Schools, government buildings, and homes were destroyed, leaving 19 million cubic meters of rubble and debris in their places.
As Christians, how can we possibly serve the poorest of the poor in these situations?
Let’s look at one company’s story and how they worked to increase economic opportunity in Haiti after the earthquake. Then, we will consider what our role is in this kind of development work.
Haiti Is Open for Business
Marriott International formed a partnership with the Digicel Group, facilitated by the Clinton Foundation, to invest in the future of Haiti.
After many years of construction, the first Marriott hotel in Haiti opened in Port-au-Prince in February of 2015.
If you visit this Marriott, you may meet Lucardo, a front desk worker. He lost his arm in an accident when he was six and grew up in an orphanage because his parents could not care for him.
Lucardo not only gained a job when this hotel opened, he gained a way to provide for himself, he gained access to health care, and, as he says, he gained a family.
Debbie Marriott Harrison explains the hotel’s role in recovery, saying,
Helping a nation rebuild starts with creating opportunities…. By providing jobs, hotels can play a vital role in helping people build a life for themselves, their families and their communities.
The Port-au-Prince Marriott is employing over 200 Haitians directly. But, Marriott went a step further.
From coffee to soap to food, Marriott is using local products in order to bolster more local economic opportunity.
They have also decorated the hotel and each of its rooms with local artwork and host weekly art markets, where local artists can sell their artwork to the hotel’s guests.
But, perhaps most importantly, Marriott is fulfilling its role in the economic market.
With this and other hotels that have opened in Haiti since the earthquake, tourists, business people, and aid workers have a safe and comfortable place to stay when visiting Haiti.
This hotel opening can be a first step in a blossoming tourism economy. It symbolizes to the international community that, as the popular new saying goes, “Haiti is open for business.”
We’re Each a Little Part of the Puzzle
Now when you think of serving the poor, building a hotel might not be the first idea that pops into your mind.
Many think of donating to the Red Cross or sending supplies to those in crisis. Marriott’s story does not diminish the role of disaster relief. But, it can help us differentiate between relief and development.
Relief, while essential in crises, can only put a band-aid on the current problem. To solve the deeper, systemic problem of poverty, Haiti needs development.
Let’s take Lucardo for example. Lucardo needed fresh water and food after the earthquake to survive. Relief is essential. But this aid cannot help him make a better future for himself and his family.
Through his job at Marriott, though, Lucardo has access to health care and wages, and he has an ability to provide for himself and his family in the long-run.
This opportunity is a long-term, sustainable change that can help Lucardo break the cycle of poverty for his family.
Poverty is largely a lack of access to opportunities. Marriott’s story shows us that development is successful when it:
- Provides opportunities through the market economy.
- Is done on the individual level.
- Comes as a result of people and companies finding their comparative advantage and fulfilling their role in the market.
This last point gives us an idea of how we can get involved.
Each one of us is part of a larger community in the market. My dad works for Marriott. By doing what he does day in and day out, he is a little part of the Marriott puzzle.
Because he and the hundreds of thousands of other Marriott employees across the globe show up to work each day and work diligently and honestly, Marriott can pursue profit.
This profit is then reinvested in local and international communities and can make big changes in the lives of the poor.
In Luke 3, John the Baptist rebukes the crowds for thinking their religious heritage is enough to please God.
He tells them to “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance,” and indicates that you must serve others to please God.
The conversations continues:
“What should we do then?” the crowd asked. John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?” “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them. Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.” (Luke 3: 10-14)
In John’s reply, we see two ways to serve others:
- Give to those in need. This is the idea of relief; those of us who have plenty should share with those who do not.
- Do what you do well and with integrity. John is telling the tax collectors and soldiers to serve others by living out their duties honestly and diligently.
This takes us back to the original question—As Christians, how can we effectively serve the poor?
By “producing fruit in keeping with repentance.”
By giving to those in need and doing our jobs well and with integrity.
So as you go to work today, perhaps begrudgingly, reflect on this: You have an opportunity to provide for yourself and your family.
And, by working diligently you fuel the market economy, allowing the market and companies like Marriott to offer this same opportunity to people like Lucardo.