Shersty Stanton
Shersty Stanton
Haiti 2017 - 2019
Byenveni! Welcome! Join me on a journey to the rural villages of Haiti to use microfinance and savings groups to foster economic growth and community development. As a graduate of Belmont University’s social entrepreneurship program, I look forward to furthering my knowledge of implementing sustainable change in an intercultural setting.
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Real Talk

This month’s blog title is inspired by several ideas:

I. In honor of Lecrae’s recent release of his newest album “All Things Work Together,” we’re throwing it back to his first studio album “Real Talk.” I have a habit of binge listening to a single album for months on end, and Lecrae’s newest game changer has been the most recent soundtrack of my days. In accordance with Romans 8:26-28, I’m holding on to the promise that,

In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose (NASB).

Real talk—many days in September left me pleading for the Spirit to intercede for me because I simply did not know what to pray. But the days that brought the most internal turmoil also brought the promise that “The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your Faithfulness (Lamentations 3:22-23, NASB).” Thank you, Coach Levin, for sharing your favorite verses that have become an anthem of my days, reiterated in a Kreyol song lyric, “Mizerikòd ou pap fini, Konpasyon Bondye pap fini. Li renouvle chak maten, chak maten,” or “Your mercies will not end, God’s compassion will not end. It is renewed every morning, every morning.” Mèsi Jezi.

II. In many ways, it’s about to get real here in Haiti. A few small job creation/capital raising projects I’ve been working with here and there throughout September are about to come to fruition and become real in October. Also, with no fault but my own, the savings group idea didn’t go over too well in the first community I chose to present to—so I had to come to terms with my shortcomings, take it back to the drawing board, and get real with how to move forward from here. And several threats of hurricanes and protests/demonstrations/manifestations/transportation strikes due to Haiti’s president’s proposal of a new budget and increased taxes kept us in the compound with too much time to think, meaning that this post—as a compilation of many thoughts, experiences, emotions, and steep learning curves over the past month—is about to get real.

Real talk—it would be much more pleasant to only share with you the many joyful, fun, life-giving, lesson-filled times of September, but that would not truthfully reveal the whole story that is unfolding. In the past I’ve had a tendency to only express emotions and experiences of joy and excitement, pushing down the ugly feelings of confusion and unpleasant uncertainty. I’ve found myself falling into that same pattern again, but I’m learning that to live out my purpose in life is to face the unpleasant head on decked out head to toe with the armor of God. Throughout college I used my busyness to avoid thinking through thoughts, ideas, and encounters that bothered me. There was always some distraction in the form of a project to work on, reading to be done, practice/conditioning to be attended, coffee to be enjoyed with loved ones, or my nice, cool pillow was calling my name. And while the unceasing nature of living in a developing country trying to figure out this whole microfinance/economic development/job creation thing certainly could consume all of my post-grad thoughts and time, I’m learning that I have to take a breather from time to time and confront some emotions and thoughts I have pushed down for too long. For some reason, I also must rest a lot more now. No amount of coffee or homemade kombucha seems to keep my eyes from getting sleepy early in the evening and resisting waking up in the mornings. I guess the late nights and early mornings in college paired with little break from the Caribbean heat are finally catching up with me. Mezanmi!!

I had some great helpers measuring for a chicken coop that will create jobs in one of Disciples' Village's communities in October!

I had some great helpers measuring for a chicken coop that will create jobs in one of Disciples’ Village’s communities in October!

Now that the previews are over, let’s dig in to the nitty gritty of a few things I’ve either encountered, began thinking/fighting through, read, realized, been convicted of, prayed about or a combination of many of the aforementioned list. Below you will find glimpses into my head, project, and life in Haiti, loosely ‘organized’ under bold headings with either a few sentences or several rant-ish paragraphs below. Looking back I can see how some times seemed dark, but rest assured that September held many a joyous times–they just didn’t manifest into as great of learning opportunities as some of the more trying experiences :).

A Foreigner (Blanc) in this Land

“Blanc, blanc, blanc!! Blanc!!” resounds like an alarm clock as I walk down any road I’ve ever traveled in Haiti. It’s occasionally broken up with thick Creole-accented “How are you?”s and “What is your name?” or the gut wrenching “Give me one dolla” as the kiddos attempt to speak my language and get the attention of the foreigner passing by. My responses vary with each encounter. Sometimes I smile and wave, asking “Koman ou yè?” ignoring their remarks of my skin color and perceived economic class. Other times, it pains me to report, I simply ignore them and keep my eyes focused ahead, hiding behind the sunglasses I use to protect my blue eyes from the sun and to cover the pain I feel that my skin and country of origin is a false barrier between me and the people I so deeply love. More often than not, I attempt to sweetly say, “Bonswa! M’ rele Shersty. M’ kontan wè ou jodi a!” in hopes that next time they recognize that while I am indeed a blanc, a foreigner in Haiti, I’m here to stay for awhile.

Sometimes I sinfully react out of anger and think to myself, if only you knew that one dollar is not going to help you... Ouch. That’s ugly.

A few times this month I along with others with Disciples’ Village encountered an unfortunately semi-normal situation with a few young girls at the beach who were asking for sunglasses, headbands, watches, dresses, money, food, water, anything they thought we had and would give because they asked—all while dramatically pointing to their stomachs and throwing themselves down on the rocks when I would say no. This bothered me more than before—how do I lovingly show them I care about them and communicate that giving into their request for sunglasses or a dollar might make them feel good for a few minutes, but the hunger and thirst will quickly return. How do I response without furthering the divide my nationality causes? I hate to say that they followed behind us empty handed calling us cheap and stingy. My heart broke with every step at the anger/pride inside of me that I allowed to keep me from loving them, even if I didn’t have any water or food to give.

