Haitians Eating Dirt to Fill Their Bellies

01. February 2017 From the Field 4
This street vendor offers one of the hottest selling items in all of northeast Haiti – mud cookies.

I had heard about hungry Haitian children eating mud cookies to fill their empty bellies but I had never actually seen mud cookies with my own eyes — until I traveled to the slums of Ouanaminthe, located on Haiti’s border with the Dominican Republic.

I was on a mission trip, walking the streets in this desperately poor community, when I suddenly encountered a street vendor selling the infamous brown discs made of salt, shortening and dirt.  Her cookies, baking under the scorching Caribbean sun, looked ordinary enough, but the reality of what they were hit me hard.

According to my friend and colleague, Zach Oles, Cross Catholic Outreach’s Haiti Project Manager, mud cookie recipes are actually passed down from generations, and mothers and grandmothers spend hours making them.  They are found all over Haiti – but they are particularly common in areas where food and money are very scarce. The kids seem have grown used to eating them, but they are hard to swallow and even harder to digest.

Zach is passionate in his disdain for the practice.  The fact mud cookies exist at all is a human failure, he says.

“Food security is such an issue,” he says. “But there must be, and there are, better ways to address hunger than eating dirt. The Church needs to do more to discourage longstanding practices like this.”

Thankfully, we have incredible Catholic partners in Haiti who are doing what they can to help. I saw examples of this on a visit to the Marie Louise Bayle Center in Ouanaminthe, run by the Apostolic Sisters of Mary Immaculate. I had the privilege of visiting Sr. Yolande and the Mary Immaculate sisters for a few days, and I was particularly impressed by their program to combat malnutrition. Their school feeding program has literally saved lives. They also hold classes for moms and caregivers on nutrition that have transformed the way families feed their children. As we toured the slums, I saw them preach against the “bonbon tè,” the Creole name universally given to the cookies throughout Haiti. They are working hard to change perceptions, but it’s definitely an uphill battle. Mothers with desperately hungry children, they realize, simply have few other choices.

On the same trip, we traveled to Kobonal, in central Haiti, and asked the mission’s director, Bernard Philo-Jacques, to take us to one of the country’s largest mud cookie manufacturing facilities, which happened to be located nearby. When we arrived, we were told they had sold out. Just that morning, hundreds of cookies had been piled up, ready for transport. Now they were gone. I turned to Zach Oles and asked, “Are they really that popular?”  Sadly, he shook his head, and we departed in silence.

In that moment, Proverbs 3:5 popped into my head. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight.” I thought again about those incredible nuns in Ouanaminthe, changing perceptions one child at a time, and my melancholy lifted as I considered new ways to empower them in their vital work.

4 thoughts on “Haitians Eating Dirt to Fill Their Bellies”

  • 1
    Amylisa on Thursday

    Thank you very much for posting this. It is heartbreaking. We in the US need to have this before our eyes. God please help each one of us to do whatever we can to help.

  • 2
    Sue McMahon on Thursday

    So I’m just wondering, what is the answer? If all they can afford are mud cookies, what are the alternatives? How does CCO help these families?

  • 3
    Cross Catholic Blog on Friday

    Hi Sue,

    Thank you so much for reaching out to us. Our work in Haiti is extensive. In every case, our method of outreach is the same: We locate needy Catholic-based ministries serving the poor and distributes material aid through their existing programs. In this way, we can supply meaningful help where it is needed most. In all our work we remain dedicated in our service to the Lord as good stewards of His resources in every challenge we seek to overcome.

    To learn more about our impact around the world and to see various categories of work, along with specific examples, please visit: http://www.crosscatholic.org/impact

  • 4
    Cross Catholic Blog on Friday

    Hi Amylisa,

    Thank you so much for your compassion for the poor.

    Have a blessed weekend!

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