A Statement of Hope

Trip Start Sep 05, 2006
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Flag of Haiti  ,
Sunday, November 2, 2008

Skepticism, fear, anxiety and distrust have left my conscious, but not to be forgotten as a reminder to myself that I will never cease to be an American, and I'll always be influenced by the cultural norms, and societal influences of my home. As I find in every other country I have been fortunate enough to experience, I am once again more comfortable walking alone in Gonaives Haiti than I am in many parts of Oakland California.

Something is happening here. It's the same things I experienced during the months I spent in southern Bangladesh with HODR. Walking to job sites with muddy boots and unwashed clothes, the resident Haitians used to remain cautiously behind their metal gates, yelling "blan bame un dollar" and making hand gestures to indicate that they have been given nothing by the white people.

Only three weeks after opening our doors, as I walk down the same streets with our teams of 10-15 Haitian and foreign volunteers causing children and adults come pouring out of their homes to greet us yelling "John John, I am happy to see you today." Now they are eager only for handshakes, high fives and hugs.

Slowly our reputation builds, grows and is disseminated by word of mouth throughout Gonaives. Last week, I was again interrupted by a quote I have heard a number of times; each time it brings tears to my eyes. Amidst mountains of mud, we pass full buckets to the end of the line, dump, then back down the line to the bedrooms where we fill them again. Sweat pours off his face and mine, and he takes one moment between buckets to look me in the eye and smile, softly states "John, thank you, many hands make the work light."

As foreigners, we can choose to do this work, or we can choose to do nothing. For Haitians in Gonaives, they have no choice. Its a matter of whether the work is heavy, or light.

Members of the community on our street pulled me aside after we participated in basic well improvements to the community pump. They took the time to sit me down and to tell me that they felt our presence here is helping neighbors learn how to live together as a community rather than isolated households.

That's what its all about.

Many other NGOs thought, and still think there is no way we can pull of this kind of volunteer response. We've upped the ante by not only getting off to an incredible start, we are engaged in a wildly successful effort to mobilize local volunteers. The beauty of this so simple. People who live in Gonaives, profoundly affected by this disaster and the general condition in Gonavies give their hands, their sweat and their time to work in the same bucket brigades, pushing the same wheelbarrows and shoveling the same mud as we do.

I am hard pressed to find a bolder statement of optimism in the world than that exhibited by our work in Gonaives.

A 19 yr old Haitian young man who lost his mother and father in the flood shovels mud from a strangers home into a bucket. That bucket is picked up by a 24 year old Canadian, passed to a 30 year old local Haitian schoolteacher who has three children forced to flee Gonaives. Passed on to a 46 year old American who himself lost all his belongings in hurricane Wilma in 2005. Further down the line. Passed on to a 24 year old Haitian law student not in school now because of damage to school property caused by the hurricanes. Finally, dumped in the street by a 71 year old American renowned among the Haitian volunteers as "an old man, but a strong man."

Solidarity, empathy and compassion come in many forms. I've never been more moved in my life than by this simple and basic expression of hope.
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