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Mission: Haiti

Let them eat … dirt?!

Mud supplements diets in impoverished country

By Gary Fallesen
President, Climbing For Christ

The headline should have been alarming: “Haiti’s poor resort to eating mud as prices rise.” It was a news story by The Associated Press, released on Jan. 29, but it wasn’t news.

“Yes, many people in Haiti eat dirt,” said Miguel Rubén Guante, our missionary to the villages and churches in the Chaine de la Selle mountains. “It is custom of Haitian to eat dirt.

“It is so deep between the Haitian to eat dirt that somebody made an industry to prepare the dirt for sale.”

That’s right, dirt cultivated in the central plateau of Haiti finds its way to markets, where it is purchased for far less than food staples such as rice.

As The Associated Press reported: “With food prices rising, Haiti’s poorest can’t afford even a daily plate of rice, and some take desperate measures to fill their bellies.

“Charlene, 16 with a 1-month-old son, has come to rely on a traditional Haitian remedy for hunger pangs: cookies made of dried yellow dirt … The mud has long been prized by pregnant women and children here as an antacid and source of calcium. But in places like Cite Soleil, the oceanside slum where Charlene shares a two-room house with her baby, five siblings and two unemployed parents, cookies made of dirt, salt and vegetable shortening have become a regular meal.”

The story explains that food prices have spiked because of higher oil prices, needed for fertilizer, irrigation and transportation. Prices for basic ingredients such as corn and wheat have risen sharply, and the increasing demand for biofuels is pressuring food markets as well, according to the AP.

“The problem is particularly dire in the Caribbean, where island nations depend on imports and food prices are up 40 percent in places. The global price hikes, together with floods and crop damage from the 2007 hurricane season, prompted the U.N. Food and Agriculture Agency to declare states of emergency in Haiti and several other Caribbean countries.”


Gentilhomme children

Gentilhomme children eating some rice prepared for Climbing For Christ's mission team in April 2007. (Photo by Brian Arnold)

Miguel Guante explains that the cost of food is increasing at this time of year in places like Gentilhomme, where Climbing For Christ has been ministering since the summer of 2005, because “now is not production time. The people are planting now — corn, beans, potato, onion.”

This means some may have to purchase rice or beans, if they have any money to buy food. Most Haitians survive on less than $2 U.S. a day.

A mud cookie sells for 5 cents. It is a mixture of “industrialized dirt,” as Miguel calls it, and some shortening and salt.

“Assessments of the health effects are mixed,” The Associated Press reported. “Dirt can contain deadly parasites or toxins, but it can also strengthen the immunity of fetuses in the womb to certain diseases,” said Gerald N. Callahan, an immunology professor at Colorado State University who has studied geophagy, the scientific name for dirt-eating.

Haitian doctors say depending on the cookies for sustenance risks malnutrition. “Trust me, if I see someone eating those cookies, I will discourage it,” said Dr. Gabriel Thimothee, executive director of Haiti’s health ministry.

People in Haiti will tell you that they wish they had enough food to eat so they could stop eating dirt.

Posted Feb. 5, 2008

The Word

“But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.”
1 Timothy 6:8 (NIV)


Helping Hands

Climbing For Christ supports missionary Miguel Rubén Guante and two teachers in the mountain village of Gentilhomme, Haiti. We have developed a “health insurance” for villagers in Gentilhomme and Malasi by making a monthly payment to a clinic in the nearby Dominican border town of Jimani to ensure the sick or injured will receive health care. In addition to supporting the church in Gentilhomme, introducing sanitation in villages where there are no toilets, and trying to deliver clean water to people in the mountains, we are seeking long-term solutions to agricultural problems. All of this work takes funding. Would you consider supporting Mission: Haiti by sending a tax-deductible donation to Climbing For Christ? Mail your gift (earmarked “Mission: Haiti”) to:

Climbing For Christ, Inc.
P.O. Box 16290
Rochester, N.Y. 14616


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