Have you ever wondered whether efforts to help might actually harm? After the catastrophic earthquake of 2010 in Haiti, the small island nation was inundated with aide groups wanting to help. One 400-person UN relief team, redeployed from the capital of Nepal, unintentionally introduced a deadly bacterium into the Haitian waterways causing a devastating cholera outbreak. The outbreak infected more than 700,000 and killed nearly 9,000 Haitians.
Prior to these calamities, Community Health Evangelism (CHE) efforts introducing long-term, sustainable development had been ongoing in several Haitian communities. As a result, these communities were far more prepared to meet the immense challenges now facing them. CHE trainers taught communities to make tippytaps, or simple hand-washing stations. They also shared lessons for treating and preventing diarrhea, as well as making oral rehydration salts at home. These simple preventative measures proved instrumental in stopping the spread of cholera as two community leaders shared.
“Despite the fact that the epidemic started – I mean cholera – no one died in the Derriere Garde area. We received soap to wash our hands before eating, we got oral rehydration salts. This was thanks to CHE. These things made the people in Derriere Garde love the program, and now everyone is with the CHE program,” described Joacius Celinor, a CHE trainer.
Junior Ducatel, a CHE committee president shared further, “I didn’t know before what causes diarrhea or what to do when a person has it. And now I put this [teaching] into practice. I understand what happens when one drinks untreated water. I’ve learned how to make oral rehydration salts…. I teach other people how to make them.”
Community Health Evangelism empowers local people with practical, reproducible tools to find and implement their own solutions. It also integrates the spiritual, relational and physical to facilitate total transformation. Those who take ownership of its wisdom and put it to good use can impact their families and communities for generations to come. The introduction of cholera to Haiti by relief workers is an extreme example, but it shows that we must be vigilant and wise in the way we choose to help others. Efforts to help those in need too often bring dependency, unintended victimization or dampening the God-given creative potential of those being helped. Rather, we must first submit our plans to God and seek to equip communities with sustainable solutions that will continue on long after we leave. This is our goal at World Poverty Solutions.