The Big Truck That Went By Review

Our latest review covers the 2013 book, The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster by Jonathan M. Katz.

Big Truck That Went By-2The book is written by a journalist who was working in Haiti prior to, during, and after the 2010 earthquake.  His firsthand account covered the terror experienced as the earthquake happened, then all the relief and recovery actions after the disaster.  He then began to delve into the systemic problems with the earthquake pledge money, the misguided efforts to create an industrial park north of Port-au-Prince, the cholera outbreak introduced by UN soldiers, and finally, the presidential race that elected Sweet Mickey Martelly.

The book was a readable, interesting account of events with lots of personal commentary.  It drew in elements from history and culture and presented a deeper understanding of the country than one would get from simply a historical account of the earthquake.

If you’re looking for a little bit of everything “Haiti” – disaster, corruption, culture, yet hope – give this one a try.

Mountains Beyond Mountains Review

The latest book we’re reviewing is an old favorite of the Espwa team.  Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder details the life and work of Dr. Paul Farmer, a giant in the field of medical care to those in poverty.

Mountains Beyond Mountains CoverThe book reads like fiction, but it’s anything but.  It starts from the humble beginnings of the brilliant Dr. Farmer – anthropologist, infectious disease specialist, and non-profit founder – and documents his rise to one of the foremost experts on disease prevention in third world countries.

The parts especially enjoyable to us here at Espwa are Dr. Farmer’s pursuits in rural Haiti, where he founded a clinic and has made great strides against HIV/AIDS and drug-resistant tuberculosis.  The writing about Haiti is especially accurate and brings us right back into the culture, wherever we happen to be reading it.  We can relate to many of the problems and joys that Dr. Farmer experiences while serving the materially poor citizens of Cap Haitien, as we’ve been serving a similar demographic.

If you haven’t read this one, we highly recommend putting it on your wish list right now.

Haitian Tourism Industry

Espwa’s “getting in on the ground floor” of the Haitian tourism industry by supporting our friend Frantz’s business, Haitian Creole Tour.  Exciting time to be involved as the country starts to wake up and capitalizes on some of its biggest resources…a beautiful coastline and historical sites…to draw tourists. Check out the post below.

For all of your travel needs while in Haiti, visit:


Upcoming Trip in July

Hello all! We just wanted to make you aware of an upcoming trip in June/July.  Our VP, Chris Pfeiffer, and Special Projects Director, Brady Cillo, will be advancing some of our work, as well as leading a team from Pleasant Hills Community Church (Pittsburgh, PA) in Cap Haitien, Haiti.

The main goal of the trip will be to meet with and show love to our Peace & Joy families, including our annual beach trip…quite possibly the most fun day of the year!  Specific objectives include: discussing small business opportunities with each family, networking with a local church to explore ministry opportunities in the future, taking 60+ kids, family members, and volunteers to the beach, and much more.  Our little friends live 10 miles from the beach and had never been there before we started this tradition. Here’s a picture of our trip from last year to get you thinking about how much fun we’ll have.

Beach Trip 2014

Please keep us in your prayers and if you’d like to make a specific donation for this trip, please click here!

Poor Economics Review

If you do any reading in the field of development economics, you suddenly realize that there are several schools of thought when it comes to the best poverty alleviation methods.  Poor Economics by Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo does a great job of walking the line and sticking to cases where they could glean data about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to helping the poor – on both sides of the debate.

poor_economics_coverThe examples illustrated in the book are data-driven and are reminiscent of books in the behavioral economics field – basically trying to determine what drives behavior and decision-making.  Here are a few interesting trends the book pointed out, and then we’ll follow that with some takeaways.

