We were invited to share a little of what we have learned about healthcare programs between developed and developing nations. The invitation included a few questions to peak our interest. How do these programs work? How do they raise up local communities? How do we avoid the danger of the White Saviour Complex?
However, these questions led us to question the fundamental premise behind the idea of “developed” countries offering healthcare programs for, or even with, “developing” countries. That is, are countries that we define as developed really that healthy?
The Indigenous Peoples of Turtle Island have given much testimony to the unhealthy reality (past and present) of North American development. Medical, surgical, and pharmaceutical services are not accessible in many areas of Canada, and others don’t have safe drinking water. Poisoned water is a consequence of development; living under constant boil water orders is the price some have paid for others to enjoy the benefits of life in a developed nation. Is that healthy? How can we design, implement, and/or resource credible healthcare programs in another country, when we haven’t figured it out in our own? If we don’t have the answers, then what do we have to offer?
Here is a story that has helped us better understand our role in helping to heal a hurting world:
“As Jesus went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, ‘this is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.’ But he answered them, ‘You give them something to eat.’ They said to him, ‘are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?’ And he said to them, ‘How many loaves have you? Go and see.’” (Mark 6:34–38)
- Jesus saw a spiritually hungry crowd, had compassion for the people, and began to teach. As the hours passed, the disciples saw a physically hungry crowd, and, rather than having compassion, went into problem-solving mode.
- Without asking the crowd, the disciples decided what was needed: food. Again, without asking the people, they decided how to get the food: “send them away.” Then they brought their analysis of the problem to Jesus for him to implement.
- Jesus wasn’t interested in their problem-solving approach, so he simply said, “You give them something to eat.” The disciples were shocked, thinking that Jesus wanted them to purchase all the food needed to feed the massive crowd. To help the disciples let go of their plan for the crowd, Jesus asked a simple question “How many loaves have you?”
- The disciples clearly didn’t know the answer, so Jesus added “Go and see.” Jesus was calling them to go, enter the crowd, and see what they already had.
We, like the disciples, need to address “the crowd” with humility, offering compassion and a willingness to go to places where we can help others see the resources they already have. We need to ask questions, but more importantly, we need to listen to what others are saying and see what is already there. It might not look like much – a few loaves and fishes – but we need to help people identify what they have been given and use it, rather than immediately overwhelming them with the amazing programs we believe will save them.
What Jesus was doing with his disciples has been described as Appreciative Inquiry. This process re-directs our Western problem-solving minds to focus on the strengths we discover together through storytelling, which in turn builds interdependent relationships. This process highlights the importance of relationships that build over years, as stories are told, unfold, and are retold, all while leaving enough room for everyone to build on the strengths that they have already been given. Through Hand in Hand with Haiti, an EMAS (Education, Medical Aid and Service) Canada program, we have personally experienced, sometimes with intention and often by accident, the importance of pushing aside our problem-solving approach.
In 1982, a friendship began with the future founder of the El Shaddai Church. This community began in the early ’90s, and their outreach priority was to feed the neighbourhood children whenever possible. So rather than starting with a clinic, we supported the El Shaddai nutrition program. That was the beginning of Hand in Hand with Haiti.
Through stories shared over the years, the strengths in the El Shaddai Church community have been revealed: A sixth-grade student who stood out among her peers; a locally-trained dentist who was very proud of his skill with a dremel; an artist who used scrap metal as his canvas; an engineer who could leave the country with his skills, but didn’t because he lived on the streets as a youth; and musicians who created amazing sounds with parts of broken instruments.
These individuals and their strengths and priorities are the basis for the programs we support. In 2005, the El Shaddai Church founded the Imago Dei Elementary School. They started with three kindergarten classes and now offer classes to grade nine with a rather impressive music program and urban gardening being the latest addition to the school curriculum. Through these education programs, many Haitians have had meaningful employment, hundreds of children have earned an elementary education, and thousands of meals have been served.
It wasn’t until 2004 that the first EMAS Healthcare Teaching Team was invited to set up a mobile clinic in the El Shaddai community. Thousands of individuals have received primary health care during these annual clinics, which also build capacity with Haitian health care practitioners. Tragic deaths, numerous hurricanes, a massive earthquake, and civil unrest have been part of their journey, but the community has gradually grown stronger.
In 2010, we began to support a whole new initiative, a post-earthquake construction project. We helped to purchase some land and bring in design/construction specialists through eMi (Engineering Ministries International). But the El Shaddai community leadership were at the centre of the design process and, with some support, have led all-Haitian construction crews.
The annual mobile health care clinic now partners with a Haitian university to offer a training elective for medical and nursing students. Five years ago, the El Shaddai community began to reach out to other neighbourhoods, helping them set up their own schools. Now the annual teaching clinic serves five communities. And it all started with a young pastor and a few faithful individuals who gave everything they had to spiritually and physically feed a hungry neighbourhood. It is an honour to support these faithful Haitians as their story unfolds.
Now, how many loaves have you? Go and see.
Krista Waring and Pierre Plourde live together in one house with their daughter Nadine, their son, Daniel, and their daughter-in-law, Nicole. During the past 30+ years, they have been engaged in healthcare programs in Nairobi, Kenya, Lusaka, Zambia, and Port-au-Prince, Haiti. They are grateful to live, work, and worship in Treaty 1 Land, the traditional territory of the Anishinaabe, Cree, and Dakota peoples and the homeland of the Metis Nation.
Photos courtesy Krista Waring and Pierre Plourde