At the guesthouse, we have many extra suitcases sitting around that people leave behind after emptying them. A while back, Judithe, one of our workers, asked if she could have one to keep her belongings in. Yes, one suitcase for everything she owned. So we said, sure, no problem. A couple weeks later she reluctantly came up and asked me for a different one. Why, I asked, we just gave her one. Apparently where she was living there were a lot of mice and cockroaches, and they ate holes right through it, even destroying many of the few outfits she had inside. So I gave her another one, along with some clothes of my own to help her get by.
Judithe is a quiet girl, but recently when I asked her how things were going, she spit out faster than I could understand that she is tired and worried all the time, and she has no appetite because of that. She told me that she had been living at her sister’s house, but for reasons I don’t understand, that is no longer an option. She is currently homeless, each night carrying her one suitcase to wherever she can find a place to sleep. Sometimes at a friend’s house, sometimes on the floor at her church. She has no family to fall back on, and is forced to fend for herself everyday.
Wow, I thought, how in the heck do I respond to her telling me that? Ryan and I live in an apartment with two extra bedrooms. We have a bank account and have cash to spend on going out to eat, the beach, trips to the US… things that are definitely not necessities. Our closets have more than enough clothes to get us through a whole month. We have running water and electricity. And our stomachs are never truly hungry – we get three good meals per day with snacks in between. And what does she have – a suitcase.
So we prayed and sought counsel from people who have lived in Haiti longer than us. We were advised that is was not a good idea to have her temporarily move in with us, and the best option was to give her some money to rent out a room somewhere. It’s tricky in Haiti because you have to pay for the whole year upfront, rather than month by month. So you have to have quite a bit of cash saved up to do that.
Another tricky thing in Haiti is that when people get money, they use it for whatever need is most pressing. For example, once we gave one of our workers money to go to school, and she used it soon after to get her brother out of jail, who had been put in there the night before. In Haiti that’s not considered wrong or unchristian to do, it’s just logical. We knew that giving Judithe money would be a gamble as to what it would actually be used on. But we decided to give it to her anyway, and hope. She smiled so big, thanking me over and over again, repeatedly kissing me on the cheek. It was like she won the lottery.
We didn’t give her the full amount, as we wanted her to feel partially responsible in paying, and not as if it was just a hand-out. But part of me feels that it was just me being selfish and not wanting to give up an uncomfortable amount of “my” money. Or me worrying that if the other workers find out how much we gave her, they would be mad or asking for money then too.
In the mission circle, we talk a lot about how when us rich white people step in and offer hand-outs, it can actually do more harm than good to the people long-term. But part of me wants to say – screw that theory. The Bible says, “If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion–how can God’s love be in that person?”
I guess we’re still wrestling with this whole thing. We will find out next week when we see Judithe if she was able to move into a place. Heartline is also offering her the opportunity to make some paper beads as a special project, so she will earn some extra money from that. Funny thing is, this situation is just one of many that we encounter on a weekly basis. Living in Haiti puts you smack dab in the middle of poverty and tough issues. Though it’s hard, I’m thankful to be challenged and stretched, and hopefully become more Christ-like because of it.