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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 slum.

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.)

***

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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 Church.

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.

 

In which we visit "our" school in Haiti for the first time
In which nobody loves Drouin
thank you for sharing...
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  • Mary DeMuth

    Breathtaking post. I miss you and wish I were there with you, particularly to see the school.

  • Roland Legge

    Thank you Sarah for your commitment to the people of Haiti. i appreciate your openess to discerning what is really going on in Haiti and your deep love for the people. i am sure you will be blessed by the people and you will be a blessing to them and to those of us back at home.

  • Oh man. Our last trip to Haiti? We drove that very road for the the first time on our way to an orphanage around the bend there. I fell for the facade. I snapped a picture. And now … this. Thanks for the truth, friend. Praying for you all.

  • Oh, friend. I could echo every word here. Standing with you and praying for you and those you meet. xoxo

  • AnnVoskamp_HolyExperience

    Very powerful.
    Thank you, friend.

  • Sarah, thank you. That line. Oh my. Thank you for pushing past the facade. And I can’t wait to hear more of the beauty that’s there.

  • What a raw and beautiful realization to have. Deeply humbling, but inspiring too. It’s easy to think we know what people need (the rice) or know what we’re seeing (the pretty buildings), but our well-meaning eyes are so often missing the mark/the truth. Thanks for this reminder to ask questions and dig deeper when trying to help anyone, Sarah.

  • Rachel ‘Pieh’ Jones

    Sarah this is wonderful – what a powerful visual image. Thanks for your honesty in showing the process everyone goes through as we try to understand and grapple with poverty and development.

  • Alison Williams

    Sarah, thank you! As someone who has recently graduated from a International Development degree, I have been struggling with seeing so many people trying to ‘help’ but being unwilling to really see some of the complexities and give voice to them authentically, including Christians. I am so grateful for your beautiful writing and for giving voice to real stories. God Bless you on your journey!

  • fiona lynne

    Thank you for helping us see beyond the facade too. It’s too easy to accept, maybe because we want to believe it could be that good, that easy. But it does no good to keep our eyes closed to the truth. Love following you on your trip. Thanks for taking us with you.

  • Kim Bradley

    Thank you for your post. I can’t wait to hear about your time in Drouin.

  • Sarah S

    Wow! Thank you! I think I often fall for the facade….or as my mom told me as a child…”You are believing a lie. You don’t want to believe a lie do you?”
    Of course not! I was sucking my finger and thought I couldn’t stop….I guess it’s time we stop sucking our fingers and start walking in the truth. It is possible. Christ makes it possible.

  • ruth rackley

    wow powerful, Thank you for opening my eyes just a bit more.

  • “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.”

    THIS.

    (That image is powerful and is going to stay with me for a long time.)

  • Raw words, raw with truth. Thank you. The vulnerability of exposing our own willingness to fall for it, without damning the impulse that makes us willing, wanting of redemption is so needed.

  • I love this post and I hate this post. I wish it were not so. I wish there were easy answers. I wish a happy ending was in reach for everyone. Yet I know this world is broken, scabbed and oozing, and looking at it honestly means reading your stories and seeing through your eyes and knowing it’s a complicated mess.

    Corey and I have talked a lot lately about how to help without hurting. It’s an incredibly delicate balance, yet I don’t want to standby and do nothing but criticize. I want, as you say, to be a critical thinker who doesn’t give in to the cancer of a critical spirit.

    Praying for you, friend.

  • How very, sadly, tragically TRUE. Magnificent company buildings housing abused employees, Executives proclaiming their greatness and love of the community while embezzling employee pensions, Famed charities with the most heartbreaking children looking so desperate misdirecting donated monies. If we are not careful, Sarah, our hearts will harden to the need and to our Great God that provides all.

    I have often backed or walked away in disgust, frustration and anger determined to live our my life in my cabin by the lake. Yet, as you so eloquently expressed, my eyes eventually cleared and saw the real needs and how genuine efforts would restore hope in a lost life.

    Encouraging one more person to pick up her burden with anticipation that all will be better and she is not alone makes for a very bright day.

  • Oh, this is so good. Definitely bookmarking this for future travel and missions teams–love it.

    “…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.”

  • Julie

    The actual reason for the painting was because Digicel paid for it, to run a fancy commercial they created. Still sad though that it wasn’t for a better reason.

  • I hope there’s a way to critically think without a critical spirit, because that’s so what I long for. Praying for y’all and the little ones there.

  • Thank you for bearing witness. It’s a courageous thing to do when so many people prefer the facade.

  • Sarah – I am working with a local NGO to figure out a way to use Drouin rice to make our meal packets for Haitian refugees in the DR. Thank you so much for this post. I have passed it on. I pray it opens some doors.

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  • Cory Sinklier

    I am so glad I came across your blog. It is absolutely amazing that sometimes halfway across the world you find others who thing like you do. I look forward to reading more. God bless what you do for His glory and serving others.

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