When I was first approached with the opportunity to go to Haiti my junior year of high school, I was admittedly excited, but I was also ignorant. At the time, I approached it as a typical mission trip: you go to a “third-world” country (a term that should honestly be erased), you complete a task that the people cannot complete themselves and you leave a miraculously changed person. I accepted the widely held belief that Americans made everything better with their mission trips to these impoverished nations—by the end of my first trip to Haiti, I was thankful to have been proven wrong.
Overall, I have been to Haiti twice. Through my high school, I have visited cities and towns such as Port Au Prince, Mirebalais, Cange and Cerca, which is a small village in the mountains. With everyone I have encountered, I have taken a piece of the culture away. The friendly, genuine, and hardworking nature of every Haitian I have met has caused me to accept that while this is a country that deserves aid, it is not a country that is incapable.
Western media would have you believe that Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere because of their laziness—however, much of their poverty came from Western intervention. The AIDS crisis of the 1970s-1980s was caused not only undue LGBT hatred but also was unrightfully traced back to Haiti—causing a descent in the small tourist industry.
Additionally, western nations have taken advantage of the economy of Haiti by unjustly using them for their crops and paying the local workers a bare minimum, whilst the larger, more economically stable nations benefit. For example, Haiti is practically desolate due to deforestation forced upon them by their “debt” to France following the Haitian revolution. Haiti has been unwillingly forced into this role of the poor, pitied nation, despite the vibrancy and sheer determination of their people.
These exact policies cause distrust between Haitians and the westerners who come in to “change the ‘poor’ Haitians’ lives.” One of the most important lessons I have carried with me is imposing Americans ideas and culture doesn’t work in other countries besides in America—the Haitians are a completely different people. It’s understandable to me why some Americans would possess that ignorant idea that going on these mission trips to help with disaster relief will change the Haitians’ lives, but often these same Americans act irresponsibly. They do not communicate with the people they are working with and instead view their trip as a service when it should be a partnership with the locals.
During my trips to Haiti, I got to listen to conversations with Haitians where they told us what they wanted and needed. We tried to give them the tools to complete their goals—help with funding, etc.—but we also understood that we couldn’t insist on doing projects we thought would be beneficial. This is exactly the attitude Westerners should possess in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. Haiti needs help, but the Haitians do not need you to patronize them.
They do not need you thinking that you’re smarter just because you’re born in a position of privilege. Here’s the thing: you’re not smarter. You’re not better. You’re just from a different culture. So take these tips when you are considering how to help Haiti: donate to Haitian-led charities and organizations, as they will send the disaster relief to the appropriate places.
If you go to Haiti, ask the Haitians what they need you to do, and don’t tell them what you are going to do. Communicate. And, for the love of god, if you go to Haiti, please don’t post twenty Instagrams about how good of a person you think you are for doing this. Stop flaunting your privilege and “saviorism;” instead, acknowledge the people you’re meant to be forging relationships with. The act of listening to their concerns will go a lot farther than 200 likes on your photo.