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

 

 

 

 

“Bonjou!”

Good morning!

“Bonjou!”

Good morning!

“Koman ou ye?”

How are you?

“M’ byen! N’ap monte!”

I’m well! We’re climging!

“Wi! N’ap mounte!”

Yes! We’re climbing!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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No Street Signs

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

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

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

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

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

The school, meeting places, and church in Trouforban

The school, meeting places, and church in Trouforban

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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Hello from Haiti

Bonswa tout moun! Good afternoon everyone!

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

A few of my bartering prizes

A few of my bartering prizes

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

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

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

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

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

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

The sunrise over the mountains after a challenging morning run

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

View of Port-au-Prince from the air

Touchdown in 24

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hey there, Haiti!

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

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

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

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