I remember my first trip to Haiti. I went with the notion in my head that I was sacrificing, going, sweating, and that, as a result of my week’s effort, I was going to leave Haiti better off than I found it. This is the mindset that many short-term missionaries go with, but, the fact is that traditional short-term mission trips often do more harm than good. If you think I’m wrong, consider why Haiti, despite being one of the countries most highly saturated with missionaries, is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. The fact is that the constant flow of short-term missionaries to Haiti has handicapped the Haitian community’s own confidence and ability to function under its own power.
Once a thriving Caribbean tourist destination in the 50’s and 60’s, the rise of missionaries flowing in and out of Haiti has perpetuated the stigma that only missionaries visit the country. At least in part due to the idea that the only people going to Haiti are doing so to serve a need, the tourism industry in Haiti dried up. Consequently, some of the greatest assets Haiti has (think white sand beaches, Caribbean climate, and blue water) have been left untapped for years. Subsequently, people, who could otherwise make a sustainable living serving tourists, are left unemployed and unable to support their families. Desperation then leads to the perpetuation of child abandonment, restavek abuse, and sex trafficking. Of course, the lack of tourism in Haiti is only one factor, but, it’s a big one.
So, what can be done about it? The Hands & Feet Project has some ideas…
- Realize that your trip is one step in the journey of an organization that is committed to the long haul. Addressing the plight of orphaned and abandoned children in Haiti needs to be a strategic, intentional, multi-faceted approach. Nobody is going to solve the orphan crisis or necessarily even make a lot of progress in the course of a week-long short-term mission trip to Haiti. It will require a long-term plan and the willingness of humble servants of the church to step in and be the fuel for groundbreaking, invested, intentional strategies now being developed and implemented by organizations such as the Hands & Feet Project. One mission trip at a time, one day at a time, one child at a time, over the course of years.
- Humble yourself. Don’t go with the mindset that you have to be the one working. A lot of times, the work that short-term missionaries perform while in Haiti takes away job opportunities that more qualified Haitian workers want and need. Their ability to have a sustainable job doing work that short-term missionaries often do during traditional short term trips will do so much more for Haiti than your accomplishment of completing a task. Your mission week will give you the opportunity to work alongside Haitians and serve in cooperation with them, but, take advantage of that chance to build relationships, to learn from them, and grow your own perspective in manner that respects their dignity as the hard working, committed workers that they long to be seen as.
- Support programs and initiatives which foster long-term, sustainable employment for Haitians such as The Hands & Feet Project’s Ikondo Mission Guest Village, Haiti Made, and the local businesses and livelihoods of Haitian artisans, fisherman, and market stand owners. In addition to providing sustainable employment for Haitians, you’re also chipping in to meet the needs of the orphans in the care of Hands & Feet and preventing more children from being orphaned and abandoned because you’re supporting their parents’ livelihoods.
- Focus on having dignified exchanges with Haitian residents while you’re there. Respect each as an individual. Make an effort to learn their language or, at least, a few basic greetings. Ask their permission when you feel inclined to take a photo with them in it. Invest in relationships. Patronize their businesses.
- Prayerfully and financially support long-term missionaries. The Hands & Feet Project provides family style care, education, food, health care, emotional care, and spiritual discipleship to the children in their care. Such care takes the commitment of many including longterm missionaries who facilitate the vision of the Hands & Feet Project on the ground level. These are families that give up all of the comforts of first-world living to take on the challenge of deep investment and servitude in the fight against Haiti’s orphan crisis. They need all of the spiritual and financial support they can get to avoid burnout and continue helping the longterm for each abandoned and orphaned child to continue.
Above all, please persist in your commitment to pray for Haiti over the long-term. Through prayer, faith, sweat, tears, purposeful planning, creativity, and humility, we can all do our own part, one day at a time, to be God’s hands and feet.
The Story of The Hands & Feet Project in Haiti: Past, Present, and Future: Would you like to learn more about the how Hands & Feet got started and how they’re vision has evolved since then? Take a few minutes to soak in this recenter interview with Hands & Feet Project co-founder and director Mark Stuart. It’s extremely informative, inspiring, and certainly worth your time and attention. Then visit http://www.handsandfeetproject.org