Ke Kontan

Ke Kontan

Monday, 24 September 2012

Be Strong. Show Courage. Breathe. Excel. Love. Lead..

Haiti. Most people cringe when I tell them I'm living here. I've even had people actually take a step back from me. Like they can get AIDS just by hearing the word. And like many people, I thought of Haiti as an impoverished, AIDS ridden, crime filled country. I've spent the past 6 months since my invitation learning what's true, what's not, and gained a whole new perspective on Haiti, it's people, and it's culture. I have learned that we are far more similar than different. This is inclusive of our problems no matter where I have traveled, it seems that there is always a power struggle between business interests, governments, and the poor. There are many things in Haiti that are difficult for me to understand like why people have cell phones and minutes to talk, yet they are begging for money on the streets to fill their bellies. Or why people buy fancy cars and nice clothes when they could be helping their people or even helping themselves. But I have now learned that in Haiti, pride is everything. Without pride, you have nothing. People would rather go hungry then to look as if they cannot afford the finer things in life. This is a sad truth and what I find the most challenging thing to comprehend.

Many have commented on how brave I am to go on this journey alone. But believe me, if you saw how many times I've cried with my pillow covering my face to muffle the sound, you'd know I am not. The people who live in this part of the world and face daily hardships are the ones who are brave. The people who gather food and water for their families despite the distance they have to walk and despite the exhaustion and the dangers that they face are brave. The men and women all over this world who stand up against unjust governments, corruption, and injustices are the brave ones. The woman who have come to me that have been raped, beaten, and left in the shadows, yet still stand tall with pride and strength are the brave ones. The children who have been living on the streets or that are restaveks yet still smile and hold your hand as you pass them on the streets are the brave ones. Although it rips the heart out of my chest, it is a humbling and inspiring experience to hear their stories and each day I am more and more amazed by people who happen to cross my path. I struggle with taking photographs some days. I want to capture their portraits, to share what I have seen with others. Few Canadians had seen this: Strong people. Survivors. Soldiers. Steadfast. I know that these people aren't perfect, and that it is foolish to cast someone as saintly simply because they have suffered. These people might also be trivial and jealous and mean and small. But the enormity of their achievement has outweighed their human faults. These people have suffered more than I could ever imagine, and they were willing to welcome me, to talk with me. After all the betrayal they have lived through, all of the corruption, all of the hardships, they were still willing to trust a stranger. I had seen it before in Ghana and especially in Haiti where courageous people found ways to live with compassion in the midst of the most tremendous hardships. Across the globe, even in the world's "worst" places, people have found ways to turn pain into wisdom and suffering into strength. They made their own actions, their very lives, into a memorial that honored the people they had lost. If people can live through a disaster and traumatic event like the earthquake and retain compassion, if they can take strength from pain, if they are able, still, to laugh, then certainly we can learn something from then. The world is full of stories of courage, too infrequently told. Many people risked their lives to run into falling buildings to save others and many cared for the injured or orphaned. There were people, for example, who offered shelters and food to neighbors and friends who had lost everything. I have heard many stories of courage, many versions of Paul Rusesabagina and Hotel Rwanda, where people cared for strangers and offered protection, comfort, and love during a catastrophic event. These stories are the stories that need to be heard.

Over the course of this year my dreams have changed. I have changed. Almost everyone is asking, "what's next?" After being so goal-oriented most of my life, it feels strange to say this, but I have absolutely no idea ... and I am perfectly OK with that. Instead of trying to prove myself to the world, this year has really been about what the world has to teach me. I am slowly learning that I can't pin all my hopes of happiness to one thing, whether that be a certain job, a boyfriend, or the number of highlighted hairs on my head. Regardless of what the future holds, my current recipe for fulfillment is to appreciate the gifts I have in my life right now and stay true to myself. This may sound crass, but I care a lot less about what other people think. I've always struggled with being sensitive and tried to develop thicker skin. My skin is no different now, it's just that what lies beneath is a lot stronger.

