How a Paycheck Gets to Haiti

Everyone looks forward to “payday”. From the time one receives his check, he can usually go straight from work to the bank and either deposit or cash it. The old saying, “You can take that to the bank” meant that one could definitely rely on something that was told him. It was as reliable as being able to cash one’s check at the bank, the bank being a very stable institution at the time.

This is not always the case if one lives in Haiti. Lately, we’ve had great difficulty sending a check to pay all our leaders and professors their salaries. Our hearts have ached for the workers for whom we’re responsible, knowing that they have bills to pay and children to feed just like we do. Just so you can greater appreciate your own country (in spite of all its faults), I will tell you what it’s been like for our workers to receive their pay and the process that takes place before the money is in their hands. Sadly, they are experiencing the ripple effects that trickle down from the confusion that reigns in the country’s capital, Port-au-Prince, and a ruined economy.

First, it takes at least a week for a check to get to Haiti once it leaves North Carolina (our home base in the States). Because the plane’s normal schedule is to fly into Cap-Haitian on Thursday morning,  the check must be mailed several days ahead of time to insure it’s on the plane once it takes off. When the check finally arrives in Cap-Haitian, one of the workers from our church is always at the airport to take it from the hand of the pilot. At that point, it is then promptly taken to a trusted moneychanger. (Our account is located in the States. Due to the confused state of the country, we do not keep a bank account in Haiti.)

Here is where the fun begins… the moneychanger sends a worker to the bank to cash the check. He may have to return several times before he has the full amount. Since the bank is interconnected with the banks in Port-au-Prince (the nation’s capital), the flow of money through the country is stymied. Due to the massive upheaval and destruction caused by the earthquake of 2010, the banks in Port-au-Prince are still trying to recover from this catastrophe and function properly. The wrestling for political power going on at the top further affects the movement of the economy. A stalled Parliament that takes months to vote in a new prime minister only reflects what is going on throughout the country. At this writing, the third person proposed to serve in this office is still “on hold” waiting to be ratified.

Sadly, due to the dysfunctionality of Haiti’s present circumstances, it has taken three to four weeks for one of our checks to be cashed. Several trips back and forth to the moneychanger’s office to see if the money has been changed requires tremendous patience and diligence. Deferred hope finally turns to relief, however, as the money comes forth, though sometimes in spurts. The money, finally collected, then goes to be counted carefully by our elders. Torn bills are returned to be exchanged for better ones and there’s always the lookout for counterfeit bills. This only serves to prolong the process as “haggling” will certainly be involved.

Meanwhile, those anxiously waiting for their salaries have been doing everything from buying on credit  to “making do” until the money comes. “Making do” (the Creole word is “degaje”) can mean anything from working odd jobs (if available) to licking a little salt from the hand until there’s enough money to buy food. Others buy a certain type of cheap clay in the open air market that supposedly contains iron for strength to keep the hunger pangs at bay. A few of them show up at the pastor’s house looking for a meal that will hold them for a couple of days. For those that trust God, they’ll take the tithe and set it aside and trust that the rest will last until the next paycheck. This is no small feat in the light of the dire circumstances in which they live.

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