6 Things Haitians Can Do

I want people to come to this country, I really do.  And I want them to travel to other countries too to serve alongside their brothers and sisters in this world while exploring the beauty that life has to offer together.  But I want them to come for a good reason.  I don’t want them to keep spending the time and money to travel to do things that the local citizens could do.  This is a list of 6 simple things that Haitians can do yet many, many foreigners continue to travel here to do them instead.  I hope that readers can begin to consider alternative activities if they are thinking of traveling to Haiti, but still give funds so that Haitians can do these things.

1.  Build Buildings

It’s true that Haiti needs lots of things built.  Homes, schools, community centers, churches, whatever.  But the reason that they have not been built, or even the reason that they were built but got destroyed in a hurricane or an earthquake is not because Haitians do not know how to build them.  It’s because they don’t have the funds that they need to build the buildings as well as they need to be built to withstand nature.  The reason that so many buildings toppled in the quake is not that the people building them didn’t know the correct methods, but because the best methods cost more money and so they cut corners to make something usable.  If they have the funds, any Haitian construction boss with any sort of decent training can build any size of structure needed that will survive whatever Mother Nature throws at it.  And they will still do it twice as fast and for a quarter of the cost as we would do with our newfangled construction methods that so many foreigners have tried to introduce to this country.  All it takes is a little extra rebar and a little extra cement to make a building stronger against the elements.  It does not take a bunch of foreigners coming in trying to show the Haitians a better way.  Trained engineers and architects might disagree with me on that point, but I’ve seen a lot of time and resources being wasted in this country by foreigners who thought they brought with them construction solutions, while Haitians shake their heads and patiently wait.

Whoa! Wait a minute! Who taught them how to do that?

2.  Paint Walls

They might drip  a little more on the floor than we would, but that’s not enough reason to think we need to do it for them.  And, house paint is one of the cheapest materials to buy to donate to a project, so even if it’s not possible to donate larger funds towards a more comprehensive construction project, I bet ya your garage sale brought in enough money to buy a few buckets of paint that local Haitians could slap on a wall.  And I’ll admit that I’ve encouraged plenty of teams to paint walls as projects when I run out of other ways to keep them busy.  If they finish their priority projects early and need something to do, and walls need painted, sure, go for it.  Because it is something that anyone can do.  Which is exactly why it should never be the main reason for leaving our homes elsewhere, and hopping on a plane, to come paint walls that anyone else could paint.

3.  VBS

For the non-Christianese speaking folks who may read my blog, this stands for Vacation Bible School.  It generally consists of a combination of puppets, felt boards, skits, snacks, songs, and balloons (water or otherwise) to teach children Bible story lessons and how to live like Jesus.  In the US it’s widely accepted by churches as a great way to get children excited about God while giving their parents a week off of having to haul them back and forth from the swimming pool.  And I wouldn’t disagree.  I have fond memories of VBS as a kid in Iowa.  But when it becomes the default mission for any Christian coming to Haiti who doesn’t know what else to do, it becomes a problem.  No one is better at telling Haitian children Bible stories and teaching them songs about God, than Haitian parents, Haitian teachers, and older Haitian siblings.  They are the ones who already know all the stories and all the songs in Creole, as well as the culturally appropriate and effective ways to encourage children to have fun while learning these lessons.  They do not need us to spend the money to make a trip down here to do it for them and they certainly don’t need us telling them who God is.  They’ve got that one covered.  If we want to send some money so they can buy the snacks and supplies that they need, then great, but this country is full of Haitian adults who can plan spiritual growth opportunities for kids that are full of fun and learning.

4.  Hand Things Out

This is a tricky one.  Because I have seen distribution activities for items such as rice, clothing, tarps, food supplies, etc, go absolutely haywire when organized and carried out by Haitians.  But I’ve seen them go just as terribly when organized and carried out by foreigners.  So the problem is not who is handing the things out, but how the distribution activity is planned out ahead of time.  So, if a foreign group is involved in providing the resources for such a distribution activity, I do highly recommend being involved in the preparation for the activity to ensure that measures are put in place to carry the distribution out with equality and dignity for all recipients, but then let local Haitian leaders actually be the ones to hand the items out to their neighbors.  Work with local organizations that have experience in doing such activities already and get the support from local authorities beforehand.  We don’t want the 80-year-old woman who hasn’t eaten in two days having to fight through an angry mob to get her bag of rice.  This is why it’s best to leave the actual handing out process in the hands of the local leaders because if any problems do come up, they will be the ones most able to deal with the problems appropriately and communicate with people involved.

5.  Throw Parties

If there was only one thing that Haitians knew how to do, it would be party!  This is why when I see a foreign group come in and think that they need to plan and throw a big party for the community, it seems as if they have no clue who Haitians really are.  Haitians are much greater experts at partying than any other nation of people I’ve ever met, so it’s silly to think that we need to provide a party for them with our foreign concepts of what’s fun and enjoyable.  If there is a celebration to be made, even if it has to do with your group’s specific mission in the country, leave the planning and leading up to the Haitians.  Believe me, everyone will end up having more fun.  Probably even you.  If you don’t believe me, come to Kanaval, or May Day in Jacmel, or a Futbol Final.  If you still don’t believe me, do a little research on who the Haitians have chosen as their president.  That man knows how to party!

6.  Plant Things

I’ve seen multiple agricultural projects introduced my foreigners to this country fail because the foreigners implementing the projects didn’t research local growing methods beforehand or do their homework to know the reasons behind different local agricultural trends.  It’s unfair to the country to assume that just because they get described as “impoverished” or “underdeveloped” that they don’t know how to plant things.  This country is full of agronomists and farmers who know how to plant things and are able to plant things.  If there was a better way to do it that was locally plausible, they probably would have figured it out already.  And, even if you aren’t trying to introduce any new methods, or maybe even more  so, but just want more trees planted or more gardens planted, don’t think that you need to come here to dig a hole in the dirt yourself.  Haitians are plenty capable of that.  If possible, just provide the funds to purchase the seeds or saplings locally so that the Haitians can cultivate the pride that comes from making their community more beautiful.  And, once again, if it’s not your primary activity, but you want to accompany some of the locals that you’ve been supporting as they plant some trees some afternoon, then by all means, jump in and get your hands dirty.  But as with the other things on this list, planting things alone does not warrant the purchase of a plane ticket.

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2 comments

  1. “Accompany” is perhaps the crucial word. Doing things “with” the people is what I try to have folks do. There is a lot of experience and wisdom here – and it needs to be recognized and appreciated by visitors.
    I would, though, look at ways to help the people here increase their knowledge as part of a mutual process. Sometimes a little bit of good “first world” knowledge or expertise can help, but only within a framework of mutuality.
    Haitians and Hondurans know a lot and do a lot.
    Thanks for the post.

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