Keep Your Eyes on the Road: Highlighting hard places that deserve attention
Join host Cathy Herholdt as she shares stories of hardship and hope in Haiti and Bangladesh—two places that captured her heart, but where people currently face extreme challenges living there.
Check out photos, videos, and behind-the-scenes stories from our guests on the podcast. You won’t want to miss these exclusive extras!
Jump in the passenger seat with host Cathy Herholdt as she takes you on a tumultuous road trip to two places—Haiti and Bangladesh—and shines a spotlight on some issues that make life extremely difficult for those who live there. Hear how Haiti’s proneness to natural disasters tests the limits of its resilience. And meet some women and girls in Bangladesh who are working hard to overcome cultural traditions and creating hope for the future.
Keep Your Eyes on the Road: Highlighting hard places that deserve attention
Cathy: Welcome to the End of the Road podcast. My name is Cathy, and I'm your host and tour guide as we journey together to some of the most remote, challenging places on the planet. I'm so excited to have you along for the ride, so buckle up. We're going to the end of the road. Well, season three of the podcast is off to a powerful start. Thank you for continuing to walk this journey with us to the end of the road and beyond. We're turning our focus in season three to shine a spotlight on some of the current situations happening around the world. Some that you might not see in the news, but they're important, and the people who are living through these circumstances deserve our attention, so that's why we're doing this.
I don't know about you, but I feel like there's so much happening around the world or maybe I should echo that familiar lament we hear so often these days, "What in the world is happening to our world?" Maybe it's the fact that we're so connected now with our phones, our laptops, our tablets, that were constantly bombarded with news that... When I was growing up, you wouldn't have known about that until the Sunday paper hit your doorstep or you turned on the world news in the evening on TV. But in keeping with the vision of this podcast, we want to invite you into some of the places that you might not be familiar with, and allow you to experience what life is like there through the stories that we share here on the podcast.
So today you're going to get to ride along in my passenger seat as I feel led to talk about a couple of places that you might not be hearing much about on the news right now. So our first stop is Haiti. Haiti is known to many as the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. It was where I went on my very first trip with World Concern in 2012. It was my first visit ever to a developing country. I've been there several times since then, and there's so much to love about Haiti. I remember dipping my toes in the warm Caribbean Sea for the first time, seeing palm tree sway against the background of the blue sky, and eating fresh fish prepared by this woman who ran a little cafe right on the beach along the southern peninsula of Haiti.
She'd received micro loans from World Concern to start her business, and the Haitian staff there took us there for lunch, and I remember she was so proud to serve us that day, and the food was amazing. I looked down at my plate to see this whole fish on the plate. I'm talking head, tail, eyeballs, all of it, and it was served alongside some slices of fried plantain which if you've never had fried plantain, it's absolutely delicious. And I remember looking around at the scene, and the chairs and tables were painted in those bright blues and greens and pink, and there was reggae music playing off in the distance somewhere. It absolutely could not have been more authentic, but at that lunch that day, I also got my first exposure to real poverty, to extreme poverty. As we finished our meal, there were just a few, couple of little just adorable little, maybe six or seven year old kids.
They were kind of skinny, and I remember they ran up to our table and they just started grabbing the leftover food off of our plates. And I was just stunned for a minute, but then all of a sudden the cafe owner ran out of her kitchen and she was yelling and shooing them away, and I wanted to go, "No, it's okay. They can have the food," but then I noticed that she was taking these kids by the hands and she was walking them into her kitchen and she very lovingly wrapped up some of the food from her kitchen into a piece of foil and handed it to them, and I'll never forget that. It was one of those things about Haiti that captured my heart, the people there and their love for each other, and I often have wondered over the years how that woman survived because the area where she lives was both in the direct path of Hurricane Matthew and it was the epicenter of the earthquake that shook Haiti in August of last year.
Life's not easy when you take hit after hit is it? And if you've ever felt like, "When am I going to get a break? Things just keep happening over and over again." The people of Haiti are very familiar with that feeling. If you have never done any research or reading about Haiti's history, I would encourage you to look into it. It's absolutely fascinating, and a lot of it really points towards their resilience, their strong spirits that they have even today, so Haiti was the first ever successful slave uprising in history. The French colonized Haiti in the 1600s, and brought African people there with them as slaves, and these slaves developed their own language known today as Haitian Creole, and they did this so that they could communicate with each other without their captors understanding them. That was key as they were planning their uprising.
And so they did that and they overthrew the French and they gained their independence as a nation in 1804. Despite this and despite the fact that Haiti has abundant natural resources, it's in the center of the beautiful Caribbean, a global tourist destination. Despite all of that, Haiti has really struggled throughout its history. I mean, we could talk for hours about the reasons why that is including some recent theories that are being talked about why and how Haiti has remained in poverty and in debt for so long, but the fact is life is hard in Haiti and it continues to worsen unfortunately with just government corruption. There's basically no government in place right now in Haiti. There's no law and order. It's essentially just a lawless place, and there's violent gangs who are completely in control of the streets of Port-au-Prince, so I pray a lot for Haiti and would just say, if God puts the families and children there on your heart, I'd ask you to join me in this.
