Shersty Stanton
Shersty Stanton
Haiti 2017 - 2019
Byenveni! Welcome! Join me on a journey to the rural villages of Haiti to use microfinance and business leader training 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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Voices

“Every moment crowded with choices; Speak to me and drown out the voices.”

This past week I was recounting to a dear friend a few conversations I had participated in earlier in the day regarding suggestions for my future. The variety of options expressed stand in stark juxtaposition, and I was trying to convey my confusion and appreciation for the loving consideration behind those who know me and care enough to provide their input when my friend said,

“Those options are all great, but what is your inner voice telling you to do?”

Oh my. That question made me see that I have allowed a plethora of voices to clutter my mental space as of late. I’m grateful for friends who call me out of my head when things start spinning. Some voices have been invited and welcomed to stay while others were unsolicited and lingered for far too long. Among the many voices lie great encouragements and observations that cut deep. Indeed, often I have let the voices of others take the place of my own and that of the Spirit. While having many wise advisors is often a blessing in life, sometimes I can let it become a curse when I take their suggestions as truth and act upon it.

Throughout November I had ample time to intake many voices but I did not do a good job of sorting and processing them all. I spent 27 ½ of the eleventh month’s 30 days in the United States attempting to rest, exploring and thinking out next steps in Haiti, looking ahead and timidly planning what’s after Lumos, spending time with loved ones, meeting with many people who have influenced my life to some significant degree in the past five years, and overall returning to Haiti exhausted and confused with more outside sources’ opinions regarding me, my work, and my life than I know what to do with. Not once did I take the time to sit down and quiet my mind and soul to listen to where the voice within is telling me to go.

However, in the few days I’ve been back in Haiti, I’ve taken some time to quiet down with good coffee, my thoughts, and God’s Word and process what I’ve been learning and what’s going on both in and outside of myself. This morning after listening to Switchfoot’s new “Voices”, something clicked with the title and the lyric quoted above. My mind began racing with ideas on how to process the many voices in my head and the global importance of listening and championing the voices of the oppressed all over the world. Beginning with the voices of my beloved Haitians and co-laborers in life and extending to many around the world whose voices are not heard and do not have the resources, energy, or platform to fight for the right to have their opinions considered.

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Most of November was spent out of the country largely because the Haitian population’s voices are often not listened to by their government or the international community, and again and again the only way their voices are heard is through manifestations ranging from peaceful marches in the street to all out chaos and violence with burning tires barricading the national highways—and only way home from the airport—and fear seizing the population. Large manifestations have been planned sporadically over the last few month, with the ones for November rumored to be especially violent.

These specific manifestations are regarding the population’s anger over the former administration’s squandering of PetroCaribe money—in short, Venezuela’s agreement with several local developing countries to gift or subsidize oil with the profits intended to go towards the building of necessary infrastructure and educational facilities in Haiti. The money is gone and there are no promised schools or roads or hospitals in sight. Other manifestations are not uncommon, and it appears to be Haiti’s more brutal form of lobbying.

Rumors of these manifestations bring about great unrest among the population, and it appears the local gangs are taking advantage of this fear and inciting more terror and violence, demanding large sums of money from local businesses and schools and families and threatening to destroy stores and kidnap school children if the money is not paid. In the past few weeks they have started burning down the houses of some rural people who did not comply. The worst part about this madness is that it’s not isolated to Haiti—this is likely a common occurrence happening all over the under-developed world.

While these events are startling and unnerving, I have such peace knowing that our God’s sovereign hand is holding me and our Haitian staff is continuing to go above and beyond to keep me informed and safe. These manifestations are raising up a voice in my spirit that I did not know I held within, one that wants to shout from the rooftops until justice is enacted and peace covers the nation. Lives are being lost, families are too fearful to send their kiddos to school, and businesses are closing their doors—all counterintuitive to the growth and development of a nation. The current predicament of Haiti’s HOT HOT HOT social, political, and financial climates continues to keep me moving forward into a career path of bridging the gap between those deciding on and enacting policy and regulations and those who it is effecting on the ground.

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When thinking about my potential future roles in government or business or ministry, I think of using the positions I will hold by the grace of God to allow the formerly voiceless to be heard and have a lasting say in the discussions about policy and regulations regarding their country. I dream of standing with someone as they use their voice instead of using their opinions and feelings shared in secret to speak for them, and of providing platforms for ideas and dreams to be shared and problems to be solved, not saying you are weak and I am strong— therefore let me speak for you.

I want to fight for the equality of opportunity over the impossibility of equality of outcome—recognizing that we all possess beautifully unique gifts, talents, skills, and capacities each needed by the world. We were not all made to fit into the same mold or to hold ourselves to the same standards of achievement. Each of us are to pursue our callings with excellence, and with different callings come different thresholds for success. I want to work towards collaboration over compromise, and to create a world where each person’s voice is heard as we take the lessons from our past experiences to pivot towards total human flourishing.

While I read back and see the idealism, I also do not want to lose hope in God who has proven himself to be faithful time and time again through the largest downfalls of the human race. Apart from an extreme heart change towards love, hope, kindness, justice, and regard for the sanctity of human life, I don’t see the corruption of the world going away anytime soon. But what I do see are the bright-eyed kiddos and future leaders right in front of me, and a generation willing to do what it takes to take their nation back.

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“Every moment crowded with choices; Speak to me and drown out the voices.”

I want to spend this next month and year working to continue to find my voice and to make a way for others to be heard. While I am young and naïve and seemingly powerless in the face of the corruption that surrounds us, each day I get to observe and speak with Haiti’s future and I could not be more excited or expectant for what is to come.

 

I want the world to know that I climbed that mountain off the top right of the engine thing

I want the world to know that I climbed that mountain off the top right of the engine thing

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Showing Up

Jean Robert, Benita, and their sweet kiddos have become quite dear to me. Not for any specific work purposes or attachments, but because they have genuinely welcomed me into their lives with no strings attached. When I enter their makeshift gate I’m no longer a ‘blan’ or white person and pocket book, but rather a long lost sister and an aunt figure to the little ones. Our roots together run deep, as three of Jean Robert’s boys with another woman have been in the care of Disciples’ Village’s children’s home for about six years now—something that I didn’t connect until quite some time into our friendship.

Matide, the youngest little lady of Benita and Jean Robert for another month until a new baby is born, was the first infant I was brave enough to hold and she stole my heart within about 5 seconds. She shows me the joy that children bring and the instinctive fight mothers feel to protect and provide for their own. I’ve talked about she and her family before, but these past few weeks their situation has taught me the importance of showing up and what it feels like to hurt with someone in their pain.

I was driving away from our chicken coop one day when I passed Jean Robert near the entrance and place of most commerce in Trouforban. After the usual greetings, including “Kijan fanmi’w ye?” or “How’s your family?” he shared that Matide was sick. Everyone is sick with fevers and coughs this time of year as the weather changes and the rains come, however, I am learning how devastating sickness can be for those in dire financial circumstances. The next day I went to check in with this family for the first time in a little while and found the usually sassy and feisty Matide hot, lethargic, and laying in the dust inhaling smoke from the fire that the beans were cooking over.

The anger that welled up within me as I walked into the pieced together lean to and saw her laying in the filth is something I have never felt before. I learned that her medicine had run out with no money or time to replace it, and she had stopped eating a few days prior. Something inside me broke that day, something that screams that this is not right. This transcends all corruption and political divides and religious beliefs and opinions of proper aid. This made the reality of poverty and the numbing statistics real and personal. No one should EVER have to lay their feverish child on the dirt and pray the sickness subsides. And Matide and her family are nowhere near alone in this injustice of poverty that is occurring all over the world.

I’m thankful that I decided to show up when I did, and after some medicine, a visit to the clinic, and a few days Matide’s fever went away and she returned to her sassy self. We have continued playing and talking on rock phones during my visits, and I have found a new depth of fight in me and the resolve to keep showing up until the desperate situations Matide and her family often find themselves in are no more.

A conversation during another visit a few days ago revealed that the rains we hope and pray for had washed away this family’s entire crop and main source of income for the year. I pray they are able to find work and the opportunity for commerce soon, as Benita is expecting another child in the next month and there are many mouths to feed. But regardless of the predicament they currently find themselves in, they always welcome me into their home with joy and laughter and big smiles, the kiddos are diligent to sit on trash piles and study for their exams, the parents persevere through this normal devastation, and my framework of what causes joy and fulfillment continues to shift.

I’m learning that matter how slow or difficult or uncontrollable situations may be, I must continually make the choice to show up day after day with joy and resolve to not stop until things fundamentally change. Matide’s sickness and the power of just showing up—allowing the proper medicine to be found and administered—were a small victory of October, but how many times in my life and work have I not shown up for friends and loved ones? How many times have I let my selfish desires or concern of being uncomfortable keep me from showing up? How often have I let my work get in the way of stopping to love the people placed right in front of me?

I want to admit that in October I let fear and doubt and fatigue keep me from showing up on a handful of occasions. Either I let fear of the unknown and uncertainty keep me where I can control most of my encounters, or I did decide to show up physically but not mentally and emotionally.

This month I’m challenging myself to push through the selfishness and discomfort, and to heed the voice within prompting me to show up wherever I may be. November is going to look drastically different that I had hoped and planned for reasons that I’ll explain later. But the call and necessity to show up for my brothers and sisters remains the same. It is for families like Matide’s that I want to spend my life disrupting systems and showing up for until the rain no longer washes away a sole income source and medicine/basic health care is accessible in sickness. It is families like these that job creation and properly implemented microfinance are created for, and I look forward to the day where financial services can provide some stability to their otherwise volatile situations.

To this day, almost every single morning I wake up in awe and in utter disbelief that I get to work and learn with Disciples’ Village alongside my brothers and sisters in Haiti. Now getting to watch the sun rise over the mountains and the ocean may help with this excitement…but the priceless and timeless relationships I’ve had the honor of being welcomed into are what have made my time in Haiti and will continue to do so for many years to come. Each month keeps getting sweeter, and October was full of many joyful moments in work and in relationship.

On the flipside, there are some mornings where I dread getting up because I’m tired and uncertain of the day ahead. Road blocks pop up, translators don’t show, my perfectly planned conversations get mixed up in cultural and language barriers on my end, and some days are plain tiring even though so little got checked off of the to do list. Fears and doubts of my purpose and productivity creep into my head and I spend more time in an inner dialogue than chatting with the people around me.

