Hal in Haiti: Compassion


The project of building a medical clinic in rural Haiti is proving to test just about everything I’ve learned along the way working my way through Life. The people here do things the way they do them because it’s what they know and have always done. Uh-oh looks like somebody is riding in really fast on a white horse, yep, just what I was afraid of, an American. Don’t get me wrong, I’m American, and am very proud and thankful to be. You have to admit, we think we know what’s best, and in many cases we’re right. We’ve been blessed with constant progress, innovation, and being able to pretty much shape our own destiny. Sometimes that has been a hindrance, but mostly it’s allowed us to find better solutions to our problems. We’ve been brought up to believe if we have a problem, it’s within our ability to find a viable solution. Sometimes it turns out very different than we thought it would, but the point is believe we can better ourselves.

Haiti has a very different mindset. They have been oppressed since they were brought to this island as slaves. Even after they won a long and bloody war of independence, they have been exploited. Their natural resources have been stripped to serve the needs of people very far away, who had little or no regard for the Haitian people’s well being. Few schools were built, few medical facilities, nothing that they could count on to be sustainable. The forests were literally stripped bare, top soil tumbling to the ocean, ruining streams and rivers in the process. So they’ve been swimming upstream for sometime now, 1804, to be precise.

People come here from all over the world to help, and help they do. There are people trying to improve every aspect of life here, education, water quality, agriculture, medicine, spiritual awakenings, all aspects of life, many of which we’ve come to take for granted. Education, for example, when we were galloping across the US heading west, when we stopped to settle in, the first public buildings were schools and churches. We take for granted getting an education, whether we agree with it or not, that all of our children will go to school from 5 to 18 years of age. Not so, here in Haiti. I’m not sure the ratio of schools versus children, but my guess is there is less than half of the kids have a school to go to, never mind being able to afford it. Kids here have to pay to go to school, on top of having to buy uniforms. Even if there was enough schools to go around, people have no money to pay for. Most people don’t have enough money to feed themselves or their families.

A by-product of not going to school is the lack of development of critical thinking skills. Even if we aren’t paying attention in school, we learn how to figure things out. One of the frustrating things people from other lands complain about here is people just don’t get it. The majority of people haul their water, from a young age, don’t have a clue what a toilet is, don’t have electricity, don’t even have the word leftover in their vocabulary. All of these facts can make it very frustrating for people with the same values as ours. If you loan something to someone, it now belongs to them. Hey, where’s that wrench I loaned you? Huh? We look at them as thieves, they look at us as confused and misguided.

In spite of many of these gaps there is progress being made. The clinic I’m building is designed and engineered by Americans. If I turn my back for two seconds they go right back to what they know. The minute I assume they are getting it, they disappoint me. I constantly have to adjust my expectations. The thing is they are inherently really good people, incredible workers, many of them working through the day with little or no food. They are tough yet compassionate. Many of the problems they have really aren’t their fault. All of us working here have to bite our tongue and embrace the broad spectrum of wonderful qualities these people have.

Posted by Hal Seifert at 8:44 AM