By Richard Stearns
They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations. —Isaiah 61:4
When I went to Haiti a few days after the earthquake, I was not prepared for what I saw. Driving through Port-au-Prince, the damage was almost apocalyptic. Imagine if our White House, the Capitol building, the Supreme Court, the National Cathedral, the Pentagon, and a third of all the schools, churches, and businesses in Washington, D.C., collapsed into rubble. That’s what happened to Haiti in 60 seconds.
I wept at the scale of human suffering. More than 200,000 dead—men, women, and children; mothers and fathers; pastors and priests; rich and poor. One homeless man said to me, “Who will give us our life back?”
Less than two months later, the same could be said by people in Dichato, coastal Chile, where an even stronger quake than Haiti’s struck, causing a tsunami that swept families’ lives and possessions out to sea. A man there said, “I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.”
In both places, I was so proud of how my World Vision colleagues swung into immediate action. In Haiti, we had relief supplies already stocked in anticipation of the hurricane season. Airlifted supplies began arriving from our warehouses in Denver and Miami within days. In Chile, where earthquakes are more common, pre-positioned goods again came in handy, allowing staff to quickly distribute water, food, blankets, tents, and other aid.
World Vision has worked in both Haiti and Chile for more than 30 years, and we will stay for however long it takes. The recovery will take years, requiring World Vision to address more than just the obvious symptoms of need—we’ll have to go deeper, to the root causes of poverty.
Poverty is complex; its causes are varied. Simplistic solutions will not work. If you build a house for a poor family, but they have no food, they are still poor. So World Vision has programs in Haiti and all over the world to address chronic malnutrition and food insecurity through sustainable agriculture methods.
If you improve the availability of food, but there is no health care, children still have high mortality rates. So World Vision educates communities in basic health care, first aid, HIV and AIDS prevention, and maternal health practices.
If health care is present, but the drinking water is unsafe and contaminated, people still become sick. So World Vision tackles the problem with clean water boreholes, rainwater-catchment systems and community-wide sanitation programs.
But food, water, and health care are insufficient to lift a community without education. So World Vision works to ensure that children go to school.
And if you bring food, health care, clean water, and education, but there’s no way to earn a livelihood, families are still poor. So World Vision offers microfinance programs in more than 40 countries, providing loan capital to the poor (read more on page 17).
World Vision has learned that unless all of these factors are addressed simultaneously, communities cannot overcome their poverty in a sustainable way. This is what makes our work distinctive.
Our presence in communities—through good times and bad—makes an impression. World Vision’s national director in Chile, Tatiana Benavides, told me that when Chilean President Michelle Bachelet visited Dichato, a woman marched up to her and announced in front of the TV cameras: “President, we wish to thank the firemen, the army, and World Vision.”
I believe we can give Haiti’s homeless their lives back, and we can help Chile recover. More than that, we can change the world so that 24,000 children will not need to die each day. I refuse to listen to those who say that poverty is too big, too expensive, and too difficult to overcome. World Vision is doing it—and you’re helping us every step of the way.
Related: From the President: Support for the Race (Spring 21010)