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Bringing Your Truest Self to Haiti

The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) is partnering with the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) on a joint volunteer trip to Haiti, April 28–May 5, 2012. In the post below, trip staffer Charles Huschle ruminates on the many qualities and skills that the trip participants are bringing to their work in Haiti — and what they are leaving behind. The UUSC-UUA Haiti Volunteer Program is made possible through the contributions of UUA and UUSC donors and a generous grant from the Veatch Program of the UU Congregation at Shelter Rock, in Manhasset, N.Y.

“What do you bring of your truest self to Haiti that you will offer this week to the group?”

We’re having one of those evening group reflection and sharing sessions that characterizes JustWorks trips to Haiti, and on hearing the question, the doubtful and tired Charles winces. Do I really have to answer? Posed by one of the two ministers on this trip, the question evokes a range of thoughtful responses, and so my fatigue lessens. I experience a surge of gratitude for the diversity of people in our circle. I’m helping lead them through a week of learning and service at the Papaye Peasant Movement in central Haiti. As people share on this and the second question — “what are you leaving behind to be here?” — I’m struck again by the willingness of participants to give fully of themselves. One person openly admits, “I’m leaving behind some personal barriers that would stop me from sharing.”

Several of us talk about the concrete things we are leaving behind, but most of these are rooted in the relationships we have, with ourselves and others, that are being experimented upon this week. We leave behind the ability to text a dear friend at any time of day (our cell phones don’t work here); we leave behind habits that get us through a typical day (the soy latte, browsing Facebook, being with certain friends only and not others); we leave behind family (one mother has never been away for her kids for more than two days; another hasn’t taken a “vacation” for more than a week in over nine years); we leave behind complexity: “Something gets really, really real in me when I’m down here,” away from all the extra layers of life back home.

And what we bring is food for thought, too. We range in age from 27 to 72. We are 4 men and 10 women: married, single, straight, gay, African American, parent, grandparent, working, retired. Some have never been out of the United States; most have never been to the Global South (the term we use for what many people call “the developing world”). We bring bravery to try new things and a willingness to ask questions. We bring a deep appreciation of others, noting that we are not so different, in the end, from the people with whom we will work this week. We bring an ability to work in partnership with others. And we bring certain skills: “I’m a lover of uncertainty — and that’s somewhat new for me — and I think that can be useful here.” There’s a saying down here that is repeated by one of our members: in Haiti, nothing works, but everything works out. As the electricity flickers and we prepare for bed, our group seems to have the faith that everything will work out this week.

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