For me, these are the kind of groaning prayers where you don't really know what to pray, but God knows, so every time I hear about things getting worse in Haiti, I groan one of those prayers, and I pray for the families that I met who live there in the city, and I know what they're going through right now. Those families that lived in these tiny little one room cinder block homes with no running water and no protection from the violence in the streets. I think of the families I met who live up in the mountains hours away from the city. I remember driving through this massive tropical mountain range on the steepest, windiest roads you could ever imagine, to get from Port-au-Prince to an area called Les Cayes in the South. It's actually not very far distance wise, but it does take four or five hours by car to get there because of the roads.
And you've got to get through this incredible mountain range to get there, and I'm always really thankful for the skilled World Concern drivers who get us through places like this, and so thank goodness our driver Eddie, drove very slowly on that drive, skillfully maneuvering these just absolute hairpin turns stopping along the way for anybody who was car sick in the vehicle which did happen, and really carefully avoiding these cliffs that at certain points in the drive, it was just a straight cliff on either side of the road that went down for what seemed to me, like thousands of feet. I remember looking out the car window as we drove on these roads and down one of those cliffs into the jungle of palm trees down below, and thinking, "If we went off this road, nobody would ever find us," so I just had to close my eyes and pray as we drove along there.
But I remember every half hour or so we'd pass people out there in the mountains just walking along the road. We'd pass a woman and her children walking up these steep, dirt roads, carrying these giant baskets on their heads that were filled with clothing or food or chickens or something, and then they'd just turn off into the trees and disappear toward their homes, and we met some of those families who live up there in the mountains. We stopped at a really remote, little tiny village up there where World Concern had helped the community construct a gravity Fed Water system that brought water from the hills above down into the village through enclosed pipes so that the water wouldn't get contaminated by animal or human waste along the way which in the past had made the people in the community really sick. And these families just worked so hard to make a better life for themselves.
They planted these little tiny crops outside their homes. Others walked for miles to a nearby town to sell a little bit of produce or some eggs or their goats or handy crafts just to get a little bit of income, and I remember meeting a pastor of a tiny little church in one of these villages, and he was so overwhelmed just with his day to day work, trying to earn enough to feed his own family, but also to take care of the needs of the people in his community. And there were so many needs, and they often came to the little church and asked the pastor for help, and so he was carrying a lot on his shoulders. I also remember the sweetest grandmother that I met in one of these villages. She'd been injured during Hurricane Matthew. She fell when she was running from her house to a neighbor's house as her house was collapsing basically in the storm.
But on the day we met her, she was sitting on the porch of her daughter's house and she was telling us that she couldn't do much anymore, but she liked sitting on that porch because she could see the road from there and when people walked past, she would pray for them. That was her daily job, praying. Just sitting there on that porch and praying for the people who passed by on the road, and I told her, "Well, I think you have the most important job in the village." And I remember her daughter who was sitting nearby was washing clothes in a big tub of soapy water, and she just smiled up at her mom with such a look of pride for this praying grandma in the village. Sometimes this is all we can do, is just pray for our little corner of the world. It seems like a small thing, but it's really not. It's huge and it's what we can do at the time.
We want to thank our listeners for joining us at the End of the Road, and we hope you're enjoying hearing the incredible stories of what God is doing in the world's most remote challenging places. We also want to invite you to prayerfully consider taking the next step and getting involved. You can support the life changing work of World Concern, and help reach more people with God's love and meet critical needs by making a donation at worldconcern.org/ road, that's world concern.org/road. Your support is critical to keeping this ministry going and growing, so thank you. And now let's get back to our conversation.
So another place I had the privilege of going to several times is Bangladesh. I think I told you in a previous episode that this was the last place I wanted to go. Of all the places where World Concern works, I had zero desire before going there to go to Bangladesh. I had heard about how crowded it is. It's one of the most densely populated countries in the world, but that's where God sent me on my second trip with World Concern, and I have been back several times since. And this is also a place that really captured my heart, although in different ways. Bangladesh is a place that is prone to natural disasters as well. Mostly cyclones, severe flooding, other weather related catastrophes. It's a really hard place for the people who live there. The heat is oppressive and as other aspects of the culture there.
But I really felt a connection with the women and the girls in Bangladesh. They were so open and so hopeful about the future despite the extreme poverty that their country has been trapped in for decades, and despite the likelihood that most of them would be forced into an arranged marriage before they even had a chance to enter high school. I remember driving, we drove about three hours outside of Dhaka to a rural area called Brahmanbaria. Out there in one of the villages I was sitting with a group of women who were called the “ultra poor.” Most of them were widows or they were disabled in some way, and they'd basically been thrown away, they were the throwaways of society. Some of them had health issues. There's a lot of cancer in that area because there's arsenic in the soil, so the rice that's grown in the soil there and the water even from wells there can be poisoned with arsenic and it causes a lot of birth defects and it can cause cancer and all sorts of health issues.
