The desire to develop relationships between schools in the United States and Haiti is a natural expression of love and concern for the some of the poorest and most vulnerable communities in the world. As Episcopal schools, we are responding to the gospel imperative to help those in need.
The challenge is how to develop mutual relationships across such a vast economic divide whereby we are so wealthy and most Haitian communities have such great economic need. Despite the best of intentions, this dynamic can often create a colonial or paternalistic relationship where the receiver of gifts is subservient in some way to a wealthy patron. This dynamic can at times limit honest and true conversations when they become secondary to pleasing the donor to ensure that funds continue to be provided, or when a donor feels as if they are seen solely as a source of funds.
Therefore, it is important to examine our motivations when we are thinking of entering into such a relationship and to be open and honest with ourselves as to what it is. As human beings we all have egos that can get in the way of our good intentions; therefore, we need to acknowledge the fact that helping others makes us feel good and that our egos are stroked when others see us doing good works.
The reality is that money is always going to affect the relationship in some way, shape or form; this needs to be recognized at the beginning of the relationship and each party needs to be sensitive to this dynamic.
How, then, can we develop truly mutual partnerships across economic and cultural divides?
- When beginning a relationship, spend a great deal of time sitting, learning, and sharing stories. Share your lives as well as learn the stories of the lives of your partners. Pray with and for one another, sing together, and walk in one another’s shoes for a while.
- It is best not to focus on money when in conversation with the school you are in relationship with. There is a strong Biblical justification for this in Matthew 6:3 which reads, But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Directing funds through the Partnership Program office is the most responsible way to offer financial support.
- A common situation (which is not unique to Haiti) occurs whereby funds are given for a particular project, but the project in turn creates a structure or system that can never be sustained locally, thereby increasing dependency. It is critical to work with local communities to explore how a given goal can be sustainable in the long-term. This might mean improving the quality of education by training teachers to a level where enrolment in the school is more attractive for families of children in the U.S. who will want to invest in the education of families and friends in Haiti. It may be by developing income-generating schemes with the school such as gardens, water purification projects, animal husbandry, or perhaps micro-credit program that can help the school to become financially independent and self-sustaining over time.
- It is critical to make a long-term commitment to the relationship. Relationships only deepen over the long term, when confidence grows in the realization that a partner won’t leave after a year or two. Short-term partnerships can reinforce paternalistic rather than mutual relationships, increase dependence rather than self-sufficiency, and leave the Haitian school without the ability to sustain programs that the donor funded and subsequently abandoned.
The Rev. David Copley is mission personnel officer for the Episcopal Church.