Cautionary Tale of Triumph

This is actually a few days after the fact. Just a little story. The best internet I’m getting is 2G which is remarkably better than no internet at all. We are working hard enough on the clinic and side projects Ropa has in the works that there isn’t a ton of time to post updates. Lots of progress though. And there will be updates and photos once we all get stateside.

Today the unthinkable happened. Well, it’s not really that unthinkable. It’s shocking that it’s taken this long to happen. But someone’s phone was stolen at the work site. Until today, nothing had ever gone missing on a Peacework trip in Haiti. It was a bit of a shock when it did. First guess was that it was misplaced. But it was actually stolen. After about an hour, the case was found up the road a bit, discarded in a ditch.

The owner of the phone, and everyone else for that matter, maintained composure. Despite this being a group of continuous villages with a population in excess of 10,000, there was a fair amount of confidence that the phone would turn up. This is because in these parts of Haiti there exists something that is absent from many places in the modern world: a true sense of community.

When a population grows big enough and individuals begin to insist heavily on their separateness from the crowd, the sense of community naturally diminishes. Anonymity and competition are the replacement. And as a result, one can screw over another anonymously. It’s often considered normal as a means to “survive.” But this survival mode ignores that in a genuine community, the group is highly concerned with the well being of each individual. A CEO who backs a decision to dump toxic waste into a river probably doesn’t live downstream from the hypothetical factory. But if he had to actually meet those sick kids or his children went to school with them, he would probably be dissuaded by the fact of his own humanity from making that harmful decision. Anonymity and a lack of genuine community allow him to do so with little effect on his conscience. The golden rule is more often a force when there is interconnectedness, and an antiquated, impotent notion when there is none.

In this case interconnectedness manifested as communal pressure to return the phone. There was nothing short of an immediate investigation. And the same thing would have happened had a Haitian been wronged. I have personally seen it. The community here knows that our partnership is valuable and that a stolen phone, camera, or whatever else damages the bond we’ve built. We didn’t show up here once to never return again. We make the trip year after year and will do so until our mutual goals are met. As a result of this understanding, the people of Ranquitte were sincerely more outraged than we foreigners were. And the phone was found, returned, and no worse for wear.

No one begrudges a Haitian their curiosity. And we’ve all been tempted to take things that didn’t belong to us and many of us have given in. Take, for example, the land we call home. Native Americans ring a bell? That extreme example aside, my viewpoint is that this isn’t so much a story something wrong that happened abroad, but a story about something this place got right. One individual had a lapse in judgement. But the strength and will of a community rectified that.

We never definitively found out who took the phone. But it doesn’t matter. That person was toying with the idea of stealing a phone and received a clear message from their community that it was the wrong thing to do. Whether they heed that message in the future or just become a more skilled thief is yet to be seen. But this is what struck me: No one argued whether it was the parent’s fault or the school’s or violent video games or movies or Satan. Everyone in the community was united in a sincere feeling of responsibility. Nothing was feigned. And the situation was made right.

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