Two years ago today, I launched this blog. I was four months into Haiti living, and just beginning to feel like maybe Haiti was somewhere I was meant to be. The name Going Forth was derived from the Great Commission in Matthew 28 to go forth and make disciples of all people, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and all that jazz.
This blog was created to be my personal documentation of the things and people I encountered along my journey. The stories I felt led to share, and the countless things I would learn.
Well, here we are, two years later and I'm learning more now than ever.
When my journey first began, I was like most Westerners who find themselves in a developing country. I was fascinated, eager, and my heart both fell in love and fell apart simultaneously. I was bursting with a newfound love and joy for this incredibly unique and peculiar island, yet my heart was being ravaged by juxtaposed emotions of guilt, anger, sadness and righteous indignation at the realizations of the true and debilitating revelations of poverty, which left a deep and dark heaviness in my heart, and a stench of death and struggle in my lungs.
Every chance I could, I would grab my camera, hop onto a moto (motorcycle taxi, the main form of transportation in Haiti) or even head out on foot to explore every inch of my surroundings. I drank in every moment. Each smile, and wave from a passerby would fill my heart with incandescent joy. THIS is what I was created for... or so I thought.
But this was real living! I was getting those epic, National Geographic worthy images that were going to land my work on the cover some day! Even if they were random individuals I had no relationship with...
Yet, there was a purpose in those days when perhaps, in all of my well-intended glory, I was causing more harm than good.
I was learning and growing. Slowly, my ignorance was transforming into knowledge and wisdom.
I was beginning to understand that my agendas and objectives paled in comparison with the privacy, dignity and individuality of those whom I was shooting.
Little by little, I was realizing that I was a tourist in the very same village where I was living and serving. But, this didn't stop me from passing judgment on those who were doing practically the same as I was.
There's a trend going around, which is catching the attention of blogs and various news outlets. "Voluntourism" is what is described when an individual chooses to use a time he or she would normally take a vacation to "do good" somewhere in the world. A common example would be a week long trip to Mexico, Haiti, Nicaragua or the like, to build a home, play with kids in orphanages, or walk through impoverished villages passing out candy, toys, and other miscellaneous donated items.
Short-term mission trips, and these so-called "volunteers," are getting a lot of flack. And to be honest, I was amongst those casting stones, until I began to have some deep realizations of my own.
If you've ever lived in a developing country for any extended amount of time, and you hail from the western world, chances are you've become rather disenchanted by your own kind. Us "ex-pats" (Westerners who have relocated abroad) roll our eyes and make fun of the tell-tale signs of short-termers, and the unavoidable "mission trip season" that frequent our local villages and communities each summer.
The brightly colored, matching t-shirts.
The copious amounts of bug spray, sunblock, and mini bottles of hand sanitizer.
Somewhere in between my photographic escapades with random children, and moving to a remote village in the Southeast, I managed to become a missions "expert", and aligned myself with the eye-rollers and scoffers of short-term teams.
I began to develop a rather strong sense of disdain for this so-called voluntourism, and found solidarity within the social media accounts and blogs, which burned these ideas at the proverbial stake.
Let's dig a little deeper into what voluntourism actually is, shall we?
a form of tourism in which travelers participate in voluntary work, typically for a charity.
"Voluntourism is often promoted as a way to experience authenticity within the context of alternative tourism beneficial to destinations, leading to expectations of a responsible tourism ethos, creating “better places for people to live in, and better places to visit” .
However, as voluntourism grows in popularity, there are increasing reports of dissatisfaction of the experience and lack of accountability. Questions are increasingly being raised over misconceived idealism and the true value and costs of voluntourism with regard to the sustainability triple bottom line of maximizing benefits and minimising costs of economic growth, environmental integrity and social justice , “ultimately benefiting no one apart from the travel companies that organise them” according to VSO in 2007." - Voluntourism Views
As my life in Haiti evolved into more than a six-month or even one-year stint, but slowly into my present reality, I began to realize the long-term effects these type of service trips could have on local communities, and the individuals they leave behind.
Voluntourism is a real thing, and it has the potential to create long-lasting harm if it is facilitated in a way, which cripples local economies by handing out goods and products that can be found and purchased in nearby markets, and furthers the idea that foreigners are saviors who will provide the answers to all of their problems.
However, nearly every person who has devoted their life to the field full-time first had their eyes opened to the realities of life in the developing world on a short-term trip. Lives have been changed and benefitted by countless individuals who have gone on these trips, only to return home to receive and education, and turn around and dedicate their lives to bettering a specific cause.
While foreign aid/charity can be and has been done horribly wrong for a very long time, there are people who have been educated, who "get it," and are slowly putting the pieces together, and doing their best to counteract the damage that has been done.
There is a reason why developing countries are in the state they are in. They have not been allotted the same advantages, privileges, and opportunities as those of us in the developed, First World.
Their government leaders are largely corrupt and left to lead a country without much supervision, guidance or accountability. Thus leads to mass dysfunction and instability. Instead of federally funded education programs, aid groups and workers have come in and built schools to ensure that children have the ability to get an education, like Respire Haiti. Hospitals are poorly managed, and many kept in conditions unfit for even animals, so people like Partners in Health, work to create hospitals in regions that lack healthcare, which are kept to the highest of standards. Many children find themselves in exploitive and abusive situations without proper child social services to protect them, so people like Restavek Freedom work tirelessly to raise awareness and advocate for children living in these horrific conditions.
Many of the individuals who have given their life to work for the aforementioned causes, all found their passions and callings after short-term trips. They discovered that they had access to the funds and resources that would open doors to provide freedom, education and empowerment to those who need it most. So, instead of merely spending a week passing out candy and shouting, "Jesus Loves You!" through village streets, they came home and figured out how their experience, passion and education could change lives
So, here we are, two years later, and what have I learned?
People write me and ask me what I "need" here in the mission field. How they can best help apply what they have learned and gained over the course of their lives.
I'm learning that the best way to help is to allow yourself to be educated.
To come and let Manmi Nadine cook you fritay (fried Haitian goodness) and hear about what she has overcome in her life.
To learn the names of the women at the market who always remember you and the types of mangos and avocados you want to buy.
To sit and allow yourself to be humbled in your lack of ability and understanding. To come alongside of a grassroots organization you respect and trust, and learn how they can best be supported.
I've learned that I'm still learning from the mistakes I make almost daily.
That my own ignorance, and failure to adhere to or understand the culture I'm living amongst only means that I'm a human. A human who is going to continue to make mistakes, but who strives daily to grow more conscious and sensitive to the culture I am serving, to learn how to create opportunities and program that educate and empower, rather than cripple with co-dependency.
I focus on developing lasting, solid relationships with those whom I serve, because that's truly the only way real and sincere difference can be made.
These days, I'm less likely to be found catching a moto with my camera to capture the next NatGeo worthy image, but more so within the confines of our women's home learning to love, lead, serve, and pour out in a real, true, genuine and uplifting way. I'm listening to their stories, their hopes, dreams, fears and pains, and letting them show me how selfish, entitled, and ignorant I am, and how much I need them to teach me what real love, happiness and life truly is.