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?
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)