Wendy Thiessen is our Project Development Coordinator with our ministry partner, Haiti Christian Schools. Throughout the year, Wendy leads Discovery Trip teams down to Haiti to assist and witness the work God is doing in the country. She has recently returned from a trip to the country and shares with us how her perceptions of aid have changed and what it means to practice true, holistic and sustainable development!
I struggled with the title of this “blog piece”. Should it be “My Guide to Saving the World One Week at a Time” or “I Did it My Way”?
I think I’ll take the “high road” and tell you how working in Haiti has humbled me. Guess what? Haitians aren’t all sitting around in earthquake-ravaged buildings with flies all over them crying non-stop. To be honest, there have been times when I was jealous of some of the kids not wearing clothes. It’s not that they don’t have clothes, it’s just that it’s so darned hot in Haiti they’re smart enough not to wear them!
So, here goes, Wendy’s humility 101. What’s the first thing we did when we went to Haiti in 2010? We collected clothes, and shoes. (Lots and lots of clothes and shoes.) We were so proud that we were bringing “stuff” to Haiti because Lord knows they need clothes and shoes. I saw the commercials. I knew what they needed, which was shocking since I had never been to Haiti before. As we presented the 7000 suitcases (“slight” exaggeration) full of our North American “gold” to Madame Soliette at the orphanage, she kindly accepted them and placed them in “the cupboard”. Guess what was in “the cupboard”? About 7000 other suitcases full of used clothes and shoes. I can show you many pictures of the markets in Haiti. There are many vendors selling clothes and shoes there. It’s nothing new. This is the whole reason rice farmers are few and far between in Haiti. If you bring in free rice, or in our case free clothes, you put small business owners out of business. Why buy something you’re already getting for free? Seems like common sense, right? Then why didn’t we know? Because we didn’t ask! We relied on our own perception of what we “thought” Haiti was like.
We weren’t the first, and probably won’t be the last, to make this mistake. After speaking with our Haitian partners we have developed a new mandate. “If you can buy it in Haiti, we don’t bring it from Canada.” We need to educate people in North America of the things we’ve seen and to be unapologetic about saying “no” to the items and ideas that will affect the future of the communities negatively.
I am very empathetic towards people who think the same way I did. “They need what we have, so let’s send it”. It’s my job, and now after reading this maybe yours, to educate people and ask questions and support local initiatives in developing countries. My biggest resource has been people who live in Haiti 24/7, 365 days a year. What people in Haiti really need is the encouragement and resources to start small businesses and teacher training to provide quality education. Think of the potential of students graduating from vocation programs. They will graduate with both academic knowledge and a marketable skill. There is an 80% unemployment rate in Haiti. The road to a long-term sustainable future in Haiti is not easy. I feel like I am the last person to be saying that because there are so many others who have been working much harder and much longer than I have. But, this is my journey right now that I humbly share with you. I am thankful for my family that prays for me and is patient hearing all my stories and opinions. And I feel blessed every minute of every day to be serving a God who is inerrant and wise. Because I still have a long way to go.