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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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.

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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.

 

 

 

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Ansanm N’ap Vanse

Ansanm n’ap vanse. Together we move forward.

My high school freshman year RTI teacher had a sign by the door of her classroom saying,

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

It was in that room that I first read this powerful proverb and where Haiti first came on my radar after the earthquake in 2010. While regretfully I could not have cared less about the plight of Haitians at the time whilst reading article after article about the devastation and watching CNN’s reports on the television, a seed was planted that sprouted three years later and is being watered now eight years after sitting in that room. Isn’t it funny how much things change over time.

We recently observed the eighth anniversary of the 2010 earthquake on January 12th, a 7.0 magnitude trembling of the earth that lasted for 58 seconds and killed somewhere around 300,000 people (depending on whether you look at Haitian or international records). Haiti was already in ruins and bodies were rotting from poverty long before the buildings around the capital of Port au Prince reflected the internal corruption of the state, a physical manifestation of the country’s condition long before international attention was drawn to the natural disaster.

The sobering entrance of the mass grave site where hundreds of bodies were dumped after the 2010 earthquake. "Haiti will not forget."

The sobering entrance of the mass grave site where thousands of bodies were dumped after the 2010 earthquake. “Haiti will not forget.”

Lack of enforced building codes, overpopulated living conditions, less than developed national infrastructure, corrupt NGOs, a cholera outbreak killing thousands in 2011, and a plethora of other factors left the already devastated former Pearl of the Caribbean in unspeakable conditions that you can still see evidence of today. There are still tent cities on the outskirts of Port au Prince, rubble to be cleaned up, and billions of dollars in promised aid that have yet to reach the ground.

But today, we make the conscious decision to move forward together. Ansanm n’ap vanse.

Those words on the side of the bus caught my attention while in PAP quite a few months ago, but it wasn’t until earlier in January that I was finally aware and in position to snap a quick photo. How fitting, as I spent most of January preparing for Disciples’ Village business leader training that will begin the first full week of February. The premise of these training meetings will be to raise up business leaders in each of our partnering villages to be the future face of our microfinance, business and money management training, God willing.

We will work towards building better economic frameworks and to move our communities forward, together.

My vision for these meetings is to pour into a few leaders so they can then overflow into those interested in starting or growing their own businesses in their respective communities. Ideally, they will be learning and simultaneously working on job creation projects to put their new knowledge to action and save the frustration of a foreigner trying to get the truth while doing the ground market research. Besides, our business leaders know their communities far deeper than I ever will and can share what they have witnessed is needed and best. In my mind, it’s a win-win—Disciples’ Village can move forward in creating jobs while using the projects to train up forward thinking entrepreneurs.

My coworker and I chilling before meeting with business leaders from Trouforban.

My coworker and I chilling before meeting with business leaders from Trouforban.

I am quite hopeful for what will become of these times of training, as all the business leaders I met with in preparation were gracious, thirsty to learn more to advance or start their own businesses, and more than willing to pass along what they will learn with the vision of developing businesses and jobs in their communities. We will see how it begins come this Wednesday and biweekly thereafter.

 

All in all, January might have been my favorite month in Haiti to date. Joy bubbled out of my heart from finally moving in a direction with economic development and job creation that I’ve been dreaming of for a while, checking a few things off my Haiti bucket list and planning/preparing to check of some more in the coming weeks, spending time soaking up some sun and benefiting from time spent away from thinking about work, the ‘winter’ months are bringing in much cooler temps, and an abundance of sweet moments every day.

 

I’m beyond thankful for the highs, the lows, and the many lessons learned and things experienced this month—bring on February! For now, here are bullet summaries from the events that occurred in the past month.

Highlights and Joys

  • What’s the best thing about Haiti? Easily the people. Their contagious smiles and humorous personalities elicit such joy in each day.
  • Visiting a medical clinic for a day. Initially, I went to observe for a short time because I have never seen a clinic before and ended up helping out with translating/explaining the medicines to the patients. So much joy and expansion of my Kreyol vocabulary that day. The clinic saw 127 people and I had the honor of talking with every single one of them.
  • My room is finished and has become an oasis away from the crazy of life in Haiti. I’m so thankful for a lovely place to chill, get work done, and rest. The yellow walls and white furniture with Christmas lights over my bed have become my home. I now have a chair to sit in, places to hang and put away my clothes, and storage space for the abundance of things I have a 1 in 100,000 chance of needing—but at least I can find them now!
  • Finishing my work early one day and getting to ‘captain’ the boat while Bill and a coworker went scuba diving. I had a great time soaking up some vitamin D, enjoying the uninterrupted peace and quiet surrounded by God’s glorious creation, and reading a book written by a fellow expat in Haiti who has created over 200 jobs through a social enterprise called Papillion.
  • Coffee tastings with dear friends who also work with DV.
  • A trip to a new region of the country to visit our ground keeper’s family. The valleys of Haiti are covered in dark fertile soil producing such beauty that I could not take my eyes off of everything green around me to get any good pictures. The man-made phone camera does not do God’s green earth justice anyways. Happy tears came to my eyes several times that day from the beauty of the earth and all the love shown by Jean Claude’s family. They shared their home, coconut water, food, and they even gave us an avocado tree seedling—something I have been wanting since moving to Haiti!

