This is the third of 3 guest blog posts by Poverty Resolutions’ volunteer trip participant Lee Sampson, originally written in May 2014.
You might think this note is about food or cars or houses or nice clothes, but it is not. Of course being in Haiti has a way of making you grateful for those many physical things and blessings that we have every day, but I experienced another type of gift and gratitude during the trip and the leadership development sessions.
There were a multitude of people encouraging me during this trip and for this I am the most grateful. My wife and family, and the Haiti team on the trip lead the ranks of my supporters. My prayer partners and those other folks that I shared with were also thinking about me and the people of Haiti. You may find this hard to believe, but I am a type-A, take-charge, very confident kind of person. For example, when walking through an airport, I believe the most important thing is to keep moving forward…quickly. Who cares if it is not in the right direction? We will keep moving, look at the direction signs, and make corrections as needed…keep moving! My family just laughs at my antics when we fly together.
Anyway, I had very little of that confidence and sense of direction once in Haiti. In fact the entire country can be kind of disorientating due to the huge differences from home and the daily contradictions in life on that island. The direction for advance preparation of the Leadership Sessions that I received from the leaders of Poverty Resolutions really was enough…but I kept asking for more. I ‘needed’ to know exactly what and how I should prepare. Ultimately, I was able to prepare well enough with the input given to me, but I still felt ill-prepared and uncertain on arrival.
I guess one of the funny things I learned is how much we depend on technology like PowerPoint presentations, and even hide behind these tools instead of being real. Imagine preparing to talk with a group of total strangers, in a foreign language, with no high-tech wizardry for 9 hours, and really be able to add something to their knowledge and experiences. Frightening!
Gift #1: The needs of the group matched what I had prepared, very closely. I prepared about 7 different sessions for our three days of discussions. I had little idea how useful or interesting these would be. So I started with introductions, like I would anywhere in the world. Then I asked the people present to create a list of those topics that they would like to have covered during our time together. The list that they came up with made me think that someone in the group had read my topic list and almost copied it verbatim. Weird? Coincidence? No, it was gift #1 and an immediate boost to my ability to relate to these guys.
Gift #2: Gwo Wóch (Créole for Big Rocks). I was able to use the local natural resources (rocks and sand) to demonstrate the importance of doing the important things first and making a simple plan for your day, week, month, year and life. You have probably seen this before as demonstrated by Steven Covey, but this was very new to the Haitians and as it is a simple physical presentation – very little language was needed to make the point. We really connected at this point. We were coming to a more common ground.
Gift #3: Affirmation and “I Love You” – part two. Even after a good connection with Big Rocks, I remained nervous about doing something good for these people. It felt like I was going to burst from the pressure. We were talking about ‘being real’ as an essential part of communications with any person and my head was buzzing. Am I real to these men? Am I just another smiling white face who drops out of the sky for a week and says blah blah blah?
John C. Maxwell says: “People do not care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” So I tried to show that I cared and just be real. Finally I told the guys, “I am not sure I am real to you. I am not sure I have anything to offer you. Are we doing anything good here?” After some internal discussion, one of the men stood up to address me, straightened his necktie, and said something like this: Several of us have come from quite far away to be here. We have left our homes and families. We have left our jobs and are not getting paid. We have left our churches and friends and we had to pay some money to get here. And what I can say, speaking for all of us is: “we are not sorry that we are here. And more than that, we love you and we are so glad to be able to be a part of this group. You are very real to us.”
Well, I am a bit hard-headed and slow-to-learn, but three gifts were enough. I had all the support and confidence that I needed to cruise through the rest of the week and really enjoy my time with these men and the things that I was learning.
Lee Sampson is a 55-year old grandfather and VP of a major global chemical company. He has been privileged to travel the world as part of his work, though, in his words, “I have never seen anything quite like Haiti.”