Port au Prince, Haiti Day 8, Trip 5

As I write this blog I am also preparing to board my plane for the first leg of a three flight journey home. I have not written this trip, both because it was short, and also because internet was down most of the time. But there is another reason—the nature of this trip was quite different from others.

I did not do much individual work with local people. When I returned to Haiti this time, there was a shift—a “quieting” is the only way I can describe it—amongst those I usually work with.

Most of my work this time was programmatic; however, I arrived to find that while many Haitians were certainly still dealing with stress, trauma, loss and grief, they were quite busy in the remaking of their lives. The expatriate community, on the other hand—humanitarian workers, many of whom have been there since January—was unraveling. After a requested group session for several humanitarian workers, it was as if the flood gates were opened. I was consistently busy providing session for people who were experiencing burn out, secondary trauma, PTSD and depression.

We have been hearing that the magnitude of this disaster has trumped all others in terms of human horror and loss, levels of destruction, and complexity. If that is true, the evidence is in the distressed state of many of the humanitarian workers—especially those who were deployed early on—who work hard and courageously to assist the Haitian people.

There are many reasons for these levels of distress—some I have already addressed in previous blogs. Simply put for today—the lack of leadership and of a cohesive, Haitian informed response is contributing to a widening gap between the international and national community. Buddha taught us that separation creates suffering. This is painfully visible in Haiti. One expat described her experience as her face pressed hard against the pane of a glass window, waving to her Haitian counterparts and colleagues and would-be-friends,frantically gesturing to demonstrate how much she wanted to interact, to know, to touch Haiti. All the while, jobs demand we adhere to policies, procedures, and external agendas that may not reflect the long term and deeper needs of the Haitian people who want their lives, their capital city, their country to become country—to restore kay nou, our home—and to share it with the many visitors there today.

There are no illusions that Haiti will ever be what she was, but there is an understandable desire that a proud history and a commitment to place will be foundational to however Haiti’s future is built.

What does it mean that the hearts of so many who deployed to assist are breaking?What is it like to live in fear of the place and people you are helping, because a primary concern of employing organizations is liability, and fulfilling donors agendas so that numbers on paper are emphasized over human relationship?

I suspect the rein of the NGO’s will soon be over. I suspect this disaster will demonstrate that this is not a viable system. I originally left this professional world over 20 years ago because I was criticized and ostracized for believing, and promoting, the idea that any humanitarian worker should strive to work him/herself out of a job in 10-20 years, depending on the context. I suspect that the private sector will become the future of development of places, people, even in humanitarian emergencies.

I had this dream my last night in Haiti: I was showing my Father some of the places and people and things I love in Haiti. In one very green area, I was showing him beautiful black lilies on a strange, rustic, makeshift bookshelf sitting out in the open. These flowers were unique to this area of Haiti. Suddenly, two of them moved–crawled. They were actually gigantic tarantulas.

We stepped back, quickly, as I heard myself telling my Father “Watch Out!” They are going to jump! They bite”

Sure enough, they jumped for us–but we backed away fast enough and they missed us.

When I awoke, this phrase was in my early morning mind:

The dark soul of pain is where the longest light lives.

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One Response to Port au Prince, Haiti Day 8, Trip 5

  1. stev says:

    >Just came across this; and wanted to say thanks for writing. My wife and I have worked in Int Dev for the past ten years, and have felt and witnessed the "unravelling" of so many aid workers following crises as well as through years of low grade stress and frustration.

    We recently started Satori Worldwide, which aims to offer retreats to aid workers a chance to take stock and gain perspective on their life and experience HOW to make it more balanced. Armies of zombies rushing from emergency to emergency are harming themselves and being nowhere near as effective at helping their target communities as they could be.

    Thanks for this observation.

    Steve Munroe
    Co-Founder, Satori Worldwide
    http://www.satoriworldwide.com

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