to our driver, they were thieves and hoodlums whose bodies no one dared claim. Like dogs, they were left to rot by the roadside. The members of the Mission seemed unmoved, but my friend wept quietly. The teeming masses, accustomed to this sight, moved along the road like phantoms.

At last, we reached the entrance to the small village of Jeannette. Suddenly the missionaries began blowing up balloons and throwing them to a parade of screaming children. The driver shook his head disapprovingly with an "um um." The scene reminded me of an old colonial film where hordes of dirty, hungry and naked black children ran alongside khaki-colored land rovers with hands outstretched, begging for coins from the white man. Unable to stop this shameful situation, I felt powerless. The missionaries were laughing and enjoying their ability to entice a bunch of hungry children in tatters to run dangerously into the road.

During the Duvalier dictatorship when I was growing up, Haitians were accustomed to scenes resembling the balloon-throwing. "Papa Doc" would ride in large limousines through the slums of Port au Prince, throwing pennies out at the hungry masses. Those desperate people would shove each other and fight over the pathetic coins. This would bring him great pleasure, and the poor would continue to hail him as their good president. He trained them to be satisfied with their lot by keeping them happy with these erratic displays of "generosity."

Hungry people with no jobs, no medical care and no education were glad to accept whatever was thrown at them. They often yelled and sang "Vive Duvalier" as he slithered by behind the darkened windows of his hearse-like automobile. During Mardi Gras and special state holidays, he would often order a distribution of free "clarin" to get them drunk and keep them happy.

My family, not really part of the masses, could only whisper our discontent among ourselves behind closed doors.

The few educated people in the country could not mention these oppressive tactics without facing severe repercussions. Often, the poor on whose behalf they were pleading would inform against anyone who did venture criticism. Papa and Baby Doc threw coins to them, therefore, they were the ultimate power. The Duvalier dictatorship labeled anyone who spoke against it as an enemy of the state, a communist. Not just a judgment, the label was a death sentence.

Watching the missionaries throw balloons, both the driver and I felt ashamed and helpless. We knew that nothing we could say to these poor people would stop them from demeaning themselves for the white people's trinkets.

Seeing the enlarged bellies of some of the children along the road, I began to question the true nature of this project to which I had committed my time and money. I also questioned my presence among the missionaries. Had I paid so dearly only to contribute to the oppression and dehumanization of my own people?

Before I left for Haiti, my first impressions of the Mission were positive. I was impressed with the members' decision to learn my language. I taught them about the culture in the hope of minimizing the usual faux pas. During these lessons, I learned some of the details of their work in Haiti, but I also heard from a disgruntled member that donors' money was sometimes misappropriated, and it was never clear precisely who was responsible.

He reported to us that the Mission was in the process of building an $8,000 garage simply because the village priest had requested it. As a retired carpenter, he knew that such an amount was exorbitant. He encouraged me to come along on their next trip to witness the lavish life they were leading among the hungry people of Jeannette.

My friend Kathy and I collected various articles for donations. She solicited and received a substantial amount of medical supplies from her dental colleagues. I bought art supplies, and one of my professors donated printing tools and art books. I had decided to offer art training to anyone interested, and to hold an exhibition. The art of Haiti has always pleased outsiders; even street artists are able to feed themselves without resorting to begging.

Because my goal was to help develop self-reliance, I offered to help the village people develop their own artistic style. My hope was that the villagers would produce art, and the Mission would purchase from them, instead of supporting the sweat shops in Port au Prince. But the Mission coordinator seemed uninterested, even after seeing the sample items I had designed specifically for them.

This indifference led me to inquire whether the Mission had ever tried to bring in other outside projects such as Food for the Poor or Habitat for Humanity to help the people.

The coordinator made it clear that the village priest was against having anyone else help the community, fearing that they would challenge his views. He wanted total control over the money. His good relationship with the Haiti Project was based on their trust for him. They provided him with the funds and demanded no accounting.

Unsuspecting donors were told that 95 percent of their money went to help poor children in Jeannette, not that it was given to a priest who exerted complete control over a village.

I was expecting to see clean, healthy children and families living in safe cinder block homes, as I had been told. Instead, I saw a luxurious rectory/mission house with all the amenities: water, modern bathrooms, comfortable furniture. It was enclosed in a fenced yard to keep out the poor, those for whom this Mission was created.

For the people, I saw a small, dark church, which stood in sharp contrast to the Mission house. I saw two school buildings with small, dark rooms, blank walls and an empty, depressing courtyard -- no playground. The teachers' dormitories were veritable fire- traps resembling jail cells. Ironically, missionaries to Jeannette had once spent an entire trip stenciling the dank concrete walls "a la Norwegian."

