I am sitting in my kitchen in MN this morning contemplating all of the errands that I need to accomplish before I journey to Haiti in 3 days. The current temperature here is -8 with a projected high of 0 degrees. The heat and humidity of Hispaniola (collective term for the island shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti) is appealing, but this is far from a beach vacation. Our team of 14 will be performing surgery for 5 days as well as participating in a distribution of 114 menstrual pad kits to local school girls. However, the most worthwhile portion of the trip will be connecting with Haitian friends that we have not seen for a year.
In 2006 when I participated in my first surgical mission trip, I thought it was worthwhile, that we helped many people and that I was not going to do this again. It was a checkmark on my bucket list and I could start moving on. I failed in that I have returned 1-2 times a year to the island and my bucket list has only grown longer with fewer checkmarks. Sometimes failure is good.
My understanding of this island nation has increased dramatically since that first trip, while my perception of issues as black and white has changed to various shades of grey. For every beneficial initiative, there can be a downside. Initiating a HIV program in a hospital and hiring additional staff – beneficial. Existing staff now wants to be paid extra to take care of HIV patients because they believe there is additional outside dollars to support this. Bringing toys and new clothes for the orphanage kids that attend a local school – beneficial. More children are abandoned at the orphanage because poor Haitians see orphanage kids having a better life than they can provide. These are only a few of the examples that I have seen over the years.
Our current microfinance program that lends women money for growth of their small business (Helping Haiti Work) is not without concerns. I do not live in Haiti and administer this program, so I have to rely on others to be truthful about distribution of the funds and respectful coaching of the recipients. The other arm of this program involves employing Haitian seamstresses to construct reusable menstrual pad kits for sale in the community. The average Haitian woman who needs this product is not able to pay enough to cover the cost of supplies/wage to seamstress. Do we distribute the kits for free and continue to depend on donations to subsidize the program? Or do we focus on selling to NGOs that have more funds and can cover our costs?
While these competing interests are playing tug of war in my head, I am gratified to report that we finished 2016 by granting 25 new loans and started 2017 by filling an order for 300 menstrual pad kits that will be distributed to school girls near Gonaives. Sometimes it is more important to think like a Haitian – appreciate today and don’t worry so much about tomorrow. That means I need to try to appreciate this cold MN weather while trying to finish all my errands today.