While I am still working through this encounter and the emotions I have felt while praying about better ways to handle similar situations, these frequent reminders that I am indeed a foreigner here is a reminder of the greater situation at hand—as a follower of Jesus, a person who declares Him as Lord of my life, this earth is not my home. I am a foreigner in this land, and I am seeking a kingdom that has no end. I am working to bring heaven to earth. The brokenness that surrounds me will not last. The pain and suffering experienced by the people I love and have come to serve is temporary in this life, and they are ultimately in the arms of the One who loved them to the point of offering His own blameless life as a sacrifice to wash our sin white as snow. I am constantly being reminded to keep my eyes on Christ and the things and pains of this earth will go strangely dim. Mèsi Jezi pou lavi ou te bay nou.

This sweet little lady let me learn to properly condition, comb, braid, and secure the hair on her precious head! I have a long way to go...but you've got to start somewhere!

This sweet little lady let me learn to properly condition, comb, braid, and secure the hair on her precious head! I have a long way to go...but we all had fun watching me learn and struggle!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Do the Self Work”

 I found this incredible advise from Kathy Brooks via the ‘About Us’ section on 2nd Story Goods’ website. Each day brings something in myself that I need to surrender to the Lord before attempting to ‘give a hand up’ to the people around me.

A recent article in Relevant magazine posed a question similar to, “What if instead of trying to change people (or in my case, specifically change their financial situation), we started by looking at our own lives first?” Dying daily, purging my sins, seeking forgiveness… Ouch. So unpleasant.

It’s easy to push my shortcomings, sins, and hidden-but-quickly-surfacing selfish heart to the side when working in a developing country. But with doing (hopefully, prayerfully) ground breaking and life changing work comes pushback from the evil that benefits from people living with veils over their eyes, and that evil is bringing my sinful self’s wants, desires, selfish thoughts, and past emotional hurts to the forefront of my attention during inopportune times at a disturbing frequency. It is all too easy to be distracted by these bubbling emotions, but I’m learning to lay them at the foot of the Cross and to continue to walk in the work I have set out to do. I’m learning to do the self work in the forefront to remove distractions that could keep me from being effective in the future. It’s ugly, and it’s a process that I am far from mastering.

These trapped goats provided comic relief on a tiring day. Note to self: next time goats get stuck in the compound don't use a mop to shoo them out

These trapped goats provided comic relief on a tiring day. Note to self: next time goats get stuck in the compound don’t use a mop to shoo them out

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When we set our to-do list aside, we start to love people better.

Lately I have been so guilty of putting on my blinders and setting my eyes towards the task(s) at hand. So so guilty of getting frustrated when a situation arises that requires me to put my to do list aside. Ek. Real talk—it physically pains me to say that I often don’t see the person in front of me but rather the time it will take to deal with the problem...time spent away from checking things off my list. How dare I say I’m a follower of Jesus Christ and act this way? How dare I say that I’ve come to Haiti to ‘give a hand up’ and yet look past the people whose lives and problems have intersected with mine?

At the core of my project is meeting individuals and families where they are—problems and messes and pasts and broken systems and all—and working with them to find work/capital and manage their money to advance themselves and their families. My desire to focus on my lists filled with research and tasks that I think will help them over actually handling their current situation is an interesting tension inside of me.

Looking back on my college years, this selfishness defined how I lived. Reaching that 4.00 and getting some sleep was more important than loving the souls around me. Coffee shops were for getting work done, not socializing during the school year. How many relationships did I forfeit for my worldly ‘goals’? How many people did I leave thirsty for Jesus because my to do list was more important than their heart? Lord have mercy on me.

“Mizerikòd ou pap fini, Konpasyon Bondye pap fini. Li renouvle chak maten, chak maten.”

God's mercy is as faithful as the sunrise over the mountains of Vielo chak maten

God’s mercy is as faithful as the sunrise over the mountains of Vielo chak maten

Kado epi yon prè… yo pa menm bagay

Gifts and loans…they are not the same thing. Several Americans living and working in Haiti with microfinance have advised that many locals who have worked with foreign groups before view loans from said foreign groups as gifts to be kept rather than loaned money that requires repayment. This idea of gift vs. investment is proving to be quite a sticking point in my project.

How do I best structure financial opportunities through Disciples’ Village, train and correctly utilize the local leadership, and position/communicate this project in a way that sets high expectations for ownership and good stewardship of all investments made into individuals, families, and communities? One of the last things I want is for the approaching future investments—financial, time, physical labor, human capital, etc.—to be misunderstood as gifts that will fade with time and not the true investment into a community with the hopes of seeing a return in the form of lives permanently changed for the better.

Post-meeting chalk board..while the ideas on the board might not have stuck, I pray a seed was planted and financial knowledge will grow with some watering!

Post-meeting chalk board..while the ideas on the board might not have stuck, I pray a seed was planted and financial knowledge will grow with some watering!

Back to the Drawing Board

In the first few weeks of September, Ganaud (a brilliant interpreter) and I made several early morning treks to Disciples’ Village’s mountain community of Vielo to introduce the idea of a savings group and to get the community thinking about calculating their monthly income and expenses. All with the hopes of starting a group at the beginning of October. The idea didn’t quite catch on like I have envisioned for about a year now. In fact, the flames I was throwing fell on wet ground and now I’m waiting for the earth to dry.

In true Shersty fashion, I became a tad (read extremely) vague and big picture through excruciating detail in my presentation and neglected to speak to the audience in front of me, explaining details un-comprehendible to anyone outside of my head and ESPECIALLY to people who do not know if their next harvest will provide enough money to eat let alone save. Dr. Cornwall had warned me about that mistake before, but don’t worry—I will not forget again.

