Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Bad Giving?

There is something that has been heavy on my heart for the past few months. It was placed there shortly after arriving in Haiti for the second time.

It weighed on me as we drove through Port au Prince, past tent cities and faces.

It's not an easy something to feel.

While I was there, God opened my eyes to a problem. Maybe, the biggest problem that Haiti faces. The problem was me and the 21 suit cases full of things. The problem is the color of my skin and what that means to the people.

The problem was the color of my skin plus things.

In Haiti, white people stand out. After the 2010 earth quake, white people flooded to Port au Prince for a relief effort. It was blatantly obvious in the USAID tarps that were used as people's homes or roofs that stated that the tarps were "from the American peoples" and UNICEF tarps. Most disturbingly, it was present when people had no reservations about sticking their hand out in front of us to obtain something.

It opened my eyes to the problem that many Haitian people expect Americans, or white people in general, to give them things. This does not mean all Haitian people, but many. And they believe this because we do it.

I recently watched a documentary by Frontline called "Battle for Haiti." This documentary was about the broken prison system in Haiti, but it gave me information that was very disturbing to me. During this documentary they are discussing the tent cities in Port au Prince, and the man being interviewed says that many people in Port au Prince left their homes and moved into tent cities because the people in tent cities were getting things.

Mark Aubry, a missionary working at the Seminary in Saccenville describes this plight as this:

"You see, there is a “learned helplessness” in Haiti. That is, the actions of the people here (and the kids learn it as well) are such that it seems that many are saying, “we’ll just wait for people from America to come here and give us stuff.” However, most community, school and church leaders want to change this attitude and stop the dependency. Haiti needs to develop its own “Haitian Heroes” instead of the kids thinking that the Americans (or other outsiders) are the heroes, bringing in items to save the day."

I think that his description is eerily accurate. There is a certain degree of complacency within the people's mindset with this.

I strongly believe that there is good and bad giving. In both situations, the intentions are incredibly pure and good, but the execution is what determines whether it is good, or bad.

Here are some examples, I feel, that can be bad giving:

  • Giving to people you do not have somewhat of a relationship with. This relationship doesn't have to occur over a long period of time. It can be as simple as getting to know someone's name and their story. When a foreigner goes into a country, they do not understand the language and the culture. This means that they could give to someone who, in reality, doesn't really need it. THE SOLUTION: Provide the items that you would like to give to someone who understands the culture and knows the people better than you. I can't help but wonder what the earthquake relief would have looked like if the aid workers went through and assessed every situation before giving a box of supplies. More than likely, less people would have left their homes to live in tent cities.
  • Giving publicly. When in a classroom, often when you give a student something that is desired, you will quickly have a mob of hands in front of you outstretched for their own. It is basic human instinct, but, when you give to those outstretched hands, it is easy to give to the same child twice, or miss a hand and a child won't give any. This same thing applies when you are a foreigner giving away items. You show that you have one thing, then everyone wants one. THE SOLUTION: Give privately. Pull the person aside into a separate room to give them an item. I think back to Jesus when he would heal someone and he would say "don't tell anyone." Ultimately the person always told others, but I almost wonder if it was to avoid a scene. This concept of giving privately is also referenced in Matthew 6:2 "So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets..." 
  • Giving items to meet needs that have already been met. I think that one of the most common misconceptions about Haiti is that they have nothing. But when you drive through the streets everyone is clothed, and not only clothed, but clean. You may see children who are unclothed, but, who dresses their children in their best to go play outside? There are places to purchase clothes, there are places to purchase shoes, there are places to purchase food. Often, these items can be given to people who already have them which means that someone who does not have them will ultimately not get something that they need. Otherwise, if people who do have them already want something different, then they can work and buy new. When they purchase something, instead of it being given to them, they are putting money into the hands of someone who is working to support their family to purchase the same sorts of things. The cycle continues, and the economy grows. THE SOLUTION: Get to know the people before you give. This will get the goods into the right people's hands and force those who do not need to purchase and support the local economy.
  • Giving things. I believe that the best way for Haiti to become stabilized is if they had a functional government, people were educated and jobs were created. Educating people to do a marketable skill is the first step, second would be having entrepreneur create a job for this person, third would be having a functioning government that would allow the Haitian people to easily export their goods. The craftsmanship in Haiti is outstanding, but they often have no way of selling their goods outside of the country. I know nothing about how that system works, so I won't try to cover how it should happen, but I do know that if we educate the people so that they can find their own job, or be a skilled workman, it would go a long way.

It's time that we begin enabling these community, school and church leaders to change this mindset. I believe that it is time to stop giving, and start enabling change.

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