Is it too soon for Purposeful Travel in Haiti?
These are not doctors, relief workers, construction workers, missionaries, or even seasoned travelers.
Some of them have never even left their hometowns.
They’re from over 10 countries, from all walks of life, and have just returned from a week of purposeful travel in Haiti.
I share this not to garner pats on backs (though I feel if pats are being allocated these backs should not be ignored) but rather to herald the opportunity to help rebuild Haiti through purposeful travel.
In that week in Haiti, we spent over $30,000 in accommodations, travel, dining and commerce (of our own personal money), purchased more than $25,000 in construction materials and labor (from generous donations from our communities), and sponsored the future education of several orphans. We also have an additional $150,000 plus that we’ll be spending on construction materials and labor in the next few months. And I even hear there are murmurings of a Haiti Trip Part Deux that are already in the works…
This wasn’t aid work and it wasn’t vacation. It was quality time (sometimes challenging, sometimes relaxed and festive!) spent with quality people who mutually inspire each other.
There’s a tremendous focus on rebuilding Haiti’s collapsed infrastructure (which is vital!) but we can’t forget the impact the earthquake has had on Haitians’ self-worth. Ultimately, Haitians don’t need handouts. It’s never sustainable, and potentially, can be demeaning. They need commerce and jobs to help support their pride and livelihood, and love to remind them they are not in this alone. This is something anyone with a bank account and beating heart can provide. If you don’t have enough money to fly to Haiti, a simple click on any of a hundred Haitian product websites can achieve similar results.
If you do have the resources to join a group trip to Haiti in support of a cause, I think it’s of tremendous value to the Haitian people and economy.
What are some of the ingredients for success? Ours involved a planned project that empowers Haiti’s future, an ability to be open to experiencing other cultures, and a willingness to add purpose to vacation time.
In February of 2011 we decided to support an amazing Haitian community leader who had a simple dream of getting orphaned children out of tents and into a safe home.
Here’s what she wished for:
Jacmel Children’s Center Video
And here’s what we co-created with her to be built:
Five months later, through community fundraising support, an actor’s generous fan base and supportive foundations, the dream is becoming a reality. We just returned from our first purposeful travel trip where we broke ground on the Jacmel Children’s Center.
We constructed walls, played with children, shared art, taught English and valuable job skills, and simply spent time holding children that must normally compete with 80 other children for “hug-time”. None of those activities was more valuable that the other, but all resulted in an unbelievable feeling of self-worth for both the purposeful travelers and the resource poor Haitians.
Key to the success of purposeful travel, we also spent time playing on the beach (with kids), dancing to incredible live Haitian music, and dining on scrumptious Haitian food…all from a safe comfortable hotel.
With purposeful travel it’s just as important to look after others, as it is to look after yourself. Even if that means dancing at a bar with a rockin’ live Haitian band while wearing a paper mache zebra on your head.
We hope this $200,000+ infusion into tourism and construction will travel far in providing an increased standard of living for dozens of Haitian families. Not even to mention the ripple effect we hope to create by providing education and love to over a hundred orphans.
Haiti can still be a dangerous place to travel and the answer isn’t a flood of tourists just yet. That will come. Rather, I’m suggesting that we consider expanding our definition of both “vacation” and “humanitarian work” to increase the volume of both. All of our 35 volunteers can attest to the fact that it is possible to be shoveling and mixing cement in a 100 degree/90% humidity climate and still have a great time.
I should probably mention the people who have supported and guided this project: from a certain someone who rallied her yoga community to raise $70,000, or our friend who volunteered to organize over $25,000 in sports-related fundraising events as well as the actor that reached out to his generous fans and raised over $80,000, but that isn’t the point of this blog and I think detracts from the point of humanitarian work. You see, as vital as their involvement is, it’s not about them…and they would be the first to agree with that.
It bears mentioning, when it comes to humanitarian work, it’s sometimes easy to fall into a “look how great we are!” mentality, wearing the “work” like some badge for other’s adoration or approval. I’ve heard it called the “Haiti card”, thrown on the table when seeking respect or validation. This “yeah, I just got back from Haiti…” attitude, worn with a nod of the head and a slight knowing smile of what extremes you must have been through serves no one and demeans both you and the wonderful people you’ve been helping. Having the means and ability to travel and work in countries like Haiti should be humbly treated as a fortunate gift, not grounds for bragging rights. We’re not the ones living in a tent among 60,000 other earthquake victims scraping by on less than $10/month. One must never lose this perspective.
It’s nice to celebrate our part in improving people’s lives but we mustn’t forget they’re the ones who have inspired us to take action in the first place. Ultimately we must recognize that our own self-worth is linked directly to the self-worth of others on the planet. Only then can we do work coming from the right place.
Just ask Jerome…whose mother owns a small roadside shop where we bought over 350 litres of filtered water over the course of the week. We’re lucky she was entrepreneurial enough to keep us supplied. I think I’ll let him answer the question of “is Haiti ready for purposeful travel?”
Please consider supporting our cause in Haiti…and feel free to browse this site for more information!