While the idea didn’t quite catch on as desired, the experience provided invaluable insight into presenting new, challenging, and different concepts to individuals with drastically different educational foundations than my own. Now I’m in the process of making necessary changes to the presentation and overall framework of the savings group to make it more attractive, understandable, and useful based upon what Vielo community members and DV staff have expressed. While the initial idea only included frequent meetings to save money that the members would ideally be earning in their current jobs, now we are looking at incorporating a combination of job creation/diversification and infrastructure improvement opportunities in addition to savings. I’m having to go back to the drawing board and dig a deeper foundation than I initially anticipated, but I truly believe that something lasting and beyond the scope of my past knowledge is on the horizon. Just. Keep. Swimming. And don’t forget to look up and love the people around you along the way.

I’m increasingly thankful for the unpleasant initial ‘no’ to my savings groups…it is reinforcing the process of dying to myself and my ideas and causing me to press into the unending mercy and wisdom found in my Lord. Long and emotionally grueling story short, I’m having to lay my pride, research, and conclusions aside and listen closer to God’s leading and the voices of those I have come to work with. That self-work is becoming increasingly important these days.

 

I tried to sneak a picture of the chaotic beauty of a Haitian market

I tried to sneak a picture of the chaotic beauty of a Haitian market, a place where I’ve found some tasty foods and tough business women

“Peye nou malad”

Perhaps the most agitating ongoing situation in September has been the impossibility of planning and traveling outside of the Disciples’ Village campus/compound sporadically over the last few weeks due to protests turned demonstrations/manifestations that block the main route and transportation strikes that make it potentially dangerous to get out, all of which are in response to the president of Haiti’s proposed budget and tax increases. These demonstrations are keeping kids from school, hardworking people from their jobs, and me from meeting with people I desire to learn from and community members whose insight is essential to the forward movement of my project. In the words of our beloved grounds keeper Jean Claue, “peye nou malad,” or our country is sick. But thank the Lord for the internet that allows me to connect with people online and websites/articles with incredible information of those who have gone before me in microfinance and economic development work. I’m also indebted to our staff who keeps us informed, safe, and off of the streets when these things are going on. Thankfully there have been more clear days than those blocked, it just makes it a tad harder to plan.

Yes, Jean Claude, this country and world that we live in is sick, but in your other words uttered at the hurricanes, “Bondye pral ede nou,” God will indeed help us.

Our incredible grounds keeper, Jean Claude, helps me prepare blocks to make a rocket stove that burns fuel more efficiently

Our incredible grounds keeper, Jean Claude, helps me prepare blocks to make a rocket stove that burns fuel more efficiently

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jean Claude pouring into and loving on some sweet local little ones that pass by our campus daily

Jean Claude pouring into and loving on some sweet local little ones that pass by our campus daily

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m continually in awe and filled with gratitude that I’m getting to learn to live, love, and work in Haiti. September brought it’s fair share of storms, but after the wind and the rain comes a glorious horizon reminding me that there is beauty in every situation. No amount of words can express how thankful I am for each day and every person who has poured into and supported me. May God’s presence be as evident in your life as it is here in Haiti. Bondye beni nou, zanmi mwen yo.

 

 

A gift of 15 avocados- one of my fav foods- that I received one afternoon! The joys of living in Haiti during avocado season!

A gift of 15 avocados- one of my fav foods- that I received one afternoon! The joys of living in Haiti during avocado season!

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Foundations

Last week I tagged along on a trip up the mountain to Vielo where a parent meeting was scheduled before school starts the first week of September. The visit served several purposes for me, one being to talk to an awesome business woman who has established a little shop after the hardest part of the hike, the second to selfishly see and spend time with a community I have fallen in love with, and the third to sit in on some discussions regarding the school and village developments. The mid-day hike was a little toasty and more breath taking than usual but so worth it to see and learn from my friends. What stood out to me most was a conversation concerning the building of outdoor toilets for the school. After the hole had been dug progress had been halted for various reasons, and the Disciples’ Village staff and parents worked out a deal that if they provided the rocks to line the hole and build a firm foundation, we would come after them and supply the funds necessary for the blocks, cement, roof, etc. When later thinking about the agreement that was reached, I marveled at what that little building will represent. People who pass by in the future will only see a few rocks of the foundation and mainly notice the walls and roof. They will not see the hard work it took to carry the rocks up the mountain, only the finished product. It seems as though I’ve been carrying and placing rocks for the foundation for a while now, and I am elated to report that it is time to start raising up the boards for the framework!

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In other words, if July was the month for climbing then August has been a month of finding a nice spot to camp out for a while and build a sturdy foundation. The past few weeks have been filled with many highlights and several low points, a variety of challenges and struggles and lessons learned and things to think about, and many works in progress, pivotal decisions, and dreams of exciting times ahead! Step by step this framework for economic development is moving forward, and soon it will be time to start using this ‘building’!

 

 

Time. Is. Absolutely. Flying. Each day brings new discoveries and jewels of information, and sometimes I feel like the more I learn the less I know. August was an especially educational month where I got to pick the brains of several people currently putting their own spin on micro finance in Haiti. They shared with me their success, their struggles, and overall invaluable information that will help maneuver past some of the hard spots to inevitably arise on my assent up the mountain of economic development. Many opportunities also arose to visit and inquire about several job creation/non-monetary loan possibilities for our communities.  With my time at Belmont, the many people who have poured into me, seemingly endless HOURS of research online and on the ground in Haiti, and the grace of God as the cornerstones, August and it’s many adventures has one by one filled in the large stones needed to get the foundation ready to be built upon! While there are still a few weak spots and details that need to be filled in, September is ready for meetings to train future savings group leaders, pre-savings group meetings to prepare and inform future group members, preparations for job creation in our communities, and business lessons upon business lessons to a wide range of audiences!

Snorkeling near islands off the coast from our compound

Snorkeling near islands off the coast from our compound...a fun way to enjoy the beauty of Haiti and get a nice tan while you’re at it!

Here is a (not so) brief recap (compared to all that has happened over the last 31 days) of the (sometimes not-so) glorious times August held here in Haiti!

