Right Heart, Wrong Technique
by Kent Annan
The recent scene started harmlessly enough. A woman visiting Haiti from North America brought a small bag of inexpensive gifts (candy, key chains, etc.) to hand out to those she met. A crowd formed around her, and soon the reaching hands grew more numerous than her gifts. With her bag empty, she reached into her pockets and started handing out money. The crowd grew bigger still. It was time to leave, and she climbed onto the back of her group’s flatbed truck. Yet even as the truck started moving away, the hands kept beckoning and the crowd began pursuing. Moved by the clamorous need, with her bag and pockets empty, she reached to her neck, took off her necklace, and threw it into the crowd.
Generous? Unquestionably. Admirable? Yes, who wouldn’t admire her heart. But the right way to share?
Unfortunately, the result of this giving was (of course) undignified scrambling, minor brawling, and ever louder cries for more gifts, more money, more jewelry. It was charity fit to incite a riot.
This woman is an example of generosity, yet the outcome of her giving was likely not what she expected or wanted. Giving isn’t easy, and, unfortunately, good intentions aren’t always enough.
Beyond Borders wants to help good exchanges of giving and receiving (going both ways) between Haitians and North Americans. We also realize we can’t do this alone. Thus the single most important “technique” we have for giving well is always working in partnership with Haitian organizations–-primarily our sister organization in Haiti, Limyè Lavi.
“Well, how can we help them?” the woman asked a Haitian doctor who was in the truck, after she had given out her gifts and jewelry.
“Get to know us,” he responded. “Come and stay with us a little longer, then do more reading.”
This ensures it’s not such a situation of “us” giving to “them.” We work with Haitians to ensure we honor Haitian dignity and culture as we give. Also, we work with Haitians to ensure our constituents’ generous donations are investing in long-term solutions.
Giving well is hard, but joyous, work. Generosity isn’t the only thing that counts, but it’s the unquestionable place to start.