Our Hollywood-born perceptions about the entire continent of Africa aside, it is painful to realize how condescending and inaccurate the attitudes of the Average Joe North American are toward the people of Haiti. (Been there, been that way, we are guilty too.)
We all come to Haiti the first time knowing one thing; Haiti is poor. Somehow our minds must assume poor means stupid. We further disempower the poor when we hold that attitude. Poverty means disempowerment and a lack of freedom to reach full potential. We can unknowingly be a part of adding to that system. The poor are already trapped in deep, complex interactions of social, political, economic, religious, and cultural systems.
Lots of church and civic groups come to Haiti assuming that Haitians need to be taught things.
The VBS agenda of more than a few groups assumes that people here don't know about hand washing and tooth brushing and other very basic hygiene.
Building crews come to build a few little houses and assume that all the Haitian guys watching them build are learning about building by watching the North Americans.
At times there can be a real arrogance on the part of the visitor as they arbitrarily decide what the poor simple Haitian needs to be taught. Rarely does anyone stop to say "Hey, will you show me how you'd do this?"
It is very common for the people that arrived four minutes ago to start teaching the people that have lived here their entire lives. I don't know why the average person doesn't stop to think about how rude that might come across, I just know that all too often - they don't stop; they don't think.
If I had a wish to spare, I'd wish that every single visitor to Haiti (long term, short term, whatever term) would see themselves as much, OR MORE as a student of the Haitian people rather than the teacher.
With each passing season I'm more and more convinced that the kindest, most loving, most respectful, most relational thing we can ever do is to just rete (stay) and koute (listen). Whenever I take an opportunity to truly do that, I am humbled and I learn.
This is not to say there is no need for teaching, that there is no benefit to learning other ways. It is only to say that we ought to seek first to listen, to learn, and then and only then should we attempt to tell or to teach. Save that stuff for later when we have respected and listened to the people that do life here every day of every month of every year of every decade. I'm thinking we have more to learn than they do.
"Our point of departure for a Christian understanding of poverty is to remember that the
poor are people with names, people to whom God has given gifts, and people with whom and among whom God has been working before we even know they are there."
Bryant Myers – Walking with the Poor
(Photo: Geronne & her father, Miradye)