Words for Haiti

Posted by on March 5, 2012

I have to confess…the January email from my friend Rhonda, who is serving as a nurse practitioner for nine months in Haiti,  both thrilled me and terrified me.

“Dear Debbie – Today I shared your story – who you are, what you do etc. – with the leadership team for Medical Ambassadors of Haiti….they began to buzz about how much this is needed. They talked about the inability of people to share even their testimonies. The inability of people being able to tell their stories. The emotional problems that people have and they don’t know how to open up….There is a great need for what you do here in Haiti. They want you to come.”

“Let’s see what God will do with this.”

Ten days later, I had booked my flights to Haiti, still unsure of how a Canadian writer could help Haitian people write their stories, but somehow certain I had to go. I was apprehensive about traveling alone. Fearful I would not be strong enough to touch Haiti’s poverty without flinching. Unsure I was even qualified to help, but in the midst of my sea of self-doubt, it became clear to me that in all my waiting and listening and learning throughout the past year, God has been  preparing me to step into his plan and take on an active role.

“For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you…For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” ~2 Tim 1:6-7

So, you are probably thinking, in the midst of all that Haiti has endured…should I not be building schools or digging wells or helping in a more tangible, practical way?

Excellent question.

I have learned much in the past weeks that I did not know before.

I have been reading voraciously, trying to learn what I can about Haitian history, culture, religion. I want to leave my North American head at home and go not as a teacher, but as a student, intent upon seeing and learning what Haiti has to teach me.

This is how I understand it from what I have read and through those who live there:  Haiti doesn’t really need more white-knights racing in to fix their problems North American style. Imposing North American values on Haitian culture has not worked.

Handouts – well-meaning as they may be – do nothing but steal dignity and rob the local economy. What is needed most is the kind of support that will help Haitians develop their own solutions, Haitian style.

Think about parents who have given their children everything without teaching them the joys of working and saving for what they want.  Think about teenagers who do not know that peas grow on vines and milk comes from cows because they’ve never had to question how food ends up on their plate nor have they had a role in placing it there.  Or the masses of adults who don’t even know how to maintain their own homes or spend within their means.

Think about the cycle of dependence and entitlement that surrounds our own culture. And how it has hurt us.

Medical Ambassadors operates with a Community Health Evangelism (CHE) model that provides medical care and education necessary to break the cycle of poverty and reliance on outside aid. It is based on a ‘When Helping Hurts‘ framework that once immediate relief and rehabilitation needs have been addressed, then development must take over.

This makes such perfect sense to me. And so this is how I fit in to the picture….

Haiti has a vibrant tradition of music and oral storytelling, but capturing these stories on paper has sometimes proven to be a challenge. Those Haitians who could afford education have been educated in the French language (Kreyol is their native tongue) and have resorted to strict forms of memorization to learn their studies, which hinders their freedom to write creatively. Guy is 21 years old and in grade 11. He still gets beaten if he does not know his work.

It is well known that writing creatively is a tool for problem solving. By helping to capture random thoughts and attach meaning to experience, writing encourages a deeper level of thinking in addition to aiding in recovery from trauma or emotional upheaval.

“Help us write what is in our minds.”

At the request of the Haitian team, I will be traveling and working with people in ten rural communities over three weeks, conducting a series of six-hour workshops on expressive writing.

Some of these people may walk up to three hours to attend the sessions.  Travel is difficult and slow in the mountainous regions of Haiti and in some cases, group transportation must be provided. Fuel is needed. And, of course, people must be fed while attending.  I must also hire a translator to work with me and provide the notebooks and writing supplies.

This all takes money.

I am financing my own travel and living expenses, but the Medical Ambassadors of Haiti team are volunteers who must do their own fund-raising to support themselves and the developmental programs they offer, so if I can raise funds to cover some of these workshop expenses, then I am not taking away from their hard-earned budgets.

I am trying to raise a minimum of $3600. A small amount, really in the grand scheme of things. And although these are expenses for me, they will serve as valued income in Haiti, as all the money will be spent there.

Dear reader…if you feel that you’d like to assist in some way, please do drop me a note and let me know.  I would gratefully accept any help offered.

And so here I am…headed off to Haiti in April, hoping something I have gained in my own years of experience will be of use.

Hoping that my going will make some small or great difference…

But the question remains…will it be for them or for me?

