I know what happens when heartfelt generosity meets a desperate need. I’ve seen a hundred different ways a mob can form when there is something-anything to be gained. Time after time I witness white folk with butter hearts pass out diapers and food to one desperate person who melts their soul, then another, and within seconds an entire community is enclosing on a truck bed full of sunburnt Americans who wanted nothing other than to help some people in need. Latently, they have incited a riot.
Our ignorant hearts, however sincere and well-intentioned, are not cultivating a progressive solution to this issue around us. You must learn to walk before you can run, you need to teach a man to fish rather than giving him one, and if you give a mouse a cookie, he is going to come back expecting you to send his child to the hospital, feed his starving family, and so will his friends. To describe it this way may sound jaded or anhedonic, but I speak only what I see.
Ever since I first began coming to Haiti, a war has been waged between my head any my heart, the same battle that any privileged visitor must endure. A child walks up to you with gleaming eyes and tattered clothes, holds out his hands and asks for some candy, a dollar, or food. I enter this frenzy of panic because I have learned my lesson, and I know that if I hand them anything, his friends will swarm, but more importantly that child will ask the next white person, and continue this exponential cycle and in turn becomes a beggar by trade instead of working and contributing to their community.
But then I look back at the child. The pleading eyes, the cracked lips, the way he slowly shifts from foot to foot as if he is ashamed of what he is asking. I feel my heart split from it’s vital connections and slide to rest on my diaphragm. And still, I run through every scenario, I put myself in their shoes and feel the reward of asking and receiving. If only I could truly explain to him everything that is in my head, but this is all passing in a fleeting second. A hundred scenarios, none of them turning out well for either of us.
The best thing I can do is stand there and look him in the eyes. Awkwardly aware of both of our situations. The juxtaposition between the rich who wishes the child could take my place, and a child who couldn’t even imagine the way we live. So, I stand there, shifting from foot to foot, then squat down and give him a hug and we part ways. Because that’s all I could do.