Lessons learned from my work in Haiti
My first trip to Haiti was in 2011, there were 22 of us on the trip. On our way back home we were taking the ferry back across to the mainland and everyone could not wait to get home, sleep in their own beds, and eat their favourite foods. This was not the case for me. My heart was so sad and all I could think of was that I was not ready to go home. I felt we were not done in Haiti. I saw so much potential and I loved the people so much. I could not imagine not coming back and not participating.
My eyes were open to the potential of such an amazing country. I wanted to know more, to build deeper connections, and develop relationships. I didn’t see the poverty as much as I saw the vision and the possibilities. That was the moment I felt God called me to advocate for the people on La Gonâve, the place that even Haiti refers to as “the forgotten island”.
Advocating in Haiti
Our work is about creating partnerships with key locals who are in strategic positions and have vision for their communities. As an advocate at Partners International in Haiti I help Haitians develop those strategic ideas through planning and fundraising.
“My role and the purpose of Partners is to equip and empower local leaders to build up their community.”
We don’t want to build schools we want to work with people who already have schools but might lack the funding to keep them running. We don’t want to run the teacher training, we want to hire local trainers who are knowledgeable about the education system in Haiti. My role and the purpose of Partners is to equip and empower local leaders to build up their community.
Key components of sustainable development
Building good relationships with people is the cornerstone of sustainable development. You need to be able to ask the right questions and find the right people who have a vision for their community and country. Education of donors is another key component to sustainable development. I spend a lot of time talking to people here in Canada. I want more people to become advocates and spread the word about what effective poverty alleviation looks like and the responsibility we have as supporters. Poverty alleviation should look like employment opportunities that enable families to provide for themselves. Our conversations need to change if we want to see job creation, self-sustainability, and thriving communities.
The biggest challenge is the lack of desire from donors to give financially. Many would prefer to give used items — even though they can all be bought locally to help the economy. There is a trend in the Western world to send used clothing and items to poorer countries. Many churches have donation drives to collect certain items to send overseas. Although these items can be useful, they do not contribute to job creation and self-sustainability. Giving financially can help us continue to employ people in the community and purchase items for our schools locally.
We need to begin focusing on sourcing locally to help the economy and develop a good work ethic for locals. I truly believe that you cannot be effective in monitoring foreign aid if you are not willing to build the relationships to source locally.
Reflections on my work
I have learned so much working alongside our local partner in Haiti. Seeing them successfully find solutions to their problems gives me hope. I know in my heart that change is possible because Jesus is in the business of changing lives. My biggest takeaway has been to reset my mindset and learn to work in partnership with locals, which is counter cultural for many of us in North America. We are used to ‘helping’ people by either going there to tell them what to do, or by sending stuff.
Although it takes more time and commitment, I am encouraged to invest in developing partnerships with locals. This is the only way to obtain lasting and sustainable change, when locals own the process. For example, it would be much easier and cheaper for me to bring shoes from Canada but when I buy pair of shoes from the local shoemaker, I not only support his business, I am helping him to provide for his family. The profits from my transaction stay in the local community. Knowing this motivates me to pay a potentially higher price that has a long-lasting impact in Haiti.
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