A "clinic," which the brochures had advertised as well-stocked, had no bathroom facilities, no running water and no electricity. I was told that even the inadequate light bulb that was provided during our visit was cut off when the Haiti Project missionaries leave. I watched a clinic helper haul heavy buckets of water dozens of yards to an unsanitary bathroom where medical implements were being sterilized. I watched hundreds of patients wait all day to be seen in a health-care facility with no bathrooms and no drinking water.

I observed an entire community silently watch as the members of the Haiti Project came in and out of Jeannette, improving life in the rectory while the people themselves remained outside of it all.

People knew that the Haiti Mission was meant only for the priest. No one believed that it was there to help anyone else.

In six days, I saw the appalling conditions the people of Jeannette live in while those at the top of the hierarchy have all their needs met. We ate and slept in the rectory. Members held nightly cocktail parties and indulged in snack foods, while hungry kids begged along the bamboo fence.

Most people in the area have to walk miles to fetch water, use the bushes as their bathroom, drink water in which parasites swim freely, go for days without a meal, and live with infected skin wounds if they can't pay the two gourdes required to see the nurse. All this, in a place receiving the financial aid and technical help of Milwaukee's Episcopal Mission for 11 years.

Teachers report that the local children are so hungry that many are unable to stay alert in class. They told me that they themselves often go without food. A teacher's aide who shares a shack with eight members of his family told me that he could not afford to replace his torn shoes. In the meantime, he watched quietly as the garage was built to accommodate the Haiti Project's van.

As a Haitian, I know that people do not build elaborate garages for their cars in Haiti, especially when their homes are fenced in. It's typical to leave the car in the yard or under a simple car port. With the $8,000 given to the village priest for this garage, the project could have built over a dozen solid homes with cinder blocks and tin roof, established several small businesses or built an open-air "cafeteria" with tin roof and a kitchen counter equipped with small kerosene stoves to provide a balanced mid-day meal for all the students and school personnel, five days a week for over a year. Three food vendors who often set up their stands in the hot sun could have filled such positions.

In a country where a plate of cooked food in the marketplace costs less than a third of a dollar, it is disturbing to witness lavish lifestyles supported by outsiders, which exist at the expense of suffering, underfed children. These sights reflected the cliquish "us and them" attitude in Jeannette that profoundly affected me as well as the four other first-time visitors.

The lack of sensitivity toward the people of Jeannette was blatant. People were treated with disdain. In one instance, the Haiti Project leaders kept the cook waiting long past her working hours, with stereotyped remarks that "all she wanted was to go party," at the very moment they were indulging in one of their nightly cocktail parties.

Another example was the treatment of a young Haitian woman at the dinner table by some of the Mission's core members. This woman had spent the entire morning helping us in the clinic, and naturally was invited by the nurse to join us for lunch. This gesture displeased these members, who rushed to take the food away, sending the young woman running from the table in shame.

I questioned my presence as a Haitian among this group. What could be the true nature of the Haiti Project if the people we came to help couldn't share a meal at our table, a ride in our van, or be treated with dignity as our equals, in a true Christian way?

The contrast was shocking between the relatively luxurious rectory where alcohol and junk food flowed freely every night, with the bareness of the school and teachers' dormitory. It was as if Jeannette served as a vacation resort for church members. People were relaxing while everyone around them was inadequately fed and sheltered.

During the evening cocktail parties, hungry children, many of whom appeared to be in advanced stages of malnutrition, were heard outside, begging along the fence. One of the dorm residents said they lived out there "like animals."

It is, by U.S. standards, very cheap to feed children in Haiti. Food for the Poor spends $50 every three months to feed a family of five. A couple of Haitian cooks with an assistant could feed the entire St. Marc school for about $30 a day, less than $5,000 for the entire school year. It would cost only a fraction of that amount to have the community baker deliver fresh bread in the morning to the school. With the amount of money allocated to this region, there should not be hungry people or unhealthy mud huts. Most of all, people should not have to beg.

I talked with seamstresses, masons, bakers, woodworkers, drivers, food service workers and others who have the skills, but lack the means, to set up their businesses. There was no emergency transport in Jeannette, yet a young man was frustrated that he could not secure a mere $150 to finish his chauffeur training requirement and get his license. Another man had designed a number of greeting cards in the hope that the mission would use them for fund raising. He also embroidered several items of clothing, hoping for the minimal financial support that would allow him to attain self-reliance. Yet Project members patronized an art shop in Port au Prince which is a well-known sweat shop, thus contributing further to the oppression of the poor in Haiti.

