With rampant disease, limited drinking-water, no government infrastructure, and no sustainable economy the people of La Gonâve are truly born to die. People exist with no hope or ability to improve their lives. The primary issue on La Gonâve is the great lack of fresh drinking water. Less than 20 percent of the fresh, potable water required to sustain the current population is available. People hike an average of 2.5 miles (one way) to collect water from cesspools full of disease. Children often fetch the family water-supply using antifreeze or other plastic containers that have washed up on the shores. The use of children for water-collection severely hampers their ability to receive an education. The child-death rate is understandably high in La Gonâve because of the terrible living conditions. Additionally, a recent outbreak of Cholera has compounded this number. Life-expectancy rates for those surviving childhood is still an astonishingly young 45 years. The high mortality rate is caused primarily by the lack of fresh drinking water and nourishing food. Children regularly eat mud cakes as nothing else is available and a human cannot survive without ‘food’ for long. Mud cakes are made from dirt and urine. Families have few options because soil erosion (and lack of equipment) means there is little agriculture to produce food. Even marine life is depleted because of overfishing.
The island of La Gonâve sits just off the Haitian Coastline; it lies about 75 miles Northeast of Port Au Prince. The small mountainous island is only ten miles wide and 37 miles long. At one time, La Gonâve was a lush, tropical Caribbean island, the kind we all dream about. Originally discovered by Christopher Columbus, it was later occupied by French pirates in the 1600s. During the 1800s the pirates were disbanded and rule returned to ten tribes of Haitians. The population was a quaint 12,000 inhabitance.
Life changed dramatically in the 1960s, when the Haitian Government began rounding up the poorest of the poor from the capitol city of Port and deporting them to La Gonâve. This deportation was a government effort to “clean up” the mainland. During this era, the poor Haitian immigrants caused the population on La Gonâve to balloon to over 100,000. The sudden increase severely strained the natural resources necessary to sustain life on La Gonâve.
Conditions once again plummeted in the 1980s when La Gonâve was annexed under the jurisdiction of Port Au Prince. This allowed wealthy businessmen the right to strip the island of all natural resources; the people of La Gonâve were left with barren, rocky landscape. The trees form the heavily wooded island were harvested and exported, leaving the topsoil to erode from tropical storms. The once lush Caribbean island now better resembles the landscape of the moon.
La Gonâve is considered part of Port Au Prince which means little-to-no funding is allocated to the island. There are no government education, healthcare, water-supply or road-construction agencies providing basic necessities to the La Gonâve people. No sustainable economy on La Gonâve means that unemployment is stifling. The average family lives on an annual income of $500 which translates to $1.36 per day. Families that create homes live in cinder-block or stick buildings with no water, electricity of proper bathroom facilities.
Many consider La Gonâve to be the poorest place in the world. Living conditions are so horrific that parents are known to abandon their children around the age of six by beating them or leaving them in the mountains so they cannot find their way home. These deserted children can be found in packs running free around mountainous paths attempting to fend for themselves.
To change a culture you must start with one ingredient: hope. Hope must be instilled in the hearts of Haitians living on La Gonave before any lasting change can be created. There is an old Haitian proverb, “sak vid pa kampe” which means “an empty sack can’t stand up.” Without hope, how can they rebuild? We believe that we can bring the hope to the island, by sharing the love of Christ with the people of La Gonave. Although we are using physical means to assist them with everyday needs, our main focus is pointing them toward Christ to fufill their every need!