I haven’t been blogging. Obviously. I’ve reworked my website once, and I’m doing it yet again. So far, they’re not connected to this blog, so I’ve had a bit of an out-of-sight, out-of-mind thing going on. I plan to fix that. Now. No more wringing of hand, rending of garments. I miss blogging. And, after the article I read this morning, I’m going back at it.
There’s a lot that’s been inspiring me, but the biggest inspiration came from a reading from an article called Don’t go to Haiti to volunteer, published yesterday in The Star, from Toronto. The article nailed it. I’ve been reading tons of articles about the failings of aid in Haiti, how the big NGOs have filled their coffers by marketing the tragedy of the earthquake, but I’ve not read much of the simple, first person, mainstream newspaper variety. In fact, it was so good, it caused me to write a letter to the the author. Some background: I returned from a quick trip to Haiti exactly a week ago. It’s always odd getting on the plane in Miami and realizing that you’re the odd person out. There are seem to be a lot of pasty, overly eager folks in matching tee-shirts, that usually have a cross somewhere, heading down to save souls, or build schools, or distribute rice, or whatever. But, mostly, they’re going to make themselves feel good. And, again, they’re going to save souls. It’s so obvious, and so jarring, all those people taking pictures of themselves waiting while playing a game or Gin Rummy or Go Fish, that I tweeted: Am fairly certain that I’m the only white person waiting at the gate for a flight to Port-au-Prince who isn’t a missionary.
But, back to the article. You should really read it yourself, since it’s not long or difficult, or particularly maddening, but if you don’t want to, I’ve attached the two paragraphs that most resonated with me:
Think of it this way: a $600 round-trip ticket to Haiti is just $130 short of the annual income of the average Haitian. You shouldn’t pay to do that job. A Haitian should be paid to do it. Before the earthquake, up to 80 per cent of the country’s population was unemployed, according to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The number one request from residents in refugee camps around the capital writing to the International Organization of Migration? A job. Then they could pay for food, a new home and their kids’ school tuition themselves. They wouldn’t need help.
Simple and sensible. Yes? And, the quote below struck me, too, mainly because I think about it often. (Honestly, I think of people who go to SE Asia, and go on hikes to see the people in hill tribes in their “native” dress. And, they snap photos. During my first trip to SE Asia, I was working an inside-the-beltway, inside-a-cubicle job, and remember imaging a group of backpackers stopping by my beige cubicle, snapping photos, and cooing, “ooooooh, how exotic!”)
Imagine if our foster homes were packed with non-English speaking Khmers and Costa Ricans, looking to help and gain insight into our culture for two weeks. We’d call Children’s Aid. Or if your kid came home from school to tell you that a Chinese teenager was in the class teaching Mandarin. Why do we think it’s okay in Haiti then? My Haitian translator Dimitri says this reinforces the slavery mentality —– that anyone from the developed world who can afford to come to Haiti and is white has something to teach.
But, if you want to know what I really think, here’s the letter I emailed to the author, not quite an hour ago:
Dear Ms Porter,
I returned last week from my third trip to Haiti. I own a small, fair trade import business, and was urged initially to go there and buy from artisans by my dentist who, along with his OB-GYN wife, have been going for years to work in medical clinics there.
My first trip was in November 2008. I stayed in a guesthouse in Port-au-Prince, since leveled by an earthquake, that housed volunteers from the US, Canada, and Europe who were on their way to Gonaïves, which had been buried in mud as a result of a hurricane. These people had taken leave from their jobs, and had spent a considerable sum to come to Haiti to shovel out a town buried in mud. Even then, before Haiti had become everyone’s favorite basket case, I couldn’t figure out why these people thought what they were doing was a good idea. How, I mused, is coming to Haiti to shovel mud helpful, when they could just send money to buy shovels and pay locals to do it themselves? I honestly didn’t understand–and, honestly still don’t–the disaster tourist/junkie mentality. And, since the earthquake, it seems as though even more people have become afflicted.
I wanted to commend you on your call for people to go to Haiti to be tourists. And, really, they should go and buy from artisans. But, honestly, I think that plea will fall on deaf ears. There are far too many organizations milking the disaster to fill their coffers, and a multitude of missionaries thinking that they’re earning chits for the next world.
Again, great piece. Thanks for writing it.
all my best,
By the way, if you heed the call to go to Haiti as a tourist, get in touch with Jacqui, at Voyages Lumiere. Tell her I sent you.