Life on the island is not as glorious as I pretend it to be sometimes, and that is truly the most beautiful part about the whole thing. The struggles make the glorious moments more magnificent, and I’m thankful for a heavy dose of both in the past 31 days…

(Updated 11/12)

Highlights

  • Seeing washable diapers in the hands of some loved ladies from Barboncourt after a while of planning and working out logistics to get these diapers from a social enterprise in Cap Haitian!
  • Visiting co operatives started by Eben Ezer’s credit unions—brick making businesses, boutiques (selling foods and household items) of all sizes, a plant nursery, and on and on!! Overall just getting to witness the end result of YEARS of laboring for these coop credit unions. It will be worth the wait, folks.
  • Visiting a newly started credit union and learning of their success and set backs. They started with 50 members and now boasts 300 a year later!
  • I was asked to be a godmother for a sweet little two month old whose aunt and uncle work with Disciples’ Village to build buildings and clean up the guest house.
  • Sharing a tasty meal with a dear family and learning more about their lives growing up. It is always an honor when someone invites me into their home to break bread and enjoy each other’s company—my limited Kreyol and all. The best part about meals is all of the people who stop by to check in and chat over the course of a few hours.
  • Scuba diving for the first time!! Not a lot of life in the reefs due to overfishing, but neat to ‘breathe’ under water none the less.
  • Literally chilling out in an air conditioned room and cool pool at a guest house in Port au Prince. The other guests staying there at the same time work with an organization with a HUGE piece of the broiler/layer industries in Haiti, providing jobs and eggs/chicken to school throughout Haiti. We were able to trouble shoot and share what we’ve learned and experienced.

Simple Joys

  • Sweet coffee provided by a sweeter Madame Cecile after I brought her paycheck by her home. It was a nice time enjoyed with many local people who stop by to fill their cups each morning before heading out for the day’s businesses
  • More Kreyol = enjoying more inside jokes with staff and family
  • Holding a precious piglet—so tiny and so cute!!
  • Getting to hang out with fellow Haiti Lumos traveler, Olivia Hosey, while waiting for a meeting in her new home city!
  • Purchasing several trees for our campus grounds—avocado, lime, grapefruit, cherry, guava, and abrigo. I went for the avocado and lime and came out with more that I had bargained for!!
  • Meeting a fellow Belmont alum who came with DV for a week who went to school with Betty Wiseman! What a joyful time learning about her experiences.
  • Finally finishing the book “To Fool the Rain” about one man’s experiences with Haiti’s largest microfinance institution, Fonkoze.
  • I had the honor of speaking about orphan prevention/family reunification through job creation and microfinance to our monthly pastors training with 40-50 pastors and leaders that we work with in our region. It was exciting to share the simple steps they can take to start lifting themselves out of poverty.
  • Spending sweet time with Benita, Matide, and family…watching Matide come back to life while recovering from her sickness.
  • Walking/jet ski pulling Bill’s boat back to the marina after some trash caused the engine to overheat…a nice bonding experience with those on board.
  • A new water filtration system was installed in one of our partnering villages! The leaders of this community have been saying a filter is needed for years, and I’m happy for the clean water and a job that were created through this project!
  • Meeting one of my guardian angels on the side of the road when a belt broke in my car on the way to Gonaïves. What a day! I’m forever thankful and dependent on my beloved Haitians’ unbelievable generosity and willingness to help.
  • Getting to watch the sun rise over the ocean to reveal the island off the coast near our home and the southern peninsula of Haiti. Every morning I sit and stare in awe of the wonder and majesty of creation.
  • Several staff dinners where we were able to step away from crazy life as usual and enjoy time together as a family
  • Overcoming my fear of holding 1 month old babies and getting to sit with Ganaud’s newest joy as she slept for an hour.
  • Getting to do my first transaction at a Haitian bank!
  • Continuing to work on my hair braiding skills with our little Alex’s House ladies.
  • Spending the night with some fellow young expats!! It soothes the soul to share our burdens and encourage each other in our different yet similar situations and work.
  • Rooftop chats with people blocking in a water tank
  • Saying a few ‘see ya soon’s to dear friends and enjoying time together

Hard Things

  • One of my youngest sewing classmates quietly asked me one day if she and her brother and sisters could come stay in our children’s home. I didn’t know how to respond and quickly mumbled something about her younger siblings needing her to be strong. What do I know about strength? This was heartbreaking, especially as I learned more about who she belongs to as the month went along.
  • Two major car trouble situations that resulted in several hours spent on the side of the road getting them fixed. I cannot speak highly enough of our DV and AH staff for always helping me out and looking out for me!
  • Having to gather information and make travel decisions based on reports of turf wars and blocked roads. I’m learning the balance of God-given wisdom to stay in and God-given boldness to go when times are tense.
  • Two earthquakes at the beginning of the month in the northern part of the island—a 5.9 and 5.2 magnitude. Several lives were lost, many were injured, a few buildings fell down, and fear swelled at the remembrance of the 2010 earthquake that killed around 250-300,000 people and displaced more than a million.
  • Contemplating when Jesus promises that God will provide for His children more so than the sparrows and asking, “Well, what about Haiti?” Still sitting on that one, and still reorienting my standards of what is necessary for needs to be met.
  • Challenging discussions about what is our role as sponsors and foreigners in the lives of our Alex House kiddos regarding material gifts.
  • Early morning chats about what has Haiti created or invented? Is it possible in an environment where you only have the resources and energy to react to the deficits all around?
  • Some issues communicating with translators = another wake up call that I must continue working towards complete fluency in Creole.
  • Making the tough decisions for navigating the upcoming manifestations and protesting in November.
  • So much fear, doubt, and deceit revealed itself in my heart this month.
  • Learning of dear friends incomes washing away when the rains ruined their gardens

Eben Ezer Update

Through various meetings and emails throughout the month, I have enjoyed picking the brain of the president/founder of Eben Ezer and visiting a few small business cooperatives they have started. At their core, Eben Ezer’s model can provide financial services such as savings, credit, and business training to the huge majority of Haiti’s population who do not qualify for banks for various reasons. The cooperatives help people work and provide capital for the credit unions to invest in other businesses. The best part is that this is completely Haitian led by committees, and Eben Ezer provides the framework and continued training to support communities in pulling their resources together to lift themselves out of poverty.

Business Leader Training

This month’s business leader trainings included sharing the idea of the cooperative/credit union to gage interest for our communities and brainstorming ideas of businesses that could be successful in our respective villages. We will also begin to work through financial forecasting for these various business ideas, calculating the startup costs as well as the projected revenues and expenses. Not only is it fun to learn about these ideas and business principles by dreaming of what businesses could be successful in our communities, but ideally these plans could one day come to fruition through the cooperative/credit union model.

Sassy Eggs Chicken Coop

Our chicken coop celebrated one year of operation on October 14th, and our sassy ladies must have celebrated by producing fewer eggs per day. We’re working to change certain things in their environment and intake to find the culprit, but some have predicted it was due to the cooler weather from so much rain at the beginning of October. Who would have thought that cool weather could ever be a problem here??

Wow. October was the longest, hardest yet most joyful month of my life. From challenges spring mercies and a grateful heart! Until next time, zanmi’m yo.

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Threads

A few Septembers ago, I had the honor of sitting down with Betty Wiseman and interviewing her for a third-year writing profile. She had retired the year before I attended Belmont but her name continued to be mentioned frequently throughout the athletic department. She had taught, led, served, coached, and administered at Belmont for 47 years before retiring, and she continues to invest in and take Belmont’s student athletes all over the world on sports ministry/evangelism trips. I knew I just had to meet her and I finally had a reason to!

What started as a single interview has grown into a life-long friendship with Betty, and I carry her wisdom and teachings with me every day. She talks of divine appointments, seizing each day, looking for God’s fingerprints daily, and focusing on WHO is next instead of WHAT is next. But it is the idea of God weaving the tapestry of our lives with different threads that I have been reminded of the most as of late. It is rare to get a glimpse of the greater work of art in the making of the tapestry, but we must be faithful in following as God is faithful in weaving each thread even when we don’t see how it will fit to make something lovely.

September has been filled with many threads, both figuratively and literally, and while I don’t always understand each of their purposes at the time, I hope for the day when they fit together to reveal something labored over and truly beautiful because of it. This month I began attending an embroidery class taught locally, and I’m seeing how threads come in different colors and can be made into many different stitches. Some stitches are more challenging than others and some come more naturally. Some build on past stitches while others are completely new. Sometimes you mess up the stitch and must start all over again or cut part of the thread out. But most importantly, you can have the best thread and fabric and needles and picture of what you want to create in your head, but you must have someone to teach you to use those things and to correct your work along the way. Sewing has so many life lessons and applications attached to it!

Here’s a look at a few threads being woven together in the past month:

Sea Change

This past year and especially this past month have been a ‘sea change’ of sorts, as discussed by Shauna Niequist in her book “Present Over Perfect,” where she says, “The word sea-change is from Shakespeare, from The Tempest: a man is thrown into the sea, and under the water he is transformed from what he was into something entirely new, something ‘rich and strange.’”

There’s no hiding that at times I feel like I’ve thrown myself into the waters of Haiti, struggling to swim and propel myself forward more often that not. I’m forever learning to shed the weights of what I thought would work for microfinance in our partnering communities, realizing I had no clue or a good, practical framework all along. The steps towards my end goal were always a little blurry, but these new waters are providing some much needed clarity.

Small strokes. Culture. Language. Relationships. Questions. Trust. Pray. Forgive and be forgiven. Do life with people. How can I ever know what people truly want to better their lives if I haven’t walked a day in their shoes?

I’ve also had to pick off a few dead scales of what made me successful in the past to make room for new skin for this challenging work. This has not been easy or pleasant, and there are plenty more that need to be removed. I’m seeing how my task-oriented, ‘planner’ way of living just isn’t going to work here no matter how hard I try. My desire for independence isn’t going to fly either—I need the people around me for daily life more than I ever knew could be possible. Cars break down, water and chicken feed are heavy, and in the heat of difficult situations my Kreyol just doesn’t work sometimes. Men anpil, chay pa lou...a lot of hands make the load light.

