I think about the person I was wayyyyy back when. Back in the days when I was brave enough to take in a dying baby while I planned my wedding, not to mention having already taken in two little mischievous boys. I mean, really, what was I thinking? How did I even have the energy, let alone the audacity to make those type of decisions?
Yet, I can remember the days very clearly, when Webert and I had those three life-changing conversations. You know, the ones where we decided we’d commit to a lifetime of raising three beautiful kiddos, before even standing on an altar and making vows to each other. It’s bizarre to think about, but those three leading me down the aisle on our wedding day was a dream come true; a dream I never even knew I held nor could have ever dreamt up had I tried.
We took them in not knowing if we would ever be able to legally adopt or travel with them. I lived in that reality for several years: never knowing when I would be able to travel Stateside with my family. What brave things you do when you’re young and naive. Today, though, if someone reaches out to me about adopting from Haiti or legal advice, I’m super hesitant to respond. Had I known wayyyyy back then all we would have to endure to get to where we are today, I might not have been so brave.
There were lots of other things I got my hands into back in those naive, young days. Once, Webert and I tried saving a little girl from an abusive situation. She was living in the slums of the local market and her blind dad would take her into the streets each day to beg. At one point, we earned his trust, told him we could admit her into the orphanage and give her an education. We promised to help him as well, since he was blind and unable to work. After a few weeks of her living at the orphanage, he came back to get her, having realized he made more money using her to beg on the streets. We tried reporting the situation to social services, but nothing ever came of that. There was nothing we could do to fight for her nor get her out of the abusive situation. To this day, we don’t know where she is, but Webert still sees dad in the market from time to time.
Back then, I was young and naive enough to believe that justice prevailed. Hard lessons were learned to realize the world didn’t always operate in ways I wanted to believe it did.
There was a time I loaned personal money to a group of five mamas who had all sought me out together. Most of them were young mamas with babies and all of them were living in desperate situations, residing in tarp tents. They all agreed to pay back their loans together, making payments towards their loans on a monthly basis. You want to know how many dollars were repaid by this group of mamas? Zero dollars. After a few months of no payments being made, Webert and I went to visit them. When asked why they hadn’t made any payments, one actually laughed in our faces. Another sly comment was made, “it’s white people money anyways.” I’ve done small business loans a lot differently since then. Young and naive me had to learn that giving wasn’t always the answer when it came to helping. I also had to learn what it meant to say no, a hard one for most of us to practice.
The first time we were taken to court was after a young man had the tip of his pinky torn off while painting the orphanage’s vehicle. We paid for all of his medical bills and made sure he was well taken care of. A few months after the accident, he was caught lying about his schooling and asking people for money to pay school fees that he didn’t even have. We let him go from his part-time position at the orphanage and he then tried taking us to court, saying he would never be able to work again because of his damaged pinky. Side note: the pinky could still bend and had completely healed. He tried suing us for $30,000. We were able to work out a solution and resolve the situation without having to pay any money to the courts. But to this day, I know this young man still lies and sends messages to innocent, well-intended, kind people. They don’t know what he had done to try and ruin our ministry or the lies he told. Young and naive me had to learn more hard lessons on how to communicate to well-intended goers and donors without sounding like a bitter b*tch. Actually, that’s something I’m constantly working on.
We once had a house built for a family in order to reunite the son who was living at Tytoo with his family. We then hired his mama at Rosie’s as our cleaning lady. A year or so passed with the family living in their home; boy was also reunited with his family. It felt like a success story worth writing about. Mom was doing a superb job for me at Rosie’s and all seemed well. Then, people came and showed proof that they didn’t actually own the land we had built the house on. The house had been built without proof of ownership and with lots of chaos, a very violent and scary episode and then a few thousand dollars later, we learned our lesson to never build a home for a family without proper proof of land ownership.
One of my first Christmases in Haiti I did a fundraising campaign with a friend. The money would be used to build five homes for five families. At the time, a woman was constantly showing up at our house, asking for help. Her living situation was horrific and she was raising a handful of kids while also surviving an abusive relationship. We decided she would be one of the five to receive a new house. Once the house was built and the keys were handed over, people started taunting her and throwing rocks at the house, ruining the new tin roof. People believed she was too dirty and too stupid to deserve such a gift. My young and naive heart broke as I learned hard lessons of greed, jealousy and strife.
There’s been so many hard lessons along the way. There’s been so many shifts in theology. So been walls built up from a whole wad of messy situations. There’s been a revolving door of people coming in and out of Haiti; some of those people will never know the impact they had on my life.
I think about who I am today and a big part of myself just feels like a big grey cloud. Young and energetic people come onto the field and inside I just feel sorry for them. I once admitted to someone that I didn’t want them to come and serve with us, because I didn’t want Haiti to ruin who they were: young, positive and energetic. I’ve also told close friends who have felt called to serve at the orphanage that they just shouldn’t. They talk and talk about how much they love Haiti and I’ve responded to their admiration by saying, “if you want to always love Haiti, never move there full-time.”
Most days, I have more bad things to say than good. Have an idea about ways to change Haiti? I’ll probably be able to give you a dozen reasons why your ideas won’t work. Some days, I don’t even know if I believe in the work I’m even doing. Which makes it extra fun to raise funds for things I’m constantly doubting. The doubting is a double-edged sword. Some days it feels like God’s leading to a better way; His promptings and fresh ideas in my little ol’ brain reminding me there’s some fight left in me. But, there’s also the side of things where Satan plays a good game of making me doubt; making me angry; making my soul somewhat paralyzed.
There’s also this space where I want to educate people on how to do things differently. Not that I’m doing things perfectly, but I’ve just learned a thing or two over the years. Along with other people who have served on the field, we’ve concluded that things just shouldn’t be done certain ways. You’d think it’d be easier to paint this picture, but it’s just not with so many factors at play. I’ll just say this, if you find yourself in Haiti and your time is spent walking around aimlessly, “loving people,” you’re more than likely do much more harm than you are good. Sorry, but that’s the hard truth.
And, that’s what usually stops me from getting into the education part of things: people don’t want to hear it. We want a quick trip that leaves us feeing good about ourselves, without having to make a long-term sacrifice. We don’t want to hear about the harm, when it leaves us feeling so blessed. And the last thing we’d want to do is offend a goer or donor at the risk of losing their support. What a stupid cycle that at the end of the day only exploits the poor all the more.
Before I get into full-on rant mode, I’ll just stop and say, there’s still, miraculously, a handful of things I firmly do believe in. All those naive years at least established a few firm beliefs. My last three days of the year, I’ll share what they are and give you an opportunity to partner with us, with the intention to open your eyes to old ways that maybe, just maybe, were doing more harm than good.