We really enjoy having visitors here at the mission, but we’ve learned a few things over the years about how we need to do those visits so they’re the most effective and most enjoyable for everyone involved.
A lot of organizations host groups, and go through this extensive process of setting up a lot of work projects and things for the teams to do while in country. We deliberately choose to not do things that way for a few reasons.
First, as a development organization, it’s our goal to do as much here in Haiti, with Haitian labor, and with materials purchased here as possible. The work we do is technical in the sense that our guys spend months working on doing installations the right way, and there are always things we need to be tweaking and watching, whether it’s the mix on the concrete going into the filters so we don’t get cracked and wasted units, or finding out that one of our technicians needs to brush up on his installations and user education a bit to be better at what he does. This stuff is an ongoing process.
While we love to share the ins and outs of how we do what we do every day, it’s really not possible for a visitor to come in on a Saturday, start building filters on Monday and be effectively installing them on Friday. They may understand parts of the process and be able to assist during a delivery day, but they will miss steps.
Another thing that’s vital to what we do is that we believe in having Haitians working with and serving their own people whenever possible. Our program is much more effective when our Haitian staff are the ones going out with the truck to deliver and install filters, or going out on the motorcycles to do follow up. They speak the Creole of the people and pick up nuances in language that a foreigner might miss. They understand culture and know what type of education to be giving to our filter recipients based on what people understand and what they don’t. I might miss that and just do a blanket teaching assuming certain things. We’ve come to learn, too, that every time a foreigner is on the delivery truck for the day it makes work harder for our staff. The focus isn’t on the filters, but rather on the foreigner and the dynamics that come with that. We try to limit those trips to Vision Trip weeks, and occasional times where one of us might need to go along because we have an efficiency problem with our delivery system. The rest of the time the guys do it themselves. And they’re good at what they do!
So, we take a different approach when we have guests at the mission.
We invite them to be as involved in the process as possible. We give them time to work in the work yard with our staff to see the whole process of building the filters. They can be as hands on, or as hands off, as they want. Some visitors like to get right in there and mix concrete and sift sand, while others are happy to sit on a chair in the shade and paint filters all day. The value in the experience is that our guests step back and see how hard our staff work. They see that they are very capable of doing the job. They get a chance to ask questions. They experience the discomfort of not being able to fully communicate and having to stutter through things, which gives them more understanding of what we go through while learning to live here. All of these things help them to better see how they can support the work we do, without feeling like they have to come in and save the day and do it themselves.
We choose to keep our Vision Trips small for a reason. Limiting them to 6 people means we can spend a lot of time visiting and getting to know our guests. We can sit around our kitchen table after a meal and talk about the things they’re seeing and experiencing, and answer questions. It’s harder to do that with bigger groups. Big groups put the host into management mode where the focus is on moving people from point A to point B and keeping everyone busy.
In smaller groups people have the opportunity to get to know our family and any other volunteers more intimately. This is encouraging to us because we get beyond the surface questions of why we’re here and we get to talk about things like raising kids in another culture and how we live and work in the same place.
We also get a chance to go out and do things, I think, more easily that we would with a large group. We can have our visitors come with us to do the every day things of life here, like going to get groceries or picking our daughter up from school. You can’t do that with a large group, and choosing a few people means someone else is missing that experience. When large groups come in, the activities tend to be more planned. We like being able to say, “Hey, I have to go to St. Marc to run some errand, anyone want to come?”
With our Vision Trips we also recognize that people are typically using their vacation time from work or school to be with us, so we try to make the experience not only educational, but also restful. We finish our work day at 3 pm, so the rest of our afternoon is personal time on a daily basis. That means our guests get time to swim, read, nap or visit with each other and us. We want our Vision Trips to be a good balance of activity and relaxation.
It’s important to us to also expose our guests to different aspects of Haiti. Haiti isn’t just one thing. It’s isn’t just poverty. We take our visitors to do various things, giving them a wide variety of experiences so they can see for themselves what is really here. Some of those experiences might be challenging, and some might be fun. Some might be work focused while others might be more touristic. But, all of it is Haiti.
We would love for you to join us on a Vision Trip! We still have two trips scheduled for this year:
August 17-24 ~ October 19-26
The cost is $500 per person for the week, and that includes all your in country transportation, food and accommodation in our on site dorms. We meet you at the airport and take care of everything until we drop you off at the end of your visit.
As I said, we cap our groups at 6 people, and do registrations on a first come, first served basis, so if you’re interested you want to get your registration in as soon as possible to hold your place. All Vision Trippers need to be 18 or older (for liability reasons and safety issues). If you have a full group of six, but the above dates don’t work for you please let us know. We’re willing to add dates for FULL groups.
To register, or get more information about Vision Trips contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll send you the registration form and answer any questions you might have.
Can’t come this year, but would be interested in visiting during 2014? Let me know and I can tell you what our dates are for 2014 trips.