From my little experience here in Haiti, there are no easy answers. We enjoy the teams that come wrestling with ideas. They often foster an atmosphere of sharing and discussing.
The difference between teams having the attitude of I am going to fix Haiti and I want to learn about Haiti is huge. It cannot be understated. The idea of “coming to save Haiti or <name your country>” is easy to understand given the nature of our American cultural context.
By definition, short term missions have only a short time in which to “show profit”, to achieve pre-defined goals. This can accentuate our American idols of speed, quantification, compartmentalization, money, achievement, and success. Projects become more important than people. The well is dug. Fifty people converted. Got to give the church back home a good report. Got to prove the time and expense was well worth it. To get the job done (on our time scale), imported technology becomes more important than contextualized methods. Individual drive becomes more important than respect for elders, for old courtesies, for taking time. – When Helping Hurts
From what I have seen, the teams that come to learn end up getting the least frustrated when their timeline isn’t met, and they arguably get the most out of their experience. I am not saying to stop doing work. In the midst of building, holding medical clinics, craft making, speaking, or whatever you are doing in Haiti, make sure that it is in a position of humility and learning. Remember we are all guests in this wonderful country.
Haiti is the land of unlimited impossibilities as John often quotes. It is a privilege and great honor that we can live or visit other cultures like Haiti. Take the moments you have while visiting to step back and ask yourself:
What can I learn from this culture?
“I was talking to a friend about the common sight of a broken-down vehicle being fixed right in the middle of the street. Sometimes the vehicle has one wheel jacked up, sometimes a mechanic is working underneath with his legs sticking out, forcing vehicles to steer around him. I asked my friend why the police did nothing. He responded, “What can they do?” When I suggested that it would be easy to get them to push the vehicle to the side of the street, at least, by fining them for impeding traffic, he was horrified. “What, make people pay money for such an innocent thing?” – African Friends & Money Matters (p. 7)
The thought patterns are different. In contrast, the Western ideal is to seek macro-solutions to problems. Drivers will wait in line or at a stop light, and buses will very seldom stop outside the designated bus stops. They depend upon macro-solutions rather than seek a micro-advantage.
The important thing these teams do is to ask questions and to learn.
Why do they do it this way?
I heard someone ask this tonight at the dinner table. I was so excited. It’s easy to disregard a culture’s ideas and practices, and it can be difficult to press-in and learn the why.
What can we exchange from each other?
What resources do they have?
Try to ask this instead of What do you need?
Let’s look at the question, What resources do they have? This is a great way to begin with a focus on their strengths. What are the assets they bring to the table? This approach affirms people’s dignity and moves us away from our western god-complex. This approach enlists and inspires local involvement, and it enhances local initiatives.
Mrs. Jones, a mother who has lived in poverty all her life, described the experience of poverty like this: “In part it is about having no money, but there is more to poverty than that. It is about being isolated, unsupported, uneducated and unwanted. Poor people want to be included and not just judged and ‘rescued’ at times of crisis.” – Total Church (p. 79)
- Come to learn
- Come to ask questions
- Come to understand
- Come to be an advocate to friends and family back home
When you share your last crust of bread with a beggar, you mustn’t behave as if you were throwing a bone to a dog. You must give humbly, and thank him for allowing you to have a part in his hunger. – Giovanni Guareschi