Stephanie’s blog has once again inspired and awed me at her world, her work, her passion, and her courage. She is experiencing adventures in a part of the world most Americans will never visit let alone know much about. It is hard to believe that I was there just a few years ago, in the very village where she is living.
I was working with a development organization after the 30-some year war had ended as we helped the feeble transition of war-torn communities along, carrying out healing ceremonies, rebuilding communities, and shutting down some of the internally displaced camps.
I had run into some social workers who said those communities were some of the most traumatized they had seen. This was mostly because Joseph Kony, head of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) who was terrorizing communities in Northern Uganda during the long war, made his child soldiers carry out atrocious acts, so traumatizing that the children would feel they could never reintegrate into normal society again (and thus never try and return to their families). The stories I heard were almost too horrific to believe, and yet as the Acholi people began to move out of the camps and put their lives back together, I only saw beautiful communities coming together to help one another, mourn the dead, and tentatively hope for lasting peace. The townships had been so ravaged by war and poverty, some of the poorest places I had seen, and yet people were taking pride in their mud huts, keeping them clean and living with a sense of dignity that had not been afforded them for so many years.
Flash a few years later, and I find myself in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, a year after the terrible earthquake of January 2010. Again, a place that looked like it had been through a war with slow rebuilding taking place. I was to spend the next two years in this capital city, but it only took a few months to start to see the organized chaos that makes up the daily lives of most Haitians. And it wasn’t so much the suffering that struck me, but the lack of dignity in the way Haitians in PaP were living in such filth, garbage all around, no regard for the environment, burning tires and trash piles in the street. Ghandi said that a nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members, but if that is the case of Haiti, then that nation is headed for trouble. I was shocked at how animals, children, the elderly, and the disabled were disregarded and left to fend for themselves. The mentality of each man for himself and pure survival was seen in every facet of life; there was no sense of community or social capital. Even though the poverty stats coming out of Haiti are similar to Northern Uganda, the quality of life between the two cannot be compared.
Why does one society do so much with the little it has while the other throws away so much of what it is given? Do Haitians really care enough to want to improve their situation, and if not, how does one get them to feel a sense of ownership about their country and problems? The natural richness of the island and the amount of international money and remittances that have gone into Haiti far outweigh the odds that Northern Uganda has been up against, and yet one society lives in beauty while the other lives in trash. Is it history, colonization, governance, culture, donor involvement, or a combination of all of these? These are questions that I’m still trying to figure out in such complex and complicated societies. We may never reach an answer that gives us any kind of solution to the problem, and is it even our place to try and figure out their solutions.