Read this amazing blog post from Dani, a volunteer who is in the midst of her year helping at NPFS Haiti.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been three months. It feels like I just got here- I’m still struggling to learn the language, still meeting new people every day, still doing something different at work every day, still figuring out how to fill up my free time. I don’t have a usual thing I do with any of my days which makes it all feel new and exciting. But I think that that’s a big part of why I came here. And Haiti definitely hasn’t disappointed. When you can’t even count on facts from one day to be true on the next, semblances of routine and monotony are nonexistent.
But in other ways, much more substantial ways, it feels like I can’t have only been here for three months. The friendships I’ve made here are so much deeper than any I’ve made in the states in just three months. The work we’ve accomplished as a team has been substantial and important. Although it can feel discouraging from day-to-day, when you look at where we started from, it makes me so proud. I’m proud of myself for learning and adapting to working in the developing world. I took a college class about teaching and we talked a lot about starting with the most basic knowledge with your student and going from there. When a teaching a computer program in the US, your first question would probably be, “have you used this particular program before?” In Haiti, it's not “have you ever used a computer before?” or even “do you know how to read?” but, “can you see the letters on the computer?” And although this reality is sad, I’m happy to have an understanding of Haiti’s circumstances that allows me to not make presumptions about people. I’ve learned, and am continuing to learn so much about the culture, that I know not to judge levels of understanding or methods of getting things done. I know that I am a visitor to this culture and that it is me that needs to be adapting, changing and learning to the way of life in Haiti. I am very thankful that those that I work most closely with, both Haitian and American, share many similar values and goals as me. It has made my transition into daily life here peaceful and rewarding.
This morning we had a mass to dedicate the new wing of St. Luc Hospital to Sister Philomena, a long-time NPFS volunteer. Father spoke about how we are able to accomplish so much because of the foundation that has been built from the love and sacrifice of those who worked before us. It was very meaningful to see so many of our long-term staff, volunteers and supporters there. He spoke about how all of these services we provide—a home for orphaned children, medical care for sick children, a home for disabled children, a hospital for adults, a hospital for disasters, another two homes for vulnerable children, a therapy school for disabled children—have all been created out of necessity, which is a tragedy. He spoke about that the criticism of our organizations, both internal and external, is valid and important, but that we have an organization that has been built on love for the children and love for the Haitian people. And as I reflect on his words and the work of the hundreds of people of NPFS, I am happy that we have an organization to be critical of. I am happy that people feel safe enough here to express their opinions and care enough to want to make it better. The day we take a look at our organization and say, “ok it looks like we’ve done enough” is the day we have stopped listening to and loving Haiti. The problems here are not ones that are going to be solved in my lifetime. But we are listening to the people of this country, by not only providing social services, but jobs and roles in leadership and management. We are not an organization of 20 blancs, who hire Haitian security and drivers for us to spend our days going from UN meetings to drinks in Petionville. We are a Haitian-run organization with international volunteers in advisor or training roles only. Haiti’s progress and development is going to be made by Haitians and I am happy to be a part of the empowerment and training to work towards our shared goals.
Although disappointment and devastation surrounds us all the time, for me, it’s more difficult to focus on the bad. But believe me, it’s here. Yesterday, walking into oncology as a mother cries over her three year olds body being taken out. Our cook being robbed of all the money to feed our children for the week. Patients dying because they didn’t have the money to physicall get to the hospital when they started getting sick. A university student having to fight for his right to a USB drive. Three children being abandoned at the cholera treatment center last week. Living and working in Haiti, you can’t dwell on the bad because it will pull you into a downward spiral of absolute devastation. You have to walk a fine line between listening and truly understanding other’s circumstances and not letting the overwhelming need get to you. And perhaps the hardest thing of all, is understanding that each of us has a different tipping point. Although I may be ready to hear about a great need and ready to fight to improve it, another volunteer, or my boss, or my family back home, may not be ready to hear about it. We all have our causes, our battles and whether they be self-interested or not, we have to respect each other’s work and dedication.
But what I’ve been learning to do here, is to keep a little ear open. I can’t solve our multi-million dollar budget crisis. But the babies in the abandoned room get very little attention? I have an hour to go play with them most evenings. A volunteer sees a mommy walking around the hospital with no shoes, so she gives her her flip-flips. Little moments of generosity are powerful in that they are infectious. These little gifts of time and things have expanded the hearts of our seasoned volunteers and I see that they now fight for big and difficult changes. Sending children to the US for surgeries requires medical clearances, partnerships with a donating hospital and enormous amounts of money, but they make it happen. Volunteering at a clinic in the slums on the weekend when you already spend 60 hours a week running a hospital takes a level of dedication that I can’t understand. But I can see people’s growth in the process and it makes me inspired. I hope that I too can grow in the process of my time here and learn to give more and more. So thank you to my friends and family who have been listening to me tell stories about babies, children, coworkers, patients and life in Haiti in general as I process everything I’m experiencing. I definitely could not do it without you.
Read more of Dani's post at her blog, here.