The Strength of a Community

Written by Plant With Purpose on May 7, 2010 in General

By Tenaya Wickstrand, Plant With Purpose PR Intern

When our Executive Director, Scott Sabin, arrived at one of our program sites during his recent visit to Haiti, he noticed that our staff had taken makeshift tents and joined them together in order to make one long tent. This seemed to be a natural thing for them to do, as they didn’t want to be separated or to sleep alone; they created a place for everyone to sleep together with the security of being a community.

Another example of the Haitian’s interpersonal closeness, as Scott expressed, is that when people stand in line, they are so close they’re basically touching one another. This was amazing to me. I can’t imagine being in line and having the person behind me touching me, let alone me being that close to the person in front. Our culture has a different acceptable level of personal space; I’m sure I’m not alone in that feeling. But I was fascinated by how united the Haitians are, and I have to say that I do think we lack a bit of those community ties here in the United States.

In California, especially, we are private people. There is an unspoken need for individual space and privacy. People will even choose an isolated seat to avoid sitting right next to another person in a movie theatre, a restaurant, or elsewhere. We even protect our personal privacy with laws.

As Haiti exemplifies, this privacy tendency we share in the United States is not shared in other parts of the world. In 2008 I studied abroad in Italy and had a glimpse of how close everyone is in the Italian culture. I was in a “ristorante” one night observing the way the hostess seated customers and noticing how very different it was from home; I asked our server about it. He told me that in a restaurant in Italy people are seated in tables right next to each other, even if the entire place is empty. This was because Italians like feeling related to one another, even in a restaurant with people they don’t know. This stood in stark contrast to the American way where the two tables of people would have been seated as far apart as possible.

This connection the people of Haiti have has helped them in dealing with the aftermath of the earthquake. A recent LA Times article explains that, “Haitians rely on their communities to survive. They borrow money from neighbors, share food, watch one another’s children, and sell things they pick up in the central markets.”

Plant With Purpose is connected with Haiti and the communities where we have programs. I think we can apply this feeling of being part of a family to our work everywhere. The closeness of the connection helps us understand other people’s ways of life and to realize the group mentality they have can be quite an asset. At Plant With Purpose, we talk about involving ourselves and understanding the way each community operates. In order to achieve this, we need to strip ourselves of our individualistic mindset and be open to sharing and connecting with the people and countries where we work.

Plant With Purpose seeks to do just that. In Haiti we work side by side with the local farmers. We get to know them as individuals but also as a part of their community. This direct involvement has aided our success in Haiti and the many other countries where we operate. We teach them, but they also teach us.

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