I recently had lunch with a friend and we talked, as I often do, about international relief and development work. He asked about my travel over the next year and I mentioned that I was planning another trip to Haiti in about a month. He asked, as most people do whenever I mention Haiti, “So how are things going there anyways?”
I have found that the unspoken question behind this question is this, “Is all of our efforts, goodwill, intentions and resources really making a difference? Are we able to change what seems like a fundamentally broken place?”
Are we making a difference?
I responded with some of the success stories, and suggested that it takes time to change social patterns, thoughts and behaviours (worldviews), blah, blah, I started to bore myself. I realized as I spoke, I knew the most critical, most difficult, #1 change in attitude that is absolutely necessary in any successful development project.
That change is My Canadian perspective.
When we think of cultural worldviews, we tend to think of the ‘backward’ ‘unhealthy’ perspectives of people in those poor countries over there. I believe that the most important worldview that we must change is our own. What do we believe about the ability and capacity of the people we go to work alongside? Who do I truly believe owns the solutions, capacity and ability in Haiti. When I am honest, I realize I believe it is my responsibility – This is unhealthy and fatally flawed. Let me clarify.
There are literally thousands of new agencies, workers and teams working in Haiti. When I speak with them they all talk about a specific problem and their particular Important Technical Professional Solution. Orphan care, food packages, employment, leadership development, the list goes on and on. In most cases, the unspoken assumption of all of this work is that the people of Haiti are waiting for the solution to be brought to them.
In some cases this is true, centuries of action cannot be undone overnight, but even if it is true, our ‘can-do’ attitude and ‘fix-it’ practice leads not to empowering, but to stifling. If someone is broken, we are convinced that someone else needs to fix them. If someone is weak, then someone else needs to be strong. What might happen if we asked where things are working well? Who is involved in solutions and refusing pat answers? Where are the strengths of the community are? And, where we may come to learn?
We may just accidentally find ourselves in a true partnership.
My need to be the solution to Haitian problems, is by FAR the toughest mental attitude that needs to change if we truly want to be part of international change. Change this mentality, begin to act on the belief that Haitians have the problems as well as the solutions, and we will start to learn to see them for ourselves.
What do you think? What blinders do you have on when it comes to helping the poor?