Highlights

  • Ending my 21st circle around the sun unbelievably in awe of the past year—senior year of college, life-changing coaching staff, deciding to move to Haiti post-grad, classes that challenged me more than ever before but prepared me for the ambiguity and out-of-the-box thinking necessary for life in Haiti, seeing the fruits of planting and watering many seeds of friendship over four years of college, the beautiful exchange of knowledge through new relationships, leadership and life lessons in abundance, more mistakes made than ever before but increasingly more aware of God’s unconditional love and grace, and the list of many sweet times can go on and on. 21 was fun, and I have high expectations for 22!
  • Exploring the natural beauty of Haiti via hiking and snorkeling and wishing others could and would do the same. I am far too aware of the desperate poverty that is all around me, but I greatly enjoy seeing the glorious potential the west side of Hispanola has to offer for those who look—this leads into a ‘pet peeve’ of mine: people saying ‘poor Haiti’, those ‘poor’ people, having this savior and ‘greater than’ complex about them. We are foreigners in this land. We are not Haiti’s savior—Jesus Christ is—and it is our responsibility as people seeking the best for others to invest and push Haiti forward in a way that respects and honors the natives, the culture, and the dignity of all we work with.
  • “Connecting” with others in microfinance and learning about how other people are bringing about economic development all over Haiti and picking up what I think will work for our villages
  • Experimenting with the fresh foods Haitian markets have to offer—lots of rice and beans, bananas, avocados, passion fruit juice, and PLANTAIN TACO SHELLS!!
  • My first of many fruit-bearing trees—a mango tree of my very own!
  • Becoming more conversational, hearing and understanding more Creole—leading to greater conversations with people I meet and seeing the beauty of someone light up as they tell you their story

 

My first mango tree!

My first mango tree!

 

Low Points

  • A crippling ignorance displayed when many locals believed what the radio said about radiation from the eclipse burning skin if exposed. The streets were bare on a trip into Port au Prince that day.
  • “Pran li! Pran li! Li pa gen fanmi. Pran li!” Or the cry “Take him! Take him! He doesn’t have family. Take him!” that met my ears in the market one day. I didn’t know whether to shake it off and laugh or to burst into tears. I’m still not sure this has been processed in my brain yet.
  • The stark reality that apart from the people of Haiti coming to know Christ, I think one of the last things the enemy wants is for the economic, political, and social tides to change and the potential of Haiti to be realized and capitalized upon on a large scale. This means that with every small step closer to economic development and advancement, the push back and challenges will become greater and harder to cross. Fortunately for me, I know that the almighty God who created the world and holds it in His hands is on my side fighting for the people of Haiti. There is no darkness that the light of Christ cannot illuminate, and there is no evil that God’s goodness cannot overcome. No swollen face will stop me, no anxious thoughts of doubt will keep me from pushing forward with the help and grace of God alone.

 

Challenges/Struggles

  • ­Minor yet annoying physical ailments like inexplicable rashes and an unattractive reaction to mosquito bites on my face—I can handle a lot of annoyances that pop up on my skin from time to time because well, Haiti, but something about my face being slightly distorted cuts to the core of my fear of my face never looking the same.
  • The realization that I was not returning to Belmont at the end of August—strange mixture of longing for the school and people I love, thankful for what my time at Belmont taught me, and looking forward to continuing to use the knowledge that was abundantly poured into me
  • Deciding on best action for the implementation of chicken coops in one of our villages—it’s a good thing I learned how to research, calculate, and forecast expenses and revenues in Entrepreneurial Financial Management and think through market ‘pain’, proof of concept, and operational plans in Venture Planning! My fellow Belmont entrepreneurship students will understand.
The passion fruit that soon became juice- a great addition to breakfast for dinner!

The passion fruit that soon became juice- a great addition to breakfast for dinner!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lessons Learned

  • Individual, institution, industry, infrastructure, and investment breakthrough—finally realizing the need for simultaneous advancement in all of these areas and how the progress of one can be hindered by the stagnant or declining state of another.
  • Cannot have a 4.0 in every area of life- a 4.0 in economic development means many relationships and potential experiences will suffer—I’m forever having to be reminded of this lesson.
  • It’s extremely difficult and seemingly silly to let go of “good” things in life when they are keeping you from what is “best” even though you might not see it yet
  • What goal setting looks like outside of the and arena of athletic and academic competition—planning on what I want to accomplish before the end of the year
  • Meetings with parents of DV school students—evident that they have no concept of saving money, preparing for future needs, etc.—CANNOT SAY NEED FOR SAVINGS GROUP ANY LOUDER
  • DO NOT ASSUME that people in Haiti will react the way you would react, think through things the way you would think, take initiative, etc.

 

Things to Think About

  • Talked to a friend who grew up in Haiti and had recently visited the Virgin Islands—this conversation got me thinking about the similarities and differences of the two Caribbean nations and wondering how the VI progressed the way it did, and how can that be replicated in Haiti? Maybe this has much to do with the initial ownership of the islands and the possibility of investments that have been made
  • Idea of non-monetary loans through physical and human capital investments—building bread oven and ‘loaning’ flour, making a way for sewing lessons and ‘loaning’ sewing machines and necessary supplies, working together to build chicken coops and ‘loaning’ chickens, feed, and coop—all to be repaid with profits made from new jobs. Ideally this could kill two birds with one stone, the necessary investments into economy and the jobs to put them into.
  • Have successful business people in Haiti come to lessons to share their knowledge, experiences, and overcoming of obstacles
A community bread oven that creates jobs through flour 'loans' to be repaid with profits earned

A community bread oven that creates jobs through flour ‘loans’ to be repaid with profits earned

