I was peering over pavillion at a hotel with my husband and a friend of ours, taking a break from our work. I remember searching and searching for a blue fish, that finally popped its way out from under the pavilion's shady covering at the same time we were approached by the folks from the USA. Loud and boisterous, they commanded the area.
"Where y'all from?" they asked. Half heartedly, I shrugged and said some of us were from the states and some of us from Canada. Without much pause, these three fellows offered up where they were from, their entire history with Haiti, and included the amount of times they'd been to Haiti.
It was strange, to me, the two different reactions I felt in that time. For one, I felt like I was entering into a competition with the people standing on that pavilion, feeling the breeze on my face. I started calculating the amount of months, and years, that I'd been working in Haiti. The other reaction I had was sadness. I was sad that my first reaction was so prideful and insecure. I was sad that it mattered how many times people had come to Haiti in the first place.
This all took place back in 2013, so I have had a lot of time to wrestle with these feelings every time I end up in a conversation similar to the one I shared with those men on the pavilion. We have our own teams come down, overlapping with others in the popular hotel spot where we encounter people who pick up my godson and put him on their lap, totally oblivious to the life around them. I have watched people explain the complicated and difficult situations in Haiti over a beer, loud enough for the employees at the hotel to hear them (yes, they understand English). I am in between the world I come from- the land of potential ethnocentrism and "good hearts" but poor understanding- and the world I have come to call home- the misunderstood and underestimated Haiti. I feel overwhelmed and confused at the thought of telling some of these people the lessons I have learned through the ethnocentric and hard mistakes I have made, but I also feel an urge to protect my family in Haiti, because I know it can be so easily taken advantage of.
I think one of the reasons this is all so difficult is because it is truly about a person's heart and motives more than it is about right and wrong. It's really hard for me to address my own lacking good morals and motives, nevermind venturing into telling someone I hardly know that they may need to check theirs. However, over the years, as my own reaction to other westerners working in Haiti has caused me difficulty, I have developed a few points to make sure my heart is in check and that I am actually, really helping with the right motives behind me. If you'd like to take a look, here they are:
1.) How did I get involved in this project?
I think this says a lot about a person, including myself. I have been on trips because it honestly sounded fun to me, and I have been on trips because I felt like I was going to be bringing a perspective/experience/relationship that was important. I have also surely gone on trips earlier in my life where all I wanted to do was take cool pictures. Checking ourselves and how we got involved is important. Does the organization need you? Does it work with nationals? Did you reach out to them? All of these are important things to consider.
2.) Would I do this if I had to put my phone or camera down and only experience it?
This is hard. We live in a culture that says "if you didn't post about it, it didn't happen." We also want to show friends and family all of the fun things we are doing. But, I think a great way to check our motives is to ask ourselves- would I still go if I couldn't post about it? If I had to just be there, would it still be worth my time?
3.) Am I willing to do this and not tell anyone about it? Another (perhaps unrealistic) measure, but one that helps us identify our motives very quickly. If I went to this other place to help, would I still go if no one would ever know about it? It's quick to dismiss this type of question, but it helps me to truly ponder this.
4.) Am I willing to admit my methodology is wrong and do something about it? I would call this the "golden question" because it really shows us if our goal is to essentially get another group of people to think like us. I meet lots of people who tell me their goals for their time overseas. Many times it is with "good intentions," but at some point our intentions are challenged. If a national person walked up to you and said "this isn't working," would you change it? If a person with more experience in Haiti shares their insight with you, is there room to change? Or, are you fully committed to your own way because it's the "right" way based on your worldview?
5.) Would I send the same amount of money I would spend on my trip if I thought it would be more effective? Sometimes, the most effective thing you can do is to send money. It always baffles me when people tell me they want to help, and then follow it up with they can't make it down right now. A challenging question is this one- would I send money if I knew that would be more helpful?
6.) Do I pity the people I am working with? Sometimes we don't know we have an ethnocentric mindset, believing that one way is the best way. Asking ourselves if we pity the people we work with is a good opportunity for us to follow that question up with "Why?" If it is because of a natural disaster, ok, sure. But, if it is because they have a different lifestyle than yours, I would encourage you (and me) to look deeper into this and challenge it.
7.) Do I believe I am collaborating with the communities I want to help? Collaboration is so important. I think about the current issues going on in the USA and what I consistently hear is "everyone came together" to make things happen. No matter the circumstance, people can and should come together. What we miss, oftentimes, in other countries, is that people are also capable of joining in. What is your organization doing to engage the communities around it?
8.) How many of my conversations involve listening and implementing the suggestions I hear? I think a good way to know if we are going into a country with a good heart is to see how often we listen and implement these lessons. It's one thing to be changed by a story personally, but it's another to make those changes into our own practice overseas. It's humbling, challenging, and (can be) really hard.
I so often hear of people running around another country with no care to how effective their solutions are (even if it is "ministry," I promise God wants you to be integrous with how you reach people). I also often hear from people who feel too paralyzed by the fear of doing something wrong that they don't do anything. As I have said before, I really think there is a way- and here's some of the ways I keep my own heart in check.