Month: October 2012

How to Survive Sandy

To all my friends in the US who will be directly affected by Hurricane Sandy, I hope that you all are able to stay safe and do not suffer any damage to your property or belongings.  I hope that we all are able to make it through this storm with relatively few problems.  But, just when you’re about ready to complain because the power’s out and you can’t charge your iPad or you’re going to miss an episode of The Voice, I hope that we can keep some perspective.  I hope that we can realize that as we suffer from this storm, we are becoming part of a global network of victims who have already suffered devastation from it.  So, here are a few questions you may be asking yourself, or that I’ve heard people asking already, and my suggested responses to them.

How will I prepare?  Ask the 40 million people in the Caribbean who were struck by surprise by the hurricane and had no time to prepare.

What will I do without electricity for a few days?  Ask the one and a half billion people who live without electricity in this world everyday.

What will I do if I don’t have water for a few days?  Ask the 1.4 billion people in this world who don’t have clean water access at all.

What will I do if my streets are flooded?  Ask the more than 1 billion people in the world who lack access to roads at all.

What if I have to take a no pay day off of work?  Ask the 200 million people in the world who are without work.

What will I do if I’m separated from my loved ones and can’t travel to be with them?  Ask the families of the 57 victims in the Caribbean who lost their lives in the storm how they are coping.

What will I do if the water ruins my carpet?  Ask the 200,000 Haitians who have already been left homeless by the storm.

What will I do if I can’t make it to the voting station for the election?  Ask the populations of the 40-some non-democratic countries in the world what it feels like not to have their voice heard.


Calculating Priorities


1) Sometimes I use this blog to write well thought out interpretations on international social issues affecting human beings that I deeply care about. Other times I just use it to vent my frustrations typing like angry finger diarrhea. This may be one of those times. These sort of posts have had a history of being unpopular with certain readers, so I’m putting a disclaimer on this one from the beginning so if you want, you have a chance to turn back now.

2) I’m going to use the second person pronoun “you” a lot in this one, because I see no other way. I have tried to stay away from that pronoun for awhile, but in this case, I’m going to have to use it. So, if you feel in some way personally implicated in what I’m saying because of that pronoun, then I can tell you nothing else than to honestly analyze your own perspectives and actions to see if you are truly guilty of the things I may be complaining about.

3) Also, I usually try to leave my organization out of my posts here on this blog because I don’t want my personal opinions to create any liability for the organization that I work for and most of the things that I write about apply to a much broader system of aid and help. But my particular frustrations inspiring this post have a direct relationship to one of our programs and I will probably be citing some figures and examples from that program. This does not mean that any of the opinions shared reflect in any way the official position of the organization or the program.

4) For the record, and for anyone who may be reading for the first time, I am pro short term mission team and pro individual volunteer. Pro smart short term mission team and pro smart individual volunteer.

Okay, that being said…

I have been doing some math lately. Anyone who knows me knows that that’s dangerous territory. As I figure it, the average cost of one American to come spend a week in my community of Mizak on whatever mission they may choose, is $1400. That factors in cost for transportation to get to Haiti as well as in country, plus room and board. And that is calculating for the guest house in my community which is probably the cheapest in the country, especially considering the services they provide. This number does not account for project costs of whatever the person may be doing, this is the dollar amount for their simple presence. $1400. Feel free to try to do it for cheaper. I’m sure it’s possible, but not likely, and certainly not common. Granted, for an international mission trip experience, this is relatively cheap compared to what someone might pay if they decide they’re called to Africa, Asia, or South America. However, for one person, for one week, to my area, I think it’s a safe estimate. $1400.

But here’s another calculation for you. The average cost of one Haitian young adult to attend a university for one year: $1650.

I’m going to make this as simple as possible.  Anyone thinking of taking a short term trip to Haiti to do some sort of good, please ask yourself: IS YOUR ONE WEEK IN HAITI MORE IMPORTANT THAN AN ENTIRE YEAR OF UNIVERSITY EDUCATION FOR ONE HAITIAN YOUNG ADULT?

If you’re having trouble answering that question, then I’ll help you out. What are some the biggest problems facing Haitians today? Here’s a hint: it’s not a lack of foreigners in their country to do mission work. Their biggest problems are: a lack of good local leaders who are educated in fields that can contribute the development of their country. A generation of young Haitians who have lost faith in their country and in their own futures. A culture that’s been diluted by foreign influence and now struggles to find relevance with the youth who will be the only ones left to carry it forward. These are Haiti’s biggest problems.

What’s the solution to these problems? Educating this generation of young adults and encouraging them to believe in their dreams for a better society so that tomorrow they may become the strong, honest, creative leaders that their country needs.

