Through an outsiders eyes.
Guest post: A very special woman served with me in Haiti, she passed along her thoughts and has allowed me to share them on my blog. I have been guilty of both sides of the coin here, I hope you appreciate her perspective and honesty as I have.
In an effort to understand as much as I can about the issues (and potential solutions) in Haiti, I have read blogs, websites, books and asked as many people as I could their opinion on the complex issues here. The missionaries and humanitarians that have dedicated their lives to Haiti truly amaze and inspire me. What I find truly fascinating about the entire situation is not whether are not there are answers and solutions for Haiti. What really stands out when you talk to people ‘on the ground’ in Haiti is a passion for ‘their’ solution that borders on an intolerance of others. I find a lot of parallels between missionaries and humanitarians opinions of ‘the right way to help Haiti’ similar to the how some approach the “right way to do Christianity”. At some point the ‘how’ becomes more important than the ‘what’ and the danger to the humanitarian efforts (just like the danger we face with Christianity), is that the people that are asking the hard questions will be so turned off by the superior attitude of those that are ‘in the know’ that they simply walk away.
Let me give you a few examples. I talked to someone who was emphatic about the building projects they were doing to only hire Haitian companies because they felt it was wrong to give Dominican companies contracts. This person admitted that this was a struggle because Haitian companies do not understand how to run a business and the quality of work tends to be sub-standard, but they believed the only way Haitian companies will succeed is to be given contracts. This sounds reasonable. Enter the second person I talked to who hires Dominican companies only if they hire Haitian employees. Their theory is that because Dominican companies understand how to run a business and have much better standards of quality, the Haitians will learn from the Dominicans by working alongside them. They believe this strategy benefits the Haitian workers not only by giving them jobs but also as a teaching experience. Now, is either person right or wrong? I believe there is rarely a black and white answer. Does it benefit anyone for one person to say “my way is right and the other person is wrong”? Doubtful.
Now let’s take on a more emotional issue. I know of one missionary in particular who very publicly denounces orphanages in Haiti; their theory being that if there are no orphanages, women will figure out how to keep their children. This sounds like a respectable theory. Now, let’s dig a little deeper into Haiti. Children die every day in Haiti because parents cannot feed their children. More likely than the child starving to death, child slavery is an acceptable practice in Haiti where even fairly poor families pay to own child slaves from those that are completely impoverished. So, instead of taking them to an orphanage, many women choose a life for their child that consists of hard physical labor from morning until night and being treated like a possession. So is this a better life than an orphanage where they are fed, clothed and typically in school? Now please understand that I am not saying that the person saying “orphanages are bad” does not have a valid point. At some point we cannot make it more attractive for women to abandon their children for a better life if being able to care for them is an option. My point is once again, there are no black and white answers. For missionaries and humanitarians to speak in ‘absolute terms’ makes those that are trying to support the things that God has called them to (such as caring for the orphans through supporting an orphanage or sponsoring a child), feel like they are being criticized and that those ‘in the know’ in Haiti are telling them that they are wrong. And again, we risk people simply walking away.
I did meet an amazing missionary that managed a guesthouse in Port Au Prince. She really seemed to get it that answers are complex and situational. She said repeatedly “the longer I am here, the more questions I have instead of answers”. Isn’t that just like our walk with Christ should be? When we try to tell others that we have all the answers, we risk pushing them away with our superior attitudes instead of allowing them to ask the hard questions right alongside us.
I am not saying the missionaries and humanitarians in Haiti should not have opinions and be completely devoted to their ministry that is founded on those opinions. My issue is how these opinions are shared, or forced upon, those just beginning their Haiti journey. When I have asked the hard questions and asked about the varying opinions that I have heard from others living in Haiti, I have received indignation and been condescended to as if I, because I have not actually lived in Haiti, had no business caring or investigating. That’s fine for me – I am a pretty tough cookie. My fear is that Americans in general tend to want to forget that there are any problems in the world outside of the U.S. When people actually come to Haiti and begin to open their eyes to issues such as poverty, orphans, child slavery and are overwhelmed with issues beyond their comprehension, Americans that live in Haiti should embrace and welcome the care and concern. I think those that have been here for a while and understand the complexity of the issues forget that they had their first visit to Haiti and their initial questions and immediate love of the country and a conviction to help. Everyone who calls themselves a Christian has been asked to spread the gospel to all nations as well as to help the least of these. So instead of discouraging people that the way they want to help is not the ‘right way’ and risking them throwing up their hands and walking away, I pray that those living and working in Haiti encourage people to continue to have a love and a heart for Haiti and to understand themselves that there are no black and white answers.