As a foreigner it seems wherever you go in Haiti there is always someone who will ask you either for money or food. The questions come in all shapes and sizes; whether it be a woman running after you in the city-street, an old man in the market, or children playing futbol with you in the dirt. The first time it occurred, it took everything in me to say no.
Cange market at dawn, Haiti, June 2015 [photo: Mansell Ambrose]
No sounds so callous and distant. But if I gave them a granola bar or a dollar bill I would be playing into the beggar mentality that plagues blan and Haitian relations. I would be satisfying an immediate need for that person, but at the possible expense of hindering further work and relationships. If I am seen on the streets only as a source of money or food then it becomes extremely difficult to change that definition later on. In order to get work done in the villages we cannot be swarmed by children asking for money. And when partners are needed for our work, it is important that we establish a relationship of equality, not one of simple giving and taking. While it is difficult in these circumstances not to give in the short-term, the work that we are doing here has the hope of long-term changes. By encouraging the farmers that we partner with to grow sed, mango, coffee, and other plants we are improving the diversity of the farmers’ farms while also helping to reforest a small part of Haiti. With these plants the results are not immediate, coffee takes about five years before it starts producing, but the long-term results can be tremendous. And the relationships that we have built with the farmers of Bois Jolie has helped to bridge this gap between immediately tangible help and future intangible change. Because of the time we have spent working together to make coffee in Bois Jolie a reality, we have started to develop a more equal partnership between us. No longer are we just money-givers, but we are starting to be seen as partners.