Fear for the Future
He had run away. Despite the fact he was specifically told not to, he ran.
I was in Haiti for my annual summer trip working with the youth on their Individual Transition Plans (ITPs). Every six months our staff sits down with each of our youth and we discuss their individual goals for their future. We discuss whether or not they have met the goals they set 6 months ago and they set new goals for the upcoming 6 months. For some of our youth whose futures are more uncertain, just the simple task of setting goals for the upcoming six months is an extremely arduous process and can take up to 5 hours. I only have time to help complete a handful of these during my short two week stay, so we try to work on the most challenging ITPs together while I’m there.
He knew his ITP was coming up. He knew he was going to have to confront his uncertain future head on, talk about it, and deal with it. He knew he was failing school. He knew Emmaus House could not continue to pay for school while he continued to fail. Where could he go from here? If he didn’t go to school, what would he do next? Would he be dismissed from the program and sent to the streets as he has seen happen to so many orphans in his country?
He was afraid. When human beings are afraid, really afraid, we go into survival mode. We make one of three choices, we choose to fight, flight or freeze.
He chose flight.
During the onset of Emmaus House, I underestimated this fear that our youth experience. I underestimated it because I understood something that they didn’t. I understood that no matter what, we were going to make sure they didn’t enter the world of Haiti without the skills to successfully navigate a life of independence. That’s what the ITP’s were for…to make sure they were prepared.
What I didn’t understand was that they didn’t trust that. How could they? The adults who were supposed to love them the most had abandoned them. I didn’t understand how deep the fear of living on their own debilitated them. I didn’t understand how paralyzing it is for them. The fear they feel isn’t the same uncertainty that all of us feel when we are indefinite about our future, but an actual, valid, paralyzing, “how am I going to survive?” fear. They have all seen other youth like them go into the world of Haiti without parents to provide for them. More times than not, the outcome of their lives has been detrimental. Our youth have seen their brothers and sisters begging on the streets, prostituting themselves, they have even attended their funerals.
So when they sit down to formally contemplate their future, it is many times, a conversation full of stress, pressure, and survival…not a conversation of hope as it should be. Realizing Emmaus House was his only real hope, he defiantly and hesitantly returned after two days to a very worried and frustrated staff. When we all sat down together, I immediately sensed his distress. His breathing was heavy. I could see the fear in his eyes. As he braced himself for a fight, I calmly continued to ask him, “What do you need?” The 3 hour conversation was laborious. After his persistence of attempting to fight and argue to no avail, he finally conceded and said, “I just need to stay in school.” Now, together, we could have a rational conversation and create a working plan regarding his future and put his fears to rest. We did just that, and this young man ended up passing school that year.
In Haiti, so many don’t have the luxury to plan for their future. Our youth live in a country where most people wake up and are just trying to determine how they will feed their family that day. When the most basic needs of human existence isn’t secure, how can one be expected to plan for a year from now? Or five years from now? Haitians can’t always afford to think past today, so for the staff at Emmaus House to ask them to do otherwise goes against cultural norms, to some extent. Over the past 4 years, our youth have slowly learned to trust that we are not going to desert them. They know they won’t always get what they want, but they understand that we long to see them succeed and will do what is necessary to make sure they are so much more than mere survivors in their country. ITP’s are not nearly as daunting for most of our youth as they used to be. There is hope. Hope that the future can actually be filled with dreams rather than fear.