Today is my second day in Haiti. As we drive through the streets of Port-au-Prince, my heart hopes that the people of Haiti know we are here because we love them and want to help them, not because we want to patronize them. It feels wrong taking photos of people in their suffering, from the safety of my vehicle. People I do not know and who do not know me, who do not know how I hope these photos inspire others to get involved and bring relief and development.
World Relief's Haiti director shared a difficult tension with us last night that makes situations like this very complex. American groups who want to come in and help and with the best intentions, can often do great harm. He shared how because so many medical groups have come to Haiti giving free medical care, several Haitian hospitals are being forced to go out of business. He also shared how when you ask a Haitian what they need, they will tell you they don't want food and they don't want their kids to be taught, they want jobs, so they can provide these things for their own families. These are complex issues we as Americans need to take a long pause on and discern the best way to help Haiti for the long haul. Too often, we get over-anxious to help and we fly to Haiti with a team all wearing matching colored t-shirts and we give handouts to the people; but in the end these handouts enable Haitians to become dependent on them and/or are the very things that deprive the people from being able to escape from their poverty and live self-sustainable lives. There is certainly a time for crisis relief after a disaster like this, but the phase must transition on to phase of sustainable redevelopment. Do we give out these handouts to help Haiti or to help ourselves feel better about the situation? We can give a man a fish, but once that fish has gone, what is next for that man? If only we could teach that man how to fish...
Systemic poverty brings up whole new ball of wax. In America, we are taught you can pull yourself up by your bootstraps and become what you want to be. If you have a good job, it's because you worked hard in school and paid your dues, and now you reap your reward. And if you're poor, the same is said to be true on the other end of the spectrum. While these things may be true about an individual's education and work ethic, do we ever consider how that individual was given an opportunity to have these things (and was modeled these things their entire life) and others were not. As I look out at the Haitian people, it seems unjust that I have an opportunity to hop on an airplane and come and see them, while they are faced with the daily task of survival. Is this their fault? Were they simply lazy? Should they have just studied harder in school? Pulled a little harder on their bootstraps? The obvious answer is no. Again, we must take a long pause and examine systemic poverty (a system that produces poverty).
I don't have the answers, but I know the question is one we must give due diligence, prayer, and discernment, and make our decisions on how we will help based on this, not just on the emotions welling up inside of us to impulsively bring aid and/or to impulsively cast judgment.