Going to Haiti: A Seminarian's Search for a Roadmap for Responsible Presence


The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) is excited to be partnering with the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) on a joint volunteer trip to Haiti for seminarians, May 24-31. In the post below, participant Kye Flannery, a student at the Harvard Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass., shares her thoughts on embarking on the journey to help rebuild the homes and lives of earthquake survivors in Haiti. I've been a humanist Unitarian Universalist since about 1997, though I didn't know it at the time. I did know the UU church felt like home, as I found my adolescent ideas of God as authority and judge were no longer big enough or complicated enough to fit the complexity of my reality. I found myself much more concerned with how humans ought to treat each other than with notions of incontrovertible truth. Committed to walking this path made of questions, I recognized that some part of me is a minister, called to be present to the questions others carry. This year has covered a crazy spectrum of learning for me. I've moved from the mechanics of community organizing to socially engaged Buddhism to the effects of religious law on women's lives around the world. One of the most exciting things has been the work Harvard Divinity School is doing toward creating a seminary experience that builds our commitment to anti-oppression work, while exploring the true meaning of religious plurality. All of these things awoke my interest in development and humanitarian aid work. Constructing sustainable living spaces in Haiti will help me to understand more fully what a UU model of development work looks like, and what anti-oppression work looks like in a humanitarian context. In the last 10 years, as I continued to ask the question of how we might treat each other humanely, I've begun to learn more about Buddhism. Mindful presence is the core of this belief system, and in Haiti, I hope to see, to attend, to acknowledge, to ask. Still, my friend Matt asked me why I didn't just donate my airfare to an organization already doing work in Haiti. I don't have a satisfactory answer. What good can I do with my presence? I have done mission work in the past, in places facing abject poverty and religious conflict, and I have more questions than answers about how to reach out in love from a place of privilege. The Zen Peacemakers offer three tenets, however, which may give me a roadmap for responsible presence. The first is Not-Knowing, the second Bearing Witness, and the third, Loving Action. I attend First Parish Cambridge UU, a church which offers space for my Buddhist approaches to questions of everyday living, as well as opportunities to engage in justice work. One of our institutional partners is the Haitian Coalition of Somerville, a grassroots organization doing justice work with the sizable Haitian community in Boston, which has done its own aid trips to Haiti in the wake of the earthquake. In Haiti, I will witness. I will act with love. That is all I can say for certain.