One of my Vancouver friends, Joel Kaiser, is a life-long aid worker. Over the last decade, he’s worked in Sudan, Uganda, Indonesia, Eritrea, Afghanistan and countless other places that a majority of people place squarely in the “godforsaken” category.
Since mid-January, Joel is in Haiti. I know that he’s giving 200% of himself down there, and I really admire his dedication and strength. He keeps a blog, entitled “What am I doing in Haiti?“, where he recounts his days: the challenges, the frustration, the small victories and the day in and day out of his work and life there.
Back when we were both in Vancouver, I remember encouraging Joel to start a blog so he could share his stories – I thought his compassionate, human but also hilarious take on aid work was definitely worth sharing. One time, he told me about this project called “shelter-in-a-box” that was meant to be a ready-made shelter for survivors in disaster areas. The concept was utterly flawed and made no sense from a logistical point of view, and the way Joel told the story, in his honest, slightly snide voice, made it stick in my mind to this day. (By the way, Joel, if you’re reading this, I’m still waiting for that guest post on “shelter-in-a-box”)
In any case, all this to say that if you have any interest in reading a really honest account of what it’s like to be an aid worker in Haiti, I urge you to bookmark Joel’s blog.
Excerpt from this highly recommended post:
“I bite my lip while she carries on sifting through the pile. I don’t know yet how this attitude has negatively affected my relief work, but I’m certain it has, be it ever so subtly. It is a lesson I already knew, but sometimes need reminding: aidwork is first and foremost about the life of each survivor, as an individual. Allow them to become a faceless mass and you’re soon drifting into a world of cynicism. I will have accomplished very little—perhaps even nothing to me—if after so many months here all I’ve done is simply give stuff out.
I take a few deep breaths (I hate to cry in front of staff), silently repent, and carefully slide a couple of the spoiled cards into my wallet.”