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works in Progress

  • ­Preparing to teach basic business and finance lessons through DV adult education program
  • Teaching leadership and business lessons at Alex’s House for interested staff and kiddos
  • Analyzing the financial cost and impact of chicken coops in a partnering village, and thinking though a maintenance plan to ensure sustainability
  • Laying the foundation for Savings Groups in Vielo—talked with DV director, pastor, and principle in Vielo to get permission, outlined expectations and benefits, wrote out timeline of events, to begin recruiting members and training leaders in September to have this thing off the ground the first week of October
Thank you, Lord, for interpreters willing to sit with me for hours to translate savings group documents into Haitian Creole

Thank you, Lord, for interpreters willing to sit with me for hours to translate savings group documents into Haitian Creole

Whew! What a month! If you made it to the end of all of that craziness, thanks for sticking with it and I appreciate the time you took to read about what I have been learning and experiencing. None of this would be possible without the support of Lumos, the guidance of Bill, Steve and many others at Disciples’ Village, the many translators who are willing to work closely with my project, my extraordinary family and friends for encouraging the pursuit of my dreams, and above all the amazing grace and unconditional love of my unbelievably mighty God. No amount of thanks can do justice for what I feel for all who have walked with me this far. If this is a glimpse into what the next two years of my life will hold, I cannot wait to continue building upon the mountain of micro finance and enjoy the view along the way.

The beginning of the hike to Vielo.. this will become a familiar view in the coming months!

The beginning of the hike to Vielo.. this will become a familiar view in the coming months!

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N’ap Monte

 

 

 

 

“Bonjou!”

Good morning!

“Bonjou!”

Good morning!

“Koman ou ye?”

How are you?

“M’ byen! N’ap monte!”

I’m well! We’re climging!

“Wi! N’ap mounte!”

Yes! We’re climbing!

One thing I’ve learned in my time abroad is that Haitians will often state the obvious when trying to be friendly in passing conversations. The beginning of the month was filled with several hikes up to Disciples’ Village’s partnering village of Vielo to conduct the census of our stunning mountain village. Each hike consisted of dozens of encounters closely relating to the one above. At first I was confused as to why each individual we passed felt the need to remind us that we were climbing (and sometimes crawling), but then I grew to appreciate the reminder that as long as we were climbing we were doing okay. Being stagnant or falling down the mountain would be worrisome.

The beginnings of the hike to Vielo include walking along the aqueduct at the base of the mountain...a place of many greetings in passing and conversations while washing clothes.

The beginnings of the hike to Vielo include walking along the aqueduct at the base of the mountain...a place of many greetings in passing and conversations while washing clothes.

Developing a microfinance program is a lot like climbing a mountain. It’s energizing yet exhausting, glorious yet sweaty and dirty, breath-taking in many definitions of the word, and ambiguous yet filled with a few distinctive paths. Sometimes you have to stop and catch your breath mid-assent while other times you push through until an obvious stopping point is reached, and sometimes what you’re doing isn’t working and you have to climb back down a little ways to try a different path that will take you higher and closer to your goal. Similarly to looking up the face of a mountain and wondering how on earth we will reach the top, when talking to the leaders in our villages I often find myself struck with the magnitude of the need, the difficult circumstances, and seemingly impossibility of the task at hand. The specific needs for microfinance in our communities looks vastly different, and there are many paths to choose when climbing the mountain of microfinance—but what beauty there is to behold with every step!

A picture of some time spend with Ganaud- a house parent for Alex's House, translator who speaks 6 languages, an accounting graduate and former business professor-chatting about business in Haiti and what the people need to know to be successful.

A picture of some time spend with Ganaud- a house parent for Alex’s House, translator who speaks 6 languages, an accounting graduate and former business professor-chatting about business in Haiti and what the people need to know to be successful.

July was an exciting and insightful month here in Haiti! We finished the census of our final partnering villages at the beginning of the month, and I have begun to compile an analysis with recommendations from research and census findings of our partnering villages. Completing the censuses also brought about a lot of helpful information about job and financial opportunities in our partnering villages. In Trouforban there is a small variety of employment options and an abundance of unemployment. Vielo has an overwhelming majority of farmers and a few residents not working because they are too old. Each village has its own challenges, needs, and opportunities, and I look forward to continuing to build relationships with individuals in our communities while gearing up to start a combination of business training, potential micro loans, and savings opportunities as part of our microfinance offerings in the very near future!

Post work week patè! A fried shell with meat, vegetables, and some sauce inside served with pikliz- a spicy Haitian side that resembles slaw

Post work week patè! A fried shell with meat, vegetables, and some sauce inside served with pikliz- a spicy Haitian side that resembles slaw

Two of the teams I worked with at the end of the month spent a week in the village they are partnered with, and I had the joy of getting to build relationships with the children’s leaders in Trouforban (TFB) and some of the women in Dahl. They all provided helpful information to keep me walking towards what microfinance will look like for Disciples’ Village.  In TFB several children’s leaders own small businesses and offered insight on the size and terms of loans needed, shared their interest in business training and development, savings opportunities, etc, and several expressed their desire for a job and some skills they know or would be willing to learn. Dahl on the other hand has a bleak environment for jobs, especially for the women. Of the 12 individuals I talked to, many are willing to learn to sew/other skills and expressed that they could benefit from business training.

These lovely leaders and business people in Trouforban provided an abundance of pertinent information about savings and business in the area!

These lovely leaders and business people in Trouforban provided an abundance of pertinent information about savings and business in the area!

Perhaps the greatest advancement in July was getting to converse with people on the ground in Haiti who have been doing microfinance for several years and tagging along to a monthly meeting for their organization, Kodinasyon Fanm Endepandan Pou Avansman Lakay (KOFAEL). The experience taught me about the logistics and relational aspects of what makes microfinance successful here, including keys to necessary leadership, characteristics of participants, structure of monthly meeting, handling loan and repayment transactions, needed capital for loans, loan sizes, interest rates, and repayment schedules. It was exciting to observe all that I have researched in action, and I’m forever grateful to have met people who are willing to share their knowledge and have many experiences to be learned from. My greatest takeaway is that successful microfinance is often dependent on relationships, relationships, relationships…which was exciting to hear because relationship building is a large part of what I’ve been doing these past few months in our partnering villages! They are essential to the foundational trust and transactional nature of microfinance, and I’m fortunate to have some pretty cool and dedicated people to get to work with over the next few years.

