Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Helping Haiti?

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?

6 comments:

Karen said...

I can totally relate to what you have written. One of the things we must always remember is that wherever we happening to be serving, we are the hands and feet of Jesus. We are the not the be-all and end-all for the world's hurting. But if we touch just one life, we have fulfilled his work here on earth. At 24-7 in Charlotte, I know that my service is not going to end poverty or bring about social justice on a grand scale. It's one life at a time. So whoever you happen to personally touch in Haiti, God's will is done in and through your life. That's my 2 cents. You guys are in my thoughts and prayers. Karen

Joie said...

Read your thoughts and Karen's comment, Lexi, and one thing to add is that we live in a day that is distinct with a deeper brokenness and wider openness than in the past, I think. Followers of God have always been profoundly broken at the pain and struggles that are rampant in the world, and especially at all that has been caused by 'our' injustice. However, the world has never been as physically accessible as it is today, and we are called to GO - because this is part of God's plan. Not everyone is able to go, and so I thank you and Ben for going and serving the Father through everything you are doing in Haiti. He is praised, though you may not always be appreciated, though you may not be valued, though you may be hated, harmed. You have followed open doors and honor Him to be working alongside Haitians who are working for change. Thanks for writing your experiences and thoughts. Thanks for serving in Haiti.

Timbo said...

I'm a little confused--but the topic is a important one.

I think I understand your doubts about the value of your efforts from my own experiences. I suspect you are touching more lives than you know.

And I have no doubt that Jesus is using this experience to also touch your own lives.

love you two,

Tim

Josiah said...

the love in your lives is greater than any ethnic, social, or economic boundaries. Your respect of your neighbors is obvious. Kepp abidining in His word and bearing much fruit. laughter and peace we love you guys josiah and Meredith

joanne said...

I don't think you need to give and explanation why you're there... it's between you and the Lord... and if you're obeying His call, then that's your answer to why you're doing what you're doing. I'm not trying to oversimplify... but I do think that sometimes our biggest challenge as believers is to be still in mind, heart and spirit. I'm praying that God will bless you both with a sense of peace and complete joy in the work you are doing. We love you!

Troy and Tara Livesay said...

Amen.

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