So one of the things that World Concern does is test those wells for arsenic, and then help the community to find solutions to either reconstruct the wells in a new safer area where the soil is free from arsenic or to purify the water so that it's not making everyone sick. But one of these ultra poor women, she was describing her life to us, and she told us she had to literally beg one of her relatives, I think it was a nephew maybe. And because she literally had nowhere to go, nowhere to live, she was part of a women's group led by World Concern, and as part of that group, she had started baking little cakes for breakfast and she sold those little cakes on the single front step of the little shack that the family lived in. They live in these metal corrugated shacks there, and she was so proud of her savings, which really amounted to no more than a few cents as I recall. But it was a start and it gave her hope, and baking those little cakes gave her purpose every day.
The women in the villages in rural Bangladesh are so eager to protect their daughters from the lives that they have lived and the struggles and the challenges that they have faced. Most of them were married to older men by the time they were 13, some of them even younger than that, so with what they were learning in their groups about the dangers of child marriage, they had banded together to try and stop child marriage in the community. And so if they heard about a young girl whose parents were planning to marry her off, they would go together as a group to the house and they would talk with the father to try and change his mind, and I remember them saying there was power in numbers, and this group of women often stopped early marriages in their community. It was pretty amazing.
Part of what I did on that trip was interview some young girls who were receiving scholarships to stay in school because we know that girls who are in school are six times less likely to get married before they're 18 if they're in school, and it's not very expensive. It costs around $50 for an entire year of tuition, but you can imagine if a family earns $50 a month for the whole family, they can't afford to send their kids to school for even $50 a year, and so these scholarships are really critical to keeping these young girls in school. And so I remember this one girl, her name was Salma, and she had dreams of becoming a teacher and helping other young girls in her community stay in school.
And she told me the same thing that all the other girls had told me which is that their sisters, their friends, their classmates were all getting married and having children of their own, and they were miserable. They were so unhappy, and so these girls that were still in school that still had the privilege of being in school like Salma, they were terrified of being forced to get married. They desperately wanted to stay in school and have a future, and I remember vowing to myself that I would come back and I would share their stories, and I would do my best to ensure that they could study to their heart's content and make a better life for themselves. So fast forward about three years, and I was back visiting in that same area in Bangladesh again, and I couldn't remember which village I'd been in. They're all smushed together there.
You'll be walking along through these narrow pathways between the houses, and all of a sudden the local staff will say, "Okay, we're in a different village now," and I would think to myself, "Wait, we're in a different village?" It seems like we'd only walked five feet from the last one, but that's how crowded and populated it is there, but anyway, in this village, we went to see a little preschool that was being held in an outdoor courtyard that World Concern had started. And so we're watching this young teacher lead the kids in songs and games, and at one point, I remember our eyes met and there was just this moment where we recognized each other, and it was Salma who I had met three years before, and it was so fun to see her. She had grown into this beautiful young woman.
She was still only about 16 at the time, but she was teaching the preschool in her village, and I got to catch up with her afterwards. We took a photo together and I asked her how she was doing, and she told me she'd been able to finish high school and was teaching, and had great hopes of going on to college. And so I just thanked God for this sweet young girl, and I remember asking some of her friends after that, what happened to a few of these other girls that I met? And I pulled out some pictures on my phone that I had of them, and some of them, I had their names. And I remember showing these photos and they just shook their heads, and some of them said through a translator, "We don't know what happened to them or we don't see that girl anymore."
And I just knew that they'd been married off and were no longer pursuing their dreams, and it was really, really hard. Bangladesh is changing in some ways which is good, thanks in part to being the birthplace of micro credit and microfinance. There have been some economic improvements, some great strides economically in Bangladesh in recent years. I think there's more of a focus on the value of education, and I think just even at the local level, these women's groups, there are some efforts being made toward stopping child marriage. But again, with all the natural disasters and the hardships and instability going on in Bangladesh, I really feel like it's another place that deserves our attention and our prayers.
So I hope you've enjoyed tagging along with me today to a couple of places that have captured my heart over the years, and I think are in need of being in the spotlight a little bit right now in our current world situation. These are places that captured my heart, and as always, I hope that you feel like the world is a little bit smaller. You feel a little bit closer to your brothers and sisters around the world through these stories. That's our goal here on the End of the Road podcast, so thanks for listening.
I want to thank our listeners for joining us today. I hope your mind has been expanded and your heart has been touched by what God is doing around the world. If you like what you're hearing on the End of the Road, please give us a five star rating and review us on Apple Podcasts or hit the bell symbol on Spotify to be notified when there's a new episode released. Stay in the know and never miss an episode by texting the word podcast to 34444. I want to thank CRISTA Ministries, World Concern's parent organization for making this podcast possible, and I also want to thank Casey Michel and the whole team at Terra Firma for their production and editing and consulting expertise for helping us bring these stories to life and bring them to you. Thanks again for joining us today. We look forward to more stories at the End of the Road next time.