Saturday, July 2, 2011


We had a VBS-- err "kid's camp" (because for some reason the term VBS really twangs me)--planned for this past week at Bwa Vital. This is the largest (and nicest) IDP camp in Jacmel. I think there are currently about 300 families living there with plans to move a bunch more in soon. Most of the people I've worked with since the quake who were at Pinchinat have since been moved to Bwa Vital. (Most, but not all.) So because of this, I know a lot of the kids and families that live in this camp. I've learned how to negotiate the hierarchy of command when we need approval for projects there, etc. (For the most part-- this is, of course, Haiti... so just because you reserve an area through official chains doesn't mean it will actually be available to you during your program.)

So back to kid's camp. We had a team of teenagers in and we'd gotten permission to do a kids camp for 300. I didn't really expect to have that many kids the first day, but figured that by the last day we'd hit around that number. Now, there are A LOT more than 300 kids in this camp, but we were targeting the ages of 5-12. We had invitations sent out and it was a very nice idea. I like working with the kids from the camps because they really have a crappy set of circumstances. It's not that I don't want to do kids programs at churches or orphanages, but it does seem like there are a lot of groups already doing this and I was ready to try to reach out to a set of kids that were largely not involved in churches, and so therefore, wouldn't be included in a traditional VBS program.

So picture this-- day one. A team of about 16 teens. We had about 150ish or so kids on Monday. They did a great story. We had a fun time singing songs together. It was awesome. Kids were participating. They were eager. We broke into groups for crafts, games and snacks... and then it went to crap.

It started really with the markers being handed out. Here's the thing. ANY kind of distribution in a tent camp usually gets pretty.. hem... "spirited." The elbowing and pushing were a bit rough, but it was manageable. But then the snack/water distribution started...

IOM, the organization that runs the camps, by order from the Haitian government, has mandated that no food be distributed in camps. At the meeting with the IOM committee in the camp, we talked about doing a snack/drink during kid's camp. They agreed that would be fine, as long as it was something small, and not a full meal. The first day it was peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with a bag of water. You would have thought we were giving out bags of gold. It was a scene. We stopped distribution and ended up having to leave a bit early because it was so out of hand.

Still, I was determined that these kids could do better. These were kids I KNOW, and so I thought, "yeah, if I just ask them to be nicer, they will." Yes, I realize how arrogant this sounds. So we headed back (minus the majority of the team from the day before) to try again. Tuesday we had about 300 kids. We had less sets of hands, but more people that "get" Haiti and got the plan. We'd made modifications for containing the food distribution and we talked about better crowd control measures. Observation and correction.

It started GREAT. It really did. We sang. It was way more relaxed the second day. Kids were participating. I gave the kids a lecture about their behavior the day before and said that if they could behave today, then we would come back on Wednesday, but that if they couldn't behave well, we'd have to go elsewhere. The kids were super-compliant. They begged for another chance. They promised they wouldn't make trouble anymore. They sat where they were supposed to sit and participated well during singing and story time. We separated into groups for craft and then snack and then (again) it turned to crap. But this time we had double the kids. We got craft supplies distributed and our idea for "controlled" snack distribution (Tuesday was just Haitian cookies and water) was better, but not good enough.

To quote Nick Mangine, "What we needed was a cattle shoot."

To quote Nick Mangine followed by thoughts from Gwenn Mangine, "What we needed was a cattle shoot and a taser."

Well, long story short. We stopped snack distribution. Kids were mad. I didn't really care that they were mad because they were trampling each other and hitting and just being mean. We packed up and headed out-- with just a bit more drama on the way out.

VBS fail.

I was bummed. I really was. I love these kids. I love the idea of working with kids in camps. But it was a fail. Too many people, marginal facilities... and ROWDY, ROWDY kids. Kids who've lived in an IDP camp for 18 months now. Kids who are largely unschooled and unchurched. Kids who don't have anywhere to go where they learn how to sit still and take their turn. This is a bit of a scary prospect. It is estimated that there are about 600,000 people in Haiti still in IDP camps. Based on statistics, well over half of those are likely children.

One of the downsides to the amount of foreign aid that's been poured into Haiti has been an INCREDIBLE reinforcement in the handout mentality. To the tune of kids being willing to throw punches and large rocks at each other's heads over a pack of 10 cent (US) cookies and a 2.5 cent (US) bag of water. CRAZY.

I think that there are a lot of examples of situations like this. Fallout from the earthquake that will go on for generations in terms of attitudes, behaviors, expectations.

Which is, I guess, what my point of this post is-- being a humanitarian in a place like Haiti is a stupid idea. It really is. The challenges are so huge. The obstacles are insurmountable with human strength and effort, regardless of how many dollars we throw at it.

A lot of times I struggle when people ask me if I am a missionary. I don't like the connotation of the word missionary because I don't feel like I am here to "convert" people or change people, which is what I picture when I think of the word missionary. Converting people/ changing people is not a human job. I am here because I believe the only way to show others what many call the "good news" is to first be willing to BE the good news. (Especially in a place like Haiti where there is little to no good news.) I want to walk in the way of Jesus, help where I can help, but rely on the power of God to change people.

And, so yeah, I don't think the job title missionary encompasses that. I don't think that humanitarian encompasses it either.

If there's a word for that, I don't know what it is. (Other than maybe simply the word "person.")

How about you? Any thoughts on what that word might be?

PS-- I didn't take too many photos, but I LOVE this one because of the little girl in the red shirt in the middle... :)


  1. My wife and I were talking about how we don't like the word missionary just this week, my conclusion, I like the word disciple.

  2. Great post! I agree with you about the handout mentality. I feel as if it's turned people into stereotypical welfare recipients instead of active members of their communities. Your idea of a missionary is how I envision missionaries as well, but I can't think of a word that fully encompasses what you and others like you are doing, so far know we can call it being a person. :)

  3. If you haven't yet, I suggest reading "When Helping Hurts; Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor. . .and Ourselves".

    Seriously a great book that deals with issues like you raised in your post.


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