And with this sea change, a new type of boat has become necessary to traverse the waters. In reading “One Thousand Wells” this past month, I came across the motor boat verses sailboat analogy. Motor boats are great if you want to go fast and you want to go alone. You are in complete control of the boat’s direction and can keep putting gas in the engine. They are results driven. Sailboats, however, are at the mercy of the wind to set the pace and often require a team of people working as one to get the job done. Sometimes the boat doesn’t move at all no matter how hard you will for the wind to come, and other times you need to change direction or make adjustments to find the wind that catches the sail. Sailboats are more process driven. Both have the same end goal of the shore in mind, they just have drastically different methods of getting there.

I pulled off the dock to Haiti with a motor boat mentality, and it didn’t take long for me to sink in the Caribbean waters. I’m learning to love manning a sailboat and enjoying the journey and company along the way. It requires a different skill set and mind set than what I set sail with, but when I dock at the port I will know all along it was always more about the journey than the destination.

“In other words, before you try to conquer something as big as a mountain, you have to change (Jena Lee Nardella).” You must learn to acclimate to the climate, build the right muscle, and recruit the right traveling partners before making it to wherever you’re going. And change we must, and I’m really starting to like these new waters.

Here I Raise My Ebenezer

In the midst of reading stories of engaging local communities for global change, I had the honor of meeting with the president of Eben Ezer Mission, Pastor Michel, a few days ago. In the last 50 years he has built many things in his community from the desolate ground up—including the first well, private university, and secondary school in his area—but what caught my attention was his community led model of credit unions and co-ops, purposed to completely engage the community members to invest their own money into local businesses while providing access to financial services that are available to few people in Haiti. It almost seems too good to be true. I’ve only just begun to learn about this model, but I look forward to visiting some of their credit unions in person in the next few weeks and seeing if this is something we can make happen in our partnering communities. This could be the answer to cleanly establishing micro finance as separate from Disciples’ Village’s foreign mission status…an effective way to engage communities to jumpstart economic change from the inside out.

Friendship

This month I read that when making a friend, it is often not the person themselves that we are drawn to but some thread(s) that we have in common. For instance, I became fast friends with my teammates in college because we had softball in common, or now I’m drawn to people who have similar interests in economic development and global entrepreneurship. This gave me much peace when analyzing why I’ve lost the ‘spark’ of friendship with some people who I was close to in college and why others have stayed the same. Some of our common threads have disappeared while others have remained unchanged.

This has also proven to be invaluable in forming bonds with people I work with in Haiti. Once they see we have the common thread of Kreyol, we dive into conversations about our families, what work we do, what we like to eat, and so on. This has helped to bridge the divide that my skin color can often create, and I’ve been able to identify and pull on many common threads this past month, whether that be learning to sew or learning to cook traditional Haitian meals. The sweetest of times and conversations in September have come over cutting up vegetables with old friends or sitting attentively while my new friends show me how to correct incorrect stitches.

Business Leader Meetings

Our first meeting included breaking bread—or legume and sous pwa nwa—together and was a happy time for all! I got a look into the daily lives of Haitian women and learned to make another dish with the lovely Madame Pastor from Trouforban, the leaders enjoyed the food, and we got to chat about business and God’s faithfulness in our lives with full bellies and joy-filled hearts. We are still working together to think through ideas of what business markets need in each of our villages. Is it micro loans? Better business practices? Better management? Wholesale or retailer? Each village is beautifully different.

Sewing

This past month I began attending a sewing class down the road at Bettie’s with some young gals from the Kaliko area. It has been a joy to learn and laugh and be corrected by them. Sewing is teaching me lots about patience and focus while working quickly with giggling girls all around. My mother’s age old “haste makes waste” has proven true time and time again! I look forward to continuing to embroider and have the chance to invest in the little lives of some local kiddos. We have started doing brief business and English lessons to go along with the embroidery! I have also begun looking around for treadle machines and sewing ‘bosses’ to teach sewing lessons as a job creation project. “Sew” exciting!

ZiZi Ze Poulaye, Sassy Egg Chicken Coop

Our coop experienced a little trouble selling eggs in the middle of the month, so we spent some time trouble-shooting with our seller and came up with some ideas that were slow moving to sell the eggs but got the job done. On the upside, now that school is back in session, we have started selling eggs to the Trouforban kitchen to boil for the kiddos every Friday with their spaghetti! Smiles all around for good nutrition and steady egg sales!

“Make and Take” Day

Before our Alex’s House kiddos headed to school this month, a few of the house parents and I took our older gals to Gonaïves to participate in a “make and take” lesson at 2nd Story Goods—the supplier of our journals and a few other beautiful items at the souvenir store! Our gals, house mamas, and Frantz chose between learning to sew, make jewelry, paint, or craft metal art! They all created beautiful pieces and enjoyed learning new skills. This day has sparked a desire in several ladies to continue working on their trade or to start on another one day. I look forward to finding more opportunities for our AH kiddos to learn new skills and discover their gifts, as we have some wonderfully creative and talented future leaders!!

Lately Haiti is redefining a few words that I grew up numb to, such as grace, faithfulness, goodness, and mercy. September has been an extraordinary month of learning and growing for all of us here, and I look forward to see what threads will be sewn in October!

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Kob! Kob!

“Kob! Kob!” yelled the little lady who always demands for something every time she sees me. Sometimes it’s an emphatic request for food, other times my clothes or accessories like my watch and sunglasses. Sometimes she skips the demands and goes straight to hurling insults like “You’re cheap! You’re stingy! You’re greedy!”…“Ou visye!” when I don’t hand over what she wants. And other days we have the normal surface level niceties, exchanging “Bonswa, koman ou ye?” with my Kreyol “I’m fine, and you?”

But this time “Kob! Kob!” or “Money! Money!” came from her mouth as I drove by, rolling my window down to say hi as I braced for whatever comeback might be thrown this time. Taken aback by this new request, I chuckled under my breath and thought to myself, “Hmm, isn’t that interesting… She’s gone from asking for singular goods to requesting the trading note that can purchase whatever she wants.”

Isn’t it intriguing how conversations and thought processes can evolve over time and with age? This gal has figured out at a young age that money can buy whatever she wants now or in the future, rather than asking for the specific item she currently views as available for the taking.

But can money really buy her true, lasting joy and satisfaction??? That is the question I’ve been asking myself these days. Can a one time, guilt-driven hand out give her the dignity and confidence that she will need to survive tomorrow when the money is spent and the food is gone? I don’t believe it will.

What is it that I’m truly working towards?? Quantifiable “aid”/assistance and economic growth or difficult-to-measure relationships that will last a lifetime? Is it feasible to accomplish both in the short term (2-3 year) picture? These are the million dollar questions that often leave my spirit unsettled and keep me up at night.

I think the answers are yes, yes, and yes…but I’m learning that it takes a whole lotta relationship before the measurable growth. I think so much of my time has been spent putting the cart before the horse, and I’m learning to take a few steps back to see the beauty in each person I get to work with and the story that has brought them to where they are today. It is truly an honor to work with so many resilient folks and to learn from their scarred but marvelous works-of-art lives. These people know how to make a lot of life happen with very little, and I believe they have some knowledge that the world of blind consumerism can learn a lot from.

Switching gears a little bit…I became another year older in August, and I was beyond tired of the abundance of stuff that I own around the time people usually start asking what you want for your birthday. Now don’t get me wrong, I often go through phases of wanting to purge everything in my life and quickly stop once I come to and realize that there is no store down the road if I ever need these items again while in Haiti. The stuff remains and I’ll come around to another purging rage on another day.

But back to the present question. The more I thought about what I wanted for my birthday the more I realized that I’ve come to long for things that money cannot buy… time, quality, deep friendships, truly sharing life with people, good conversations, etc. Maybe a coffee date with my younger sister. A run through downtown Nashville in the crisp fall air. A night spent with my parents watching moves in their library while snuggled under blankets. Time and laughs with dear friends who too are busy chasing their dreams and subsequently thousands of miles and worlds away like I have found myself while chasing mine.

While these things do require money—I don’t think coffee shops or airlines will start taking soul-filled conversations as payment anytime soon—in the end, no amount of money can buy what many people truly want in life. And that puts much of my work in Haiti into perspective. Maybe I’ve been looking at my work a little wonky all along. Maybe instead of seeing what the nationals don’t have physically, I should look for the deep relationships and love they have an abundance of already and go from there.

Now this type of work will be a fine balance, as I don’t want those that I love and work with to suffer from lack of food, shelter, water, clothing, schooling, and other things that require money. But in teaching different mindsets towards thinking and preparing for success and the future, I think it is imperative to not teach the love of money and to chase after the American dream that often ends up not being a dream at all, but yet another form of enslavement that can lead to living a mediocre and unfulfilling life.

Back to the young gal I was talking about before…I have a feeling I’m not the only one she asks for money and things, and I haven’t a clue if her requests are ever met. What I do know, however, is that they come from a place of desperation that I will never know or truly be able to understand given my natural born position of advantage on the economic playing field. I fear that I am offering neither what she wants (money) or what I think she needs (a loving friendship) at this time, and that is something I must makes moves to change. I’m learning that relationship has to come before the assistance. It’s not a ‘hand up’ instead of a ‘hand out’ if I don’t know the story behind the name and face or the situations behind the needs. Economic development is a two way street, and exchange of knowledge and collaboration for a better future.

Next time the trivial insults come, I’m challenging myself to do the uncomfortable task of inviting my most vocal little enemy inside the wall that ‘protects’ our campus for some cool water and a snack, and maybe as we get to know each other a little better I’ll begin to have more grace and compassion and she’ll understand the reasoning behind my denial of her requests. Maybe it will take the dirty work of building a relationship first before we can get to the root cause of her needs and ultimately work together to try and alleviate some of them. Maybe, just maybe, we CAN use money to work in both of our favors…but it will take some time to search for the proper investments before lasting change can begin.

August was a joy-filled month brimming with potential for opportunity. During our meetings with business leaders, we are working towards viewing business and community problems from many angles and perspectives to come up with the best and most holistic solutions, while also learning to manage our products, customers, money, business, and selves to the best of our abilities. I also facilitated a meeting between one of my business leaders who is an agricultural mechanic among many other trades and a young man from Georgia who studied ag education. It was a beautiful scenario to witness two similar but starkly different worlds colliding as knowledge was shared. In the end a conclusion was drawn that has no simple solution—Haiti needs more access to water, especially for crops that form the backbone of its market economy. Shortly after this meeting came possibly the greatest and most thoughtful tangible gift I’ve ever received—45 avocados in my trunk from the avocado tree I check on every time I visit Barboncourt. While receiving was fun, I almost enjoyed sharing them with several families even more.

