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Privilege and Perspective

Guest Author: Jake Stebbing, Long-term missionary with Healing Haiti working with job creation.

As an American living in Haiti it constantly feels like a battle between guilt and gluttony. The excess, or gluttony, I experience can only be classified as such due to my surroundings. What I now consider excess would be considered minimal in America, and yet, it's still served with a heaping side of guilt. While I have the means to treat myself to the seemingly small novelty of a bagel and egg sandwich. I lament the fact that I had to go through the trouble of securing said frozen bagel sandwich through a network of people. Only to prepare the sandwich from a small propane tank and janky counter top stove. While I'm assembling my meal for the night I hear someone knocking at my front gate. I roll my eyes as I perceive this as an invasion of my privacy and an inconvenience. I close the nozzle on the propane tank to ensure a mere simmer on the frying pan as I prepare myself to greet whoever is at my gate. I call out "Kisa? Sa w bezwen?" (What? What do you need?) As I approach the gate I am greeted by silence. I open the gate to see my neighbor standing in front of me with a bowl of piping hot labouyi (porridge) a dish equivalent to oatmeal in both it's prestige and popularity. I know I have food in the works but to decline this offering is to offend. I take the bowl of what looks like slop back into my house and stare at the commodity I just accepted.

One thing I've always loved about living in Haiti is the sense of hospitality and community. I once jokingly told my neighbors I was starving after arriving home from a twelve hour shift from work, and ever since they have been sure to send me a small serving of whatever they are preparing for the night. The uncomfortable reality is that I've never put that much weight on the word "starving". I've been hungry, and I've certainly thought I've been starving, but I never truly have been.

How quick was I to flippantly tell my neighbors I was starving only to be annoyed when they came knocking on my door while I was preparing food of my own. To provide myself another lesson in humility, when they arrived at my door it was to provide me food, not demand it. The reality was, I had have never experienced the pain of "starving" and it weighs on me. The last time I was in America I spent nearly 30 minutes just scrolling through the options of restaurants wiling to deliver to me. It was exciting to me. I am by no means "well off" but I was more than willing to splurge $20 to get the local Chinese restaurant to deliver a smattering of fried rice, wontons, and chicken.

I work Monday through Saturday from 8am to 8pm. It's my calling, it's my passion, it's my expectation. There is a weird, messed up mentality I adhere to that working longer hours procures more benefits for the community. It's my perspective and privilege speaking. I'm sure that another hour on the clock is another benefit to the business, to the community, to the world. I'm writing this post from a resort in Haiti. I finally took the dive to remove myself from the day to day grind and take two days to myself in reflection and relaxation. I laid out an itinerary for the staff member that I've been training to one day take my place. From a place of privilege I worried that leaving for two days would send the wrong image, that I wasn't invested, that I wasn't there. That employee simply responded "I've got this, don't you worry" And I knew it to be true. God is always working and weaving, who am I to think he hadn't been preparing my replacement this whole time.

I cant stress how important it is to take into account your privilege and perspective when going about your daily life. Privilege has become a taboo word, an uncomfortable reality that many of us don't want to realize. The beauty is that when you realize the privilege you've been afforded in life, you're more willing to change your perspective and seek out ways you can extend that privilege to those around you. --

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Jun 30, 2020

Jake I don’t know you but I am Renee Janofski’s mom, Pam Lash. Thank you for your post. I visited Haiti six times while my kids were there and I will never forget the time I said to Morgan, my granddaughter, “I’m starving.” She said, “grandma you don’t know what starving is.” That is so true and I know right where you are coming from. I really stop and think about my words now. Even just today I was at work in the break room and another employee was trying to read my sticker on my coffee mug. It gave me the opportunity to share with him what this meant. I told him that so many Haitians want to work…

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