I often think of the many well-intentioned discussions I'd had in university classrooms, about cultural sensitivity and cultural awareness, and I could imagine some of my classmates rolling their eyes if they heard aid workers/volunteers pray, "Lord, please help these Haitians". But the fact is that none of those classroom conversations ever saved a life, while committed volunteers were weighing infants in slings every day and providing food to lactating mothers, while people were risking their lives to save those that have been neglected, enslaved, orphaned, and abused, we sat in a classroom expecting to learn all of the great lessons in life from a professor standing in front of us. Although we were taught about issues going on around our world such as the conflict in the middle east, the corruption and injustices with governmental systems, the drought in Kenya, the tsunami in Japan, the earthquake in Haiti- instead of witnessing these events or being present during these struggles and offering the aid that was so greatly needed, we sat in the classrooms merely listening to someone else read from a textbook about other peoples despairs and traumatic experiences while we went about our daily lives, over-consuming, and indulging in our luxurious privileges of North American life . I have always said that a lot of the international aid that I have witnessed is not always helpful as it could be, and some of it is even harmful. The world, however, would be a darker and colder place without it. Whatever the flaws, they are attempting to change lives and to become a part of this struggle rather than sitting back and listening to or reading others stories, nothing is more important than that. For what is thought without action?

I was not- as many were in Haiti- an academic researcher bedecked with degrees. I was not an anthropologist. I was not a social worker. I was not a nurse or a doctor. With only two years of studying criminology and sociology, and spending the past year volunteering under my nineteen year old belt, I was an expert at nothing. My inexperience, however, had a double edge. Although I was unaware of some of the basic facts of the relief efforts in Haiti- it provided the perfect opportunity to absorb the things around me and learn from others. This experience has offered me the best lessons in life as well as the best gifts. I cannot help but look at my children singing and dancing to Justin Bieber and smile. These children have experienced many hardships yet they are still able to smile, dance, play, and laugh.. and I realize how truly blessed I am to have all of these little hands tugging at my heart. Forget Jersey Shore, the Bachelorette, or the Kardashians. This IS reality.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

A Special Thanks...

People who want to make a difference in this world usually do it, in one way or another, no matter how big or small that difference may seem. And I've noticed something about these types of people, they tend to stand out in the crowd. They are the ones who tend to be more sensitive to certain situations, too trusting at times as they believe in the best of people, and often too giving to those who are not always appreciative. They hold the unshakable conviction that every individual is extremely important, that every life matters. They get excited over one smile, one thank you. They are willing to feed one stomach, educate one mind, treat one wound, and touch one heart. They are not determined to change the entire world at once; They are satisfied with small changes. However overtime, these small changes add up. Sometimes they even transform cities and countries, and yes, the world.

People who want to make a difference get frustrated, stressed out, and fed up along the way. But no matter what obstacle they are faced with, they don't quit. They just keep going. Given their successes, most of them are shockingly normal. They are just your ordinary day to day people going about their lives and seeking the same things as everyone else; happiness and satisfaction. They do not teach grand lessons that suddenly enlighten entire communities; they teach small lessons that can inspire and touch one man or woman, boy or girl. They do not do anything to seek attention, they simply pay attention to the every day needs that are at hand. They seem to be able to look past peoples imperfections and they understand that EVERYONE deserves second chances. They bring change in ways that most people will never read about or applaud, and they are content with that. And because of the way that these people are built, they wouldn't think of living their lives in any other way.

This realization came to me on my first trip to Ghana and has been with me ever since. It has followed me on all of my journeys as I have encountered numerous people who fit this description perfectly. These people have all given me a piece of themselves to me- they have taught me some of the greatest lessons that could ever be taught. Not all of these people traveled around the globe, not all of these people fed or held a starving or sick child, they are just ordinary people, people who do not get the recognition that they deserve. They are high school teachers, friends, family members, and role models that inspire you in simple, and yet sometimes very big ways. Without these people that have truly touched my heart and my life, I would not be where I am at today.

