Haiti Partners Co-Founder Kent Annan Speaks on Hope and Honesty in Haiti
October 25, 2012
Kent Annan, co-director of Haiti Partners and the author of After Shock and Following Jesus through the Eye of the Needle, spoke on "Hope, Honesty and Haiti" on October 24th in Emmanuel's Avenue Commons. The event was organized by Emmanuel's Sociology Club and Annan was introduced by Assistant Professor of Theology & Religious Studies Jon Paul Sydnor.
After earning his bachelor's degree in business from Palm Beach Atlantic University, Annan embarked on what he calls "a journey of faith," traveling to Western Europe for two years to aid refugees from Sierra Leone, the former Yugoslavia and several other countries. After returning to the U.S. to study theology at Princeton Seminary, he departed for war-torn Albania and Kosovo to continue his ministry to refugee groups.
When speaking of his decision to travel and work on behalf of displaced and impoverished populations around the world, Annan quoted writer and theologian Frederick Buechner, who suggested one should choose his or her vocation by determining "where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet." With these words in mind, Annan and his wife, Shelly, moved to Haiti in 2003, into a concrete block house with a tin roof that they shared with a local family. During his nearly three years in the country, Annan realized that the more he learned about Haiti, the more complicated it became to offer help.
During the lecture, he shared a story about his neighbor who was badly in need of dental work. His first thought was to take the man to the dentist and pay for his care. But, he soon reconsidered, wondering if he offered help to his neighbor, would he be expected to help everyone in the neighborhood, including those with far worse problems? In turn, how would he then be viewed in the community: as a neighbor or as a foreign patron reinforcing a damaging cycle of dependency?
Annan offered students who may find themselves traveling abroad advice on how to travel "honestly," ensuring that trips to foreign countries are making changes in a positive way, and how to avoid the practice of "poverty tourism," which often serves the traveler rather than the area's residents.
"When visiting," Annan said, "visit with deep respect."
He also encouraged students to evaluate the effect the trips have on their own lives after they return and to stay involved with the people in the communities they've visited.
"Both hearts and heads have to be engaged," he said.
Annan continues to work with local churches in support of the restaveks, some 200,000 Haitian children who are sent to live with host families with promises of better lives, but are instead put to work as domestic servants and often badly abused. With Haiti Partners, he also works with seven schools in Haiti, many who have strong leadership, but limited resources, to educate students and teachers in a country with a 50 percent literacy rate.
His writing has been published in literary journals including Utne Reader, Subtropics, Geez, Adbusters, The Sun, Natural Bridge, Pilgrimage, Puerto Del Sol, and Orion. One of his essays was cited as a "Notable Essay" in the Best American Essays series. He has been featured on national TV and radio shows including "The Hour," "100 Huntley Street," and NPR's "The Story." He regularly travels between Haiti and his home in Florida.