Confession #70: We Have Been a Crutch (Part 1)
Disclaimer: Opinions shared in the following blog posts in no way reflect the orphanage itself in which the teenagers I work with were raised. The care they received and the many people who loved them there throughout the years were a blessing for them all.
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If you are looking to read a feel good go-out-unto-all-the-world-and-help-the-poor-orphan kind of blog, you may want to go elsewhere. This ain’t going to be one of them. As a matter of fact, I have so much to say, I am taking the whole week to write a series on a topic that has had my head full and my heart heavy for quite some time.
What I am about to say is going to offend some of you. I am about to step on some of your toes. I am bracing myself for a few I don’t agree comments and emails. For others, my words may simply be shocking. And that is okay. What I am going to say is something most people usually don’t say and quite frankly, something most people often don’t realize. Therefore, I will try my best to be gentle. I promise.
Lately, however, I keep thinking back to the words of Troy Livesay in a little old church classroom in Austin, TX. Although I can’t quote him verbatim he said that sometimes he wonders if the best thing for Haiti would be for all outside aid to pull out and let Haiti finally learn to stand on its own two feet.
It sounds harsh.
But just think about it.
I work with 17 teenagers, all of whom have been supported by outside aid from America for 18+ years and none of them have yet to develop the skills needed to be able to stand on their own to feet.
That says something.
You know what I think?
I think we have been a crutch to their development. We have been a hindrance to their growth. And we are one of the main reasons why so many (like the 17 teens I work with) don’t know how to stand on their own two feet here in Haiti. Because as long as we are around to help them, we stand so they don’t have to.
Now, before you get too offensive, notice that I said (we) as in the collective term meaning I am including myself in this catastrophe. I say (we) meaning I, too, have been a key player in the problem. Sadly enough, it has taken me years to realize my mistakes: helping where help wasn’t needed, feeding into the beggar mentality, enabling people to not have to work for what they needed, handing out money left and right, always giving (because they were the poor ones) but never asking for anything in return (because they were the poor ones).
All this meant that most Haitians LOVED me.
Because I gave them a lot, but never asked them to give me anything in return. It was the best kind of relationship possible for them. I could stand. They could sit.
Until one day I got tired of standing for all of these people who I knew could stand on their own, so I asked them to stand with me…and they complained about it. How dare I ask them to stand? That is why I was in Haiti, right?
It was then I began to see the bigger problem…
This “bigger problem” is what I want to talk with you all about this week, because it is what our teenagers at Emmaus House are currently learning to overcome. For way too many years, years when they should have been taught to stand on their own, (we) stood for them. And now, not only do they not know how to stand, but many of them don’t even believe they have what it takes to try without the assistance of an American by their side to hold their hand.
And that breaks my heart.
It breaks my heart that they believe their potential reaches only as far as their sponsor’s dollar will take them.
It breaks my heart that many of them have become so Americanized in their ways (due to the frequency of American influence in their lives) that many of them have become far removed from the reality and the poverty of the country they call home.
And more than anything, it breaks my heart because as teens who have never grown up with parental love, we have taught them to be dependent on short episodes of affection from visitors who have come and gone all their lives. As teens who were once abandoned by their parents, yet grew up with the continuous cycle that people come to love on you and then leave you…they have been hurt. They lack the ability to bond, to trust, and to attach as they should. And it breaks my heart. (But more on that throughout this week)
In an effort (a good meaning effort) to come into a foreign land and help orphaned children, I fear that there have been three mistakes made at the surface largely on the part of Westerners (I will go into further detail about all three of these throughout the week):
- Too many of us (although not all) have tried to be the saviors and the heroes for orphaned children in other countries- of which we are not.
- Too many of us (although not all) see poverty as primarily a material problem (lack of money, food, clothes, housing, water, etc.) and treat it only at the material level- of which it is not and cannot be treated as such.
- Too many of us (although not all of us) don’t realize the psyche of an orphaned child and how coming just to “love on them” for a week or so at a time or sending them gifts throughout the year may, in fact, be hurting them more than helping.
As I said before, this topic has been brewing in my mind for quite some time now, and I have hesitated whether to go public with my thoughts. After all, this is pretty gutsy of me. To stand up, as a missionary whose mission relies 100% on Western support, and suggest that perhaps the Western influence has hurt more than helped our teens is risky.
It is a slap-in-the-face kind of statement. I know.
But for all of us who work with oversees missions in one form or another- whether it be full time, short-term, financial support for a missionary or an organization, or anything in between we all have a great obligation which goes beyond having a good heart and a passion for helping those in need. For those of us committed to working with people oversees, no matter what the mission, we have a responsibility to be responsible. And sometimes that means we have to take a step back, reflect, and observe where (we) as a collective have messed up and how (we) as a collective can do better so that (we) in the future don’t continue to enable the problems we are trying to help in the countries we are trying to work in.
What I am wanting to talk about this week may mean that we need to start doing missions the hard way. Truly loving, working, and enduring with not just for the orphaned child. As I know too well, making them love us is easy, but suffering and loving with them is where it becomes difficult!
So this week I am choosing to speak out- not as the missionary pointing fingers but as a fellow sister seeking God’s way of redemption and not my own. I speak not to preach, but instead to share what I have witnessed here in Haiti and encourage dialogue as to how we, Westerns helping orphans in cross-cultural contexts, can do things better.
Want to continue with me?