It is true; I cannot think of living my life in any other way. Through the hurricanes, the governmental obstacles, the illnesses, the filth, and the day to day struggles, I have never once regretted my decision to give up my past life, a life of luxury and perfection, for this new life that I have so fortunately been blessed with. The struggles are what keep things exciting. They really test your will and your strength. Last year, if I were to sit down and picture my future, I never would have imagined that I would be living the way I am now. I never would have been able to imagine that I would be able to overcome all of the obstacles that I have in these past few months. Yes, of course there are times when I wake up in the morning and ask myself "What the heck am I doing", and sometimes I have to pinch myself to make sure that this is all real. But as much as it is trying and difficult, I love it and would not change it for the world.

In Canada I followed society's standards and what they deemed as 'normal' and 'acceptable'. I finished high school, I went to University, I juggled two jobs at once trying to save money and pay bills, I had a beat up rusty sunfire that I loved, I moved out on my own, I loved and had my heart broken, I played sports, and I partied. And although all of this seems great (and don't get me wrong, it was). I felt as if something was missing. I got tired of the same thing day in and day out. I felt as if my body was present but my soul had vanished. After my experiences in Ghana, after a living a life of purpose for the short month that I did, I couldn't seem to go back to a life full of wasted time. I wanted to be doing more. I didn't want to sit on a bar stool or in a classroom any longer. I wanted adventure, I wanted the passion that I had once felt when I was in Ghana. I had wonderful, supportive parents who so desired my success that they would have paid for me to go to university anywhere that my heart desired. But after two years of studying, my heart desired other things.

And the fact that my heart desired these "other things", it began to interfere with the plans I once had for myself and certainly with the plans that others had for me. My heart had been captured by a great passion, a passion that compelled me to live differently, a passion to help others, even if that meant risking my own life. I think its hard for some people to understand my willingness to give up everything and live in a country which contains a great deal of poverty and dangers. But I guess I have chosen to risk my own life so that I can feel alive. I feel alive here.

Everyone constantly asks me "Why Haiti" and honestly, I wish I could explain it. But I can't. It's just... Haiti. It is where my heart has lead me. How else can I explain that ? Maybe it was a greater force that pulled me here, maybe I don't even realize or understand why exactly I am here, but I am. And this is where I want to be. I know this. The people here have become my family, they have become my friends. People with nothing, people who have lost everything, they have touched my life in so many ways and inspired me to continue on my journey.

This blog post however, isn't about me. This blog post is about everyone else. Everyone who has walked in to my life, and even the ones who have walked out of it. It is to all of my dedicated fundraisers who have put their valuable time into helping me and these children, it is to my family that has continued to support all of my crazy ideas and passions, it is to my friends who don't exactly understand why I am here but still love me and will be waiting for me with a cold beer when I return home for visits, it is to the volunteers that have given up a part of their summers to come and help me out, it is to the people of Haiti that have given me more then I could ever give them, it is to the people who have hurt me for making me stronger, it is to the people who continuously challenge me (yes including the government) for showing me how truly determined I am, it is to the people around the world that I have never even met- yet they have sent donations or letters expressing their support, it is to the people that have stood by me even when I was unsure of things myself, and it is to the people who fit the description at the beginning of this post who have inspired me in so many ways and have taught me (and continue to teach me) the greatest lessons that I have ever been taught. Without all of you, I would not be "alive". You know exactly who you are, and I want to thank you all from the bottom of my heart for allowing me to live out this passion and this dream.

A special thanks to Justin Parkinson & Julia Monk for hosting a Charity Dinner on October 11th. They have put so much time and effort into this and I already know it is going to be fabulous!!! I wish I could be there to celebrate with you. & Julia- thank you for painting such a beautiful portrait- you have true talent. Also, a special thanks to Mary Thompson and Rachel Mattsson for hosting another online auction- you guys have worked so hard in collecting items, organizing, and spreading the word. And finally thanks goes out to Sarah Griffith from Bridge2Haiti for her ongoing support and guidance- you are an amazing women with a heart of gold- I am so honored to have you with me on this journey. Love to all of you !