Mwen te ale Ayiti, mwen te aprann…

If I had to sum up my professional year in numbers, this would be it:

17 flights
26 nights in guesthouses and hotels
35+ Creole vocabulary words
6 daylong workshops published
2,530 PowerPoint slides created
430 new Haitian 朋友s
1 birthday on foreign soil

If I had to sum up my professional year in thoughts and lessons, then it goes something more like this:

As a kid, I never really had a desire to travel to the Caribbean. The region always sounded like that exotic vacation spot that I would never go to. Haiti in particular never called me, even when my grandfather mentioned his trips there.

Switch regions for a second to Asia: in 2004 when the tsunami hit Thailand, I had an uncanny desire to do something about it. I was in 9th grade at the time, and so really couldn’t do much, but my friend and I organized a bake sale and donated the money to WorldVision.

Back to the Caribbean: In 2010, when the earthquake hit Haiti, the world sprung into action. But for some reason (call me unfeeling) I didn’t feel drawn to helping right then and there. Should I do something? I wondered, but the more I wondered, the more I felt I needed to just wait.

A year and a half ago Haiti walked into my life.

I had a phenomenal opportunity to do something in Haiti by developing teacher training material and instructing workshops in Haiti. I took it, and spent the past year living and breathing Haiti.

And as usually happens when teaching and/or traveling in a foreigner country, I ended up learning more than I feel like I imparted. Even though Haiti continues to be one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, the people of Haiti exhibit such an undying optimism, gratitude, and grace that it’s impossible not to feel like we’re missing out on something in the states. Yes, many people of Haiti may live in material poverty, but their wealth of optimism and spirit points to something bigger that I think we can all learn from. There’s a graciousness in relationships that is hard to find in other countries.

When I tell people that I’ve been working in Haiti over the past year, their common response is, “Oh my goodness, what’s it like down there? I hear it’s a mess. How do they live?”

As I got this question more and more, it bothered me increasingly. Yes, people living in poverty is unjust and inexcusable–no one should live in material poverty. There’s a lot to improve. But that’s the case in any country. To think that any country has it together would be a sorely misguided conclusion. The growth areas of other countries may not be material wealth, but there are other areas to grow. I’d love for us to move from the question of “What’s it like?” to “What can we learn?”

That’s exactly the attitude that the Haitian teacher with whom we worked displayed this year. The more we visited, the more they asked, “What can I learn?” and “How does this apply to my classroom?”

I’ll admit, I’m guilty of this too. So often I am quick to judge from my own perspective and leave the learning aside. So as I wrap up my year of working in Haiti, my own challenge to myself is to change my perspective from, “What’s it like?” to “What can I learn?”

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