Here we are, two very Caucasian Americans who have moved to Port-au-Prince for 3 years. Why are we here? Recently we've gotten some messages that have made us uneasy and it seems time to explain what WE think we're doing here.
First of all, we are not here because we think we can help anyone. We don't have anything to offer Haiti that Haitians don't, and don't buy into the idea that as non-Haitians we have the ability to "develop" Haiti. Through the approach that MCC takes to development, Ben and I are both seconded (ie. partnered) with Haitian organizations. We work for and with Haitians that have the desire and capacity to do development work and human rights advocacy without any help from us. (After all, my coworkers are lawyers, human rights specialists and activists - and all far more qualified than I am). We view our work here as more of a partnership. We are here to form relationships, build bridges and work alongside our Haitian coworkers. We are here with the desire to be transformed and learn to view the world in a new and less ethno-centric way.
"Development" in Haiti (as in most parts of the world) is complex. It would be difficult to overestimate how MUCH need there is here. And yet unfortunately much of that is a result of a dependency on North America that we've helped to create here. There's no lack of church groups and organizations here handing out food and blankets and soap. There's a dualism here: Haitians both want what they think "white people" are here to give them, and they resent us for being here at all. A number of people that we've talked to believe that Haiti's proximity to the U.S. (and therefore inevitable mission's trip destination) is one of the reasons that Haiti's economic condition is what it is. There's a difference, even in attitude, between enabling and empowering.
That said, we still think that disaster relief is a very appropriate outlet for giving people things (material aid). In an emergency (say, after the four consecutive hurricanes that hit Haiti this summer), people NEED HELP. Haitians needed (and still need) emergency relief in Gonaives after Hurricanes Fay, Gustave, Hanna and Ike.
We do wonder sometimes if it wouldn't be better for us not to be here. Are we contributing to the dependency that development work has fostered throughout the world: Global North = givers; Global South = receivers? The only justification I have for our presence here - and this doesn't always hold up under my mental scrutiny - is the idea that we are partnering with Haitians in their work for the development of their country. In my mind this is maybe how our mandate as followers of Christ fits into the model of sustainable development.
The last thing I want to do is offend anyone with my comments. I'm just trying to make some space for all of us to think about these complex issues. Thoughts or observations?