Beyond Borders connects with Haitian community

For the second consecutive year, a team of Eastern students participated in a Transformational Travel trip to Haiti from Jan. 3rd through the 11th.

Eight students went on this year’s trip, along with faculty advisor Brett Kincaid.

Transformational Travel is a program created by Beyond Borders that strives to provide a more thoughtful approach to missions trips by promoting dialogue and understanding between natives and visitors.

“Beyond Borders believes that missions trips which are spent building latrines and churches for people in third world countries tends to foster an attitude of superiority in those who do the serving. Instead, they feel that all service needs to begin with humility and a relationship,” senior Chris Plumberg said.

“Americans are typically characterized by Haitians as ignorant and insensitive and often more of a hindrance than a help,” said senior Ben Cressy, a team leader who also went on the trip last year. “Americans come down to fix things and, with the best of intentions, a lot of times they compound the problem.”

Sophomore Hope Donnelly was even more blunt in her assessment. “Haitians don’t seem to like a lot of missionaries,” she said.

Given these circumstances, the students’ mission of diplomacy and good will helped promote a much-needed sense of solidarity with the Haitians.

A thoughtful sensitivity is critical in Haiti, where 95 percent of the population is descended from African slaves. A long legacy of racial abuse and poverty has resulted in a kind of mental captivity.

“During the process of slave trading, European and American slave traders twisted the biblical narrative to teach Africans to equate godliness with whiteness,” Cressy said. “Even today, Creole is devalued in favor of French, and the highest selling products on the market include hair and skin lightening products.”

While Haiti has received a fair amount of attention from American churches and aid organizations in recent years, the experiences are not always positive for Haitians.

The group spent the first few days of their journey learning about Haitian history and culture as well as some basic Creole, the common language of Haiti. Their education also included some lessons on how wealthy Western nations, particularly the United States, have affected the country’s development. The Haitian economy continues to be crippled by the the flood of foreign-owned goods that are sold into the country. These goods are mass-produced by giant transnational corporations and can be sold for far less than Haitian products and food, thus hindering the growth of local industry and agriculture.

“They’re not free … they’re completely dependent on the West and the way that the West controls the market,” Cressy said.

After their social and cultural orientation, the group traveled to Matenwa, a village on the island of La Gonave. Here they lived with host families, participated in daily activities and observed Haitian-run community development programs. Cressy, Donnelly and Plumberg remember this time fondly and spoke highly of the Haitians hospitality.

“It’s a beautiful country with a rich culture,” Donnelly said.

Overall, it seems that the group achieved the goal Beyond Borders had in mind for Transformational Travel: “to live in authentic solidarity with those the world has left behind.”

“When we go to affirm them, love them and become their friends, we are demonstrating the love of Christ in a radical way that connects with their struggle,” Plumberg said.

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