Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Seeing People, Not Poverty - a guest blog by Heather whom I like to call Karen

“We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked, and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for is the greatest poverty.”  
Mother Teresa

When the Haiti Engineering Team first embarked on our mission, I was bursting with the infectious excitement, enthusiasm, and anticipation that my teammates and team leaders had inspired.  The goal of our mission trip was to create and install five (5) solar-powered electricity systems that could be used to power microbusinesses for charging telephones and providing a small light source to rural villages with no access to electricity. 

Our adventure began in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, where we spent our first days gathering supplies, building mechanical solar panel frames, and testing electrical equipment.  On May 20, we continued our journey, crossing the Dominican Republic-Haiti border at Dajabon, DR. 

My excitement and hope was quickly replaced with fear and dismay.  The border crossing overloaded my senses.  People everywhere shouted for attention; children begged; porters forcefully offered their services; and border officials expected bribes.  The sun beat down mercilessly upon us, rotting trash that lined the streets and creating an unpleasant stench.  It was my first glimpse of true poverty and I recoiled in fear.  The stares of the local people made it clear that they saw us not as fellow humans, but rather as outsiders with money.  This made me cautious and uncomfortable and I reciprocated…I began to perceive them as poor people--peasants who would take advantage of me in an unwary moment.  Fortunately something happened to ensure this perception would not last.

When children came to beg us for money, my team leader picked up some pebbles and offered them to the children as a trade.  The children simply laughed at him, but it was enough to break the barrier…it was enough to make us all human again.  Before long, the children at the border were playing games with us, teaching us some Spanish, and learning small bits of English.  For a moment, our divisions and distinctions melted away.

Eventually, we moved through the border crossing and onto our final destination of Ferrier, Haiti.  Yet, that border experience was never far from my mind.  For me, it was an awakening…I had begun to understand the real tragedy of poverty.

Poverty is not a tragedy because people don’t have access to clean water, medical resources, housing, or adequate food—although these things are tragic in and of themselves.  They are the injustices of poverty.  The true tragedy of poverty is that it dehumanizes people.  Instead of seeing people who are afflicted with poor living conditions, we only see “the poor” or “the homeless” or “the hungry”, as if their condition is the only descriptor they merit. Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created mankind in His own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”  If we are all created in the image of God, then we all deserve to be treated with the same dignity and respect, no matter our living conditions.

Somewhere along the way I had forgotten that.  In my desire to bring my own talents and resources to the aid of the Haitian people, I had reduced them to little more than a project—a problem for which I held a solution.  In doing so, I lost my own humanity.  For if I were stripped of those talents and resources, would I not then simply become a project myself?

For the rest of the trip, I took it upon myself to be the trip photographer, amongst other tasks.  I took photos of Haitians and BU students working side by side.  We had engineering talents and resources that the Haitian people did not have, but they had community and labor resources that we could not have provided.  The Haitian and BU communities drew together to shine our light, the light of Christ, so that all could see and give glory to our Father in heaven.  In these photos, I did not see poor people. I saw people of strength, courage, wisdom, community, joy, faith, hope, and love.  I saw God.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be any of these things? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” 
Marianne Williamson

[At the house of one of the families launching a microbusiness. Heather is in the red shirt on the front row.]

[Student team working alongside Haitians - hands and feet, eyes and ears]

 [Sonia (middle) is our only female-operated business person. Heather (right) and the other women found her to be inspirational.]

[We needed to bury the wires that ran from our solar panels to the batteries to protect them. Our Haitian coworkers could dig a trench and lay the PVC conduit very quickly.  They also could dig holes with unbelievably straight sides and mix concrete with expertise.]