There are so many times in life when we miss the big little things that are going on around us. I said “big little things” because they are little, but the impact they can have on our lives, or someone else’s life, can be very big. These things were meant to be big, but since we see them in everyday life, they become normal. But that is not how it was supposed to be. When we get used to a dark house, whenever we go to someone else’s house, we expect it to be dark, too. That is because we are so used to it, and we like things to stay the same.
During my last trip to Haiti, I sat in the car waiting for the driver to come back from the market place. As I sat there waiting for him, there were all types of people passing by. Some of them stopped to try to get me to buy things; some stopped, begging for money. The children from the street came by to ask if they could wipe the car for a dollar or two – I’m talking Haitian dollar, and that’s like 22 cents in the US. The same thing kept on happening over and over again, but I felt like there was nothing that I could do. If I gave money to one person, then the other people would have come back to me. Sadly, there was no way I could have taken care of everyone. This kept happening over and over again. Though it was very stressful for me, it was not a big deal for the people there – because it’s normal. It’s what they see every day. They have been seeing people beg for years, they’d seen people ask to wipe the cars for years, and they have seen people sell little things to make small profits for years. I, myself, was born into this poverty. Unfortunately, that’s the only way they know to live. They don’t know any better. Actually it’s not that they don’t know any better. They just don’t have better choices, and that IS street life in Haiti.
I don’t know as much about the street life here in the United States, because I have never experienced it here – but I have in Haiti. One thing I do know, it is not the same street life as the one in Haiti. Most people in Haiti are on the street because they have to be. Otherwise, their children will be going to bed hungry. In a country where the high school graduation rate is 5%, what else do you have? Street life is all about being a hustler. You hustle to be at the perfect spot to sell your merchandise. You hustle by running after a car to sell something, after it has passed by. Most importantly, you hustle so the children can eat and go to school. I am sure, in some cases, it is the same here. But the differences are that we have a great education system, compared to the one in Haiti, as well as greater opportunities. Since they don’t have those opportunities, most have to leave home at 6:00 a.m. and come back at 10:00 p.m. Tragically, even working fourteen hour days, they only make a 4% profit.
Had things been different, maybe I would have never seen my mother sitting on the side of the street selling things. She would have a small towel to wipe sweat from her face, after sitting in 100 degree weather day after day. The saddest part for me was looking at her at night. She was so exhausted by the time she got home. I could see the despair in her face. She had no choice but to go back out there the next day, because she loved us. Mother never wanted to tell us how she felt after working all day, but it was clear to me that she was struggling. Sometimes when we asked her for things, she would shake her head in sorrow, because she could not afford it. Imagine working for more than 50 hours a week and not being able to afford something that cost $10! All the money you made would automatically go to food and buying more merchandise to sell. That is no way to live! I remember my aunt waking me up early in the morning. She needed me to buy bread from the bakery for her to sell. She had a little business at her house, and I was the person who went to buy supplies. I not only lived the life, but I was also contributing to it at a young age. I was supposed to be in school, but we couldn’t afford it. I had to help sell things. This is how so many people end up selling on the streets, because that’s the best way for them to survive. Once you start at a young age, you stay there because you are making money. There is no health care, welfare or retirement, so the race goes until death. In reality, there’s no finish line! It’s a death race!
As we drove pass the street markets last month, I was very sad. I kept seeing people working so hard, but they were not going anywhere. I started praying and saying to God, “Is there no hope for Haiti? Are they going to live like this forever?” While saying that prayer, I saw a pregnant lady across the street. I lost it after that! Tears started coming out and I tried to hide it. For some reason, my companions in the car noticed that I was quiet for a while. I guess I have lost hope for their futures because I’ve seen them go nowhere in life. But the surprising thing is that they have not lost hope. How could that be? They are the ones living in it! Are they too blind to see how bad it is? Maybe they do see it. Maybe they understand it more than I realize. Maybe it just comes down to the fact that they don’t have choices. In Haiti, to survive you’ve gotta hit the streets!
Please consider making an end-of-the-summer donation to Mercy International, earmarked ” Feed a Family”. In addition, please visit “Mercy’s Threads: Sowing Hope in Haiti” on Facebook, to support our Haitian cottage industry.
“But you, be strong and do not lose courage, for there is reward for your work.” 2 Chronicles 15:7
(Kenlley Leyendeckers is a Haitian native, who was adopted by American parents at the age of thirteen. As a young boy, living in an orphanage there, he had met missionaries who inspired a growing vision within him. He knew he wanted to help bring hope to the children around him. The 2010 Earthquake precipitated his father’s going to Haiti to escort him to America. He quickly adapted to the American language and culture, graduating from high school and attending college. He is now the associate director of Mercy International.)