I think that we have a need to be “on the inside”: to be in community with those around us. At its root, to be in community is to share something in common with another group of people, and that something has to be enough to overcome any number of obstacles and differences.
For foreigners working or living in Haiti, determining how you fit into the community where you work is a seemingly inevitable identity crisis that we all face at one time or another.
You work together everyday, you have common goals – aren’t those similarities enough?
Sometimes, sometimes, you experience that sense of belonging. And yet, all too often, you’re forced to recognize how your differences separate you from being fully integrated into this new community you’ve made home.
Still, I think it’s important that we recognize and remember how often our lives and experiences put us “on the outside” in Haiti. We can’t run away from that. It serves as a reminder that as we continue to work and build alongside Haitian communities, ownership over these spaces ultimately and rightfully belongs to them.
I guess, part of what I’m saying is that our work in Haiti can’t be about us. And that is so – very – hard. (Because we want our work to be validated, to be recognized, our efforts and sacrifices to be rewarded, and our place in the community and the contributions we’ve made to be acknowledged.)
It’s not a bad thing to become emotionally attached to the people, the project, the outcome of that project, and the futures of all those involved. To make a change you have to care – but I think our success (and staying-power) depends upon our ability to somehow separate our motivation from our desire to feel accepted and included.
One last thought: Meaningful relationships are a very real outcome of the work we do, and those friendships are the origin of the community that we seek – even a few solid friendships are in and of themselves a worthy reward.
P.S. Speaking Creole definitely helps!
A question for the Expats and long-term volunteers: Where do you find the strongest source of community in Haiti? What has it taken for you to feel at home there?
by Erin Nguyen on May 7, 2015