A few weeks ago, I got an email from IndieGoGo, a fundraising site I’ve used from time to time in the past. It was a new comment on an old fundraiser I’d done in 2009 for the mission trip I go on in the Bahamas every summer. For the past seven summers, I’ve spent a week on Grand Bahama Island with a group from my home church in Pennsylvania. It’s a trip designed for high school students to strengthen their faith, teach them some life skills, and show them that the world isn’t as shiny and pampered as most of our lives in the United States seem to be. In the past, I’ve done blogs, podcasts and live video chats from the Island, as a means of explaining our work and also to help tell a fraction of what the experience is like. Here’s the full text of the comment:
As a Bahamian/American I find this [the mission work and subsequent storytelling] misleading. I have seen far more poverty in the US than I have ever encountered in The Bahamas. Yes there are families in poverty however you make it appear that the majority of the population is experiencing this. I understand that your aim is to do some good but please, as a journalist, give an accurate description. State that your efforts are to help a particular community not an entire country that is, in actuality, the wealthiest in The Caribbean.
I’m not gonna lie - this comment kicked my ass a little bit, and for a variety of reasons. Of course, it’s completely true that the United States is suffering from massive economic stress and that poverty in America is an increasingly complicated issue. It’s also true that when we do mission work on Grand Bahama Island we are focusing on the poorest families and neighborhoods, thereby not showing a fair cross-section of the islanders. We work in a bubble on the island, because it is foreign to us, because the group is overwhelmingly made up of teenagers, and because we are there with a specific purpose. But that also means that when we look out from the bubble, we get a fish-eyed view of what’s around us.
I’d like to think that we are fair when we discuss what we do and who we work with. I’ve relayed many accounts of specific stories of Bahamians we’ve come in contact with over the past eight years, like Raul, Robert, Meko, and Tyrone, just to name a few. Even if we could somehow tell the story of the entire island, I don’t even know that I’d want to. This niche, this collective yearning for betterment that I come across when I set foot on Grand Bahama, is the reason I go every year in the first place. It’s about the seeds of hope that I see planted from the simplest of gestures; time and time again I am floored by what common decency and a smile can do.
We’re hitching a flight down to Freeport on Saturday morning with a team of about 50 people. It’ll be the largest group we’ve ever had, which makes for new challenges and adventures. We’re also staying at a place we never have before, and it’s honestly too nice of a place for the work we try to do. There’s an inherent hypocrisy in staying at a self-labeled resort by night and putting up drywall in tiny homes by day, but it’s one that we don’t have much of a choice in, sadly.
I’ll be blogging by night, and we plan to do a few webcasts as the week progresses to tell some stories, answer questions and say hello. I can’t guarantee how much I’ll be able to tweet, and I’d honestly prefer to not tweet much at all (the horror!), but we’ll set up a hashtag (#Woodside12) so people can send us notes and thoughts. You can also follow along at BahamasMission.com, a cheap website I put up last year to aggregate content for us.
When we’re placed in a bubble, it not only distorts our view of the outside, it also distorts others’ views of us on the inside. In the neighborhoods we work in, the little children flock to us because they think white people always bring presents and toys (we used to but it would get out of hand). We are dragged into homes near our worksite and yelled at in French Creole to fix something that we cannot. I will keep the thoughts of that IndieGoGo comment close to me when I write about this trip, and I hope you will follow along and interact with us when you can. Bubbles are broken with understanding and communication, so at least this is a start.