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From I Like Being Five Years Old, an entry by Debi Sanders last week on the inward/outward website:

My friend Kim, who worked with Good Shepherd Ministries for the last ten years, just returned from a year in Haiti where her only “job” was to be with people and build friendships. The Haitians were in awe that an American would come to live with them and not try to “fix” them or improve them or undertake a project.

Jesus certainly did “fix” people’s lives. He healed their diseases, forgave their sins, challenged them to give up their “idols.” But, first of all, he was Emmanuel, God with us. He ate with “undesirables.” He engaged in lengthy conversations with Jewish lawyers and Samaritan women. He invested himself fully and personally in a small group of close friends. Jesus modeled for us a lifestyle of service, but a servanthood that begins just by being there, by being with, by entering into relationship.

That’s why I like Debi Sanders’ description of her friend’s “job” and the reaction of her Haitian friends so much. It takes profound humility — and deep respect — to be ready to spend time with people instead of “coming to their rescue.” And when you are ready to do that, you may just find out along the way that you have as much to gain as to give. You may find out that you needed rescuing just as much! And you will be doing what Jesus does …

nobel peace prize for micro-credit pioneer

nobel peace prize for micro-credit pioneer

Britain’s Times calls it a truly inspiring choice.

This year’s Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Muhammad Yunus, a citizen of Bangladesh and a man with a dream to bring an end to poverty. His strategy has been to make small loans to people with little income, women in particular, people ineligible for conventional loans. These “micro-loans” help to raise people out of poverty by empowering their own entrepreneurial skills and enabling their own income-producing capacities.

It works. It works in Bangladesh. It works in Haiti. I have a special interest in Haiti, having spent nine days there in the summer of 1991, and have made personal contributions to Fonkoze, a micro-credit lender which calls itself, Haiti’s Alternative Bank for the Organized Poor.

Read the Times editorial below …

Comment: a truly inspiring choice for Nobel Peace Prize
By Gabriel Rozenberg, Economics Reporter for The Times

Never underestimate the power of an economist to change the world.

In 1974 Muhammad Yunus led his students at Chittagong University on a field trip to a poor Bangladeshi village. They met a woman who made bamboo stools, but whose profits were eaten up by the extortionate rates of local lenders. Yunus started lending money himself in the form of “micro-loans” and in 1976 the Grameen Bank Project was born.

The bank now covers nearly 70,000 villages and makes small loans to more than 6 million customers. It is remarkable in many ways: almost all of its borrowers are women, and the loan recovery rate is above 98 per cent, an astonishingly high number.

For its success in lifting the impoverished out of penury across Bangladesh, and for providing the model for a worldwide revolution of micro-credit, Yunus and the Grameen Bank were today awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

In the past, the Norwegian committee which hands out humanity’s greatest accolade have often struck a discordant note. Some people see Henry Kissinger (joint winner, 1973) as a warmonger; others see Yasser Arafat (joint winner, 1994) as a terrorist. There is almost no one who believes that the Nobel Committee got it right both of those times. Other choices are uncreative – the United Nations, the International Labour Organisation – or tediously predictable. This award was neither.

To award a Peace Prize for an anti-poverty inititative is striking enough, but that is only half the story.

In rich Western capitals like London there is today a thriving “international development community”: well-meaning, thoughtful people in charities, pressure groups and Whitehall who came together last year at Live 8 and led to the world’s wealthiest nations doubling their aid budgets.

But probe beneath the surface and you will find confusion. The charities praise aid in public; yet they quietly admit that simply handing over cash to often-corrupt governments has frequently failed miserably. They call for good governance, the latest buzzword, but any attempt to cut off cash to bad governments ties them in moral knots.

Grandiose schemes are the order of the day: the UN’s flagship anti-poverty Millennium Project has, as the economist William Easterly has pointed out, a bewildering 449 proposals to meet 54 different goals in a 3,800-page plan that leaves no one accountable for anything.

The Grameen Bank presents a totally different approach. It was not dreamt up by a faraway Western aid agency. It is tried and tested; it is a business solution which comes from the grassroots.

Grameen shows us the poor and the destitute not as pitiable charity cases condemned to their lot, but as thwarted entrepreneurs who just lack the means to improve their families’ lives. It is a profoundly optimistic view of human nature. With this inspired choice the Nobel Committee has lit a path that could lead to the eradication of poverty in our time.

unforgettable haiti

unforgettable haiti

Haiti … unforgettable

That was the last line I wrote in the journal I kept during my ten-day visit to Haiti in the summer of 1991. And it’s true. The land and its people are still very much with me, in my mind and in my heart.

So a reference to Haiti on an internet news server caught my attention … and reading the article (a blog post for the Washington Post, submitted by photojournalist, Ron Haviv) brought back many memories. You may read his commentary here: Glimmers of hope in Cite Soleil. Be sure to check out his photo gallery as well. I bring this to your attention, because we know so little in this country, and, too often, care so little about this near neighbor of ours.

One afternoon in that summer of 1991, I walked the alleys of Cité Soleil in Port-au-Prince. It was a hopeful time. We were there just months before the coup that removed Jean Bertrand Aristide from power, but while we were there, in the midst of the systemic poverty and the pervasive despair, there was a sense of hopefulness, of new possibility. In Cité Soleil, the seaside Port-au-Prince slum, we saw new wooden houses with raised cement floors and many construction projects — trenches and walls. Our guide, a man with numerous previous visits to Port-au-Prince, told us there was more building activity in Cité Soleil than he had ever seen.

We stopped at a one-room shop in a cement block building. Claire’s Boutique, it was called. It sold the artwork and crafts of local artisans, insuring them a fair share of the earnings. I purchased a carved wooden nativity for my wife: Joseph, Mary, the baby in a manger, three strangers bearing gifts, and several barn animals. The faces of the carved people are long and narrow, somber and beautiful. The nativity occupies a special place on our mantle every Advent season.

Maybe things can/will change …, I wrote in my journal that evening.

But all too soon, for the majority of Haitians, hope was turned once more to resignation and despair. Once more and still, violence is rampant and poverty intractable and oppression the “norm” and we American neighbors virtually oblivious.

Next week, the Haitian people go to the polls. René Préval, a former Aristide associate and the favorite of Haiti’s poor, leads the presidential field. Maybe things can/will change …

And maybe we will pay attention. Maybe we will not forget.