If in fact the goal was to develop self-reliance in Jeannette, the yearly "hands-on" trips should always focus on providing tools and equipment. The large bags they bring would be filled with appropriate items such as garden tools, zinc aluminum buckets and wash basins, light cotton fabric, needles, thread, buttons, zippers, scissors, appropriate seeds, art supplies, pots and pans, butcher knives, warm blankets for the cool mountain nights, kerosene lamps, various small hand-held woodworking implements and other similar useful, culturally relevant and long-lasting items.

Rather, the bags were filled with culturally insensitive and meaningless items such as brand-name tennis shoes, bags of hard candy, worn-out plastic cups, packets of Metamucil, plastic hair brushes made for European hair types, baseball caps, battery- operated watches, Walkman radios, cassettes, and hundreds of sample vials of expired medicines.

These items do nothing to help poor people escape their oppression and misery. With the battery-operated electronics, the mission may be creating a group of dependent beggars who are forever in need of fresh batteries. These, in Haiti, cost more than a family's daily grocery bill. This utter disregard for a people's cultural needs may be shaping them into the stereotypes of the U.S. inner city dwellers: No food, no job, no hope, yet wearing Nikes and baseball caps, with a Walkman around their heads.

Furthermore, these items contribute to the significant amount of dumping I saw around the clinic and the school yard. Worse, the garbage left behind by the missionaries was blamed on the village people whom I heard being referred to as "dirty."

Obviously, people who have nothing cannot generate the type of trash I saw there. Upon close inspection, I deciphered a variety of U.S. items brought there by the visitors: plastic wrappers, containers and other remnants of meaningless "gifts" brought to the children.

The majority of the people live exactly as they did during the colonial period in homes that are no more than one-room slave cabins with mud floors and leaky, thatched roofs. When change had occurred, it was not for the better. I saw peasants begging--a city behavior that, until recently, was unheard-of in the provinces.

But the Mission remained oblivious. This was especially disturbing because it ignored some of the church's own experts in the country. The Episcopalian Church in Haiti has a well-known and respected priest, the Reverend Pere Roger Desir. One of his books addresses the issue of inequity within the church in Haiti.

(The second of two articles)
Haiti Progres, Vol. 17, no. 8
May 12-18, 1999

In last week's article, we learned of the author's disillusionment when she returned to her homeland and discovered the hypocrisy and arrogance with which the Haiti Mission of the Episcopal Church treated the local population of Jeannette, a small town in southern Haiti. "Unsuspecting donors were told that 95 percent of their money went to help poor children in Jeannette," Ms. Wainwright explained, "not that it was given to a priest who exerted complete control over a village."

The author went on to detail the appalling conditions of the Mission's "clinic," "school" and teachers' housing, while the priest was having built an $8,000 garage to better house his vehicle.

In short, the priest and the missionaries who visit him stay in a "luxurious rectory/mission house...enclosed in a fenced yard to keep out the poor, those for whom this Mission was created."

She suggests several ways in which the Mission could better conduct its "humanitarian" work. Actually, there should be no need for missionaries to carry out elementary education, healthcare and infrastructure projects. That should be the job of the Haitian government. In fact, an autonomous and responsible government dedicated to meeting the Haitian people's needs (and not those of foreign interests) would be the highest expression of the self-reliance the author would like to see implanted. But we learn that self-reliance is what many missionaries are fighting against.

In this final installment of Ms. Wainwright's account, she denounces a missionary "masquerade" which is all too common in Haiti and many other Third World countries. This article is reprinted from the April 15th edition of Shepherd Express, an alternative Milwaukee paper.

In the U.S., much research has been done on the topic of nonprofit organizations. Situations like the one I witnessed in Jeannette are referred to in the research as "sacred cows"; situations that allow an irrational entrenchment in the past and maintain the status-quo at the expense of the community.

The keeper of the sacred cow was the priest whose position the Mission upheld. During my six days there, I heard the concerns of his cook and his driver, as well as the nurses, teachers and school principal who work under his eye. I heard in painful detail how the school children would be fed as a show only when the group was visiting, and how everything would stop the day they left.

The recurring theme was that the priest had no interest in helping anyone develop self-reliance. He did not tolerate anyone displaying an ambitious nature or a desire to speak English so that they can speak for themselves. Those who expressed such desires lost their standing with him and were forbidden to approach the rectory. The position of the priest in relation to the mission is similar to the one that existed between the Duvalier regime and the U.S. for over 40 years. Funds are given to one undemocratic figure to divert as he sees fit. I find this very troubling, especially when the funds come from well-meaning Christian donors who place their trust in an organization they do not think to question.

