Thursday, October 28, 2010

Americans in Haiti

Well, we are back from Haiti. Here's a picture of Magalie practicing to carry stuff on her head. She is doing well and was running around with the other little kids, laughing and playing. She is staying at Roberta's for awhile. She had a place on her face that her mom was concerned about, so we accompanied Roberta on two doctor's visits. Turned out to be stitches working their way through (like the Mayo folks said they would).

The short summary of the trip is that Charlie preached a lot. we did most of the stuff the Haitian Christian Development Project wanted done, and we interviewed four orphan's home directors (or wannabes) for Orphans' Lifeline. Oh, and we drove from one end of the island to the other and back, quite a feat for American drivers. I have lots of pictures and will likely share a few more in a day or so.

I am sure you are anxiously awaiting my conclusions about how Americans can best help Haiti. I did talk to several people about it. Haitians didn't usually want to answer, but when they did, they spoke of helping individuals "get their feet under themselves" (my paraphrase). They meant things like helping people start a business. Americans living full time in Haiti had some interesting advice. One fellow I met in the airport said he was a paper pusher in the military attache's office at the American Embassy, I think that's code for CIA. His advice was for all the Americans to clear out and let the Haitians figure it out. He mentioned both the churches and the NGOs. The fellow assured me that the Haitians were capable of solving their problems if they would let go of the expectation that the Americans were going to fix things for them.
That was strangely consistent with the advice I got from many of the resident missionaries and a few Haitians.

Recently I have been reading some books about raising kids, particularly about under-achieving gifted kids. The best advice from those books was very similar to the advice I got about America's relationship with Haiti. The kids' books said if you help them too much, you rob them of their chance to develop independence. If you don't help them enough, you rob them of the sense of security that they need in order to take chances and move forward.
And here's the trick. How do you know how much is enough? The answer is that you have to know the kid. Or in the case of helping the Haitians, you have to know the people involved and the nature of the project. It is about relationships. Please understand that I am not comparing the Haitian people to American teenagers, just making a parallel in terms of the nature of helping relationships. The bottom line is you can't help very well from afar. You or someone you know and trust has to be on site with some regularity, to know the people involved, to know when you are stifling the development of independence and when you are not giving the security needed to reach out, to experiment, to strike out on their own.

It is a hard answer because it requires so much more from the helper. But Jesus said "Go."

Let me know what you think.