(Many thanks to Lydia Hamilton for allowing me to use her beautiful photos from Haiti)

13 Valued Thoughts on Words for Haiti

  1. Ceci

    I admire what you are doing and you are so right about encouraging people to find their own solutions.

    Despite all of the small ‘p’ political whining that we hear about the “needs” of our own society, they pale in comparison to those of people living with unimaginable poverty. Like you, I loathe hearing our self-entitled, privileged young people express their total ignorance about life and the world around them – a state of being created by our own society, unfortunately.

    Gird your loins for what you will see will rip your heart out – and it is such a tender heart. But your inner strength and your ability to help people express themselves in meaningful ways if a very valuable contribution.

    And, speaking of that – watch your mail.

    Bon Voyage!


  2. forhisgloryalone

    Perhaps the answer to your last question will find its truest and most humble expression with “and”.

    Be that pencil in the Lord’s hand. That’s all any of us are really.

    Safe travels.

  3. Laure

    Hi Deborah, I was thinking about you earlier today and thought I’d stop by. I have been praying for you and your trip, praising God for His giving you this opportunity. I feel so certain that your time there has the potential of being a profound spiritual marker in your life. I hope you will post whatever you are led to … along with photographs … upon your return and once you’ve had an opportunity to sit with your experience. I know God will use you powerfully and in ways you probably aren’t even anticipating, and I am quite certain you will be blessed mightily!

  4. deb

    and it is in the story of Esther.. that you were born for such a time as this…

  5. Kathy Merrithew

    Hello Deborah: It was last year that I took your course “Writing in Nature ” @ UNB. I so enjoyed you that day, but also it was through your book called “Santuary ” that inspired me to attend. I am so excited for you and your trip to Haiti. I can’t think of a better thing to be giving these Haitian people, lessons in expressions from the heart, after which their food and medical have been supplied. This is so exciting, because my husband and I have been living on a small Carribean Island in the West Indies called Canouan for 6 consecutive winters with him doing contract enginering work. I like you, not only wanted to see how they live, I wanted to know and hear their hearts, of which I have been so privileged to have been part. I declare Gods’ expanded territority full of light where there has been darkness, life where there has been “dry bones” and restoration and love where there has been hatered, joy where there has been sadness and a new and powerful hope to rise again. Danny and I would like to contribute to your trip, please let me know the date and how we can do this. We are at the moment in the Carribean, but will be returning to Fredericton, May 1st. Many Blessings, Kathy . .

    • Deborah Carr

      How lovely to hear from you again, Kathy. And how can I thank you for your heartfelt words of encouragement? I would so enjoy hearing about your experiences and observations in Canouan sometime. It sounds like your winters there have been a real blessing to you and you’ve been able to share your faith with others during your stay. It must feel like you are coming home, in some ways, when you return there each year and revive those cherished friendships. I hope I have opportunity to live within a different culture for an extended period of time someday. We have so much to learn from other cultures, don’t we?

  6. K. Philene McGee

    Blessings to you Deborah, There is so very much we can all do in giving of ourselves and our individual talents. Go in Peace to Haiti and shine your light! I look forward to viewing pics and living this exceptional opportunity (vicariously) through you!!! And, do I ever wish I could join you. I am Philene McGee from Fredericton who last summer eagerly soaked up your writing in nature workshop while lying on your quilt that I carefully placed over the luscious green and learned grounds at UNB. Thanks for sharing. In Earnest, Philene, BSW, RSW

    • Deborah Carr

      Hello Philene – so nice to hear from you! Thank you for your kind thoughts. I will carry them with me to Haiti. I have a photo of you stretched out on that quilt in the shade of one of those stalwart, aged trees, capturing your thoughts on the page. I trust that you’ve continued making your own personal discoveries of your many talents. Peace to you this fine Easter morning.

  7. Amy

    Well, it’s been awhile since I’ve popped in–but for some reason I felt led here this morning. Now I know why . . . to send up a little prayer. Funny how, oftentimes, those we intend to help, end up helping us most. One thing is certain, you’ll never be the same.

    I look forward to reading the next chapter . . .

    • Deborah Carr

      I’m so glad you dropped by now, Amy. I accept your prayers and thoughts with much gratitude.

  8. Mary Majka

    My doubts about your trip and how much your “mission” could accomplish, have been unfounded!
    I don’t know if your trip was a success or not (this can only be assessed much later)
    But it curtainly was a success as far as your wish “to break your heart!” ……Mary…..

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