Happy Thanksgiving to all who read this. Growing up Thanksgiving Day meant family trips to visit my grandparents. Everyone came, my cousins, aunts, uncles, and the special not-really-family members like Miss Jean and a hippy named John Fowler who were adopted by our family. My grandmother cooked, and our family enjoyed a few days together. I did not appreciate the reality of all I had to give thanks for, it was simply my life.
I have been working in Haiti for three years now, and for three years my Thanksgiving is completely transformed from those before. I am humbled by my blessings, and see my life as filled with relative abundance. I am deeply grateful and appreciate things more than ever. My health, my home, my family, and the simple fact that we have food to eat and water to drink every day without question.
Many people ask me if it makes me sad to work in Haiti, to see grinding poverty and it's effects. Isn't it depressing? A great number of people believe that I and others like me that work in Haiti deserve high praise for our work. I would love to address both of those points here, today, on Thanksgiving.
First, no, it does not make me sad to work in Haiti, and if you know Haiti you would know why. I am not blind to the poverty, but when I think about Haitians I think of them as my friend Clay describes them, Haitians smile with intention. I am more interested in the positive attitude that our partners have, and excited by the possibilities for change. Haiti is moving forward and it is an exciting time to work there. I am amazed by the myriad of solutions Haitians find for the issues they face daily. When something breaks it is repaired with unrivaled ingenuity. When problems arise communities gather to solve them. With 80% unemployment every day involves the chore of finding a way to bring economic value to ones life, and as with repairs, the ingenuity is inspiring. I have never been anywhere in my life where a courteous hello is the expected norm all day, every day, to every stranger you meet. "Tap-taps" are converted pickups that carry loads of people daily, and it is rude to board a tap-tap without greeting every rider on board with either "Bonjou" or "Salut".
Children walk arm in arm to school. Beautiful ribbons adorn the complex braids on the heads of little girls. Uniforms of every color line the side of every road, in the city and in the villages. Women walk with grace skillfully balancing inconceivably large parcels on their heads. Haitians have incredible posture. If poverty is all you see in Haiti you are missing the point. The culture is complex and the people are warm, they love to laugh. Celebration is constant as every hurdle of life is conquered.
To the second point, whether people like myself deserve praise for working in a place like Haiti, for myself I will say that I do not. If you love something, like I love creating sustainable solutions for rural Haitians, the joy of the work fills you, and thanks are unnecessary. If I could bottle and sell the incredible feeling I get from this work I would have at my disposal the most addictive drug ever made. I speak for many friends when I say this, the secret is out: we love what we do, we love Haiti, and we don't deserve special attention for what we're doing.
In giving thanks today I will mention my special blessing, like Miss Jean and John the hippy I am blessed to have been adopted as a not-really-a-family-member by Haiti. I am greatly enjoying the forward progress of our IEEE/Sirona Haiti Rural Electricity Program and thrilled by the government's adoption of our program as the method for providing energy to rural homes. I am incredibly proud of our Jatropha farmers who have planted more than 100,000 trees this year. I am excited, and thankful, and again I wish all who have made it to the end of this post a very Happy Thanksgiving!