Americans value safety. We value the illusion of safety. We want to believe that if we plan things just right, nothing bad can happen.
Until it does.
We hear this question quite frequently. In fact, it was the very question that nearly kept our family from going to Haiti in March of 2012 for the first time. It's a valid question. And a complicated question. And a question without a quick and easy answer.
I asked a recent team member for her input, and here's what she had to say.
Recent events in Haiti have created additional concerns for foreigners looking to travel to Haiti for humanitarian work. The murder of an American missionary and presidential elections led to a sharp downturn in ticket sales for Delta Airlines, forcing the company to consolidate some flights for November, thus interrupting daily service.
We recently hosted the October 2015 team during the week of presidential elections. It was interesting to be in country comparing what we could see with what is often reported worldwide about the election process in Haiti.
For the team, the day of National Elections was quiet. They walked to church. They walked home from church. They went to the orphanage to visit the children. And we all encouraged our Haitian co-workers to go to the polls and vote.
Was I ever afraid to be in Haiti in October? The answer is a simple, "No." Did we need to be wise in what we did? Yes.
Recently I was talking to someone who asked me if I felt safe working in Haiti. I was able to truthfully say that I've never felt afraid while working with Haiti Awake. Never. Not one time.
In fact, the only time I feared for my safety was on my very first trip to Haiti, and looking back, I don't believe I was in any danger. I just didn't understand people. And hunger. And desperation. And the emotion and energy that comes with that. And I remember during that moment of fear a Haitian friend coming alongside me and saying, "Don't worry. Just walk. I am here with you." And everything was okay.
Ironically last Thursday evening I sat at Starbucks for an hour, talking with parents whose teenage daughter wants to travel with Haiti Awake over spring break. Her parents had many questions. Rightfully so. Their daughter is their responsibility. And Haiti is not always safe. ("Have you read the US State Department's website?" I often ask, tongue-in-cheek.)
Her dad often apologized for his questions, but I shared my own story, my own journey from fear to confidence. I validated his questions, his concerns. I told him, "I can't guarantee your daughter's safety. I can't promise you that. I can only promise we will do everything we can to be wise about what we do."
We do take wise precautions, but we are not hindered by the fear of what might happen.
And then I told him I couldn't guarantee his daughter's safety anywhere. Here in Wilmington, NC. In Haiti. In any country.
And then Friday night happened.
And I was reminded of our conversation on Thursday. If someone had offered you a round-trip, all-expense paid vacation to Paris last week, would you have asked, "Is it safe?"