When I heard the news about the horrendous terrorist attacks in France, one of my first thoughts was actually of Haiti—a number of the worldwide friends I made there were French. Although none of them live in Paris, I still felt a stab of fear that perhaps one of them was in the wrong place at the wrong time…a slideshow of scenes from Haiti flashed through my mind in an instant: Alain playing “Buffalo Soldier” on his guitar at FWAL while all the kids sang along; Camille cheerfully (and in flawless Kreyol!) greeting some shy local kids we passed on a walk in the mountains in Kenscoff; Dr. Didier nimbly leaping out of the van after a long day volunteering his services at St. Damien.
It’s strange because although I knew each of these people only briefly, I felt like I was touched deeply at some point by all of them, and I think part of that has to do with the fact that I met them in Haiti. I don’t know why everything that I lived in Haiti stands out so boldly to me; I’m sure it’s for a number of reasons. I think what it comes down to for me is that life there was very simple, so experiences were amplified, and also, time in Haiti stands out because it offers both a challenge and a feeling of purpose.
I think living/working in Haiti is an incredible opportunity for anybody from a western culture who’s used to being overconnected/overscheduled/overeverything…to be able to see what’s right in front of you. The limited communication and mobility make it so that there is rarely anything more important than what’s happening right this second–every single person you meet is exciting in some way, and an opportunity to connect, to learn something, to build a bridge, to forge a bond.
In addition to that, you remember why your work is significant. Everybody, everywhere, wants to be doing something important and something that really matters. I love living abroad and learning new languages, so I certainly had self-interested reasons for going to Haiti…but also I’ve always had the desire just to be compassionate and loving and help people when I can. I left Haiti feeling bruised, so I know I haven’t found the balance…but I also know that when I was there, I was inspired and energized by the many wonderful people I met and their talent and ideas for improving the future.
I go back and forth thinking we just have to try harder…and wondering if I’m naïve and delusional to believe that just being a good person and working for change can matter. Every time I hear something new about ISIS, I feel defeated for a moment. But also—regardless of how broken and battered I returned from Haiti, I received infinitely more than I gave and I still believe that the only thing that matters is love, and an open mind, and open heart…and that if you see the best in people, they will rise to your expectations….
When I wrote to check in with my French friends, I got a beautiful response: Alain told me that after the attacks, people were welcoming locals who were too terrified to take public transit into their homes to stay. And then he remarked that, “spontaneous solidarity is a piece of sunshine in this bereaved sky.”
This is why we do what we do….
Written by Katie Lawler on November 19, 2015