Monday, October 15, 2012
What Haiti taught me this week
A week in Haiti is spiritual nourishment for a hungry soul. During each trip I find that I learn more about myself, my relationship with God, and God’s intention for justice and love in the broader world. This trip to Guiotte, a small rural community outside of the epicenter of the devastating 2012 earthquake, was no different. Through being in community with other Foundry team members and the Haitian people in Guiotte, I felt myself growing personally and as a Christian. Having had a whole day now to reflect, I want to share some of the lessons I came away with on this trip. LESSON 1: The human body and soul have the capacity for joy, pain, and so much more. I want to be clear that it’s not my intention to romanticize Haiti and people’s suffering. There is great injustice in Haiti and people we met face hardships I could never imagine dealing with. During nights of hard rain, I wondered what type of shelter the people leaving the church would be going to that night. Without medical facilities in the area, I wondered about the type of insecurity a mother with a sick child faced. Without meaningful work in the area, I wondered how the youth in the community could continue to seek education. And yet, amidst all this, I also wondered how the people we met could also express so much grace, so much hope, and so much joy. This was a unique form of joy that was grounded in faith and people in Guiotte accessed that joy more easily than anyone I’ve met in DC—they saw blessings in the smallest of things. As I find myself dwelling on insignificant details that bring stress and anxiety this coming week, I’m going to work hard to make the people I met a living example. I will work to access all the great joy there is to be felt in great friends, great relationships, and a great community. I will not simply take those blessings for granted. LESSON 2: “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.” This is one of my favorite quotes by Mother Teresa and it is the epitome of the experience of those working for justice in Haiti. With the devastation of the earthquake; health vulnerabilities like cholera; hurricanes and storms; corruption within the government and within NGOs; and so much more, creating a just experience for people in Haiti seems daunting. And yet, the people we met in Haiti wake up each day and work for just that. They have no choice. Similarly, people like Leigh Carter, the Executive Director of Fonkoze USA and a Foundry member, continue to work each day for small, but significant improvements in Haiti. Positive change doesn’t come in big chunks in Haiti—it comes in small acts. There are the loans Fonkoze gives to women in rural communities across Haiti to start their own businesses; there is Margaret Yao’s efforts to connect the people of Mellier and Guiotte to micro-credit; there is the community meeting where people come together to listen to each other and work towards small community improvements; there is the teachers in Guiotte who work without pay to ensure the children in the school have the opportunity to reach their full potential. In the grand scheme of things, these are just small acts of love. Even so, I left Haiti with the believing that these small acts and our own small acts of love could lead to a more just end in a country that has known so much injustice. LESSON 3: Give up on perfection. This tenet goes with the previous one. If we are standing around looking for the perfect solution to all or even some of the challenges in Haiti, then we’ll be looking in perpetuity. Challenges in Haiti are complicated and have deep roots—no solution in perfect. We have the luxury of waiting for all the stars to align—the people in Guiotte and others across Haiti don’t. This is not to say that we should settle on things we know have a high risk for failure and should not work to ensure our partnership in Haiti benefits the most people possible. It is simply to say that any partnership in Haiti will have some imperfection and uncertainty built into it. Acts of love and perfection are not synonymous here. Our charge is to act based on the best information we have, to continue to be in relationship with people we’ve met, and to adjust based on what we find. LESSON 4: Know who you are and work as hard as you can to maintain that self identity in hard circumstances. I noticed so many people this week engaged in loving acts that seemed unreasonable to say the least. Teachers worked without pay to educate youth; Gontran, an educated agronomist, chose to stay in Haiti to raise up his country rather than leave the country for an easier life elsewhere; people who had no shared experience with us, opened the doors to their community, their church, and their lives to show us hospitality and fellowship. These loving, unreasonable acts were done because people were being true to their authentic selves. The people we met in Guiotte saw us and themselves as creations of one God. They believed that they and their community were entitled to the dignity endowed in that creation and saw our fellowship as a natural extension of that creation. We at Foundry must engage in a similar gut check. This is a bad economy and we have a lot of priorities. We are renovating our building and have many competing priorities. Yet, being true to ourselves and our mission to, “Love God. Love each other. Change the world,” demands that we not let our relationship and partnership with Haiti fade from our memories. We must stay informed, advocate, and being proactive partners with people we meet. Our service to God and being true to our mission demands this.