Friday, April 8, 2011

Day 0: Next Steps

After spending the better part of a month in my head contemplating possible future moves, I've settled on what I want to do. It's a little bit different than the original plan, but hey, the best laid plans...

I'm going back to Haiti. I'm going back for longer than I went the first time. I'm planning on being there until shortly before I attend graduate school in Fall 2012, so over a year. I'll leave Los Angeles on or around July 1st. July 1st seems fitting - it was the day I arrived in Haiti last year.

Why Haiti again? Simple: I can't think of a place more in need of what I want to focus on right now then Haiti. While I was first considering Latin America to start a biosand filter / WASH program (Water, Sanitation & Hygiene) the truth is Haiti has it worse off right now when it comes to water and health issues than Nicaragua or Honduras or Chiapas or any of the other locations I looked at. That isn't to downplay the severity of some of the problems down there, and I do hope to eventually get a chance to work in Latin America, but right now Haiti, given the earthquake and the cholera outbreak... It just makes sense.

Furthermore, I have resources in Haiti I don't have elsewhere. I have great organizations I know contacts at: All Hands, Clean Water for Haiti, GrassRoots United, my friend Jason's organization. I have friends on the ground in Haiti. Max & Dan are headed back to Haiti soon, and James is there. They were the original partners in the "let's start a biosand project" idea and while I've come to realize I'm going to have to run solo on this for now, knowing they are going to be there and may be inclined to join me if I can get things going is something I take into consideration. And yes, while I don't speak Haitian Creole anywhere near as well as I speak Spanish, I have a basic understanding now, and want to learn more. I'm also somewhat adapted to moving around and getting things done in Haiti. Living there for seven months will do that. And really, I love Haiti. I really do, and I miss it. Why not go back then, and keep trying to grow in the field I want to make a career in while helping people and being in a place I really like being? Again, it makes sense. Yes, I'll likely exhaust the rest of my savings in the process, but why not? What else should I spend it on? School is the only other thing I think is as worthwhile to spend my savings on, but having another year on the ground will likely help me in securing scholarships, which may, in the end, be more substantial than what I can save by being here working, perhaps in a field totally unrelated to what I want to do. I promised myself, when I took the step to go to Haiti and begin to try and set myself up to live a life in line with what I hold valuable, that I would stay out in the field until grad school unless I really didn't have a choice and had to come "home" (which is where exactly?). I can still do that. I intend to.

So what's the difference this time around? Mostly my focus on where I want to try and make things happen in Haiti. Before, I was living and working in Leogane - an urban center. This time around, I'd really like to focus on working in rural areas. It's a totally different ball game. Rural communities tend to receive far less aid than urban communities. It makes sense logistically - urban centers make it possible to help more people more efficiently. But still, rural people are just as deserving, and in the case of water issues in Haiti, rural communities actually need more help. A higher percentage of rural people in Haiti are dependent on contaminated water sources than urban people. And according to MSF (Medecins Sans Frontieres aka. Doctors Without Borders), rural people are going to get hit harder by the cholera epidemic than urban people. I know it would be more challenging to try and work in rural areas, but that's a good thing in my view - I want a challenge, and I want to see what some of the worst water conditions really look like.

This isn't to downplay the importance of getting clean water out to people in Leogane, or any urban center. I know there are people there that have to depend on nasty water, and I'm proud of the work I did trying to address that. But, by and large, the urban Leogane community can get clean water when they need it, be it via a big bladder provided by an NGO, or a public tap that tests clean, or a capped well, or even buying the little plastic sacks of water sold everywhere. I'd be lying if I didn't admit there were some biosand filter installs that, even though I know they were helping, made me question whether or not there were other people out there who would benefit far more. Does it make sense to give a biosand filter to a person in a neighborhood that has a clean tap when you know outside of town people are drinking river water? Yes, it's true that that tap may go bad at some point, or dry up, but if you know it's OK now and others don't have an OK situation, shouldn't priority be given to those people that aren't OK? When I go back to Haiti, I want to try and target the people that truly need clean water now. I don't have any idea how that will look yet. I like the idea of possibly linking back up with All Hands - it's a truly great organization for what it aims to do and I'm incredibly thankful for the chance they gave me when they let me run the biosand project. I also feel I could go back now and run it better than I did before. Still, if I'm wanting to focus rural and All Hands is urban-based, that may not mesh. Then again, they may be very open to exploring a different model for our biosand project. I haven't reached out to them yet, so I don't know. Furthermore, All Hands is scheduled to end Project Leogane at the end of this year. What happens to the biosand project if and when All Hands does leave Haiti? I'm not going to make any assumptions. Experience has taught me assumptions are usually wrong. Still, it's worth thinking about.

Truth be told, this is all still very new, triggered by a recent conversation I had with a girl I really respect, a friend of mine who is now studying in England but I met in Haiti last year. I was explaining to her I felt overwhelmed and unsure of what path to take now that my time in Haiti was done. After laying out some of the options I was thinking about, she didn't tell me one was clearly the right choice, but rather that they all sounded worthwhile, and that the only way I'd really move forward was to pick one and commit to it 100%. So this is my choice. Now that it's made, it's time to start fleshing it out and moving forward. I'm headed down to Mexico soon, April 17th - 26th, to spend time w/ my godfather, a grizzled veteran of the NGO world who lives at the end of the Baja Peninsula, and I'm really excited to have a chance to get his feedback and advice (scuba diving with whale sharks doesn't sound half bad either). Something tells me I'll come back from Mexico a lot more knowledgeable about what the right next steps look like, and be ready to take them.

So there it is. Life continues. I have my aspirations. I have my doubts. More and more though it becomes clear - trust my instincts, make a choice, and put all of my potential and capability behind that choice. That's all you can really do in trying to create a good life. It doesn't guarantee anything, but it puts you in motion. I've been sitting still for a month, in my head, going a little crazy. Maybe it was needed, but it isn't anymore. I'm pretty clear now about how I'd like the next few years of my life to go: Haiti, then grad school in the UK and hopefully a reconnection with someone I love and want to be with. From there, we'll figure out what's next together. It doesn't mean that's how things will come to pass, and I have no idea yet all the steps along the way, but I do know if I don't try, I've already failed.