Note: I wrote most of this post on September 8th. I have since missed two flights - one to Fort Lauderdale and one to Charlotte, purchased 2 brand new tickets to get to North Carolina, spent one incredibly stressful day flying stand-by to Charlotte, been informed that my return flights to Haiti have also been canceled (this is not yet completely resolved), seen my family and part of Ben's, been reunited with our '80 diesel rabbit, gone out for breakfast with Ben, hiked in the woods, gone to the eye doctor, picked figs and muscadine grapes from my sister's garden and enjoyed my mother-in-law's eggplant lasagna.
In this picture, I am giving a seminar on advocacy (in Creole, eek) to 30-some pastors in Cap Haitian:
Défi Micheé, the Haitian branch of Micah Challenge International. In brief, “Micah Challenge is a global Christian campaign. Our aims are to deepen our engagement with impoverished and marginalized communities; and to challenge international leaders, and leaders of rich and poor countries, to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, and so halve absolute global poverty by 2015.”
Skepticism about the world's ability to achieve the MDGs aside, the past week has further convinced me of the importance of engaging in advocacy. Our political, social and economic systems are broken the world-over, but nowhere does this seem more evident than in Haiti. During the seminars, we spent a lot of time trying to see beyond the manifestations of poverty (issues ranging from high infant mortality rates to a lack of electricity) and figuring out who and how we can advocate for structural change.
The hardest part of the Defi Miche seminars seems to be trying to encourage participants to find and commit to realistic solutions to address poverty in Haiti. I noticed that participants - not too unlike many Americans, actually - were quick to blame the government for all of their problems. On the one hand, they're right - the Haitian state is weak and corrupt and does not provide the majority with most of the basic social services that they deserve as human beings. On the other hand, most do not participate in their government (for exactly the reasons I just listed) and are not holding their government accountable to anyone or anything. Most don't plan to vote in the upcoming elections. There may not be any candidates that they believe have their best interests in mind... but that's precisely a function of a system that each and every citizen is a part of and responsible for.
I believe in participative democracy and also believe that the church - the protestant church represents at least 40% of the Haitian population - has a responsibility to speak out and act against social injustice. But as a foreigner (who can go to North Carolina to visit family whenever I want, for example), it feels really difficult to tell Haitian church and community leaders that they should be trying to change a system for the long-term benefit of their country when they all have congregants who don't know where their next meal will come from. That is my internal dilemma when I'm standing in front of a flip chart talking about when God asked Moses to advocate for the Israelites, demonstrating how to do a problem tree analysis and explaining the steps in the advocacy cycle.