First World Failures & Haiti

Americans came to Haiti expecting to change lives and to supply the students with material goods, which they are ‘deprived’ of. Silly, because people here are deprived of absolutely nothing, in fact, they are teeming with enthusiasm, gratitude and youth. Embarrassingly enough, we came with bags of pencils, paper, string, markers, and every possible medium of coloring and crafting. We had beads and parachutes, and yes, it was beyond exciting to partake in crafts with these kids, but in all honesty, the most practical and repeatedly used item I had brought was my Leatherman pocketknife.

We came into this experience expecting to make a difference, and maybe we did. But we learned more from the Haitians than we could ever expect to teach them.

Hey Americans, jokes on us; no Haitian needs a lesson about life, love, goods or work. Even if I made a difference in my children’s lives, they taught me a better way to live mine, and for that, I am eternally grateful.

People come to Haiti with deficit modes of thought. But, it would be so disrespectful, degrading, and pointless to pity these people. Sure, compared to our standards, we can feel bad, but our perceptions, tainted with un-necessary and extravagant material things prove to be a poor judge of fulfillment. Every day I remember that my children in Haiti are choosing today whether they want to use their ration of water for bathing or for drinking. Then I have to ask the age-old question, why do Americans, who have so much, seem so deprived, when societies like Haiti who have ‘nothing’ are so happy and fulfilled? Does it take nothing to truly appreciate? If this is the case, America is surely going about fulfillment in the wrong way.

Their pencils and paper will eventually run out, but they will still walk barefoot over the rocky terrain for 2 hours just to be able to sit in a broken school desk for a little while. The bracelets that we all made together will eventually fall off and disintegrate into the dirt, but that won’t fade their shining smiles, energy, and zeal.

I miss, most of all, the rolling velvety green hills, which span the entire Vallee, and wrap people into Haiti like a hug. America practically steam rolls down our hills and any other imperfections in order to have a completely flat land on which we build cookie-cutter houses, with fences to keep the neighbors out. And I wonder, when the land is flattened out like this, does it teach our kids not to climb mountains? Where kids learn on the rocky terrain in the rolling hills in Haiti, they are not afraid of climbing, or falling; their caution is thrown into the wind, and they boundlessly chase soccer balls across drops and rocky areas. I can only imagine that ones imagination, inspiration, and willpower for life is embedded in the land they grew up in. And our children in America who walk on sidewalks and who can only play on manicured lawns without so much as a rock out of place may never be able to learn how to climb over obstacles or push themselves to higher places.

As I lay in my comfy bed I think about how I would give anything to be back on the concrete floors with our dusty, lumpy thin mats listening to Haitian and American voices combining in a sweet symphony with the strumming of guitar chords and the tsk tsking of nearby cockroaches coming through the windowless windows.

It’s the ripple affect; I don’t know how far our impact will go, but I do know that it starts with educating our children. And our children recognized the love and passion we came with, which makes my volunteer work a success.

But our passion is minuscule compared to the passion and perseverance of these kids, better yet, the whole country, which is destined for great things despite the physical environment.

I believe that the ways we gauge success are skewed. America likes to measure success by the amount of resources we consume; with our consumption of materials, resources, and unnecessary things, yes, we are number one. But, as Haiti taught me, what if a country was defined as successful when everyone felt belonging in a community? When everyone you cross paths with lets you in with a smile and a wave, which raises up every soul in the country with unconditional love … What if we measured countries in terms of the love they share and their ability to support each other despite life-shattering conditions?

Then, for the first time, Haiti would be first world.


  1. Grethe | 12th Dec 11

    What a beautiful notion! To measure a country by its love rather than its wealth and possessions. I only wish that more people in our country could appreciate these things like you do. I’ve loved reading your insights, Casey, thank you for sharing and I can’t wait to read more.

    • wordsofawanderer | 13th Dec 11

      Grethe, Thank you for taking the time to check out my blog and subscribe, I can’t wait to share more with you!

  2. Amanda | 12th Dec 11

    This is beautiful, Casey.

    • wordsofawanderer | 13th Dec 11

      Thank you Amanda! I appreciate it!

  3. Sumana | 13th Dec 11

    So proud of you! Looking forward to following you on your “wanderings”

    • wordsofawanderer | 13th Dec 11

      Thank you Sumana!! I can’t wait to share more with you!

  4. Deandra | 16th Dec 11

    This is beautifully worded, I could imagine the entire story! It’s good knowing I’m not the only one who feels that Americans are the ones suffering because our country values materialistic subjects and has forgotten how to appreciate life. I’m looking foreword to reading your other stories and having very good conversations with you.

    • Words of a Wanderer | 16th Dec 11

      Thanks Deandra! Glad that we agree on these things! haha 🙂 Thanks for reading!

      • Deandra | 17th Dec 11

        As am I!!! It’s refreshing to be honest. No thank YOU for sharing your amazing words. =)

  5. Dr. Fleming-Rife | 28th Sep 12

    I am confused; now, didn’t you tell me you were a journalism major??? LOL: I know that you didn’t, but you could be. I loved reading your reflective, thoughtful musings of lessons learned in Haiti. I am so proud of you. It is a blessing to me to see your growth over the nearly four years you’ve been here at UNC. You are living your passion and thanks for sharing it with me. Dr. F-R

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