Oh, how pretty! Look over there! All the houses are painted the most wonderful colours!
So, we the tourists, we pull over and take pictures of the lovely little houses on the hill. Purple, orange, apple green, sky blue, look at all the colours. What a wonderful public art project, I say.
I wonder why the other houses aren’t painted? It’s almost like a line, straight down the hill. Perhaps it’s an ongoing project, who knows. But it’s so pretty! Quick, take a picture and put it on Instagram! Oh, I want to frame that and put it on my wall, I think.
And then the truth comes out: it’s Jalousie.
A shanty town for the poor and destitute.
There is no running water, no sewage system, no electricity except what is illegally tapped into off the grid.
But the government made sure to paint the exterior walls of their homes bright colours.
Critics say that the homes of Jalousie were painted because their slum faces the rich part of town, the place where people like me come and stay in the lovely hotels.
Quick, paint the buildings so people will want to take photos! To the tune of $1.4 million dollars and a PR campaign, it is so lovely.
(After all, everybody knows the rich folks don’t want to look at ugly grey cinder block shanties. It sort of ruins supper.)
This entire story is pretty much a metaphor for my experiences in developing nations.
I’m inept and ignorant. I don’t know what I’m doing. This is because I fly in and out, I don’t stay here, I don’t live here, I only know the stories I’m told, and I long for a quick-fix happy-ending.
When I heard the truth of the beautiful painted houses of Jalousie from our translators and then from my friends Tara and Troy Livesay, my stomach sank. Because I’d fallen for a facade. Again.
Haiti keeps me humble. These moments – and this is not the only time I’ve been wrong or ill-informed or just plain ignorant – they remind me to keep my mouth shut, to listen, to dig a bit deeper than the facades, to look past the shiny bright exterior into the home, into the streets, into the truth.
This goes for the bright ice-cream coloured hillside, the organizations that serve, the churches, the people, in every corner of my life. But especially when we are talking about the vulnerable and oppressed.
It’s easy to fall for the bright colours because we want so badly to believe in a good story for once.
Spend any amount of time in the orphan prevention and anti-trafficking conversations, and you learn to become a bit distrustful of the shiny pretty buildings.
You become a bit suspicious of the facades. You learn to peek behind the story and poke with a stick. You learn to ask real questions of the real people, not the PR team. You grow tired of another pop-up well-meaning orphanage in lieu of preventative measures of community and economic development. It’s hard to settle for more dingy half-peeling-off band-aids when you’re longing for a full healing.
There isn’t much room for romanticism in the real world of orphan prevention and community development.
This world needs open eyes, this conversation needs hard questions, these are real people. Real people. Real homes. Real families.
They deserve our open eyes, our respect, and we need to honour them by hearing the truth.
We were in Drouin today. They are the rice farmers of the country. After the earthquake, NGOs and international governments dropped tons and tons of free rice here. That grand gesture was meant to help. And now this region is starving and out of work because all the rice is free and they no longer make a living. Their children were sick and starving to death. I met parents today who had to decide which child gets to eat on which day. Because of free rice.
Again, the well-meaning facade.
The funny thing is that just when I start getting mad at the facade, I peek behind it and guess what I find?
The people of God are already there, among the poor, serving the poor, loving the ones behind the beautiful colourful lies. They’ve just been waiting for the rest of us.
I’ll tell you more about Drouin and the Church behind the facade tomorrow. It’s a precious and good story, a real one.
I think that’s part of the reason why I’ve thrown my heart into Help One Now: they’re terrifyingly transparent with me. They embrace the complexity. They aren’t out to save the world by next Saturday. They welcome constructive criticism and the perspective of outsiders. They value and honour the local leadership, seeking only to serve them. I’ve peeked behind the facade of Help One Now, and I feel pretty good so far.
I think there’s a way to be a critical thinker without having a critical spirit. I think there’s a way to help without hurting.
The truth will set us – us, all of us – free.
You can catch up with the other bloggers on the trip here. Or follow along for the days as wi-fi permits on Instagram or Twitter with the hashtag #HONbloggers.
Want to help?
We want to sign up 100 child sponsors in Drouin whose kids are vulnerable to trafficking and 100 hosts for a Garage Sale for Orphans to build a preschool for children who have been rescued from trafficking while we’re here on the ground. And as always, pray for us, pray for our families – and help spread the word by sharing our posts on social media.