“It is better to do a good small thing many times over than to wait your whole life for the best big thing that may never come.”
What happens when your work abroad was incredible and life-changing, and allowed you deep multi-national friendships that you know you’ll keep for life, and affirmed your commitment to your organization…and was also wounding and disillusioning, and left you feeling betrayed by some of the people that you truly cared about, and threw into question what you really thought you could give and what is actually needed and/or the organization can provide?
In some ways, my time in Haiti was one of the best experiences of my life, and in other ways, I sometimes wonder what, exactly, I accomplished there, and why I was even allowed to go in the first place…. I feel like this dichotomy was perfectly illustrated by the first week in October:
I volunteered at the NPH gala the first Saturday in October and it was one of the most fun and rewarding nights I’ve had in AGES!! The excitement and energy was palpable, and there’s something magical about being with and working alongside so many people that are sincerely passionate about the same great cause. I was lucky to be asked to run the slideshow, so I got to see to see the entire gala unfold, and it was truly inspiring. This year, after living and working abroad at one of the homes, the gala had a special meaning for me—I recognized many of the people and places highlighted in the slideshow and I felt like Frank (Donaghue; President/CEO NPH USA) and Reinhart (Koehler; Board Chair NPH International) were speaking directly to me…ha. We raised almost $600,000! In one night! Such an extraordinary amount when you think how far that money can go.
Six days later, I woke up to an e-mail sharing the news that yet another person—the fourth in two years—was robbed and shot in front of St. Damien hospital. An electrician who helped the team that manages generators, solar panels, and the power grid, in collaboration with the German volunteers. He was shot in the face, and robbed for probably (to most Westerners) a negligible amount of money. Five days later, I received another e-mail that, despite all measures taken, he died from his injuries.
Although I didn’t know the victim, I was crushed to hear this news…I could have known him. Or it could have been me. I can clearly picture the gates in front of St. Damien—I passed there almost every single day I lived in Haiti, and (although we were not supposed to) I walked in the streets many times…. Sadly, receiving a heartbreaking dispatch from this country is not new. I feel so many emotions every time I think of Haiti—I’m wistful thinking of how much I loved parts of my time there, and how much I miss my friends. I’m guilty, thinking of how I left (and how used to people leaving most Haitians must be). I’m angry and frustrated, thinking of how unfair life is, and how little Westernized countries know and/or care about life elsewhere.
Working in Haiti has affirmed both my joy, gratitude, humility…and also my feelings of loss, grief, and helplessness. The more time passes, the more questions I feel like I have…and I certainly don’t have the answers.
However, the first flash of peace I felt in relation to this incidence was thanks to the response of a friend who wrote, “Let’s just make today an awesome day. All we can do, right?!”
So simple. But at the same time…yes, all we can do.
by Katie Lawler on October 22, 2015
Editor’s Note: Readers who resonate with this post might also be interested in an earlier post by Katie that talks about Self-Care for long term volunteers in Haiti. Read more here: Finding Space to Care for Ourselves in Haiti