  • A basic assumption is that when people are hungry enough to be weak and unable to work, they might spiral downward into making less and less money and starving even more.  But research showed this was not the case for most adults.  When given additional money to spend on food, they did not buy more calories, but instead spent the money on better-tasting calories (like sugary/sweet foods).  Children do benefit from more calories, however.  Every additional year of improved nutrition was shown to increase the child’s average income in adulthood.
  • Research shows that we all have only a limited supply of willpower.  When we make important decisions and fight temptations, our willpower is drained. Often, the poor are making so many decisions daily (about decisions that are already made for us in wealthier countries) that they procrastinate on some very important things.  For instance, bed nets can prevent malaria, but bed nets cost money and poor people tend to procrastinate in this purchasing decision.  When a select group were given free bed nets, they were much more likely to buy one at full price when given the opportunity later.  The decision to “invest” in bed nets that make a difference in quality of life had already been made.
  • In Uganda, research showed that only 13 percent of funds allocated by the government to schools was actually getting there due to corruption.  When the results were reported to local citizens, there was suddenly accountability and an uproar occurred.  Five years later, the percentage of funds going to schools was up to 80 percent.  Having people care about corruption and its prevention can be transformative.

And here are a few takeaways:

  • The poor are responsible for almost all aspects of their lives.  Unlike how we have it in the U.S., they can’t find credit, banking, government aid, or reduced/free medical care.  Poverty alleviation strategies should consider changes that open up access to these resources.
  • There are valid reasons that some of these opportunities/markets are lacking in countries like Haiti.  Outside firms with technology or institutional advantages might be able to creatively implement new markets (as in the case of micro-loans).
  • Individuals and communities seem to inherently believe that foreign organizations claiming to help their economic or physical well-being do not make true claims. While this is not covered in the book, you may recall certain villages in Africa during the Ebola outbreak in 2014 thought the measures being taken to prevent the disease were actually a plot to give them the disease.  Information campaigns seem necessary to educate and must be presented in attractive ways (like via radio or TV dramas that have wide appeal).
  • We shouldn’t assume that poor countries are destined to fail because they’ve always been poor.  There are methods of public policy, accountability, and education that can change extractive political and economic institutions for the better.
  • As with many relationships, expectations matter. We must set high expectations for those in poverty and give them opportunities to see the vision of how things can be, not how they have always been.  We at Espwa believe each person has value and that there’s always a reason for hope.

Dr. Eugene’s Vision

Our Medical Director, Dr. Eugene Maklin, is an amazing man with a big heart, big smile, and big dreams. Check out the video at the link below, which highlights his work and his vision for a new hospital in the Cap Haitien area:


The hospital project broke ground earlier this year and is well on its way.  The Espwa team got to see the progress in February, as well as Dr. Maklin’s enthusiasm and passion for the long-term vision of the site.  We hope to support the new hospital in the future with supplies, medications, and support from medical personnel on mission trips.  For more information about this project, please visit the Haiti Mission Branche Nord website.

Why Nations Fail Review

It’s easy to look at the world and see examples of the split between rich and poor nations. But why does it happen? Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson attempts to answer that age-old question.

Why Nations Fail PhotoSome theories of poverty focus solely on the economics of the situation.  These theories say that if only the marketplace or economic opportunities were different, a country could move out of poverty.  This book takes a new and insightful approach that moves away from the overly idealistic, economics-only paradigm.  While economics are important, the politics of the nation are equally important.

The authors use many anecdotes and illustrations from throughout history and around the world to make their case.  They use a one-dimensional scale of “inclusive” to “extractive” to describe the economic and political landscape in a country.  Inclusive institutions are those that share power, allow you to build your reputation, and where you can reap the rewards of the work you’ve done.  In extractive institutions, power rests at the top – they prey on people, have no incentive to share or permit growth, and limit innovation.  Political institutions that are extractive, even if the economy is inclusive, ultimately lead to poor results for the country as a whole.

One of the biggest takeaways was that a country’s geography, culture, etc. don’t necessarily determine their ultimate fate when it comes to wealth.  This is readily observable where we serve in Haiti.  Though the island of Hispaniola is shared by both the Dominican Republic and Haiti (same geography, resources, etc.), Haiti is far worse than its neighbor.  The extractive political and economic institutions in Haiti compounded over hundreds of years have led to a state of utter poverty and hopelessness.  Political change must occur before the economic condition of the country will change for the better.  Let’s keep praying that the younger generation of Haitians will want to rise up and lead in an inclusive way in the country that we love and serve.

If you’re looking for some good insights, and aren’t scared off by the length and historical examples, this one is for you.