I got an offer in the mail last week for [something I didn’t need] at the local grocery store. By the time I went to the store the coupon was expired; might as well try anyway, right?
What’s the worse they can say? No? (They did.)
Imagine if all you had to do was ask, can I have this for free? Americans would be lining up. (Images of Sam’s Club and Costco come to mind…Free samples people, samples! Oh, and don’t forget, you probably don’t actually need any of these products!)
Keep some of these American consumer habits in mind for a moment; now, what about Haiti? There is real need in Haiti, that is obvious from the moment you arrive, but the discussion on humanitarian aid is making a shift from what they call the “Charity approach” to the “Partnership approach”. It’s a hugely important step moving forward, but trying to put it into practice in the everyday in Haiti is like swimming against the current.
Our involvement in Haiti has built up a culture of dependency and if you are easily identifiable as “not Haitian” (i.e. a “blan”) you will be hard pressed to escape the phrase: “Ban mwen…” (Give me) which seems to follow you wherever you go. Before we go any further, I want to share two thoughts:
- A child asking you for a dollar or a woman asking you for food does not lessen their humanity or right to basic dignity. This is a behavioral norm WE have created and will take time to undo; it most certainly is not an excuse to patronize.
- Nevertheless, by perpetuating the cycle of dependency (through blind acquiescence to these requests) WE are guilty of robbing them of a little bit of that dignity.
There are grey zones (as always), you might have friends with a particular need you can help fill, there is room for generosity too; this post is not an excuse to turn a cold shoulder to those in need. It’s meant to begin a discussion about the way we respond to need, and how this response is changing.
We have to find a way to serve the community without enabling individuals only, find a way to help the community move forward so THEY can provide care to people who need it, and create sustainable initiatives that equip Haitian leaders to step up and lead their communities so that children grow up with these leaders in mind, not the idea that just blans run the show. Directing your resources towards locally operated initiatives that focus on sustainability, education and empowerment in addition to need, is the best way to go.
What we can’t continue doing is showing up like a big blan Santa Clause; it’s destroying our ability to create real relationships because it never lets us get to a place of equality in our partnership with Haitian friends. What would our involvement in Haiti look like if we took off the big red suit?
by Erin Nguyen on September 11, 2014