Blogging From Haiti: Why I Do What I Do

Sam meets with a group from a woman's coop that uses CTI's equipment for their successful cocoa business.

This is a Guest Post by Sam Usem, Vice Chair of the Americas/Senior Project Advisor to Haiti for Compatible Technology International, a St. Paul-based NGO that works globally to alleviate hunger and poverty through appropriate food processing and business technologies. He is the founder of Outfitting Aid, an organization that seeks to get quality outdoor equipment into the hands of those aid workers that need it most, so that they can get on with their work of saving the world.
Since graduating from college a couple of years ago I have found myself doing some very strange things.
Farming and setting up medical clinics for orphans in Honduras, hitchhiking in California after busting a knee in the back country, guiding high-schoolers on canoe trips in Canada and most recently directing development projects in Haiti.
All this while working full time for an independent outdoor shop in Minneapolis.
With my hands in so many projects across the globe I often get asked by friends and family, just what is it that I do exactly, how in the world do all of these things flow together? To be honest I did not decide that at this point in my life I would be involved with so many things, but I do know that the steps that I took earlier in my life led me to this moment and that those steps were taken in a large part because I was Jewish.
That fact is inescapable.
From a young age I was aware that there was a wider world out there. Growing up in Red Wing, MN, a small Midwest town, ours was the only practicing Jewish family. For better or for worse I was different and I knew that I would have to go beyond the limits of our small town to find other Jews. My parents drove us up every weekend, rain or shine, to synagogue in St. Paul which infused in my siblings and I that no matter the distance there was a wider community that we were a part of.
There is something funny about community though, you never really know what form it may take.
With my parents being die hard campers, I was sent off to Herzl Camp in Webster, Wisconsin. I spent years as a camper there, loving every minute of my summers on Devil’s Lake, content without ever thinking of myself as being connected to the town of Webster, WI population 600 something. But during my last year as a camper a tornado hit the town. We as campers spent a significant amount of time outside the boundaries of camp, helping our community of Webster to rebuild. What mattered that summer more than anything was not our being Jewish together, but that we as Jewish campers together were a part of helping out our larger community. Community for me had taken on a whole new meaning. Little did I know it wold change completely once again.
While living in Israel my Freshman year of college I volunteered as an EMT with Magen David Adom, the Israeli emergency medical service. I had an interest in medicine and adventure, which I most certainly got from my mother, and this seemed like the obvious choice. What I thought of as Magen David Adom was Jews helping Jews in a time of need. You can imagine how surprised I was, when I was paired up with a paramedic who was Bedouin and Christian. I came to realize that I was in Israel because I was Jewish, but I was volunteering to help those in need not because they were Jewish but because that’s what my Judaism taught me to do.

Sam writing this post, by headlamp in Haiti

Over the last few years I have been to Honduras to help teach sustainable farming methods and to set up rural medical clinics and I now find myself in Haiti for the fourth time working in the area of food security for a local St. Paul non-profit. Never once along the way have I thought that being Jewish is why I did these things.
Then again I never really stopped till right now to think about what brought me to this point.
Sitting on the ground outside a friends house in the North of Haiti writing this post by headlamp, waiting for the generator to kick in so that I can start the satellite dish to send this email out, only know have I started to put the pieces together.
Amidst going on these trips I have had my own struggle to define what my faith means to me; where my Judaism fits into my everyday life. But what I have not had trouble defining is what my community is and what my role is in it.
My community is the world as a whole and my role in it is to do my part of Tikkun Olam, (repairing the world). To help others to lift themselves out of poverty and help those aid/development workers that are fighting against poverty and hunger on a daily basis.
No one, not even me, can deny that that is inherently Jewish.

Sam will be blogging from Haiti these next weeks for both his organizations, Compatible Technology International and Outfitting Aid.  Learn more, follow his work, and support the cause.  Check out Outfitting Aid on Facebook to get immediate updates from the field.