Sunday, June 2, 2013

June 2 Sister Paola's advice

June 2 Sister Paola's advice

Trying to help another person, a vulnerable group, a village, a country is challenging in the extreme and  always illusive. There is so much need that it's all overwhelming and therefore initiative can be immobilized or doomed. Eyes through which the benefactors are viewed are often clouded by self-interest and perspectives are myopically self-serving.

The complexity of  it all shreds the best and most diligent minds. I've seen lots of evidence of that.

In travels and work with four quite different NGOs and in meeting a number of others since 2006, the difference between what works and what doesn't, at both the individual and organization's level, is simple enough to see but hard to get right.

Character, discipline, focus, empathy, humility are at the top of the list of ingredients that fuse to help create effective, sustainable programs. It always takes money to fuel projects, but donor dollars can't produce desired outcomes by themselves. And it also takes experience, but that is only hard earned by learning through brutal, sometimes costly, trial and error and from the example of others making the mistakes ahead of you.

Humility is the gateway attribute and, in any measure, of course the hardest human attribute to truly comprehend or develop. I was thinking about this in conversation with the Sister Paola Trevino, of Mission Youth, who introduces North American teenagers and young adults to excursions to help in Haiti. She had just returned from a visit to a tent city delivering new beds her crew had made for Haitians still sleeping on the ground three years after the earthquake. None of the all-girl team on this mission had ever been to Haiti or outside the US. The feelings and reactions to what they saw and experienced were seismic.

I have become frustrated on this trip with - logistics, my role and agenda, urgency, a desire to matter, the witnessing of drive-by aid - while, dangerously, having more freedom and spare time that I have had in the past, to think about what I have and have not accomplished over the last 7 years coming here. She told me a story about being in a similar state of mind when she first started in this mission, and how she was admonished by Betsy Wall, the director of The Wall's guesthouse and foundation, for approaching the job the wrong way.

 In essence, she was advised that unless she opened her eyes to what was being offered to her in Haiti, instead of being driven to satisfy the need for finding more ways to give and more solutions to problems, she'd never be any good or do any good.

The offering from Haitians, and the experience of Haiti itself, whether it be friendship and dialogue, awareness of suffering, exercise of compassion, gaining a different perspective on humanity, heightened self-awareness, acceptance of limitations, clarity of purpose, fathoming of meaning, confronting something larger than yourself -  is a gift, a continuing gift, which in the opening and understanding, gets you outside yourself and enables a different dialogue, a new engagement and very special dynamic with yourself and those to whom you want to give a hand.

Be open and accessible, not closed up and driven. Let Haiti and Haitians in; let go of expectations and assumptions you brought with you.

A conversation that will be with me for a long time, and was probably worth the whole trip.

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