The 'courtyard' of a home in Port au Price where a microfinance group meets once a month to share stories of business, encourage one another, and provide proof of loan repayment

The ‘courtyard’ of a home in Port au Price where a microfinance group meets once a month to share stories of business, encourage one another, and provide proof of loan repayment

The month of July also brought a new understanding of my ‘why’ for my time in Haiti. My softball coach at Belmont, Brian Levin, introduced to me and my teammates the saying, “If you know your ‘why’ you’ll find a way ‘how’”. And although my ‘why’ for life has been pretty evident for a while, a shift in focus from orphan care to orphan prevention—especially through economic development—has brought a burning desire to keep as many children in homes with good parents as possible in my work specific ‘why’. Haiti has an abundance of poverty orphans—children who have at least one living parent—who are in orphanages because their family loves them tremendously but cannot provide for their needs. It is my heart’s desire to see children reunited with their families and to live the way God designed for people to be raised, and it gives me chills to think of the possibilities and opportunities microfinance provides for mothers and fathers to care for their children. Now that I’ve narrowed in on my ‘why’, I trust that it will not be long until the ‘how’ shows itself if I keep seeking, keep building relationships, and keep trusting in our mighty God for guidance.

After speaking with a leader in Barboncourt about banking and business I snuck away to say hello to his daughter and one of my favorite little Haitian ladies...isn't she beautiful?!

After speaking with a leader in Barboncourt about banking and business I snuck away to say hello to his daughter and one of my favorite little Haitian ladies...isn’t she beautiful?!

Once again I end the month in awe of the opportunity, challenge, and excitement that presents itself in the task ahead. I’m thankful for answered prayers and new findings in the world of microfinance in Haiti, and I’m ever expectant for what will emerge in the coming weeks, months, and years with a combination of a little blood, lots of sweat, and a few tears covered by the grace of God.

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No Street Signs

This past weekend while roaming around Port au Price running errands, we (Bill- founder and President of Disciples’ Village, Jennifer- his sweet wife, and myself) got a little turned around when trying to get back to the main road from Papillion Enterprise. Bill was looking at the outdated and incorrect Google maps app on his phone, Jennifer was looking for familiar landmarks, and I was no help sitting in the back seat thinking that street signs and an accurate map would be extremely useful as this point in time. I was aimlessly looking around, completely uncertain of our location, and increasingly aware of the absence of street signs that we so desperately needed to guide us on our way. The lack of street signs telling us where we were, where we were heading, and a map indicating street by street where we needed to go increased the difficulty of the unknown and made getting to our destination rather difficult.

Our little 10 minute detour drove home a potent point relating to my situation in Haiti right now—there are no obvious street signs or map to guide me in how to develop this micro finance project, no official sign of where I’m at or where I’m going, and no step by step directions to tell me the best way to attain sustainable economic development in our partnering villages. While there is an abundance of research and past/current programs to be observed, no two villages and needs are the same. But what I do know is that I must keep driving, keep researching, keep talking to community members and leaders, keep finding my way and above all keep praying for direction, guidance, and clarity in this exciting adventure of a project.

The stunning view from outside a home of one family in Disciples' Village's partnering village of Trouforban. The ocean...the mountains...the people...it doesn't get much better than this!

The stunning view from outside a home of one family in Disciples’ Village’s partnering village of Trouforban. The ocean...the mountains...the people...it doesn’t get much better than this!

These past six weeks have felt like six days, and they have been filled with an abundance of growing experiences and insightful information about living in Haiti and the specific economic needs/current resources of Disciples’ Village’s partnering communities. With the help of several teams, some of my interns/associates and Haitian community members/leaders, we have collected a complete census of three of our four partnering villages and are halfway through the fourth community. The census allows Disciples’ Village to have an updated record of who is in our villages we partner with, what work they are doing, the education level of each family member, health needs, and living situations (house conditions, access to food/water, etc.) among other things. Through the census I have also been collecting information on families’ access to banks (savings, loans, etc.) in the area, how individuals are earning their income, what their business interests are (starting a business or investing in a current one), what challenges they face in starting a business in their village, and the physical, natural, and human capital of the area and families.

The school, meeting places, and church in Trouforban

The school, meeting places, and church in Trouforban

 

 

 

 

 

 

Participating in collecting the census has been beneficial in multiple areas of my project. This time has been spent getting to meet and build relationships with potential participants in Disciples’ Village’s up-and-coming micro finance program, hearing their stories while learning of their specific needs and what they are interested in. My understanding and speaking of Creole has also drastically improved through asking questions and listening to answers and only asking the translator for help on occasion or when the information is too important for me to translate incorrectly.

Most important to my project, the census is shifting my project and business model/plan from being assumption-based to being able to incorporate the real and difficult truths of the needs of our Haitian villages. While the research and planning I had done prior to moving to Haiti has been useful in knowing what to be looking for in our communities and has given a vague direction of what methods of economic development have been successful for developing countries in the past, nothing could have prepared me for the absolute lack of access to an economic infrastructure relating to banking systems and the absence of micro enterprises for micro loans to even be effective with the possibility of being repaid. Fortunately for me, “From Dependency to Dignity” by the Chalmers Center outlines what methods of economic development best aid the differing levels of poverty and this will help in knowing what direction to go in once the census of our fourth and final partnering village is completed.

The outdoor kitchen of a home overlooking the ocean. The kind owner of the kitchen reminded us of the need for jobs in her community.

The outdoor kitchen of a home overlooking the ocean. The kind owner of the kitchen reminded us of the need for jobs in her community.