It was also a pleasure to get to introduce my sister to the many little ones I cherish knowing in Disciples’ Village’s partnering communities. She got to meet a few that I quickly bonded with years ago and some that I’ve crossed paths with here recently. These are the little ladies and young gentlemen that we work for. We labor now to build a brighter future for each one of them. They are the ones that will rise to lead their beautiful nation into its glorious potential, and now Sydney can say that she knows them!! How cool! We also hiked up to a water(less) fall and enjoyed the beauty of a different side of Haiti together. All in all, I had a blast showing Syd around the places and people I love calling home as she shadowed my work for the week. She left Haiti filled to the brim with new foods, new experiences, and new friends, and I look forward to the day she gets to return once again!

In August I also had the opportunity to begin learning to sew and had a DV partnering church come along side me to support whatever efforts I deem necessary to teach others in Haiti this valuable, money-making skill. I look forward to furthering my knowledge of this craft and to see where this opportunity could go for many I work with who have expressed interest in learning the trade. This is something I’ve been interested in for about a year now, and I’m thankful ideas and dreams are slowly starting to come to fruition! Who knows, maybe this time next year we will have a whole cohort making school uniforms for the kiddos heading back to school! One can hope.

Quite possibly the greatest thing to happen in August was the rekindling of a friendship that began on my first trip to Haiti a little less than 6 years ago. Mrs. Bettie has been a missionary in Haiti for over 40 years now, and we stayed in the guesthouse she helps run before DV’s grounds were up and running right down the road. She was back and forth from the US for medical reasons for a few years, and now she has returned to Haiti to live out the remainder of her days on this earth. I am oh so thankful! She is a wealth of wisdom and knowledge and beautiful stories. Mrs. Bettie has the greatest advise on how she has been able to remain in Haiti for so long, and that is a genuine and consuming love for the people. As she says, “If you don’t have love, go home!” It has been an honor to get to sit at her feet once again, and I look forward to the many conversations we will share over banana bread and coffee in the future.

This life that I get to live and the work I have the honor of participating in continue to blow my mind. God’s faithfulness is overwhelming and His grace continues to push me forward despite my many inadequacies. I’m so thankful for the many sweet moments that came in August, and I am expectant for the fruit that will come forth in September. Until next month, friends!

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Snap Shots

What a whirlwind these last few weeks have been. The most eclectic of memories combine to form the sweetest and most unknown moments of my time in Haiti so far. All I can do is look back at the assortment of snap shots—both photographed and undocumented—and marvel at the utter beauty of every situation no matter how precarious or vague it may have seemed at the time. I wish I could write a grand narrative that would encompass all that July has meant to me, and maybe one day I will look back on these days and see how what I learned and stumbled upon and fumbled through worked together to change the trajectory of my work in Haiti and future life. So for now my words haven’t come yet, but what I can share are some snap shots of the most precious of memories.

Gonaïves

At the beginning of July, we took a day trip to Gonaïves to hike Bienac mountain and spend some time with the artisans at 2nd Story Goods learning and practicing their craft. We conquered the most difficult mountain I’ve ever hiked, chills ran through my body as we heard the entire city roar after Brazil scored during the World Cup, I enjoyed catching up with the founder/director of the company and being in the presence of her great wisdom, I discovered a hidden talent for sewing with a trundle machine and learned that designing clothing is not a strength of mine—no major shocker with that one.

I treasure the moments from that day with Disciples’ Village’s summer interns, fellow DV staff, new and old friends. How beautiful it is to get to walk through life with people who share the same fire to see Haiti rise to her full potential.

4th of July

The saga of the Tracker I get to drive continued on the fourth of July. After a few days of strange noises escaping the front of the vehicle, an important belt snapped as I turned off the road for a business leader training meeting. That day was filled with situations I could not control, and I had the opportunity to exercise patience and quieting my heart and spirit when all I wanted to do was scream. Today the belt is fixed after two weeks of miscommunication with the local mechanic, and I am equipped with more knowledge on how to navigate unfavorable situations in the various forms that they arise.

Dhal Marriages

The DV summer interns and I had the honor of singing at the shared wedding of five couples in one of our partnering communities. I’ve had the joy of getting to know at least one person in each couple over the past year, and I cried many happy tears during the beautiful service! Weddings seem to be expensive no matter where you live, and it was neat to see the community and families rally together to make this day special. This is the second time I’ve gotten to sing at a wedding in Haiti, so maybe you can catch me at a wedding near you sometime in the future if my popularity continues to grow and cross borders. I’ll just have to change my going rate from Haitian gourdes into US dollars…

N’ap Boule. We are burning.

On the streets of Haiti it is common to hear the exchange, “Sak pase?” “N’ap boule!” meaning “What’s happening?” “We’re burning,” with ‘we’re burning’ being equivalent to “I’m fine” or “I’m good.” It’s a cute shirt design and many expats cite it as their favorite Kreyol expression.

Unfortunately, this past month ‘we are burning’ became a literal representation of the tires on roads all over Haiti and many businesses in the capital of Port au Prince. Myself and the rest living on the Disciples’ Village campus remained safe in our rural location, but we grieve for the continual symptoms that bubble up from the root problems of government corruption and other uncertain international interests.

We pray for leaders to rise up and lead this nation into prosperity, and I believe that a life spent working towards justice and peace in Haiti is a life well lived. The few days of protesting and demonstrations and road blocks caused some uncertainty for future progress, but I have this hope that in my lifetime I will see just leaders and businesses and trade thrive and continue to push this country forward even on the most uncertain of days.

Fortunately, we used the unexpected down time from laying low for a couple of days at beach and on the ocean with our Alex’s House kiddos and catching up on some rest. Some of my greatest moments of insight came during these days through reading books that I have not made time to read during the busyness of the summer. It was during this time that I was asked, “What if we weren’t afraid anymore?” that shook me to my core. I also began to see the value to loving people right where we are at…with no elaborate plans or grand vision involved, just pure and simple and life-transforming love.

Dwelling Places

After college I fell into the trap of thinking that in order to enact real and lasting change, I had to become one with the elite in order to influence their decisions and make things happen to better the tough situations we find people in all around the world. That means going to the schools they go to, finding myself running in the circles they run in, attending the events, doing the networking, and on and on it goes. While I believe receiving the best education I can and seeking out people with similar interests is important to furthering my vision and fulfilling the desires I have for my life, this past month I was challenged to reevaluate with whom I need to be focusing on building relationships with in Haiti and beyond.

While I want to be acquainted with and love all people, many inputs into my life (books, scripture, conversations, observations, etc.) have been nudging me towards a different way of living than that of the elite. I ultimately had to ask myself, “With whom did Jesus spend most of his time?” If history and many world religions report that Jesus was arguably one of the most influential people to ever walk this earth, then I need to be studying how he loved and led those around him and adapt what I find to my own life. Isaiah 57:15 says,

For thus says the high and exalted One who lives forever, whose name is Holy, ‘I dwell on a high and holy place, and also with the contrite and lowly of spirit in order to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite’ (New American Standard Bible).

If Jesus—whom I believe to be the King of Kings—spent his time with the lowly and the forgotten, then so must I. If he dined with sinners and those cast out by society, then so will I. While I will continue to work with the business leaders in our partnering communities to develop ideas towards microfinance and job creation, I also want to begin focusing more on building relationships with the families that have captured my heart. I want to learn more about their victories and their struggles, to watch their children grow and to hear of their dreams, and maybe one day I will have the honor of cheering them on as they raise themselves out of poverty with the help of a little love and properly placed investments along the way.

Chicken Feed

This was an interesting month for feeding the chickens. The road blocks made it difficult to get feed to the coop, and the price increases with the feed we’ve been buying has become too expensive to continue purchasing from our current supplier. In all honesty, in the middle of the month I was almost ready to sell our layers for meat and be done with the thing. My goodness I was so frustrated.

Where had my problem-solving spirit gone? Why was I willing to give up so easily? While this was a minor situation that I got over (by the grace of God we still have all 50 layers), it was a much needed wake up call to reevaluate my thoughts and how I handle frustrations. I’m thankful that after a little digging and reaching out to some chicken-raising friends in Haiti, I was able to find another feed supplier for a price that will work with our revenues and other costs.

Market-ing

This past month I’ve spent more time in the kitchen with our cooks learning the ins and outs of Haitian womanhood and authentic cooking. Wow—I have so much to learn! In the past few months I’ve enjoyed going to the markets more and more and building relationships with the sweet machan yo (sellers) there while getting fresh fruits and vegetable to eat! It has been so special to become a student in the kitchen and to observe how much time and love goes into the foods we eat.

Our cooks are fierce women who love and work hard from sun up to sun down and go home and do the same. The more I observe Haitian women cooking, cleaning, making money, mother-ing, and getting stuff done despite the abundance of obstacles they face, the more I want to spend my life championing them.

I’ve also come across some interesting finds in the market lately, from live crabs and shrimp to massive puffer fish looking things to lalo and lots of gorgeous avocados and grapefruit and pineapples in between. I’ve grown to look past the chaos and cat calls and other things the market represents for a foreign woman and have fallen in love with all it represents—local people earning a living and providing sustenance with Haiti-grown goods and smiles and sass thrown in.

Old Friends

Meeting hundreds of families while completing a census of DV’s partnering communities last summer has been a highlight of my time in Haiti and has launched many great relationships with those we were in contact with. While we learned many peoples’ names and saw many faces, a few stood out from the rest, including my dear Benita and her spunky little baby girl Matid.

A trip to visit another friend of a friend again led me to their house, and I fell in love with this sweet family once more. Matid is now a year and a half and is the star of the show! She draws the attention of the entire household to herself with her silly dance moves, taking on fake phones, and strong willed attempts to defy changing clothes. Her momma has become a dear sister that I enjoy chatting with, and I love that I’m able to go sit in her home and talk as old friends.

In her modest lean-to my skin tone doesn’t matter, and the perception of my wealth fades away. It has been the sweetest experience to reconnect with this family and I look forward to many more shared chats together. The more time I spend there the more I see the power of loving one person at a time and I learn the beauty of being still and enjoying friendships for a while. So often I can get caught up in what I came to Haiti to “do,” but now I’m seeing who I came to Haiti to “be”—a friend, an encourager, a sister in Christ, and a lover of business and what it can accomplish in peoples’ lives.

