There are a lot of things that I think about, or that we talk about, that never get discussed on the blog. If you could hear conversations around here as a fly on the wall you would know that there are definitely times when I get really worked up. I don’t often blog about certain things, and for various reasons.
Today I’m worked up about an email I received that had an article written by the sender, someone that I’ve never met and have no relationship with and that I’ve only been contact by once. I think at the time they were looking for info about Haiti or something like that and I either didn’t have it or wasn’t interested in getting involved.
The article got me annoyed. It was about Haiti and the bottom line intention was to get people interested and motivated to be involved. What I take issue with is how this person went about doing that.
First off, they came right out and said that one of their goals of writing the article was to get people thinking differently about Haiti, to change some of those preconceived mindsets that people have. Fine, I’m all for that. The methodology of doing that sucked.
Within the first few paragraphs this person was talking about their visit to a hospital in Cite Soliel, where they were told that it was the only hospital within a 50 mile radius. And they were quoting this as fact. Um, what?!!? Really?
After reading through most of the article I felt compelled to write this person back and let them know that I appreciated their desire to raise awareness, but that their facts were wrong. First off, in Port au Prince alone there are at least three major hospitals – Canape Vert, Hospital Generale and CDTI. There are any number of smaller ones, along with clinics etc. Aside from that, a 50 mile radius is pretty darn big in a country like Haiti. I mean, we live 40 miles from the airport and in that distance a person drives through Titayen, Cabaret, Williamson, Luly, Archaie and Montrouis. There are clinics and small hospitals in many of those places. There were also things mentioned about the police force, or lack of one. Again, while Police Nationale D’Haiti may not be effective, they do exist.
I know these issues seem minor, but when you work in development/non-profit/missions you hear about this kind of thing all. the. time. In many cases, not all, it’s from an individual that has come in for a few weeks, met some people and gone back feeling like they have a ton of answers. Or that they understand the culture.
It really grinds me.
I got a response back from the article writer this afternoon. I was told that their “facts” about the distance to the nearest hospital was from the hospital administrator and he was actually told it was 20 miles, not 50. But that he was going with what the hospital administrator said. Huh? Also the other things that I had mentioned got dismissed because they were more sure of their sources. I was also told that yes, they had in fact dramatized and romanticized certain things in the article so that the target audience (college students) would wake up and take notice and get more involved in Haiti.
Wow. about. that.
I really struggle with this kind of thing because I find it insulting and disrespectful. I could really care less about the response I got to my thoughts and comments. What irks me is that this was sent out to a wide group of people with the intention of raising awareness about Haiti and the needs here. The writer not only embellished things for dramatic effect, but didn’t even get basic facts right. I know that if this thing was read by anyone living and working here this individual would never be taken seriously. Yet, because they’re sending it to an uniformed audience, people may believe it and assume that the information is fact and that the writer had done their research. One of their goals was to help change the way Haiti is perceived. How on earth is that possible if they aren’t telling the truth?
In my opinion this kind of thing is incredibly disrespectful. It’s disrespectful to Haitians because their lives are already hard, things here are already difficult etc, but it turns my stomach when people play off of that, even if their intentions are good. By dramatizing or romanticizing things this person is using the poverty and overall state of affairs to manipulate people into supporting the cause, and they’re doing it knowingly. There are reasons why people don’t want their pictures taken here, one of them is that often the pictures that get taken are of the dire state of poverty and people feel exploited. One thing we try to be very careful of with everything we do at the mission is to respect people and their state of living. We don’t tell sad stories of families that will make people want to give, we don’t post pictures of people that will wrench at heart strings, we don’t embellish. We try to focus on the progress, the way lives are changing, the things that bring people hope. We want people to have dignity and try to help them do that by making the filters affordable (through our subsidized program) so they can make a choice for themselves to better the health of their family rather than taking a filter because the foreigner says they should and because it’s free. When people get their filters you can tell they’re proud that they did it, not us. We’re just the facilitators.
I think this kind of thing also disrespects all of the people that are giving of their lives, time and resources – Haitian and foreigners – to help Haiti. What about all those people that have given everything they have to make those hospitals and clinics functional, the ones this person won’t even acknowledge are there? This person talked about who funded what but didn’t even regard the fact that CDTI – one of the newest hospitals – was completely Haitian funded (not government, private) and Haitian run. And it’s a great facility.
The bottom line issues that I’m struggling with are that so often people have good intentions about wanting to help places like Haiti, but I think they’re off in how they approach it. I get really tired of people coming into the country for a few weeks, then going home and telling people how to solve all of the problems here. I know people that have been here for almost 40 years and they say they understand things less now than when they first came. I totally get that. I feel like the more you learn about Haiti, the less you know. There are too many layers. You can’t take what people tell you as fact just because they’re nice. You need to experience, take time to learn, talk to a bunch of people that are in it every day. What I do respect is people that come to Haiti, whether it’s for a week or a year or 10, then go home and tell people about their experiences, their first hand learning moments. I believe those things will speak more to people that articles and papers written. What I do see is that a lot of people come here and have a really hard time processing things so they feel like they have to fix it all, and in that they feel like they need to have answers, that they need to get people interested. From my experiences people are attracted to what is personal to you, not what you pretend to know. If I want to do the most good for the people of Haiti isn’t it better for me to talk about what it’s like for me here day to day, the good and the bad, and let people decide for themselves if they want to be involved? I mean, the people that are passionate make the best supporters.
This was a vent session. Thanks for letting me let it out. I really want to see people helping Haiti, I just really want them to do it in a way that is ethical and that respects the people here. I think we have a responsibility to present Haiti, or places like it, in a manner that is truthful and sincere, not manipulative and dishonest. We need to remember that for many people we are the gateway. When things are our personal opinions we need to state them that way. When we state things as fact we should at least take the time to know what we’re talking about.
There, that’s my two cents worth.