One of my duties here in Haiti for our VERY short month, is to teach the kids who are interested in woodworking about....building stuff with wood. The hope is to inspire hard work and impart a skill set to improve their chances of employment as they finish their schooling. But teaching something like carpentry or woodworking is difficult. Primarily because, there are projects that NEED to get done. I could accomplish so many projects in a small amount of time and of course the kids would be 'involved'...sure they'd be involved...yeah. They'd be busy holding a piece of wood, moving materials, cleaning up and watching the Americans build stuff. However, if you asked them to go and measure something, design something and build something. It could potentially be a modern art exhibit when all said and done. A seeming waste of precious resources.
SEE ONE... DO ONE.... TEACH ONE
The carpenter Jesus of Nazareth taught in a radical and risky way. He'd walk around exemplifying to his little worker bees what it looks like to be a crazy teacher doing signs and wonders. He'd show up, do a miracle, and then have a chat about what just happened. Then he'd look over to his groupies and say... now you go do it. Once they were finished attempting, messing up, attempting again.. then maybe kind of getting it... Jesus turns around and says, now go and get a bunch of other people to watch you and do the same.
It is easy to not want to let go. If you let a 14 yr old Haitian boy take over your project, you might just end up with a pile of scrap wood. It may not look very good, it may be flawed, but these are necessary steps. Nobody became an expert without messing up...over and over and over again. So what is the trick?
The trick is to focus on the person... not the project. I learned from an amazing teacher who once said, "There's nothing you can do, that I can't fix." As a newbie carpenter, these words were both relief-giving and frightening. He would say this as my trembling hands cut a $300 piece of wood or marble. He would let me know it was expensive but upon failure always reminded me that literally, "There was nothing I could do, that he couldn't fix." Albeit some mistakes were more costly than others.
But the truth remains... if I am to actually teach these boys anything at all, it will require failure. It is only in the failing that the correct path becomes clear. For example, Emmanuel Victor is a local Haitian boy who has been diligently absorbing every ounce of information I can feed him. After I overwhelmed him with the fractional math necessary to read a measuring tape or ruler, I unleashed him to figure out how to change out some door locks and add a new one to an existing door.
I could have changed the lock and been finished in "two seconds", instead, I let him attempt to put the lock in upside down... backwards.... inside out... and every other way possible. Each time he realized the mistake and reverted back to try a different way. I sat back to watch the wheels in his brain spinning to solve this mechanical difficulty. Then the light sparks and he sees the correct path. A beautiful thing.
Tomorrow I will continue teaching him how to read a Tape Measure in sixteenths. Emmanuel hopes to be an architect one day and I know that although we spent 60 minutes installing one door knob, his experiential knowledge of working through the process of trying, failing and trying again will be the key to his success in life.
ZOOMING WAY OUT (My application for Haiti)
Haiti is known as the Republic of NGOs. Indeed, there are over 11,000 different non-governmental organizations operating in Haiti from all over the world. The best of intentions and the purest of motives are at the bottom of most of this presence in Haiti. However I wonder if all the NGOs have fallen into the temptation of being so project oriented that we've forgotten to step aside and let the person be the priority. What I mean is simple... perhaps Haiti would be better off if the outside 'teacher' were only there to train and then make recommendations. Emmanuel did all the work on that door knob and only at times did I step in to slightly guide him in his own pursuit of accomplishment. Is it possible that the overwhelming altruism of the NGO community has in fact created a situation of crippling dependency? At some point, we will have to hand over the tools of development and progress to say, "Okay guys, have a go, we'll be right by your side if you need us." When will the day come when the NGOs are the ones who are simply holding the wood while the skilled laborer makes measurements, decides on designs, and even uses the power tools!?
It may not be time. But I can tell you this... Emmanuel will be building things and designing things in no time. They may not be perfect, but they will be designed, built, and owned by him and him alone.
P.S. This orphanage/school/program has become a real source of refreshing enjoyment for us. The people are open, hungry and honest about the difficulties realities of life and yet see the greater reality of God's hope and desire for the wholeness of the world. Thanks so much to everyone who allowed us to have this wonderful experience.