Because no one in this Mission bothered to master the language of the people they serve, one wonders how they can even begin to assess the people's needs and measure the effectiveness of their interventions. For example, what happens to the young people once they complete the last grade at their Mission school? I heard from some students that they return to their shacks to face hunger with the rest of the community. Several teachers asked what the point of school life is if the children are kept from furthering their education.

A technical school would be a logical addition, one that the Mission could conceivably support. It would undoubtedly attract retired people from the Episcopal church. Some would gladly donate three months a year of their time to provide various training, including teaching English to the teachers. A tech school could give everyone in the area access to crucial training in agriculture and animal husbandry. It would be inexpensive to provide the community with herds of goats, native chickens, pigs and a few cows. The Mission could easily recruit university students doing research in agriculture or rural sociology. Student interns could teach simple farming skills, milk-producing techniques, organic composting, egg production and a number of other basic skills.

The community needs a school that stimulates the creativity of both students and teachers, where the arts are used to uplift people's morale and spirits. The Mission school needs to look more like a place for learning and growth, and less like a concentration camp. It needs sunshine in the classrooms, and cultural and historical information on its walls, like schools elsewhere in the world -- and like the rectory.

It needs a library stocked with books written in their native language, exposing them to their proud culture and literature. It needs a safe playground with swing sets and soccer balls so the kids can develop coordination and cooperation skills. It needs an outdoor cafeteria where kids and personnel are fed healthy Haitian meals daily, and where members of the Haiti project can break bread with the community they serve, in a true Christian manner.

One must not forget that Haiti is built on the soil of revolution. During my short time in Jeannette I saw and heard discontented people who watched the rectory obtain a TV antenna, solar and wind generators, garage, and a bamboo fence to keep them out. All the while, their children remained malnourished and thirsty in the mud huts.

One can begin to understand why the priest kept himself behind closed doors, away from the people. He warned the Americans against fraternizing with the community, but how can we know about people's needs if we don't socialize with them, go inside their huts, see how they live? Hunger and oppression have a way of manifesting themselves in desperate acts.

Those who approached me asked mainly for material and tools. Most of them have the skills necessary to design and build their own homes and latrines. Habitat for Humanity has been experimenting in Haiti, and could be approached to contribute some of its skills to Jeannette since the Mission is unwilling to tackle housing projects. In light of such dire needs, it is only through collaboration that we will ever be able to bring about lasting changes in Haiti.

I promised everyone who confided in me that I would let others know of their predicament. The people of Jeannette are, after all, the reason so much money is donated to this project. Their pathetic photographs are used to touch the donors' hearts and pockets. By opening up a dialogue with the people in Jeannette, we would liberate both the priest and the community from the mutual mistrust that has plagued them for so long.

There is an urgent need for the Haiti Project to reassess its goals and make basic changes. I want to be clear that I am not making a personal attack against the village priest. I am keenly aware of the ease in which the information concerning the Mission's shortcomings might be redirected to create a wedge between the priest and the people of Jeannette.

My report to the Mission board was a simple appeal to the Christian love and justice so eloquently stated in their brochures. It was a plea to spend the project money on those on whose behalf it was donated.

The needs in Jeannette seem overwhelming, but they can be easily and cheaply met. All that is required is a variety of tools, from block-making machines to sewing machines, to axes, hoes, buckets, wheelbarrows and machetes. "Hands-on" mission trips or support for recruited students interns should be organized around clear goals for technical support and empowerment. People who need a vacation to "relax" and "renew" themselves, as I heard some missionaries say, cannot ethically do so at the expense of the poor, and the donors who have entrusted them with their money and faith.

During the six days I spent in Jeannette, the most urgent need I could assess, besides food for the school children, was for the Haiti Project to nurture a democratic atmosphere where everyone enjoys the freedom of speech and feels free to play, laugh, dream, create and develop together as a healthy community.

Someone from the group remarked to one of the first-time visitors that "new people always want to change things." That's quite true, and it would be wise for the church to open itself to the observations, suggestions and unbiased views of these "new" people. I went to Jeannette to help a poor locality reach self- reliance. It was the spirit of change that led me there; it is what propelled me to write this report.

Because our report to the board of the church was not even acknowledged for over two months, we requested an interview with Bishop Roger White of the Milwaukee Episcopal Diocese to voice our concerns. We met with Bishop White, project coordinator Susan Webster and the chair of the board Martha Berger at Grace Episcopal Church downtown.

