Final Days and Coming Home: An Acknowledgment of Privilege

My final days at ETE Camp and in Hinche were filled with last lessons, performances and emotional see-you-laters. After a full month of teaching and playing for hours a day, it was easy to become closely connected with the children. Despite the difficulty in language we learned about each others personalities, interests, temperaments and experiences. Many of the children adjusted so well to the language differences that they developed their own form of communication to interact with me and the other volunteers such as grabbing our arm and pointing to the vacant seat next to them at meal times or using the few English words they knew and the few Creole words they knew we knew to form a completed thought.

During the last week of camp, we spent class time and activity time gearing up for our three big closing activities: The parade around Hinche, The Alumni Show and the Closing Ceremony. The parade was an amazing experience and consisted of all the ETE campers, volunteers and alumni marching through the city singing the songs we had learned at the top of our lungs. The city dwellers were exposed to a small piece of what these people and kids wearing matching t-shirts had been up to for the last month. The lyrics of the songs consisted of a mixture of English and Creole and were both original melodies created by different volunteers as well as lyrics adapted to the melodies of songs such as “I Can”, “I Believe I Can Fly” and “Survivor”. The ETE Camp versions of these songs were “Mwen Konnen Kapab- I Know I Can”, “I Believe I Can Fly” and “I Am A Scholar.”. These songs as well as presentations of all that the students learned this year were all a part of the Closing Ceremony (as seen in the links above). The family members of many of the scholars came to watch them display their English, Leadership and Math skills through skits, songs and mini-lessons. This was truly a moving event that brought the feeling of a “proud mama” to my heart in seeing how much these students had developed their skills and how brave they were to stand on stage and perform the way they did. The students also came up individually to receive their ETE Camp graduation certificates, a moment that brought tears to our eyes. It was the perfect ending to an amazing month of seeing the accomplishments of 60 young leaders and scholars.

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Students receiving certificates from myself and the other volunteers during the Closing Ceremony.
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The 2014 ETE Campers proudly holding their certificates during the Closing Ceremony.

 

Coming home meant being shoved face first into the recognition of my comparative wealth and place of privilege. Even as a family who immigrated from Brazil with almost no money and spent most of our time in Brazil and the US financially struggling, I have to acknowledge that this is no longer where we stand due to the privileges and blessings living in the US has afforded us.

What this means is getting picked up at the airport in a relatively new, full functioning luxury SUV after communicating with my parents through our overly priced iPhones. The engine wasn’t roaring loudly and I did not fear that the car would breakdown. Their is A/C and heat in the car for a comfortable ride regardless of the weather outside (which happened to be about 65 degrees, a temperature that I consider cold after a month in 95 degree weather). Inside it I feel safe. The roads are not bumpy, they are smoothly paved. Dust and dirt are not flying into my face, hair and clothing. I do not feel nauseous from the ride home.

At home, I am greeted by a new, brand name watch and a Pandora charm titled, “The Journey of Life” to celebrate my return home. My dad shows me his new toy, a Bluetooth speaker for his phone that not even he fully understands how to use. I use the bathroom and I do not need to use a bucket of water to make the toilet flush. I take a shower and I do not fear that a cockroach will come out of the drain. I do not fear that the shower will stop because the rain water supply has been exhausted. I open my mouth and let the water in, I do not fear that it will make me sick. I do not fear that the lights will go out in the middle of my shower. The water is warm, I control the temperature I want to shower in instead of the steady stream of cold water I had showered under for the last month. 

I eat fresh homemade food left for me on the stove containing all the essential nutrients for my body. A colorful arrangement of vegetables, protein and grain. I brush my teeth. I do not need to find filtered water to do this but instead brush my teeth with faucet water for the first time in a month. I go to bed. It is a full size bed that I can sprawl out on either side of. It is warm, clean and incredibly comfortable and high enough that no unwelcome guests will crawl on me at night. I do not spray myself with bug-spray before bed since all the windows of the house have screens. There are no mosquitoes inside the house and if there were, they would be a slight nuisance but I would not fear that they are carrying illnesses such as Malaria or Chikungunya. 

Tomorrow I will unpack and do my laundry. I will not need to hand wash my clothes with limited water. I will not need to wait for sunshine to hang them up to dry. I will not be without clothes until they are done as I have I several clean options to change into while I wait for the machine to finish what is in many places, still the job of human hands.

In the fall I will return to my senior year at one of the best universities in the US and complete my nearly fully scholarship funded education. I do not fear that my school will get shut down or run out of vital resources. I will use fast pace and readily available internet and phone to make both my social and professional life much easier. I trust that my degree will add to my ability to grow socioeconomically and help to secure an even better life for myself and my family. My classroom is not too hot nor too cold. There are no illness carrying mosquitoes or flies to swat off as I learn or sleep or eat. The electricity and water does not frequently shut down. It is an excessively funded institution and a safe place to study and live. 

To say my life is “better” is a judgment call I neither agree with nor have any interest in making. To say my life is easier in many ways than what I experienced and witnessed for the last month would be accurate. To say that I am at a place of privilege over others that I do not deserve is the pure and troubling reality. I got to personally know and fall in love with over sixty beautiful, intelligent, loving and happy children who are at a systematic disadvantage from my own, despite my being an immigrant and a woman of color in the US. Logically, there is no reason why I should have these privileges and they should not. I am not a better person. I am not more intelligent, more beautiful, more loving, more in touch with God, more deserving of blessings, or more worthy. Essentially I am who they are and they are who I am. This privilege however is provided by one main, crucial factor; I am a beneficiary of the same system that has and continues to keep these and millions of other people in poverty and without many things we (probably anyone with access to this blog post) often take for granted. This acknowledgement doesn’t change the lives of anyone suffering from this system but it does remind us of who and where we are, not for the purposes of containing guilt but of realizing what each of our lives cost others. The course of action beyond that is an individual but crucial decision. 

This was my first but will not be my last trip to Hinche, Haiti and among volunteering, there are many ways to get involved with ETE Camp, simply because we can and because every child deserves the best chances to succeed in this world that they can get.

One thought on “Final Days and Coming Home: An Acknowledgment of Privilege”

  1. Phenomenal post, Amanda. I can completely sympathize with what you felt upon returning to the U.S. I spent my summer in Timor Leste volunteering at a health clinic where I was able to gain a better picture of health disparities on a global scale. It’s one thing to see the disparities, in education and health care, and the overall struggles many people have to overcome in these areas sitting comfortably at home. We can appreciate the struggles up to a certain extent but it takes a first hand experience to truly grasp and understand the smaller everyday barriers that keep children from getting an adequate education or that keep people from getting care at a clinic. Like you said, we don’t have to worry about the water or electricity not working at our school. Similarly, we wouldn’t have to worry about walking 3 hours through the mountains in order to receive any sort of pre-natal care from a mobile clinic. In my last post I wrote how at the root of health disparities, or any disparities for that matter, is the belief that one life is worth more than another. Coming home I realize that, unfortunately, that may be the mentality many people have especially in the U.S. where we are so privileged. I am wondering how your experience in Haiti shaped your goals for the future. Are you particularly interested in teaching after this or are you headed in a different direction?

    Hope to talk to you a bit more about your experience.

    -Kathy

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