The past 2 weeks have been mostly same old same old, working hard towards marketing goals and trying to find ways to generate cash flow for the company, improving in my Creole, and trying to find time to eat healthy, work out, and take care of myself! Life here is starting to feel normal and routine.
Often, I think about how much I’ve learned and grown since my first trip to Haiti. It has been a true transformation that greatly affects how I live here now, and I am so thankful for it. Since that first trip, I have constantly been humbled and changed by the ideas of “when helping hurts”.
When I was 16, I did my first week-long trip to Haiti wrong in a lot of ways. I let friends from home pump me up by telling me how much of a difference I was going to make there, how I was changing the world, etc.
My best friend and I brought suitcases full of cheap toys and candy from the dollar tree and we passed them out as we walked down the street like we were Santa Claus.
We were told not to give people food or money outside of a guest house we stayed at so that people would not become dependent on the foreigners’ hand outs. A lady begged at the gate to us and we did it anyway.
I made no real attempt to learn the language prior to the trip.
It was technically a medical mission trip. I was not a certified medical personnel nor did I ever plan on becoming one.
I took piles of photos with kids whose names I didn’t care to learn. Just for my Facebook profile picture.
I packed only clothing I didn’t want anymore so that I could donate it when I left and presumably come home with an empty suitcase and full ego.
Ouch, some of that hurts to admit. But oh, how much I have changed since I was 16! And the ways I see Haiti and my work here have completely shifted from first being about building my own ego of how helpful I was to now maintaining the dignity of the marginalized and empowering them to change their own lives.
During my second trip to Haiti right before starting my freshman year of college, I was reading “Kisses from Katie”, a book about an 18 year old girl who moved to Africa and adopted several orphans. I remember being so overcome with guilt that I was leaving Haiti to go to college and thinking that maybe I should stay in Haiti and just take in some orphans? An older, wiser girl who was living in Haiti at the time promptly corrected me and told me that education is the goal for all of the people we are working with. If we don’t take that opportunity for ourselves, how can we tell them that getting an education is important? And then there’s the obvious that getting an education will actually educate me and better prepare me for my work.
I am so thankful for those 4 years of college that prepared me to be here. I chose to study international business so that it would give me a skill that would be of use here, I studied French so that it could help me learn Creole, I got the chance to use my business skills in Guatemala and Panama, I studied abroad in France (which showed me how challenging it is to live abroad), and I did several internships that taught me so much about both the non-profit and corporate worlds.
I would also say that my time with Enactus in college is largely responsible for my growth and preparation, as well as my time as a Young Life leader at an inner-city school. On my 3rd trip here, Kathy shared with me a book called “Friendship at the Margins” which is about exactly what it sounds like: becoming friends with the marginalized and learning from them, rather than viewing them as a project and thus automatically putting yourself up above them and becoming their savior. I also got to watch the Poverty, Inc. video with a mission team they had visiting them in Gonaives at the time; they showed this “when helping hurts” based video to every team that came through because they believed it was so important to educate teams on negative impacts they can have. I have read up on the white savior complex and am still identifying pieces of that in myself often, and probably will be doing that work for a long time, because it is something that has been so deeply ingrained.
This affects my day to day life here. The way I interact with children on the street, the way I try to make as many purchases here as I can in order to contribute to the economy rather than take away from it, the way I talk about what I’m doing here, the way I view my life and allow myself to have a lifestyle that resembles my life in America rather than forcing myself to “suffer” or live like a Haitian, because I am not a Haitian and it would be pointless for me to try to act like I am. That’s a big one, because it allows me to be my happiest and healthiest so I can make the biggest contribution at work. Sometimes at work, I want to go straight to one of our employees and talk about an issue or something I need to have done, but then I remember we have an intentional system in place. We have Haitian management and an org chart, which keeps things moving smoothly as well as keeps things from seeming to only be directed by the white girls. The way I have learned to see all people as equals, rather than as people who are in need of my help, and to form relationships accordingly, has completely changed the way I see myself and the world.
This is hard, humbling work. It is not ever easy to admit our wrongs, especially when our intentions were so good. But something I have been saying a lot lately is that intention is different from impact. Our intentions can be the purest and best in the world, but if our impact actually makes things worse than we found them, then it simply doesn’t matter. We have a responsibility to take our work with the marginalized seriously. I think it is of the same importance at home in the U.S. as it is in Haiti. To educate ourselves and to do it right, to the best of our ability and knowledge. I think we owe both the people we’re working with and ourselves that: our very best. We simply owe it to humanity. And it takes humility to admit that we don’t know everything and have some things to learn!
Living in a developing country is an all around humbling act. I am not exaggerating when I say I am truly humbled every single day by how much I do not know and how much I have left to learn, and by how much room I have to grow as a person. I am so grateful for all of the mistakes that have taught me what is right, and for the many more that are sure to come, because another thing I’ve had to remind myself of lately is “you don’t know what you don’t know.” Now, I am being intentional about finding out what I don’t know, admitting when I get it wrong, and always trying to do it better than I did before. Here’s to the lifelong work of humility and admitting where we were wrong, and the growth that comes as a result.