How important is is for a kid to have a saxophone? ... in Haiti?

Jared Witt, pastor at St. Stephen Lutheran Church in Longwood, Florida, has traveled to Haiti several times with HTF. After returning from his most recent trip, Jared wrote this blog. The original post can be found at jaredwitt1.blogstpot.com.

If the question regards a kids living int the wealthy suburb where I grew up, the answer is always an enthusiastic “Very important.” The developmental benefits of learning and instrument have been indisputably proven and spill into nearly every other discipline that a child might want to pursue.  Few of us would deny this…with regard to a kids in a wealthy American suburb.

Unfortunately, though, if the question regards a child living in a poor neighborhood in Haiti, for the well-meaning American organizations that intend to serve that child, the value calculus rarely works out the same.  After all, there should be a certain triage of need, right?  Haitian kids are in need of food and shelter, not saxophones.  So most NGOs measure their inputs accordingly.

As reasonable as that assumption sounds (it’s true, there are kids in Haiti who really are hung and homeless) it doesn’t have a strong track record or producing long term change in the poorest country in the western hemisphere and quite frequently does more harm than good.  There are many reasons why this is. Most of them can be summarized as follows: providing things is not the same as investing in human beings.

Only the latter amounts to any long term results, and I believe, only the latter has any resonance with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

This lesson was first taught to me by Elyon.  Elyon wasn’t, in aid-speak, an “area of focus.” She was an 11 year old girl with an unforgettable smile–charmed but quizzical at the sight of us sunscreen lathering blan. And Elyon didn’t know that, as a poor Haitian child, the extent of her ambitions should be a daily meal and some hand-me-down clothes. Elyon was a music lover.

So in my first trip to Haiti, through the Haitian Timoun Foundation (HTF), I was surprised to find that one of our precious few checked bags was a very clunky, awkward saxophone.  I confess that the though did cross my mind, “Shouldn’t we be bringing with us more immediate needs?”

I still didn’t “get it” at that point.

Seven years after that first trip, Elyon is a young woman. She graduated high school with straight As. With an unstoppable combination of intelligence and charisma and a head full of ideas about how to turn the world upside down, she is poised to join the small handful of students who will even step food inside on of the highly competitive Haitian universities. In her neighborhood back in Jacmel, the still tell stories about the saxophone girl who would spend hours each day filling their streets with the type of beauty that can only come from something as wasteful and extravagant as music.

The Haitian Timoun Foundation doesn’t look at the kids with whom we partner as so much intractable need. We look at them as Elyon and Kathleen and Samuel–highly unique, differently gifted individuals who are ready not to just subsist on a handful of necessities but to develop themselves as people capable of one day leading their own country out of a decades old dependency cycle. If the only news we’re hearing from Haiti is the staggering statistic on extreme poverty or the bracing image from the latest disaster, then it’s our own understand that’s truly impoverished. Everyone already knows these stories and they’re good for building the viewership of media conglomerates but not much else.

For the hundreds of people I’ve seen come back from travel with HTF, the stories they’re more interested in telling are those of ingenuity, of resourcefulness, of love in the face of loss, hope in the face of death. They tell stories of the empty tomb.

 

How important is it for a kid to have a saxophone?

As important as the kingdom of God.