Potentially the greatest challenge facing me right now is the drastic difference in the needs of each community. On one end of the spectrum we have one village consisting of farming jobs only 3-5 months out of the year with dirt and rock huts for shelter, and on the other end we have a village with many construction and masonry jobs where some residents have a car parked inside of a solid wall surrounding their multi-room, concrete home. All are in need of access to savings, loans, and business skill training but all are in different current income brackets and varying levels of foundational knowledge to get them on their way to a more stable economic position. In the words of Dr. Cornwall and Shawn Glinter, I can find myself trying to boil the ocean—or trying to pursue too many opportunities rather than focusing on one specific need of one level of poverty and developing a solution for it. The need is so vast and my time is so short in the grand scheme of things…I’m continually praying for God to provide a pillar of fire to lead me in the exact direction He would have me to go to make the greatest impact for the greatest number of people. People in each of our villages could use a variety or combination of savings and credit associations, micro loans, business development training, and job creation among other economic development opportunities.

The questions I’m faced with now are who will I choose to me my target market and customer? And what method of economic development most closely meets their needs that I’ve learned through the census?

In addition to gathering business and banking opportunity information from the census, I’ve had the chance to speak with several leaders and pastors in our partnering communities to get a feel for what they see as the needs and resources of their communities. It has been interesting to compare what they say to the information we’re getting from the families themselves. These leaders will be essential in the successful implementation of our micro finance program in our communities, and it has been a joy to get to know them and the people they serve.

One of the community leaders/pastor in our partnering village of Barboncourt. His smile is a light in the darkness of Haiti and I always look forward to visiting his village and enjoying the avocados, coconuts, and canips that grow there.

One of the community leaders/pastor in our partnering village of Barboncourt. His smile is a light in the darkness of Haiti and I always look forward to visiting his village and enjoying the avocados, coconuts, and canips that grow there.

The beginning of my time in Haiti has brought many joys and many challenges. With the help of Disciple’s Village leadership, each day I’m learning more about Haitian culture and the essentials for living and leading in Haiti. At times I have found myself frustrated with the difficulty of communicating with our Haitian staff due to the differing individualist/collectivist styles of speech, and I have learned enough Creole to know that our translators are not always correct—presenting difficulty when asking questions and receiving answers in our villages. It has also become evident that absolutely everything takes longer in Haiti, partly because of the many communication barriers and mainly due to random incidents that need to be resolved or that call for improvisation.

A sweet view leading to a sweeter conversation with a family living on the side of  a mountain in Viello.

A sweet view leading to a sweeter conversation with a family living on the side of a mountain in Viello.

Living in Haiti has also brought many fun adventures and neat learning experiences in addition to microfinance. Hiking has highlighted many weekends and brought (literally and figuratively) breath-taking views as well as precious time spent with many people in Haiti that I love and am learning from. My favorite hike to date began at 6:30 AM to avoid the market traffic on our way to census a mountain village called Viello. We watched the sun rise over the mountains and had the chance to greet the sweet people hiking down to the market to sell their produce. Not only did I get to enjoy the hike up the mountain, but the community members proved to be very entrepreneurial and eager to invest more into their businesses and farming. Several weeks back I also got to tag along on a trip to see and tour a medical and dental clinic down the road where many Haitians are getting the care they need while providing jobs and training for other Haitians. We got to see the behind-the-scenes storage rooms, peak into the dental clinic, walk through the workrooms where prosthetics are built, and step into a fully equipped operating room—bringing joy to see first hand that Haitians are being trained in a variety of medical fields and using their knowledge to help their people.

Climbing to Viello was highlighted by the sun gracefully rising over the mountains and the cool water to refresh our feet.

Climbing to Viello was highlighted by the sun gracefully rising over the mountains and the cool water to refresh our feet.

To quote Switchfoot, “This is home, now I’m finally where I belong.” The peace that fills my soul and the joy that flows from my heart in both the good and the bad are reminders that I am exactly where I need to be at this time of my life. The lessons I’ve learned about life, economic development, and learning/living/leading in a foreign culture will stay with me for decades to come. I’ve been brought to a spiritual, intellectual, and cultural place of weakness, and that is where I know that Christ’s grace and power will be made perfect in and through me (2 Corinthians 12:9). Each day brings new situations requiring wisdom, clarity, and boldness far beyond what I currently possess, and I am being stretched and grown more than ever. I cannot wait to see what will become of this next month, six months, and two years, and I am ecstatic to continue driving on and creating my own map in the land of micro finance in Haiti.

 

A post-census snuggle with one of the cutest babies in Trouforban. One of the best parts of completing the census is building relationships with the loving families!

A post-census snuggle with one of the cutest babies in Trouforban. One of the best parts of completing the census is building relationships with the loving families!

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Hello from Haiti

Bonswa tout moun! Good afternoon everyone!

What an exciting past 10 days in the beautiful country of Haiti it has been! My first successful bartering experience in Creole went down, in which I acquired four avocados and four limes for 120 Haitian gourdes (just under 2 USD)...although a week later I’m still trying to figure out if that is a good price or not for a wannabe local. I have also figured out (with a little help) how to turn my Haitian phone into a hotspot! Thank the Lord for the small victories in my time here so far.

A few of my bartering prizes

A few of my bartering prizes

And even more exciting to report, this past week I spent four days with a team in two local partnering communities updating Disciples’ Village’s census of the area while getting to ask financial/economic questions and building relationships with the sweet people. The financial findings were eye opening and highly informative for my microfinance project. The census helped bring to light the people’s banking, saving, and borrowing activities or greater lack thereof.

