Confession #99: It Shapes You: The Privilege of Family, Education, Opportunity & Hope (and the lack thereof)
For the past 3 ½ years, I have lived in Haiti working with my teenagers.
I know their stories. I’ve laughed with them. Cried with them. Fought through difficult times with them. Won battles with them. Listened to their dreams.
I thought I understood them- their outlook on life, their deficits, and their needs. I thought I had already grasped the psychology behind their conditions and had already developed plans to help each one move forward to the best of their ability.
The number of conversations I have had with people attempting to validate why 17 teenagers who are 18 and older still need guidance and support has been endless.
I’ve tried comparing them with American teens. But the contrast has always been too vast to make sense to most- not only to the people I have spoken with, but occasionally even to myself.
But over the past few months, circumstances have opened my eyes and given me a perspective in the lives of the teens I work with in ways I never considered before. Let me explain…
Nalandson and Dalencia recently started going to an English speaking Christian school. I volunteer at this school a few hours a week as a tutor/special education consultant so I have had the opportunity to watch their classmates- observe their behaviors, listen to their aspirations, take note of their maturity levels.
For the past year Dalencia has also been taking dance classes. And as I sat in the audience of upper class Haitians a few weekends ago at her dance recital, the observations I made were overwhelming.
It is one thing to go to America and see kids with potential, kids with futures, kids who can pursue and develop their talents, kids who never have to worry about tomorrow or even 10 years down the road. To hear well-off families with college degrees and nice SUVs talk about their next family vacation to Florida. And it is completely another to be in America and ask a child what they want to be when they grow up and know that when they say, “A doctor, a lawyer, and an engineer,” that those dreams are entirely within their reach.
It’s one thing in America because you can blame the difference between the countries. You can even go as far to say there is no point in comparing because the average teen’s life in Haiti vs. one in America is like comparing apples and oranges.
But when you witness families and kids like that in Haiti with people who look like and speak the same language as the teens I work with, the difference can almost knock you down. Comparing is no longer excused by nationality. Comparing then becomes more about what could have been and what is. And when that happens, the reality can become quite heartbreaking.
The past few months, I have been knocked down. Starring into the lives of Haitian children who have privileges and then in the same day coming home to teens who, without assistance, would more than likely just become another sad statistic among the previously orphaned- often unemployed, poorly educated, and sometimes criminal- well it has been emotionally exhausting.
That is what is all comes down to.
The privilege of a loving family
of good education
of experiencing the world outside of your own neighborhood
of a stable home
of growing up witnessing and learning from hard working parents
of knowing that if you want, you can one day go to college
of having hope
of bring able to dream.
Privileges such as these, they can shape who you are. And just the same, the lack there of can shape you too, just like it has my teens.
I didn’t grow up financially rich, but I grew up with all of these privileges. And because of that, applying for my first job at age 16 was exciting. Choosing which college I wanted to go to and what career path I wanted to take was all up to me. Moving out of my parents’ house at 19 was natural. And getting married, landing a teaching job straight out of graduation, and settling into my own home almost five hours away from my family by 22 seemed like just the beginning of a successful and fruitful life.
Privileges. Privileges. Privileges.
All of which have shaped me into the independent woman I am today.
My teens, on the other hand, have not had any such privileges growing up. They didn’t grow up with parents to model themselves after, to teach them about the world, or to help them mold their talents. They didn’t grow up being pushed to do their best in school and with the goal of one day attending college. And they didn’t grow up with hope.
And when you grow up that way- without a family support system, with undeveloped and sometimes even undiscovered talents, nobody to motive you in school, and a lack of hope for the future- you end up a little lost once you reach young adulthood.
Meet my teenagers: Teenagers who sometimes appear lazy, who can seem apathetic about learning new things, who occasionally appear disrespectful or without manners, and who often can’t see or plan past today. Teenagers who are approaching or have already arrived in their 20’s and are still years away from graduating school, who are just now learning how to work, cook, and clean, and who often lack basic relationship and social skills.
They aren’t this way because they are bad. Contrary, they are actually really great. But the greatness in many of them has never had the opportunity to take root and grow. Unless they grew up as a naturally independent and self-motivated person, they now struggle.
For those of you who have children between 18-24, do they go to college? Are they starting an entry-level job in a career of their choice? Are they living on their own? Dating, engaged, or married? Do they pay their own bills? And do they still have more plans for their future?
Now consider: If your child never had parents and a home growing up, would they have turned out the same? If you weren’t there to praise their successes and encourage growth in their weaknesses would they have done well in school? If you weren’t there to model work ethic and teach them how to manage money and care for a home would they have developed those skills naturally on their own? And if you were never there to give them hope in their future, in their dreams, and in their potential, where else would they have found hope?
Consider and know that is where my teenagers stand right now. Without a home and parents to prepare them for this time in their life, they now need help. Not just a place to live and food to eat, but they need people to help fill in the gaps and to train them for their next stage in life. Otherwise many of them would be on their own, unable to finish school, lacking vital survival skills, without a support system, and most importantly without hope.
And this, my friends, is why Emmaus House exists.
Yes, we are just another of the tens of thousands of organizations in Haiti you could choose to support. But we are attempting to serve a purpose that few have before.
We are standing up for the orphan and agreeing to be there for them even after they “age out” and telling them they will not be forgotten just because they have turned 18.
We are choosing to offer hope to what many would view as a hopeless population.
And we are saying that their lives matter and that despite their circumstances they are valuable in the kingdom of God and can serve great purposes in this world.
We are refusing to let these teens become just another statistic and another young person on the streets of Haiti with limited hope for a future.
At Emmaus House, we are trying to break the cycle of poverty in 17 teenagers. And not just financial poverty, but of emotional poverty, relational poverty, spiritual poverty, and intellectual poverty as well.
But we can’t do it alone. The task is too great. In order to fully help these teenagers, we need you help.
We need your help in prayers- asking God to fill us with wisdom and direction and to provide these teens with a willing heart to heal and to grow.
We need your help in communication- sharing the story of our teens and the necessity of Emmaus House with your community.
And we need your help financially- without your support we will not be able to function here in Haiti. Without your donations for rent, we will not have a place to live. Without sponsors, our teens cannot go to school and receive some of their basic needs in the house. And without monthly donors, we cannot continue serving these 17 teens.
So today, please prayerfully consider how you can help teens like Djooly, Evelyne, Lobe, Jetro, Kencia, Andy and many more. How can we, the church, join together and be the family they so desperately need?
For more information on supporting us with our rent, go HERE.
To check out the teens who are still in need of sponsors, go HERE.
For more ways to donate, go HERE.
To speak with a board member in the states about the Emmaus House program, email Tanya_Pirtle@comcast.net