The Meaning of Community by James Morgan

In a recent NY Times article1, columnist David Brooks wrote about the importance of grassroots projects and strong community bonds . On reading it I immediately thought of the Lamp community, among whose members  are residents of Cite Soleil, our intrepid medical staff, as well as the many supporters like you who believe in our mission of working — and being — with and for those on the margin.

In particular Brooks writes  that the “neighborhood is the unit of change.” That is, communities grow  when local people act locally. Affluent communities can raise taxes or issue bonds, and build  places like a vibrant community  health center. But poor areas, which arguably need such places even more, don’t have that option , and thus the  need for  outside assistance. Lamp for Haiti is an example of such a transformative place. We have become a vital link to health and an integral part of the Bwa Nef  section of Cite Soleil . And we have done so not because we gave handouts, but because we have intentionally walked with the poor, and collectively we have grown stronger.

Brooks comments further about  a deep skepticism that permeates communities when locals feel “betrayed again and again by outsiders…” who don’t carry through on pledges to stay involved. Like any strong mature relationship, residents are not looking for handouts. Rather they’re seeking  committed partnerships.

In Cite Soleil, a very poor sprawling slum on the fringe of Haiti’s capital, there are many reminders of groups’ — governmental and otherwise – having left behind some brick and mortar structure, with no plan or funding for its future use, or even its maintenance.  In many cases these ghost remnants make matters worse. Not only are they decrepit eyesores, but they also serve as reminders of the social distrust Brooks writes about.  It’s as if he had   been interviewing area residents in 2005, the year we began our work in Haiti. We faced that same deep skepticism for several years before we would become an intrinsic part of that community.

If, as Brooks asserts, part of the answer to the puzzle of community development lies in  understanding that the “neighborhood is the unit of change”, I would contend further that we need a broader vision of who our neighbors really are.  Are they just those who live close to where I live?  Though Cite Soleil residents live far away, Lamp’s supporters clearly don’t see geography as a limiting factor when considering that question. For almost 15 years Lamp for Haiti has successfully worked   to empower residents in one of the poorest corners of the globe,  helping  foster health and pride in that community.  We don’t give handouts, but we do accompany. Lamp has never wavered in our commitment. We have been there in the wake of an earthquake, monsoons, gang wars, political unrest, and now a global pandemic.  Neighborliness requires consistency — acting in a way that demonstrates a long term commitment in authentic partnership with local people. But it also requires resources, a  hand up when my neighbor is in need.

Thank you for your caring commitment to this important project. Your willingness to stay engaged during this difficult time is a (not surprising ) testament to the generous spirit, so pervasive in the Lamp community.

James Morgan, MD
Co-Founder and Chair of the Board


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