SAS*2

MY LITTLE SISTER CAME TO HAITI!! I haven’t been this happy in a long time! It has been surreal to watch my two worlds collide, and for Syd to put faces to the names I’ve talk about non-stop for many years now. My cup overflows.

A single avocado from a 6 year old--the sweetest gift!

A single avocado from a 6 year old–the sweetest gift!

July was possibly the craziest yet most peaceful month I’ve had in a long time. Lots of time for reflection (thanks to the protesting) mixed with frazzled attempts to get everything done between road blocks, a busy ending to the summer, and lots of friends/family walking through our doors. It was a sweet and sour month indeed, and I’m so very thankful for the snap shots that provided clarity and breaths of fresh air along the way.

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Cycles

This morning before church I was warmly greeted by two sweet four years olds that I have had the pleasure of watching grow up these past few years. We have gone through quite a cycle of their opinions of me, beginning with them being snuggly infants who enjoyed spending time together, then becoming shy two years olds scared of my foreign white skin and blonde hair, and now at three and four they have both come around again and have become two of my best little friends in that community. It makes my heart sing to see sweet Esther in her bright green school uniform and Mr. Shadrack assisting his grandmother in the chicken coop each time I’m in Trouforban for work. Both of their families are impacted by our Zizi Ze Poulaye (Sassy Eggs Chicken Coop), so fortunately for me I get to see them often. Oh, how I love them so!

And oh how I look forward to them and their tiny peers growing up with food in their bellies and knowledge in their brains and eventually becoming the movers and shakers of their community and influencing the world around them. I have a feeling that they will be the generation to break the cycle and chains of poverty in their families, and Haiti will continue to move forward and flourish under their leadership. What an honor it will be to get to witness their personal growth and consequently the growth of a nation.

The idea of the variety of cycles in life and in my work has been on my mind for the past month, specifically what actions need to be taken to break said cycles. Unfortunately, I often come up with more questions than answers, but that’s what these few years in Haiti are about—learning to interrupt and eventually break the cycles that keep people from living out their dreams and God-given potential. A few cycles that have been on my mind lately include…

The cycle of poverty that traps people into only thinking one moment or one day at a time without the luxury or necessity of planning and preparing for the future. The “I can’t prepare for tomorrow because it won’t come if I don’t meet my needs today,” which is totally understandable considering some people’s living conditions.

The debt cycles sometimes seen in microfinance, leaving people borrowing more money with higher interest rates to pay back their first loans and leading to bankruptcy or worse depending on the laws of the land.

The enslaving cycle of Vodou and the sacrifices it demands, telling its participants that they can leave if they just surrender money or an animal one more time and then again and again and again. Not to mention the deadly ignorance the people are kept in by those who financially benefit from these sacrifices, making sure their minds are clouded and impeding their judgment to make sound decisions to better their future. In my time in Haiti I’ve learned of many people dying and many businesses going under because a Vodou priest/priestess convinced them to submit to their authority (and pay them) for healing and to sabotage other businesses instead of going to trained doctors for medicine or working harder to beat the competition.

The water cycle (or often the lack there of in Haiti), and the cycle of desertification, “the process by which fertile land becomes desert, typically as a result of drought, deforestation, or inappropriate agriculture (New Oxford American Dictionary).” No trees equals no roots to hold fertile soil into place and no transpiration from the plants to put water vapor back into the air to form clouds and bring rain again, making the task of re-growing forests rather daunting.

 

These cycles often leave my head spinning, but I keep praying and hoping that each day I’ll take the right steps to tilt them ever so slightly. And before we know it, a few years and decades will go by and the cycles that were once dampening will be no more and new, life-giving cycles will be rotating future generations in a different orbit.

But for now, life keeps going on, the battle is still being fought, and hallelujah God’s grace and mercies are new every morning!

Wow...what an eventful and joy-filled and fast month June was! Looking back at the beginning of the month and all that happened feels like a year ago and yesterday all at the same time! Time–slow down! I’m forever grateful for the good and the bad and everything in between that each day brings. I wish I had the time and umph to write in detail about everything that I’m learning and experiencing, but for now here’s a snapshot of the many happenings of June!

Business Leader Training

  • Timely attendance for the meetings! A HUGE step!
  • In June we discussed the cycles of business as related to the cycle of trees, both needing fertile grounds/markets, deep roots/purpose, the proper nutrients/investments, good fruit/products, and appealing flowers/marketing.
  • We have a core group of business leaders representing 3 of our 4 partnering villages who are consistently attending, and they continue to attentively interact, provide great feedback on ideas, and some are even taking what we discuss back to their communities to share what we’re learning!
  • We began doing Ten Minute Essays (thanks for the idea, Kathy Brooks of 2nd Story Goods!) to have the leaders think and dream about what could become of their beloved communities in the decades to come and the investments needed to make their dreams come true! It has been so great to hear their different perspectives and learn more about the needs and their ideas of fixing them along the way. 

Zizi Ze Poulaye

  • The task of buying 500 lbs of feed to prepare for our new layers!
  • We were finally able to pick up 30 additional layers for the coop halfway through June! Mesi Jezi! The new chickens integrated into their new environment well, and all are producing many eggs for the egg sellers of Trouforban to purchase! It was quite the experience to deliver and tag the new layers at dusk. Difficult but fun with my coworkers!
  • We’re going to have to adjust egg pricing to accommodate for an increase in food prices. I’m praying this is well received and goes smoothly!
  • I had the honor of buying some eggs from one of the local sellers (Esther’s momma!) whose family is especially dear to me! I love eggs and I love supporting families through local businesses (especially ones that I oversee ;).
  • It has also been exciting to watch our “chicken Grandma” take ownership for the coop and love our dear egg-producing ladies! She cares for them so well and the love her so! One day I popped in to check on the new chickens and found her sitting with her “madame yo” (ladies) with one in her lap enjoying the afternoon breeze. So beautiful. 

AH Businesses

  • The new inventory (salsa and soaps made from Haiti grown ingredients) is selling well at our souvenir store! This is helpful in directing what products our job creation efforts might create one day!
  • Our little store is doing quite nicely with theses summer mission teams!! Good for us and for the job creation it is supporting from business throughout the country!
  • We had some issues with our drink coolers, so a week was spent trying to freeze ice or buying it to keep the drinks cold…something so small yet so aggravating! Praise the Lord DV’s field director fixed the problem!
  • There was also a bottled drink shortage that had us searching all over for drinks to buy. We had some fun and made some new relationships along the way!

Job Creation Ideas

  • A library, solar oven/stove, and selling filtered water for one community
  • Goat’s milk products
  • Teaching people to sew—the human capital and supplies needed are coming together! 

Challenging Times

  • The stressors that come with large teams serving with DV and staying at our guesthouse. While I don’t directly work with the teams, when we’re over max capacity it’s all hands on deck! Thankfully I’ve learned from past experiences of exhaustion from trying to do my job and help with teams and handled it a tad better than the last times. Progress, however small, is progress!
  • A trying late night difficult situation had me going back and forth from furious to asking forgiveness to furious and on and on. I’m learning to guard my attitude and expressed anger when I get tired.
  • In my fatigue I carelessly sliced part of one of my toenails off trying to move metal to prepare our coop run for more chickens. Consequently, I missed some spots patching up the chicken wire and I had to chase rogue chickens—hilarious but quite difficult!!
  • My roommate for the past 10 months left to return to her life in the US…a very sad time but I’m thankful for time with her this past year and I look forward to her bright future ahead of her!

Simple Joys

  • Polishing the nails of the women in one of our partnering villages after church one morning. So sweet and fun to be able to spend time with them in this way! Clear polished and manicured nails are kind of a status thing here in Haiti. The GLOWED when showing off their fresh hands!
  • Trying Pain Patat—a traditional Haitian dessert similar to bread pudding with sweet potatoes and ginger—for the first time after wanting it for YEARS! It was delightful!
  • I’ve found my go to watermelon and French melon lady who gives me BOMB melons at a fantastic price!
  • Driving through the beauty of the mountains and the ocean. Life is more vibrant and alive from the driver’s seat!
  • One day I went to the local market looking for extra coffee mugs for our large team and came out with a coconut, several avocados, and a “mamit” of coffee instead—one item from each person I asked for directions about who was selling mugs! Ha! My search for cups for coffee was misunderstood as me looking for the coffee grounds themselves. I’ll look up the exact words in creole next time, but I got to meet some sweet ladies along the way!
  • The team effort to (unsuccessfully) catch our rapidly multiplying cats to get them vaccinated! The end result was several cut hands, no contained cats, and an abundance of laughter!
  • Finding the MOST BEAUTIFUL beach/mountain cove about 15 minutes away from our house. No pictures—too in awe of the sights to even think about taking pics
  • Finding, purchasing, and eating some starfruit! So fun!
  • My counters and sink are installed after a few weeks without! Mesi Jezi! I’ve never been so happy and excited to do the dishes before!

Learning Moments

  • The car I get to drive is finally back and drivable!!! We’ve had our fair share of problems since it’s return, but I’m learning the art of regular maintenance and I’m ever so thankful for some wheels to get my work done more independently!
  • My mutually exclusive nature of living in Haiti and working in Haiti. I cannot seem to successfully do both at the same time! Depending on the day, I can either do the work part well and efficiently or I can do the cooking/cleaning/managing the house well in a timely fashion but never both at the same time. I’m hoping managing both well will come in due time.
  • Loved ones are starting to move away from Nashville and others are making big moves in their career! I’m learning that while I still love the city itself, my attachment is more to the people.
  • Fresh Eyes…driving at the base of the mountains and staring in awe as if it was the first time. I hope each day fills me with awe and wonder and gratitude as if I’m experiencing God’s goodness, grace, mercy, love, and faithfulness for the first time. On second thought, those things become more precious as time passes and as He continues to prove Himself faithful, good, and just. The importance of approaching problems and situations and possibilities with fresh eyes and a renewed mind.
  • Childlike faith… What I’ve let one year in Haiti take from me, when it should be the first thing I developed. Too afraid to take risks because I’ve seen and witnessed and been at the center of failed outcomes. I haven’t prayed bold prayers IN FAITH. I haven’t dreamed and then gone to work to make it happen IN FAITH. I’ve been passive in a world that requires quiet aggression and pursuit. Thankfully today is a new day to make some changes in how I view and tackle my work here in Haiti!

