October 26, 2013
We just got back from another walk in the village. We went to exchange some money and one of the girls had to pick up a few items at the One Stop and then some bread and juice at the bread store.
There are some days that walking through town is really amazing and a nice outing, and then there are other times that you get frustrated with the society and expectations, even more the entitlement in Haiti. One of the greatest challenges we face in Haiti in the cross-cultural divide has to do with money, and along with that expectations, dependency, and entitlement mentality.
A man begged us for money outside the store. He followed us in and kept begging for bread or money. He kept grabbing my arm. Another lady poked us as she asked for money repeatedly. As we walked back, the other girl missionaries and I began talking about entitlement.
There is so much entitlement here in Haiti- sometimes I think even more so than what I’ve seen in the United States. Maybe the entitlement is more hidden amongst all of our earthly possessions in the United States as we possibly all feel entitled. I think the entitlement comes in us as the traveler also as we want to give our things out. Our handouts defeat the systems that the missionaries are trying to put in place when we overstep them thinking that we know best because we saw one version of the country in a ten-day trip.
There is so much temptation when you visit a country to want to jump in and fix all of the problems, but sometimes we neglect to ask the right questions. The first time you go on a mission trip, especially to Haiti, your heart aches to help or even save these people that you encounter. You buy bracelets, you hand out dollars or shoes and maybe you even build relationship with people so that you can give them your things at the end of the trip. You can be helping them so much because there is a great need of those items or for that extra dollar for a family. Don’t get me wrong there is legitimate need and the opportunities in Haiti are massive. But you can be hurting the people in doing this and the sad thing is we don’t even realize it.
I’m often asked for things because of my skin color in Haiti. Sometimes it makes me really sad because I would love to pour and invest in relationship with people I come into contact with, not just give them things because they ask. Sometimes giving things out, not knowing a person’s story or circumstance belittles the systems organizations have in place. At least for 35 years, this has been happening as long as the mission has been around. Teams come and they go and they leave their things behind, but it sometimes creates a cycle. The white people have things and so we can just ask for them. There is no trust, true relationship or even accountability built.
The biggest unintended consequence is building an entitlement mentality among the people of Haiti. The more we individually jump into a situation and solve third-world problems with first-world money and expertise, third-world citizens will begin to believe their problems could only be solved by first-world people. As a result, entitlement sets in, and nothing is done by Haitians unless it is paid and accomplished by American missionaries.
In all our efforts with our Haitian staff and with those we serve in our communities, we are evaluating the consequence of our investments to safeguard our efforts from the entitlement mindset. We encourage Haitians to take ownership of the ministry and communities God has given them. Sometimes the presence of American missionaries equals riches and luxury. Understanding these realties, we want to alleviate any unnecessary difficulties for our indigenous people and leaders and, at the same, empower them to lead their communities and churches to change their communities with integrity and passion.
I see this all the time in my everyday life here in Haiti- here are some good examples and some bad examples of entitlement:
-I don’t think the Haitian people realize the cost of being a missionary, that there is an actual cost to be here in Haiti. We raise money to provide for our lives here in Haiti but also to provide ministry needs. The truth of the matter is most of us missionaries are not rich and do not live in luxury, we budget and use the money we have as wisely as possible. We are rich in our love for Jesus and that’s about it. We are very blessed by generous donors. But there are so many needs in Haiti and so the money can quickly go to those who truly need it. We had a fire earlier this fall and it caused a lot of damage. We didn’t have money for the repairs in a budget anywhere. So we all chipped in our personal money, fundraised and got extra money to repaint and fix the damages. We poured hours into fixing the orphanage for a week. The little girls were pleased and thankful. What happen to the older girls? They felt entitled and stole a can of paint and attempted to paint some of their room. It looked awful. When the fire happen, what did they do? They made fun of the little girl’s whose closed burned, even though the fire happen because one of the older girls. Another boy painted his name across the back of the house because he felt entitled to.
-They ask for things and Americans readily give them things. We had one woman who sent a package of beans and rice for a family here. They paid the baggage fees for another person to bring it and then berated us with emails about getting the family the package. When we opened it and discovered that it was beans and rice, we laughed. Sending money through a missionary to purchase the items in the marketplace here would allow us to help the local economy. Instead of money wasted on baggage fees it could have been used for ministries in need here.
-A previous team member promised items to a bracelet boy without checking with the team bringing the items or the missionaries. When the mission decided they would not give out the gifts, what happen? The boy became upset and aggressive because the American has promised him. It put the team and missionaries not only in an uncomfortable position but it also could jeopardize their safety. Another boy was upset with the bracelets system we have in place and began waving a stick in an intern’s face because we were taking away the opportunity for him the monopolize (more on that below). We’ve had people attempt to send them iPods and phones and wire money. There is no accountability in doing those these because often times the kids lie about their story. We had a boy within our orphanage that had a Facebook created in his name and was controlled by someone in town, he began requesting money from friends of the missionaries who sponsor him. It wasn’t the boy in our system, it was someone else.
There are numerous accounts that are run by not who they say they are, that is why we always want giving to go through our programs. We have plenty of children who are in need within our programs. Not all boys are trying to work the system, but there are lot who are because that’s what they have been taught about how to survive. This one boy in particular continues to abuse relationships with Americans, just recently he cheated two boys out of money that Americans sent via a wire transfer. Instead of checking with our systems or missionaries, they just willing sent over hundreds of dollars and now these two boys can't go to school.
-We desire to equip, not give them entitlement:
-“Be my friend? Buy bracelet from me?” is the question that we would often get asked in the streets. The kids desire to build friendships for the mere fact that you will purchase something from them. As Americans come each summer, the front gates would be crowded with children screaming at you to be their friend. The summer ends, where do all those kids go? Most disappear back to their village or home, never to step in front of the mission until the next summer or the next American team comes in. Instead, we have begun to eliminate these types of relationships. We hold a bible study with our “bracelet boys” and while we are studying, we give out lists of names from the Americans staying with us. We divide the lists up, so that certain boys are capitalizing on the business. We allow them to equally be making the same amount.
Last summer, there was a boy who would friend all the Americans on FB and would build “relationships” with multiple people then he would get them to give him the names because their friends. Instead of making the bracelets, he then made younger children make them and gave them a small percentage of the money. He monopolized on the children and made them pay him a majority of any money made.
-We have an amazing brothel ministry here at the mission in Haiti. We could easily pay for these women to get out of the brothel, purchase them new homes and provide for their every need. But what would that teach? Instead we have a ministry with them, we build relationships with them. They come to know God, not because of what we do but because of how Jesus works through us. We taught them to make earrings, necklaces, and bracelets and we sell them in our cantina and stateside. We stand alongside them, not giving them a handout but teaching them skills to survive. There is bible study and a message given each time we meet to make jewelry. The message is given by a woman leader within the community. We help them establish bank accounts with the money they make from the jewelry, teach them about savings and we teach them about tithing.