Niedert marvels at Haitian people
By ELISA SAND, Staff Reporter
In a country with 8 million people in a space that's 1/20th the size of South Dakota and only one doctor for every 10,000 people, a Brookings-based mission is striving to make a difference.|
Solar Oven Partners, a United Methodist mission, works to put solar ovens in the hands of the people in Haiti -- a country located on the west half of the island also occupied by the Dominican Republic.
Through support from the Madison United Methodist Church, Madison's Jay Niedert has participated in the mission trip for two consecutive years.
"It's the most densely populated country in the western hemisphere," Niedert said.
The country has the highest infant mortality rate, and most of the population won't live past age 30 or 40. AIDS and gang activity are major concerns, along with other health issues like parasites, worms and tuberculosis.
In addition to extreme poverty, one issue facing the country is the dwindling supply of trees -- used in that country to make charcoal, which in turn is used for cooking.
"With trees in short supply, charcoal is more expensive," Niedert said, indicating that one-third to one-half of a person's annual income will go toward the purchase of charcoal.
The goal of the mission, said Niedert, is to provide the people with solar ovens, which can be used for cooking.
"Most days of the year the solar ovens will work," Niedert said.
The 15-day mission trip gave the group an opportunity to hold seminars for new recipients of the ovens, plus followup seminars with people who already have the ovens to see how they are being used.
For Niedert, spending time with the people in Haiti is important.
"You get a tremendous amount of feedback from these people," he said. "It's a very poor country, but the people are very proud."
Sadly, the volume of people is an issue for the country. This year, the mission group stayed in Carrefur, a city that spans less than six square miles and has a population of about 400,000 people.
Originally, the group was to stay out in the country, but prior to their arrival, a gang overran the orphanage there and ran out the minister and his family.
When something like that happens, Niedert said, there's no support system for the people to help recover. Additionally, he said, there's no support for someone who has a physical handicap or is mentally ill.
"It's such a survival mode," he said.
Another issue for the people is communication within the country.
U.N. troops are stationed around a gang-infested city in Haiti, but in most cities outside that small region, the people are oblivious to why troops are even there.
"They don't know what's going on with their own country," he said.
So, Niedert said, for a mission to effectively penetrate a country like Haiti, contact is made with the ministers of the churches. Although the people are very poor, they are also very faithful.
Niedert said a common sight is pieces of biblical phrases like "The Lord is my shepherd" written on buildings followed by the words "Don't be afraid."
But there has been progress in the country. Last year, the people of Haiti elected a new leader, and the Haitian police are now more visible.
"It's a sign that things are getting better," he said.
And the word of the solar ovens is spreading. The program now has three employees in Haiti -- one who will build the ovens and two who will educate Haitians on their use.
©Madison Daily Leader 2013
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