There's an old parable about six blind men who touch an elephant to see what it was like. Each feels only one part of the elephant, such as the leg, the tail or the trunk, so their perceptions vary greatly.
Haiti is like the elephant and my two traveling companions -- Jan Frenzl and Joleen Tustin -- and I are like the blind men. Although we are each being shown the same things, our life experiences are leading us to touch different parts of the beast each day. During conversations and debriefing sessions each night, we are able to pull our perceptions together to get a better look at the big picture of Haiti that our guides are hoping we will eventually see.
One of the things we talk about is how to marshal our great intentions into action once we get home. The overriding problem is that there is not just one problem. "Water is the biggest need," someone says.
"Until they do something about all the trash and garbage, they can't begin to move in a positive direction," says another.
"Nothing can possibly improve until the government is stable," says a third.
We are all correct and if we had a larger contingent of people with us I'm sure the list would be as long and the number of people.
Lots of good people would like to help heal Haiti in a significant way. I am learning however, that good intentions are sometimes not a good thing and helping can actually be hurting.
For example, today while we were traveling on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, we stopped to look at a new housing development under construction. More than 200 concrete homes are going up that will each house a family. The area has been cleared for what looks like at least four times that many.
It is a wonderful gesture to provide good, solid homes to so many homeless people. What could be the harm in that?
"How will the people get to their jobs with their homes so far away?" our Haitian guide, Tony, wondered aloud.
That's a good question. Unless new jobs are created closer to the homes or free transportation is provided, it's highly likely that people -- even homeless ones -- won't move. What good would it do for them to starve in a new house?
Another problem facing Haiti is land erosion in the mountains. People have been cutting down trees to make charcoal to use for cooking their food.
One humanitarian group thinks the solution for that is to provide propane gas. The problem with that gas must be imported at a high cost and it will take lots of jobs away from people whose livelihood depends on making and selling charcoal.
Before I came to Haiti, I had a wonderful idea (or so I thought) that it would be nice to pair up children from Holy Family School with children at the parochial school we are hoping to partner with. They could be penpals. The problem is that it takes time and energy to translate all of the letters and mailing them is too expensive on the Haiti side.
My attempt to form a relationship between the students -- however well intentioned -- would simply have created one more obstacle for them.
Someitimes trying to do the right thing isn't the right thing at all.
You may have solved one problem, but created another.
The list of problems seems endless in Haiti. It's kind of like taking a swing at a mosquito and stirring up a swarm of them. (That's a great analogy since that is what I am literally doing as I type this.)
The answer lies in finding some middle ground. That can happen only with good leaders working at finding a balance to meet the immediate needs of the people as well as their future needs. I wish them well.
In the meantime, all we can do is what we can do.
My "blind" companions and I are working at having our eyes opened on just what that means.