Friday, November 21, 2014

HAITI :: Saying No

Port-au-Prince street vendor

From the moment you step out of the Touissant L’overture airport, poverty slaps you across the face. You smell it in the trash along the street and on the sweat-drenched bodies; you taste it in the dry dusty air; you see it on the cinder block walls and tin shacks; you know it when you see the look of anguish on people’s faces. 

When a thin child with thread-bare clothing and holed-shoes walks up to you, rubbing his stomach and saying “hungry” (possibly his only English word), how do you say no?

That’s what happened when we went to St. Christof. It is a sacred place, where 1,000s of bodies were buried in mass graves following the earthquake in 2010. The morgues were overflowing and the decay so great in Port-au-Prince that bodies were disposed in the only way possible. Soon after the area was covered in small black crosses remembering those who lost their lives. 

St. Christof after the earthquake (2011)
St. Christof today (2014)
Our team always makes a point of stopping at St. Christof with both seasoned and new team members. It’s a time for remberence and reflection. This trip was no different…but for the child.

THIS child, walking up to the team, saying “hungry” was too much. Our hearts too weary from the week and everything we had witnessed. The goodbyes from St. Vincent’s were still fresh on our tongues. 

We all *know* about the poverty in Haiti. We’ve read the statistics. We’ve seen the pictures on TV. We’ve even watched the masses pass us by us first-hand when we drive to and from St. Vincent’s. But when a single child lumbers up to you with his hand rubbing his stomach, it’s enough to bring our team into a sobbing mess.

As we ushered everyone back into the van, the tears turned to anger. WHY can’t we give him a dollar? Just a dollar? Or a lollipop? I’m so MAD!

We are GLAD you are mad! It’s NOT right. It’s NOT just. But it is the reality in Haiti and our good intentions are often misguided. 

Long-term effects

Giving that single dollar or lollipop only perpetuates deeply rooted problems already present in Haiti:
  • first and foremost it makes it dangerous for the child - our generosity would put him at great risk - if someone sees him with a gift from us, he will likely become a target and possibly a victim of violence - on previous trips, team members have witnessed scuffles among the Haitians as the team drove away, fighting over the tiniest of gifts
  • it discourages independence - we don’t want to give the message “all good things come from white people” 
  • it is undignified, casting us in the role of rich benefactors and the recipients in the role of charity cases
  • it makes it that much harder for the next team - if there was one child this time, there will be 10 next time and 50 the next, each asking for more and more - the original intent of paying respect to the deceased at the memorial is lost in a frenzy of misguided giving
Perhaps the most wisdom came from the youngest member of our team, 13-year-old, Jaden: “The fact that we are already here [working in Haiti] acknowledges that we care. I don’t think we should stop here [at St. Christof] - it makes us sad and cry. We can’t help people if we are sad and crying.”

by Sonya Yencer

The plan for the St. Christof memorial

1 comment:

Akua said...

very interesting. in was part of the daily decisions, who do i support financially and also with ideas (i was living there for 2 years, i go and come to gambia since 14 years). the only women i leave more than they earn this day, are the women who clean the toiletts at the airport....sorry to say, but it became a habbit, also because i use to be thankful for a clean toilett, and i know their children are waiting for them to come home.