The two villages were drastically different—one consisting of subsistence melon farmers living in meager stick and mud shelters with the other located within a high concentration of plantain farms and concrete blocking activities accompanied by more stable housing structures. While I am not sure if my project will focus on either of these two communities, I am learning a great deal about what questions to ask and how to phrase them to get the most pertinent information. In my continued research, I have also learned of more specific questions that I need to be asking with a greater focus on the need for loans and savings options rather than just their savings and borrowing history. In addition to the field experience I gained this week, in the mornings—while sipping fantastic Haitian coffee—I have been reading From Dependence to Dignity (Fikkert and Mask, 2015) and my eyes are being opened to the good, the bad, and what could be better through microfinance and savings and credit associations around the world. I hope to report more on the gems found in this book upon its completion.

This trail led to several of the families' houses...lots of rough terrain but the relationships and beauty were worth it!

This trail led to several of the families’ houses...lots of rough terrain but the relationships and beauty were worth it!

The time spent in the communities has also been helpful in progressing my Creole! While I can usually talk to most children and teenagers with ease, conducting the census greatly helped with my communication amongst the adult population and the vocabulary that they use. I am so thankful for our translators and the community members who patiently work with me in my quest to become fluent. It will be easier and more beneficial for my project in the future if I can communicate with the Haitians myself and know exactly what is being said in the verbal transaction. Not only will it save precious time in the villages, but I believe it will build a greater trust and bond necessary for acceptance and inclusion for this blanc (although my skin is darkening with each passing day!) in the villages.

On a more personal note, I have had a blast getting to see my beloved Haitian friends who have become family and am enjoying the ‘perks’ of living in a Caribbean state. Getting to run early in the mornings while the sun is rising over the mountains is an experience like no other, and the breath-taking ocean and mountain ridges that continually surround us provide a sense of peace and awe in the presence of our Creator’s works of art. Fresh guacamole with Haitian-grown avocado and lime has been a highlight of my dining experiences, and the ocean’s salt water is the perfect frizz-free gel replacement for my curly hair. While the terrain can be difficult to navigate and the sun may be oppressive from time to time, I’m enjoying the many adjustments of this international move and am highly expectant for what will become of my microfinance project!

The sunrise over the mountains after a challenging morning run

The sunrise over the mountains after a challenging morning run! Such beauty to behold! 

View of Port-au-Prince from the air

Touchdown in 24

In roughly 24 hours my plane will be landing in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. What?!

It feels like just a few weeks ago I joyfully (and slightly naively) agreed to oversee the development and implementation of Disciples’ Village’s microfinance initiative in August/September…there is no way it is time to leave already! While I cannot fathom where the time has gone, my final year at Belmont has been a compilation of the most glorious, challenging, and growing experiences and times of my life thus far. I left Belmont full of more awareness, friendships, love and gratitude than I can express in words and with a deep appreciation for the lives, wisdom, and beauty all around me.

Specifically pertaining to my microfinance project, door after door has been blown open these past few months and I have had the honor and joy of meeting SO MANY PEOPLE who have graciously taken the time to invest in me, in my project, and to offer their expertise and support in any and all of my endeavors in Haiti. I had no idea how many people in the Belmont family were connected to Haiti and microfinance in some way and am forever grateful for the community of support that has surrounded me. While I am potentially becoming more aware of what I have yet to learn than actually learning about intercultural microfinance and Haitian culture, the amount of Belmont faculty and administration, Lumos Travel Award affiliates, athletic department administration, Belmont Softball program members, friends, and family who have offered the continuation of their assistance is truly remarkable. I greatly look forward to getting in the Haitian communities and putting the hundreds of hours of research, information, and advise to work!

These last few weeks have been an absolute whirlwind of final projects, graduation activities, softball conference tournament, many see-you-laters, and Haiti preparation. The variety and severity of emotions experienced is inexpressible, but I have never felt such peace, joy, gratitude and excitement (with a little terror mixed in every now and then) than I do right now about what is to come with microfinance in Haiti.

Fortunately for me, sass translates well in Haitian Creole. Here's a snapshot of the gorgeous hike to Viello.

Fortunately for me, sass translates well in Haitian Creole. Here’s a snapshot of the gorgeous hike to Viello.

Signing off from the USA and N’ap pale pita nan Ayiti (We’ll talk later in Haiti)!

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Hey there, Haiti!

In August of 2013 I was fresh of the plane from a short term trip to Haiti and ready to conquer the world, knowing of my desire to work internationally but clueless to what that would look like. In fact, I wasn’t really sure about this whole college thing but softball and my parents had me attending Belmont anyways. From the first moment I stepped on campus and heard a faculty member speak about Belmont leading students to find where their passions and the world’s needs meet, I had peace that this was where I was supposed to be for the next four years. Fast forward through declaring a Social Entrepreneurship major, many late nights in the library, an abundance of good times with beautiful souls, two summers in Haiti, countless hours spent on the softball field, and a lifetime of precious and transformative memories, the time has come for me to move beyond Belmont and into an exciting yet unknown world.

A sneak peak of the (literally) breathtaking walk/hike up to the community of Viello

A sneak peak of the (literally) breathtaking walk/hike up to the community of Viello

In a few short weeks, I will step off a plane in Port-au-Prince, Haiti and into two years of developing and starting a microfinance ministry for an organization transitioning from orphan care to orphan prevention in the rural villages of Haiti. While some moments I’m blindsided with sheer terror about what I’ve signed up for, I find peace in knowing that God is with me and has been using my time at Belmont to prepare me for the joy and challenges that lie ahead. At Belmont I’ve gotten to learn from some of the greatest entrepreneurship professors in the country about successfully researching, planning, starting, and operating a business; I’ve learned how to navigate and appreciate cross-cultural communication, world religions, and political climates; and most importantly, I’ve been poured into by some of the most beautiful and loving people to walk the face of the earth. Belmont’s preparation plus a little Haitian coffee plus an abundance of God’s amazing grace equals an exciting lifelong adventure that I cannot wait to begin upon, starting very soon with microfinance in Haiti!