Wednesday, July 27, 2011
The youth from my church family at Community Christian Church in Tamarac, Florida came to visit Christianville this month. They were a great team. They helped with construction on the new medical clinic, they did various odd jobs for the other ministries here, they worshipped with other teams that were here, and they brought the other missionaries and me some goodies and some encouragement. I am always glad when teams from my home church come to visit, and it was really nice to get to know these youth. Some of them were just wee little kids that I saw in children's church or at VBS when I left for Haiti 10 years ago, so it was great to chat with them and see where God is leading them now.
During the week that the youth were here, another team decided to blow up water balloons to use for their VBS ministry project. The balloons sat in a container and taunted Nora all week. We would walk past them and her eyes would get big and she would shout "BOONS!", but I wouldn't let her play with them. However, the team that planned on using the balloons must not have had time to incorporate them into their VBS and ended up leaving without using them. So there they sat, tempting us. On one of the last days that the Community youth were here, Rita, our interim guesthouse coordinator, suggested a use for the balloons that everyone got excited about. Rita's plan was to have the youth line up on the patio on Monday morning, during Christianville's bi-monthly distribution of food for the elderly. Then, as each elderly person came to receive their food, they would be instructed to throw a water balloon at the team before leaving. I was skeptical about the plan. I really didn't think those old folks would be up for it. I thought they might be too shy. Our pastor of outreach, Mr. Laguerre, was surprised at the plan, too. But he duly translated Rita's wishes to the elderly folks. The people that you would think would have the objections --the youth-- thought it was a great idea and lined up like great sports for the abuse.
At first, the elderly people were hesitant to throw the balloons. But after the first few threw the balloons and saw the good reactions of the teenagers, the whole crowd got excited and the rest of the recipients of the food had no qualms about lobbing, tossing, throwing or out-right fast pitching the balloons at the young people. Nora stood by the container of balloons shouting "Boons!" and smiling.
As I was watching the whole affair, looking at the happy faces of the old folks and the haitians gathered around, I began to reflect on a book I just read, called "When Helping Hurts". The book talks about different methods of helping poor people that can actually hurt everyone involved, because those methods encourage a paternalistic attitude in the giver and a feeling of powerlessness in the recipient. The book suggests several ways to avoid this pitfall, one of which is to never do anything for someone that they can do on their own. Well, the elderly people in Christianville's feeding program have troubles finding the resources to feed themselves adequately, and the government lacks programs for these people, so I believe the elderly feeding program is a good and necessary one. It does, however, make people feel a bit powerless, when they have to rely on a mission or an agency for handouts. So, while it wasn't a suggested method in "When Helping Hurts", I think the 'balloon exercise' was a great way to put just a tiny bit of power back into the hands of those elderly men and women. For just a few moments, while they were getting their free food, the recipients were able to give something back: a little water, a little fun, and a lot of smiles.