Now, do I need to ask the question again?

The last couple of weeks I have been doing lots of presentations around the Midwest to a variety of different groups: churches, schools, college students, professional associations, civic clubs, etc, to promote the work of my organization, Living Media. Herein lies the source of my frustration; through these presentations I have found a multitude of people interested in coming down to Haiti. At each place I speak there is at least one, if not a whole group of people who are ready to start making plans towards spending that $1400 to come down. And yet, at these same presentations I am promoting LMi’s Sponsor a Dreamer program which enables young Haitians to attend university programs through sponsorship and guides them through mentorship and training. $1650. I have absolutely no difficulty finding people wanting to come down, but it is nearly impossible to find people willing to sponsor a young adult.

Why is it when two different forms of “helping” Haitians cost almost the same amount of money, and one option clearly has much longer lasting effects, do we tend to choose the other one?

Let me put it this way: We have 19 young adults registered in this program right now, and we make it very competitive, accepting only the most talented and most driven applicants. Out of these 19 we have sponsors for 12 so far. However, in the past year there have been at least 175 foreigners who have come to area for less than 2 weeks on some sort of mission trip. Each one of them spent that $1400 to be there and do whatever they did. Some of them have done very good work which I and others in the community have been very grateful for. Others have simply come to check something off their heaven list or add a line to their resume. Whatever the result of their work there, it doesn’t change the fact that there are that many people willing to spend the money to come down while I have to absolutely fight like hell to find a few sponsors for our university students. And, the majority of our sponsors also come on one of those teams. Those who are able to make the sacrifice to do both, I respect highly and consider bright examples of intelligent intervention. But for those who can’t do both, we need to ask the question: which is more important?

In my little community of 17,000 Haitians, I dream of a day when 175 passionate, intelligent children of farmers and market vendors can attend university every year.

I’m not delusional. I know that hardly anyone would ever make that decision to say they won’t travel but just send the money that they would have spent to support a college student instead. Sending a check isn’t near as glamorous as taking the trip. And since the goal of mission work has become the simple glamour of the privileged and not the sustainable development of complex societies of underprivileged populations, then math makes no difference.

So maybe I’ll just quit doing math and keep believing in silly dreams.

8 Pictures of People who Live on less than $1 a day

80% of people in Haiti live on less than $2 a day and almost 60% on less than $1.  Yah, yah, we know, Haitians work like animals but never make any money.  We know because everyone who ever wants to prove just how miserable the lives of Haitians are make sure to point out this statistic.  It’s just slightly more specific than saying that Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere.  Google blogs about Haiti, you’re sure to find this statistic on almost all of them.  Search YouTube for videos from Haiti, same thing.  Somehow we think that siting these numbers paints a picture of a society that most people have never encountered first hand by contrasting their Haitian economic figures with that of the reader/viewer/listener.  Unfortunately, this statistic conjures up an image of what a person who lives on that little must look like.  They must have to walk barefoot on the ground.  Do they even have nice clothes to wear that don’t have holes in them?  How do they even afford to buy soap to bathe with if they make that little?

Granted, on these same blogs and YouTube videos, many of them go on to show pictures that aren’t the exaggerated examples of pathetic, undignified poverty.  Most groups have gotten beyond that image in these days, yet using this statistic to describe a country full of such beautiful, vivacious humans, betrays the good intentions of what they are trying to express.  The fact is, living on less than $1 a day isn’t the worst thing in the world.  We should all be so blessed to be able to experience it sometime.  However, when we use this statistic to define a people with the intention of evoking pity so that people will support whatever externally heroic mission we’re pushing, we passively insult the Haitians that we’re wanting to help.

I once watched one of these YouTube videos at home with some of my roommates with me and I translated the part where they shared the statistic.

“Why’d they say that?”  One of them asked me.  “That can’t really be true, can it?”

“Do any of you make more than $1 a day?”  I asked them.  None of them did.

“But that’s not who we are.”  Was their response, meaning, they’re much more than just a bunch of people who have to live off less than $1 every day.  They don’t define themselves by how little they make every day, so why should we?

So, for this reason, here’s some pictures of people who live on less than $1 a day.  Sure, they’re just a bunch of my friends in Haiti.  I didn’t have to look far to find a few pictures of Haitians looking good in my pictures folder.  Although none of them actually make more than $1 a day I don’t think that they’re what we typically think about when we hear that figure.  These aren’t the sort of images that we think of as people who fit into that 60%.  Pity is the ultimate enemy of progress, and if we are ever going to make any progress as a human race, I think we need to start rethinking how we describe in word, number, and image, those who we are working with to make life more beautiful.