Wow. I’m in awe of June. What a month! July, you’ve got some big shoes to fill but you’re off to a great start. N’ap pale pita! (We’ll talk later!)

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Wonder

Wonder and wondering have been on my mind these last few days.

The 23rd of May marked one year since hopping off the plane in Haiti to work, and it was the first time that I stopped and wondered why it was that I moved here in the first place. Yeah, yeah… I came here to develop a microfinance program for Disciples’ Village after years of dreaming of moving to Haiti upon graduating from college. But how on earth did I ever conclude that living and working in Haiti was the next few threads that God wanted to weave into the tapestry of my life? Why was transitioning from interning in the summers to working on the ground full-time seemingly the next step? Why has it taken me this long to stop and simply wonder?

There is no question or doubt in my mind that where I am in life is exactly where I am meant to now be, but I am beginning to wonder in anticipation for how these few years in Haiti will fit into the grander narratives of the Pearl of the Caribbean and my existence. I believe that all my days were known by the Creator before I lived my very first one over 22 years ago, and I am confident that He is working all things together for my good and for the good of Haiti—regardless of the individual days causing for some wonder. After all, in the words of Switchfoot, “…yeah, without wonder, how could life ever be wonderful (Begin Forever)?”

I also want this second year to be one where I never lose my wonder. Throughout this past year, the sights and sounds and pain and suffering have caused me to grow callus at times. It makes my heart hurt to admit that I have grown accustomed to brushing off the recurrent requests for money or food or gifts or my accessories. Instead of using the discomfort to fuel the flame that burns within to restore dignity to people wasting away in poverty, I often keep silently walking along the rocky path that leads me back to what I know to be comfortable.

The beauty of this island is something that I always want to leave me in wonder. Just this morning, I was in route to a meeting when I began to stare in awe of the way the bright white clouds hung over the tips of the mountains. I cannot count how many times I have driven down that road on a sunny day, and I am thankful that after all this time the stunning view keeps my eyes glued to the scenery that causes me to sit in silence and wonder.

As I sit and wonder about all that I have learned and witnessed and felt in this past year, my brain goes quiet and my words slow to a standstill (like Haitian road traffic much of the time;). All I can feel is utter gratitude and joy deep in my soul. In the year ahead, I hope to make sense of this wonder and to continue to grow and feel and taste and see and work to create opportunities for my Haitian brothers and sisters to sit back and wonder about the meaning and purpose and vision for their own lives.

May we never lose our wonder.

The tale of two Birkenstocks...one fresh out of the box and another having walked hundreds of miles all around Haiti. Oh the stories those shoes could tell!

The tale of two Birkenstocks...one fresh out of the box and another having walked hundreds of miles around Haiti. Oh the stories those shoes can and will tell!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

May was a fast yet long month filled with an abundance of learning and stretching opportunities, some moments that left me taken aback with a lack of words, and time to share what I have experienced in my host country with people I love from my home country. I took some time to sit still at night with no music and hear the ocean and babies crying in the fishing village not far from our campus. I learned to charge drill batteries before needlessly unscrewing a bolt by hand to remove a door frame. I decided that I wanted to start living with fresh eyes for the things around me. And I am beginning to see my past and present selfishness magnified in the trials of everyday life and decisions in Haiti. Above all, my gratitude for God’s overwhelming grace increases with each passing day.

Here are some highlight of the month of May:

Simple Joys

  • Avocados are BACK!!
  • Great coffee and air conditioning finds
  • Grapefruit season—I have rediscovered my love for sitting down and peeling a grapefruit for 30-60 minutes depending on the company
  • Knowing enough Creole to understand and participate in jokes

Zizi Ze Poulaye

  • The addition of nesting eggs to encourage our layers to lay their eggs in the nesting boxes—special thanks to my lovely college roommate for sending them back to Haiti with me!
  • The purchase of 30 more layers to be picked up in June!! This will more than double our egg production!
  • The biggest win of the month, the first conversation with my coop employee where we both understood each other’s Creole fully! Mesi Jezi!

Alex’s House Business Development

  • Addition of soaps in the souvenir store to test run sales for a potential future soap business!
  • Ordering and finding out the day of pick up that the company didn’t have the most popular soap varieties—quite disappointing!
  • Looking to order and sell Haiti-made salsa and Pikliz (spicy Haitian slaw eaten with most meals) that support job creation with Haitian ingredients
  • We began tracking our inventory and sales of each drink more closely to predict future sales trends
  • Some of the staff at Alex’s House opened up a fish pond to test possibilities for job creation in the fish industry–I’m anxious to learn from this operation!

Business Leader Training

  • Meeting at the beginning of the month to learn about and discuss how thriving families and businesses benefit us all and how we can support the growth of local businesses and individuals. Good competition is healthy and necessary for a well-functioning economy!
  • An individual meeting with a local agricultural technician to discuss possibilities to increase efficiency and production for DV’s farming communities. It seems as though each day–and this meeting in particular–I learn something that blows some false perception of mine out of the water!

Unfavorable Situations

  • My main hope of transportation is currently out of operation, and the mechanic that we trust to fix it is currently in the US. Mezanmi! That along with a striking country-wide insurance agency and drivers’ license office has opportunities for transportation scarce with licenses and car insurance expiring right and left.
  • A walk to remember—a few days ago I was walking solo to catch up with the AH kiddos on the beach when I came across two unpleasant situations that I am still unsure of how to handle. One was a young lady who responded to the culturally expected greetings with “I’m hungry.” After stumbling over what I wanted to say in Creole without indicating that I would give her something, I decided that I would not let people know that I can communicate with them for the rest of my walk. I exchanged a simple “good morning” with the next group I encountered, only to be met with the Creole equivalency of “Foreigner, give me your backpack.” And as I kept walking trying not to engage and make the situation more challenging, “You can’t hear me? Okay keep walking!” Note to self, always hang up your laundry in time to walk with the group!
  • After purchasing the chickens and walking to the car, I was shocked to hear the words “Give me one dolla” come out of the mouth of a man who had just been in the same room purchasing hundreds if not thousands of dollars of chickens with me! He continued with, “You’re not going to give me money?” NO! I’m still perplexed as to why he asked me that. I guess it’s just another symptom of the many fractures and broken relationships between people who have been given free things and money by foreigners for hundreds of years and people who are foreign but here to work towards sustainable economic change—change that WILL NOT involve handouts.

“Sometimes I wonder… (Fetty Wap, I Wonder)” if I’m dreaming or really getting to live out my current desires for this life. I cannot wait to see the wonder that this next month and year in Haiti will bring!

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Ansanm N’ap Fleri

Together we flourish.

At the beginning of the year I was caught up in the phrase I first saw on a school bus turned public transport: together we move forward. After all, Haiti cries for advancement and progress requires us to work together to move forward. It wasn’t until I visited a bakery/pizza place creating sustainable jobs a few weeks ago that I realized the overall insufficiency of that phrase for the work I would like to do in the coming years. The social enterprise goes by “Fleri” and at the bottom of the menu it states “Ansanm N’ap Fleri,” or together we flourish.

While eating my delightful bbq chicken pizza with local mango salsa and reading the tagline at the bottom of the menu, it hit me that I am so over mediocrity. I am tired of just trying to move forward. It is exhausting just fighting to get through today. Where is the hope in that? The people of Haiti deserve so much more than my average attempts to gingerly keep stepping in the right direction. It’s going to take bold and difficult destruction of broken systems to build back sustainable change in Haiti, and it is going to take decades of pushing to not merely move forward but to flourish. This process of relearning and creating must be done together, an extended coalition of disciplines from the local government to the foreign NGOs and everything in between.

Now don’t get me wrong, some days moving forward one step is all I can muster and it is a win compared to the days I feel like I have taken a few steps back. In quickly approaching the completion of my first year in Haiti, I see that it has taken that long to establish a new semi-normal and to even begin to ‘figure things out.’ Sometimes moving forward is a huge step towards progress in my work and understanding of Haiti, and there is an abundance of grace on the days that I find myself back where I started but with a new understanding of what will not work. When I get frustrated at the lack of moving forward or flourishing I see within and around me, it is good to be reminded that work and life is about the process and small victories that come along the way. Sometimes it is more about the people who I get to love and do life with each day than seeing the tangible results today.

What I like more about flourishing is the focus on cultivating an environment for people and businesses to succeed. It is about creating a culture of excellence and grace, where people are given all they need to triumph and a safe place to retreat to when things don’t quite go as planned. Flourishing encompasses moving forward but takes it that next step in moving from surviving to thriving. It’s the difference between zeroing in on my work for today and looking beyond to how the steps taken today will culminate in sustainable change for the coming generations.

It’s excited to think about a flourishing Haiti in the decades to come, and with great anticipation I patiently wait to see how today and tomorrow’s steps will continue to shape and write the future.

April was quite possibly the month of the greatest juxtaposing experiences and emotions in my life. Never before have I simultaneously felt so joyful and sorrowful, so hopeful and disheartened, so social yet so introverted, so full of love to give yet selfish. At the beginning of the month I met with an abundance of people working to create a flourishing environment in their job creation efforts through baking, wholesale bread sales, sewing, beekeeping, etc. I was even able to get my hands on a copy of business training curriculum geared towards preparing people to successfully run small businesses and repay micro loans—all in Haitian Creole and created for people who cannot read or write to be able to understand and utilize. These world changers shared their wins and losses, their failures that led to today’s success, and above all the hope that they have found and helped to create amid devastating loss.

While their stories of resilience were inspiring, I continued to dwell on the bad parts and couldn’t help but chase the trail of what ifs in my life. I let the voices of doubt and fear overcome their uplifting experiences. I let my many ‘pivots’ of the past year lead me to wonder if anything I try next will ever ‘work’ for Disciples’ Village and the people I so dearly long to see have their hope and dignity restored.

Returning to the US and Belmont for my midterm presentation also brought with it a slew of emotions that I was not expecting. It began with several tearful moments early in the morning before my departure for Miami. After being dropped off at the airport in Port au Prince, I cried with remorse for leaving the country and people I love for even a short time. When sitting and drinking my coffee in the terminal, I cried with a stranger over our inability to express and verbally communicate to our loved ones what we get to see, feel, and experience in Haiti. He has been here for 30 years to my one, but we share a deep love and hurt for the people who have become family to us. Once on the ground in Nashville, I was bursting at the seams with insight and experiences that I wanted to share with anyone willing to give the time to listen, but I soon found myself withdrawing and too weary to even formulate coherent sentences.

