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17963: Chin RE: 17950: Burnham: RE: 17943: (Hermantin)Sun-Sentinel-15-Westminster students raise $3,000 to build school in (fwd)

From: Elizabeth J. Chin <ejc@oxy.edu>

Echoing Bob's thoughtful response to Thor's thoughtful critique, I have taken students to Haiti twice in recent years, and am convinced that the value of such trips cannot be reduced to an equation of dollars in/dollars out.

I teach at a small private college that is astoundingly expensive, and many of my students come from families of great privilege. (To be fair, we also have many students who are the first in their family to go to college and who come from extremely poor families.) Mmany of my students are convinced they are "poor" because they cannot have their own personal BMW.  In other words, they have nearly no perspective on their wealth and their privilege, even if they are relatively poor in the U.S.  It's not their fault they have no perspective, since many have barely left their home state.  They are ready, even eager, to learn about the larger world and their place in it.  Like those who have gone on Bob's trips, I find that my students are deeply moved and humbled by their experiences in Haiti and that they return to the States determined to use their energies toward helping others.  Students from my most recent trip continue to collect clothing in their dorms to be sent to Haiti.

Our trips focus around dance and culture; the money that we pay the people who work with us helps them get through the year (especially since we pay as much as we possibly can, and certainly much more than the going rate in Haiti), and I take no pay for the trips aside from an airplane ticket.

Would it be better just to send the money?  If the goal is -- at least in part -- to educate and even change people, I don't think so.  Young people often learn best through concrete experience.  For people whose only exposure to Haiti is often dreadful movies and the term "voodoo economics" the value of their actually visiting the place, is, as they say in the mastercard commercials "priceless."  I believe that the value of their knowledge and experience, which they bring back with them and use to change their friends, their families and perhaps their communities, is very, very high.

I hate to discount, as well, the joy and pride that my Haitian friends take in educating American students about Haitian culture.  Of course they appreciate and need the money they are paid to teach dance classes, drum, and show students their homes and neighborhoods.  The love and generosity of spirit that suffuses their work with my students, however, convinces me that we are not simply buying their time.  I know that my Haitian friends view our work together as an important cultural and political project -- one about spreading knowledge about Haiti and its people.

In a just world, I guess we wouldn't even have to be attempting to weigh such things.

Elizabeth Chin
Associate Professor of Anthropology
Occidental College  Box M 37
1600 Campus Road
Los Angeles, CA 90041
(323)349-0635 (fax)

-----Original Message-----
From: Bob Corbett [mailto:corbetre@webster.edu]
Sent: Friday, January 16, 2004 4:00 AM
To: Haiti mailing list
Subject: 17950: Burnham: RE: 17943:
(Hermantin)Sun-Sentinel-15-Westminster students raise $3,000 to build
school in (fwd)