We heard all manner of explanation as to why the community had no water, and kids were hungry. Ms. Berger emphatically stated that the name Haiti Project was inaccurate because they were not a mission to help Haiti, rather, they were more a partnership program.

She also told us that there was not much they could do regarding our complaints, that Haitians were unable to keep their surroundings clean. She informed us that when her group cleaned the clinic, the Haitians promptly brought it back to its filthy state. This woman, who also is a priest, spoke with great authority but showed no concern for my Haitian roots, and the fact that I was being insulted in the process. Her attitude toward me was exactly what I had experienced with others in the project: demeaning.

The most shocking part of the meeting was the bishop's patronizing response to our concerns. He made it clear to us that we could tell him nothing about a project that he's supervised for many years. He commented that he had worked very closely with both the Haitian priest and bishop, in whom he had the utmost trust. Bishop White told us that the Mission hands over the money to the Haitian priest to use at his discretion. It was their culture; he would never think of telling them how to run their lives.

As to why kids remained hungry despite the brochures' claims that they were being fed, the bishop explained that it was the decision of the Haitian priests not to feed the school kids. This priest had told the Mission that a food program in Jeannette would attract gangs with guns. This is the same priest who told the board that he was unwilling to support economic development in Jeannette because once people earn money, "They will buy guns and drugs." This statement needs no comment.

The most revolting situation is that the Haiti Project continues to solicit public donations, repeating its claim that "approximately 95% of the Project budget goes directly to Haiti." This money, as the bishop knows, is in fact turned over to a priest who has little concern for the welfare of his own people. The 95% claim is outrageous. This percentage surpasses what other, larger and more successful nonprofit organizations have been claiming. Based on the findings of the American Institute of Philanthropy, which publishes a rating guide of nonprofit organizations, the best performance is Doctors Without Borders, which put 80 percent of all donations back into their project.

When we pressed questions about the misery and hunger we saw in Jeannette, Bishop White finally admitted to us, emphatically, that the goal of the Mission is not to help the people of Jeannette, and that the land and building do not belong to the community but are, in fact, church property. He said the Bishop of Haiti is in charge and we were essentially guests of the priest, therefore the Haiti Project is simply a way for the church members to immerse themselves in the culture in hopes of having a conversion experience.

He added that the priority of the Mission was not to have people go there and do something; whatever they've done there is simply a byproduct. Furthermore, he reminded us that the Mission did do things in the past, such as building latrines around the village. And it is true that in the past, the Mission was more respectful and helpful to the people. But even those who reported these events insist that many promises made to them have not been kept.

The school director in Jeannette had shown me some artwork he'd created when the Mission talked of helping them develop their potential. Nothing was ever done about his art. The bishop reminded us that people had a school and church, and the teachers had a dorm, whereas before they slept on the office's floor. The coordinator remarked that parents continue to send their kids to the school, therefore, they must be satisfied with what they get.

I was flabbergasted by these statements. To sit in a room with the bishop, the Chair and the project coordinator, and have them all tell us that they have been using money donated by the public to help Jeannette for their own purposes. This attitude explained why Haiti was so attractive to this Mission, why the board member who initially told us of the Mission's abuses recanted under the threat of losing his yearly "vacation" spot. Unfortunately, Haitians are accustomed to this type of abuse of power. They simply beg for the leftovers, the bishop's byproducts.

Nevertheless, we were unrelenting in our demand that the school children be fed, and that clean water be provided to the community. I also suggested the project's handouts be revised to reflect the true nature of their "work" in Jeannette. People should know that they are providing a retreat center for some church group, not making a long-term difference in people's lives.

This meeting clarified for me why we were warned by the project's coordinators not to mingle with the locals, why people in the community were fenced out and treated with such disrespect.

My main concern here is not to condemn the way the Episcopal church in Haiti spends the money donated to them by the Haiti Project. Rather, it is with how the Haiti Project solicits public funds with misleading advertisements. I was charged over $1,100 to go help the poor. I was told that a third of the money would go to the project, but now I am told that the project is not really what they said it was, that its main concerns are with its own church members' spiritual renewal, not with the children of Jeannette whose image it used in its brochures.

Now it is clear what the promotional bulletin meant when it said: "Do something for your soul, go to Haiti." It's a place to relax, renew yourself, have nightly cocktail parties, maid service, and feel important as you watch the natives beg for your trash. They give what they no longer need: their leftovers. And I have paid to be part of this masquerade. Returning to my homeland with the Haiti Project of the Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee did do something for my soul. It wounded it deeply.