Being back home in Nashville/at Belmont and then Pinckneyville usually fills me up with the umph I need to keep going for the next few months in Haiti, but this time I found myself both elated to reconnect with loved ones and saddened that moving forward in life means leaving them behind for long periods of time. Before this stint home I would not have classified living and working in Haiti as a ‘sacrifice’. Sure there are conveniences and things that I sometimes miss like my car/transportation, non-work events to go to in my car (i.e. coffee shops with friends), easily accessible healthy foods, smooth roads, less heightened awareness of surroundings, and curling up in my cool bed on a Sunday afternoon. But often in Haiti the joys outweigh the things that rarely pop up on my radar as a ‘loss’.

This time at home, I began yearning for the relationships I miss out on in the US due to my detached presence long before I boarded the plane back to Haiti! It was so unusual. And I had to guard myself from thinking of the things I am having to ‘sacrifice’, because no matter where I end up in life, I want to be willing to lay it all down in obedience to the One who gave His very life for me.

Anyways, I ended up crying both leaving and returning to Haiti. But I am ever so thankful for loved ones and relationships and good memories that make leaving both places so difficult. I’m truly beginning to feel and understand when Miriam Adeney says, “You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart always will be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.”

 

April also came with its fair share of triumphs and moments that made me laugh at myself. I tried to begin doing things that I have been hesitant towards for a while, like driving farther in Haiti than my comfortable 10-15 minutes each way and running a half marathon in Nashville that has been unattainable until I decided to make it happen. Under my left eye was also bitten by a bug less than a week before my trip to the US, and I foolishly let the nasty swelling keep me in my room for half a day until I felt presentable enough to venture out after hours of icing and allergy medicine. Looking back, I laugh at the happenings that seem so monumental at the time yet insignificant now. With the right motivation and fuel, miles can be both driven and ran and the swelling will go down. It’s interesting to ponder what I have let keep me from flourishing.

As May begins I want to take time to breathe and take an inventory of what emotions are running through my body. I want to remember the victories and the losses, the sacrifices and the gains, the times I cowered in fear and the moments where I overcame. ‘May’ this be the month where I make the conscious decision to move from surviving to thriving and bring others with me along the way.

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Kenbe Ko Ou

The first time I was told to “kenbe ko ou” was by some ladies returning home from a day selling at the market who were concerned about me tripping on my way down from our mountainous partnering community Vielo. I was curious as to why they told me to “hold your body” instead of a Haitian Creole equivalency to the usual English “be careful” or “pay attention”. Upon thinking about our interaction a little more, I appreciated the phrase they used recognizing that the slippery terrain is unchanging no matter how careful I am. I simply need to prepare and ‘hold’ my body properly to make it through (hopefully) without falling.

Now I often hear the phrase when I’m again haphazardly walking down a mountain or any non-sandal friendly surface slipping on the loose earth, and occasionally I continue to catch the phrase “hold your body” as a parting salutation by an older generation or by our cooks when I’m trying to carry too much food at once to avoid having to walk up and down the steps to our eating area.

I was reminded of this phrase a few days ago when driving by an advertisement for the Haitian beer company Prestige with a bold “Kenbe Prestige ou” painted on the cement block wall of the public beach not too far from our compound. This phrase keeps showing up out of nowhere!!...but for good reasons. It reminds me to keep my body strong regardless of the unpredictability of my surroundings or what I’m carrying and to keep moving forward with confidence and awareness. It acknowledges that the path ahead has obstacles, but proper preparation and attention will help see you through.

March has been a month of learning and teaching to “hold your body” firm in business and in life. This month’s business leader training meetings were centered around the character traits and sound practices of a successful business person/entrepreneur that allows them ‘hold their body’ in business, to maintain right business practices when things get hard, the business isn’t going well, and when people are doing business unethically around them. We have also been assessing and discussing opportunities for us to help others “kenbe ko yo” by meeting everyday needs through job creation projects in Disciples’ Village’s partnering communities.

Personally, I need to work on holding my business body a little firmer in holding those I work with accountable (the unpredictable transportation and ‘Haitian time’ combo makes arriving to meetings in a timely fashion difficult) and in taking more calculated risks. Lately I’ve found myself holding back on moving forward with job creation ideas because I don’t have all the answers to my one thousand questions, and the financial forecasts for the next three years are hard to create for a variety of reasons. My rule-following self needs to let go of the textbook way of doing things and step up into the real world, ‘let’s make things happen’ way of successful entrepreneurs.

The empathy needs to get dialed back a bit while I crank up the entrepreneurial spirit a tad more and just chase after some ideas that have been sticking around for a while now. I need to heed the ladies’ advise to just “hold my body” and run.

 

Life and work in Haiti just keeps getting better with time, and March was dream after dream filled with getting to meet some of the best [social] entrepreneurs in the country—literally the 2017 Digicel Entrepreneur of the Year and a runner up—exploring a variety of job creation possibilities and their viability for our communities, seeing a clearer vision for future business training and job creation in our villages, potentially finding someone interested in hosting DV’s first business training conference in 2019, and eating undeniably the best food I’ve had in Haiti so far. Like everyone needs to take a trip to Gonaïves sometime to stop at the not-so-fast food joint to indulge in the glorious fried plantains. And before I forget to mention it, I began preparing for my Lumos midterm presentation for my microfinance project that is on April 20th at 10 AM in Belmont University’s Johnson 395. I hope to see you there if you’re in the Nashville area that day! THAT’S LESS THAN THREE WEEKS AWAY!!

Without further ado, here’s the summary of the good, the bad, and the glorious of March.

Highlights

  • Starting to feel like a local, running into people on tap taps (public transportation pickups with covered trunks), them riding motos behind tap taps I’m in, and at local market days. So fun and such joyful meetings. I think it’s starting to settle in for those I work with that I’m here for the long haul, and although I’m a ‘blan’, I live here in Haiti just like they do. I take tap taps just like they do. I need vegetables from the market just like they do…although we eat them quite differently. Haitians like to cook their veggies very thoroughly, and I like eating them raw, especially the carrots and pepper. Preske menm bagay.
  • Speaking of vegetables, I have started purchasing sweet potatoes and beets in the market and roasting them (I know, not raw) and it has been a game changer for my self-made meals here. And today I learned how to crack and extract raw coconut from the hard, exterior shell. It was the greatest snack this Easter afternoon!
  • LOONNNGGG day in Port au Prince dropping off and picking up people from the airport, but the greatest day in between, finding an office supply store with coveted white copy paper, placing a monthly wholesale food order for the DV schools and Alex’s House, purchasing inventory for our souvenir store from the Croix des Bouquets Metal Market and seeing my ‘friends’ and favorite vendors after a few months, finding MyaBèl Cocktail Bar and Restaurant—Digicel’s Entrepreneur(s) of the Year—a Haitian fusion cuisine with famous mango pikliz (spicy slaw) and bottled teas. My goat was the best I’ve had, and the meal came with avocado automatically making it the best meal of the month. Period.
  • I found some green gold—the rare avocado—on the way back from buying 300 lbs of chicken food one day. They were hard as rocks when I purchased them, and I hate to report that they rotted before I could eat them. Sad day. But on the bright side, they are slowly creeping their way back into the market and will hopefully make it closer to our area soon!

Cautionary Moments

  • Trying to run and train for a race one morning and getting chased by three dogs. I’ll admit that this was the scariest moment of my time in Haiti, and I’m thankful for the angel owner of the biggest dog that scared him off!
  • Time change hitting me like a brick, it’s now dark until 6:30/45 AM making it difficult to wake up and get active. I think it’s what’s also upsetting the dogs now that I’m trying to run in the dark. Lesson learned!
  • Coming to the realization that risk taking is not a strong suit of mine, and something that will likely hold me back as an entrepreneur one day if I don’t start working on it now.
  • Fear has never been a struggle at the forefront of my mind, but lately I’ve been finding myself feeling afraid in quite a few situations—both reasonably and unreasonably so. I know that fear is from the enemy, and sadly I’ve let it hold me back from moving forward in a few things in the past few weeks (especially getting peaceful sleep!). I’m thankful for the constant reminders that my God is forever faithful, and as His child “I’m no longer a slave to fear.”

Job Creation Research Continued

  • Two visits to 2nd Story Goods in Gonaïves and a long chat with the director provided much insight on how to advance Haiti through job creation in a social enterprise setting through promoting sustainability of work and in pushing towards excellence and out of survival mode—something that will take quite a long time to facilitate.
  • While the idea of making and selling soap has continued to peak my interest, I’m also looking into the possibilities of beeswax and honey products to help differentiate from the many people already making and selling soap in Haiti. Ganaud and I were able to meet with a local beekeeper who works for a community development organization in a nearby town, and he gave helpful information on starting beehives and where to sell the honey and beeswax in markets found locally and in Port au Prince. An additional bonus to what the bees produce is the benefit they could have on the agriculture of our partnering villages.
  • I was hopeful that one of our wholesale suppliers for food would have the staple ingredients for soap. They do not if fact carry those things, leaving me looking in other places to find them in Haiti.
  • On a long day adventure in Port, we ate at MyaBèl who won ‘Entrepreneur of the Year’ in 2017. We enjoyed the delicious Haitian fusion food and learning more about how they use unique Haitian products to promote sustainability of agriculture through their cuisines and bottled sauces and teas.
  • We checked out a vetiver co op that farms, processes, and sells the vetiver essential oil to high end customers and airplane companies…super cool.
  • One of my business leaders helps counsel recipients of micro loans from a local community advancement group. We got to tag along to a meeting with him, and I got to witness both great ideas in action and some areas that I would like to improve upon and hold people accountable in.

 

Zizi Ze (Sassy Eggs) Chicken Coop

  • The chickens continue to lay more eggs than projected and eat less food than originally calculated—making our profit margins for the coop much higher than expected! Mesi Jezi!
  • We are now getting into systems of our employee letting me know when she needs more food a few days before she runs out (we store the 100lb bags at the York House and transport rodent-proof buckets back and forth) and more regular checks on egg sales and number of eggs laid per day, instead of me having to check on these things myself when visiting the coop.
  • I am still searching for more ready-to-lay chickens to purchase before June when our first supplier will have more available, but am struggling to get responses from the other companies. While I wait, it has been fun to look up best practices for smoothly transitioning more chickens into the coop—my favorite being to hang cabbage or other ‘treats’ in the coop to distract the chickens that intruders have arrived.

