Over the past 11 years I have traveled to Haiti 8 times and each trip has challenged my thinking and my perspective on the world in a new way. I’ve seen poverty, the fallout from corrupt political systems and the devastating effects of earthquakes and hurricanes. I’ve visited crowded prisons that do not have clean drinking water and corrupt orphanages that receive money from American churches yet don’t provide clothing for the children living there. I saw a refugee camp full of people who were kicked out of the Dominican Republic because they “looked Haitian” and could not prove their citizenship and met people who were literally starving. However, I’ve also worshiped in local churches, laughed with children at schools, and had the privilege of supporting organizations that are focused on family preservation, job creation, and empowerment of the Haitian people. This country has a hold on my heart in a way nothing else ever has, and I have hope that change can happen in Haiti.
I’ve learned over the years how my American mindset of wanting to give things to people who are materially poor can cause more harm then good. My first trip was in December 2007 and at that time I traveled with an extra suitcase full of toys and clothes for the kids at an orphanage. Today, that orphanage is home to a maternity center where women can safely deliver their babies and attend weekly classes to learn about child development (heartlineministries.org). My most recent trip was in August 2018 and the only extra supplies I brought were things requested by missionaries or our Haitian friends that are very difficult or expensive to buy in Haiti.
People in Haiti don’t want to rely on the rich foreigners for aid, they want to be self-sufficient and provide for their own families. However, this current foreign aid system has created a dependence that actually works against any efforts for self- sufficiency. For example, free clothing and shoes donated by Americans harms the local clothing and shoe industry. With so many free or inexpensive products being shipped to Haiti from the states local businesses have not been able to sustain themselves. When given the choice between getting clothing for free or paying for it, most people would choose free, I know I would. If the shoemakers can’t sustain their business they won’t be able to afford school for their children. If there are less children in school there are less jobs for teachers, if teachers are unemployed they can’t provide for their own families. This cycle can only be disrupted if the rest of the world opens their eyes to the part they are playing and realizes Haiti is more than the images they show on the news. It’s a beautiful country full of strong people trying to do the best they can in a broken system.
I knew I was hooked on this place in January 2008 when I couldn’t stop crying on the plane ride home from that first two-week trip. Friends describe me as being “lighter” when I come back from Haiti, and I would agree that it changes me every time. God has given me a heart for this country and I want to tell everyone about the people I’ve met who are doing wonderful things and show pictures of the beautiful places I’ve seen. After 8 trips I’ve also learned that not everyone wants to hear my stories or see my pictures. However, this year, for the first time, I took a risk and asked my friends for space to share about my trip. One evening, a few days after I returned home, I sat with three women, who I am fortunate enough to call my friends, they listened, engaged, asked questions, and looked at my pictures. It was a beautiful thing, helped me transition back home, and provided me with perspective I wouldn’t have seen on my own. I hope that in the future I will remember that just because some people don’t want to hear my stories doesn’t mean all people will be that way.
I want to remember the goodness that comes from taking a risk, sharing my heart, and telling my stories in my daily life and not just as it relates to travel!
If you’d like to support businesses that are empowering Haitians and creating local jobs check out these options:
Jessica Furrow is a 33 year old living in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She is a social worker and photographer who decided to take a risk by writing something that other people will see. Jessica loves being outside in all 4 seasons, traveling, and spending quality time with friends. You can see her pictures on her website here.