This is my attempt to share my story of what happened in Port-au-Prince: my favorite moments, most difficult challenges, the change that took place in my heart, and why I came home two weeks early.
The first thing I will say is one of the most important lessons I have learned here; it is a lesson that is sinking in and taking root in my heart even as I type this: I do not owe anyone an explanation. This isn’t to say I’ll never give an explanation or that I don’t desire for others to understand. It is a lesson in learning that I am capable of making decisions without seeking affirmation from others. In the same way, God does not owe me an explanation. He can lead me to a developing country, teach me more than I could have imagined, allow me to meet people who both bless and challenge me, and then send me home earlier than planned without a single explanation. he does all of this at the expense of my pride, stubbornness, jealousy, and comfort.
I am thankful, though, because even without an explanation I understand that He is good, and has replaced in me humility, flexibility, unconditional love, and joy eternal.
I mentioned in an earlier post that the language barrier was proving to be one of the most frustrating challenges; now I recognize it as one of the biggest blessings. Haitian Creole is a beautiful language and one day I hope to be able to say and understand more than “Blanco, kijan ou rele?” (Whitey- or foreigner- what is your name?) I was able to (sometimes) get by with a little knowledge of French. The day we took the kids to the park, Maria grabbed my hand and said “courir!” In the seconds I was searching my brain for the meaning of that word, Maria exclaimed “Un, deux, trois!” and took off running. When she realized I was still standing in my place, she laughed and ran back. I told her that now I understood, and agreed to run with her. The sun was sweltering hot as we ran across the field, and yet racing with 10-year-old Maria is still one of my favorite moments.
My friend Racine offered to teach me Kreyol, and we spent the better part of a morning going through a textbook. It was neat to help one another with the pronunciation of words in both English and Kreyol. I was thankful that he patiently sat with me, and it reminded me how little I know about the culture of this country and that I am simply a visitor here.
The understanding that I am merely a visitor is important to why I am heading home early. I’ve learned that hope for Haiti rests upon the residents of the country and not handouts from the Western world. I loved staying at Haiti Communitere because they believe in empowering the local communities instead of just funding projects that do not create sustainable change.
Community relations 101:
Step one- “If you give me a fish, you have fed me for a day, if you teach me to fish you have fed me for a lifetime.”
Step two- “If you teach me to fish, then you have fed me until the river is contaminated or the shoreline seized for development. But if you teach me how to organize, then whatever the challenge, I can join together with my peers and we will fashion our own solution.”
One of the most discouraging days I had here was at an orphanage. I had to hold back tears immediately while walking in. We had been to the other orphanages and took pictures of the kids and, upon sitting down, my friend looked over and mouthed “I can’t even take pictures.” There were about 15 kids: the older ones were dressed, the younger ones butt naked, two small rooms, and no beds or chairs. In the corner of one of the rooms there was a huge pile of clothes and trash. I made the decision to sit down on the floor, which I’m certain was littered with rat and human feces. A shy boy eventually made his way over to me and sat in my lap. Danski stayed there for the next hour, laughing as I counted in French and pretended to eat his nose. This was another one of my favorite moments.
We headed back to HC to load school desks into the truck for the directors of this orphanage. As they were preparing to leave, they asked us for money and explained that the kids had not eaten all day. We gave them 1000 gourdes (25 US dollars) after questioning our translator. “What would they have done if we couldn’t give them money? How do they normally feed the kids?”
His answers were less satisfactory than we had hoped. He said that the directors normally go door to door to their neighbors for money and are “working hard to get funding”. We found out later than the orphanage is considered to be registered with the Haitian government.
I want to point out that there ARE organizations doing good in Haiti. While in Port-au-Prince, I had the pleasure of visiting The Apparent Project. The Apparent Project is a non-profit organization that employs Haitians, mostly mothers, training them to create artisan beads out of recycled cereal boxes. I love The Apparent Project because their mission is to keep families together; they aim to solve Haiti’s orphan crisis at it’s root. In addition, they create QUALITY work. They pay the artisans 3 times the minimum wage. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE visit their website– you can order online. They also have an AWESOME fund-raising program!
I also enjoyed visiting Ecole Mixte Petit Coeur de Jesus in Cite Soleil. Sarah, a friend of Heather’s, works to find sponsors for the children who attend the school. $60 something a year provides a student with two uniforms, at least one meal a day, and a quality education where the teachers are paid. If you are interested in sponsoring a child, please visit the Facebook page. Sarah posts pictures of the children, and you can comment on the child you would like to sponsor. Education is key to changing the future of Haiti; it is the best way to empower the Haitian people to create their own change.
I’ve been back in Texas for a month now. Sometimes I wake with the sun sneaking through the blinds in my room and I immediately miss Haiti. I miss the people I met from all over the world. I miss late nights drinking Prestige and playing cards. I miss the chickens roaming in the yard. I miss Mange the cat and wish he could have come home with me. I miss holding the kids who were so hungry for attention from a stranger. I miss learning a new language. I miss riding on the back of Motos. I miss dance lessons with my favorite Hatian friends. I miss being a visitor of a beautiful and damaged country.
In the end, it was a lovely, humbling vacation which changed my view of the world, myself, and Western aid. I’m striving every day to put into practice what I learned there: to put an end to my personal insecurities, to press on towards my academic success, to expand my own knowlege of how I can help people in the U.S. and Haiti in a practical way. Most of all, I’m striving to “trust in the Lord with all my heart and lean not on my own understanding.”
Thank you again to everyone who saw me through this process and who puts up with me on a daily basis. I leave for Portland, Oregon in less than a month, and hope you will continue with me in my life adventures.
So much love. So much hope.