Alex’s House Kiddos’ Business Learning

  • In March we made several improvements to the girls’ souvenir store by switching up the location of the paintings to make them more visible, purchasing some different types of inventory to test out their desirability from our customers, adding music to help foster a fun and light environment for the girls to work in and our customers to enjoy, and the most important change: our girls are now keeping track of the price and quantity of everything sold at their table to build upon their business knowledge and learn how to track inventory and help calculate total revenue.
  • Plop plop (cold drinks business ran by our older boys) ended the spring season of teams well, and I look forward to implementing systems for better keeping track of drink inventory, number of drinks sold, and cost of goods sold for the teams coming this summer and thereafter.

 

 

With joy April arrives, and I’m expectant for what the next few weeks will bring and the opportunities to “kenbe ko mwen” that will unfold. Above all, I’m rejoicing in my Source of strength and the celebration of His resurrection that kicks off this month! Bon fèt Pak, tout moun!

 

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Planting Trees

If my short experience in economic development is a lot like climbing mountains, then participating in the development of business leaders, the creation of jobs, and the development of personal businesses is similar to planting trees.

 

Several times throughout my life I have heard the discussion of the difference between people who see the forest and people who see the trees, big picture people and visionaries verses detail and task oriented people. To this day, I’m still not sure which one I am…Is both an option? Depending on the situation and topic at hand, sometimes I see the big picture but don’t have the specific skills or resources to make it happen (thank goodness for delegation!), and other times the leaves on the trees and bugs eating them are quite clear.

In February, I started putting pieces together and began learning that numerous moving pieces must first fall into place before you can have a thriving forest. There must be a vision for the forest, the land must be surveyed, the desired product must be considered before selecting species of trees (Do I want fruit? Timber? Large root systems to protect the earth? etc.). People must be hired and trained to care for the land and trees and eventually to harvest, and on and on. Will my trees survive and thrive in this environment? How long will it take for them to produce what I want? Who will provide the initial investment for the trees? What diseases are they susceptible to? Are these trees a threat to what is already here? What is needed for a successful integration of this future forest to the current climate?

Some visualize the forest and choose their trees accordingly, bringing along people who know and care for them along the way. Some step into managing a forest someone else has crafted and add their personal touch to it.

Forests involve vision, researching, planning, laboring, training, fertile ground, the proper species and caretakers, pruning, harvesting, and an in-demand result.

But before a forest can become a reality, the trees must first be planted.

And the more I go on, the more I see the similarities between forests and thriving industries, economic frameworks, and individual businesses. Haiti needs many trees planted—in both the literal and figurative sense—to one day have thriving and life-giving forests.

“Time flies when you’re having fun…” and February was by far one the fastest (and I recognize also the shortest) month of my time in Haiti! This theme of forests, trees, and planting is strung across the past few weeks, and here’s a few snapshots into what I learned and experienced in the past month:

Vision

These last few years I have been unbelievably fortunate to be surrounded by world-changing leaders for whom their ‘vision’ is a way of life—guiding every thought they possess and every step they take. My professors taught me how to take what we were learning in the classroom today and apply it to societal problems of tomorrow. My coaches successfully demonstrated how to set a standard of excellence and create the culture within a program that sets the course, enjoys the process, and achieves winning championships in the future.

Now I get to work for an organization led by people who see what can be in Haiti decades and generations from now and use it to shape and motivate our work for each day. And ultimately, I serve a God who has already won the battle against the darkness of this world and get to put on the armor and fight with His power, His strength, and His truth. Today, I fight for what can be because I already know what will become of this world.

And because of these visionary leaders and forest-planners I’ve been blessed to learn and work under, now I get to participate in planting and caring for ‘trees’ after the ground-breaking work has already been done.

República Dominicana

TREES upon trees upon mountains beyond mountains…during my first visit (of many to come—I fell in love!) to the Dominican Republic (DR), I spent most of the waking hours in awe of the beauty of the forests that cover the eastern side of Hispaniola. Unlike Haiti, the DR has protected and preserved its life-giving trees. That decision among many others has led to a better developed country with infrastructure and stability decades beyond where Haiti is currently. It was inspiring and mind blowing to see how developed the other side of the island is compared to the desperate poverty that consumes Haiti, as even the slums had paved roads, and access to electricity, water, and even occasionally cable—an example of what focused development efforts can do for a community and country over the course of several decades.

Time in the DR gave me a glimpse of what planting trees and caring for them decade after decade can look like, unlike in Haiti where an overwhelming majority of trees have been chopped down after decades of attempts to make a quick buck to meet today’s needs through making and selling charcoal.

Several DV leadership and staff went together on this semi-work semi-fun trip, although the beauty that surrounded us everywhere we went made even the ‘work’ parts such a pleasure. Crossing the boarder via a bus was quite the experience, as a mixture of Spanish, English, and Haitian Creole filled our ears. At any given time we weren’t sure which language to speak (although Spanish wasn’t much of an option) and what was trying to be said. It was a fun time for all after we safely sat back down on the bus. There were several times I wasn’t sure I’d ever see my passport again…but thank the Lord it made it back to Haiti with me!

A highlight of the trip was meeting with and learning from a young lady who recently moved to the DR to run a social enterprise that makes soaps. She and her newly acquired operation provided several great ideas that could be brought to Haiti, and I was thankful to meet and share experiences with a like-minded individual with similar passions and background (she too was a college athlete!).

 

Business Leader Training

An idea that has been brewing since November was finally realized in February! The first business leader training meeting was the first Wednesday of the month, and I had a blast preparing and facilitating it. At the beginning of the month I spent time contemplating the overarching DV vision/mission statements, crafting my own for this training to fit into DV’s mission, and breaking it down into weekly goals to work towards and obtain each meeting. It’s been fun piecing together the structure and content for the meetings, pulling from and blending various economic/business development organization materials (used with their permission of course).

Through this process, I have realized how business owners and leaders in Haiti have little access to resources in their own language that will increase human capital! I recently became aware of an organization south of Port au Prince successfully doing business training and micro loans for their nutrition program recipients, and am working to set up a meeting/attend a training and get my hands on their curriculum. This could be quite useful moving forward!

We had 3 out of 4 partnering villages represented at our first meeting! It was a beautiful time of immediate connections and shared learning. We discussed our dreams for ourselves and our communities and talked about some things that we need to work on and learn to achieve those goals. We also shared the gifts God has given us and how we can use them in business to serve our families and communities. Another topic of discussion was the needs and resources in each of DV’s partnering villages. The best part might have been the end—we took a walk to the chicken coop in Trouforban to give an example of a job creation project, and everyone was sharing phone numbers to stay in contact and continue conversations they had started at the meeting during one on one time.

Our second meeting of the month had fewer numbers, as some had to fulfill last minute responsibilities during that time, but the discussion was rich! We talked about God’s view of work as told by scripture, their thoughts on spiritual warfare and how it effects businesses in Haiti, how we must be filled with the Holy Spirit before we can lead others well, and they provided input on where to buy and find local ingredients needed to make soap. I also learned that one of our business leaders participates on the board of Haitian-led microfinance organization at work in a nearby community!

My vision for these meetings is to continue to grow the deep roots needed in Disciples’ Village partnering communities to enact local-led sustainable change. Deep roots, a solid trunk/core values, and hefty branches/local business leaders will be needed for leaves/individual business to grow and produce fruit. However, I must keep in mind that it takes years for a tree to produce fruit and decades for a plentiful forest to grow.

Through the process of planning for meetings, I have discovered my love for researching and condensing information for others to have comprehendible access to. I always enjoyed researching in school (not so much the report writing, ha!) and am thankful to get to transfer that over into my work in Haiti. Now I actually look forward to reading, note taking, writing and preparing ‘presentations’ for our business leaders, as I know that this information will help them and their communities advance (an it’s no longer graded!!).

Pruning

A lot of pruning has been going on in the trees in my life as of late; sometimes it’s wanted and other times it’s Spirit led. I’m slowly trying to simplify my life and living space, finding what I truly need and what I can easily live without and putting occasional needs in their accessible but out-of-the-way place.

I’m also thankful for leaders in my life that call out in love areas that I need to prune personally and professionally, desiring what is ultimately best for me moving forward in life and in the business world.

Spiritual pruning is likely the most subtle, yet most painful, process of simplifying and purifying my life. The Spirit has been revealing weaknesses in my armor and false truths that I hold onto, stripping me of them—leaving me temporarily vulnerable and utterly dependent on God, and then building me back up stronger than ever and ready to continue with the spiritual battle that is living and working in a dark world.

Charles Spurgeon says, “Discernment is not a matter of simply telling the difference between what is right and wrong; rather it is the difference between right and almost right.” And lately I’m seeing the insurmountable value of discernment in my daily walk and work, as the enemy of this world often hides behind partial truths attempting to deceive us into choosing what is temporarily good but not God’s lasting best, what is almost true but not God’s truth.

Every day I’m thankful for God’s loving pruning and His grace that is new each morning. While it is unpleasant and often painful, I know in the end my earthly attempts at planting trees will bear fruit with pruning in His due time.

Zi Zi Ze Poulaye- Chicken Coop Update

  • A team came and added a run onto the chicken coop to make room for more chickens as they become available from our layer supplier
  • Made some improvements to the coop to increase efficiency and ease for our employee, decrease the amount of food lost to rodents

 

Room for 40-50 more chickens!

Room for 40-50 more chickens!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Haitian Coffee Farm Update

  • “Haitian Coffee Grows on Trees” has become a book in my free time rotation, and I have learned quite a bit about the coffee industry in Haiti and how it came to be.
  • Haitian coffee only reaches 33% capacity compared to other coffee producing countries in the Caribbean and the Americas. That sounds like a challenge to me!

Closing Thoughts

Life is challenging but sweet here in Haiti. These last few weeks have been filled with new adventures and learning experiences, dreams coming to life, spotty internet and data, and recently daily matcha green tea lattes—my favorite non-coffee drink—thanks to a sweet long-time supporter of Disciples’ Village bringing me some matcha powder a few days ago.

With joy I begin March elated with the continual task before me to plant, water, and prune the trees right where I myself have been planted. Thank you to all who have and continue to pour water, food, and life into me, and none of this would be possible without the fertile grounds of those who have tilled and planted and fed long before I came around.