Challenges, Struggles, and Heartbreak

  • A gas shortage at the beginning of January made it difficult to get around with outrageously priced tap taps few and far between and DV rightfully conserving gas. Word on the street is that this happens around the same time every year—good to know for the future to prepare in the weeks ahead. It was quite comical (and understandable) to see motos and cars swarming the pumps at the gas stations waiting for the fuel to come. I never got a clear answer on why this happens. Some locals said the ship with gas on it was late in coming, I read some allegations that the US’s oil dealings with Venezuela influenced this shortage, and a plethora of other things. In searching the web to find where Haiti imports oil/propane/gas from, I came across a splendid website that broke down percentages of imports/exports from country to country, publishing that Haiti received 89-91% of its propane/gas from the USA in the last few years. Interesting.
  • No avocados to be found on the street or in the markets—a sad time in Haiti.
  • Lately I’ve had a hard time being present. All too often I find myself looking through old pictures, dwelling on the great times I had in college, and looking forward to seeing family and friends. This is the first time I can remember ever recognizing that I’m not ‘living in the moment’. While I believe it is good to learn from the past and to work towards the future, it’s about balance, and sometimes I have teetered too far away from what’s going on in front of me right now.
  • A sweet mother of four girls from one of our partnering villages has held a special place in my heart for about a year now. Last year around this time she came to a medical clinic a few days away from dying because she had been giving all her food to her daughters and eating a rat here and there when she could catch them. DV was able to take her under our wing and things were looking up. A few weeks ago, I learned that her husband has left her and her four girls, and my heart broke all over again. This is not okay. A family of 5 cannot live on the meager wages she is making each month. I must work to find or create a job for her but the challenge of teaching money management looms over my head reminding me that a job is useless if the money is not managed properly. There is so much work to be done here, but one by one it will be accomplished.

 

Lessons Learned

  • My phone briefly quit working for about 12 hours, shocking me with the realization of how much I depend on my cell phone for everyday life. I could not set an alarm, I could not pull up my workouts and interval timer—let alone the music I so desperately need to drown out my heavy breathing! I could not stay in touch with loved ones back in the US or research the many questions that arise at random. I am so thankful for working technology!!
  • Karl Barth says, “When we are at our wits end for an answer, then the Holy Spirit can give us an answer. But how can He give us an answer when we are still well supplied with all sorts of answers of our own?” Ouch. That speaks to the depths of my soul and to many things that I have been struggling with in Haiti these past few months.
  • The essential nature of foresight in leadership—being able to see far ahead and playing the game to achieve what you want.
  • Finished “Shelley in Haiti” detailing Shelley Jean’s journey to starting Papillion and the many lessons she has learned about job creation in Haiti along the way. An encouraging and hope-inducing memoir.
  • Every time I get in the front of a tap tap or am accessible to converse with a younger man I get asked how many children I have. The English translation of my answers goes something like this, “I don’t have children—I’m not married—no I don’t plan on getting married soon—I live here and plan on staying for a while so marriage is nowhere in my near future.” This makes me question if the worth of a woman in Haiti is tied to her marital status and/or number of children.

 

Business Leader Training

  • Spent the beginning of the month talking with fellow DV staff about their ideas, suggestions, and recommendations for business leader training in DV partnering zones
  • Gaining the support and partnership of a fellow staff member who holds a Haitian accounting degree, has previously taught business lessons, and has a similar vision for job creation in Haiti
  • Writing out meeting notes far in advance to get translated and copied in time—so good for me to break my college habits of procrastination!
  • Met with the leaders of each village to ask them to think about two to three business leaders or aspiring business people in their communities to meet with me the following week
  • The people I met in meetings the next week blew. me. away. Some I have worked with quite a bit and others I have never seen before.
  • Each meeting continues to bring up more information about the history of microfinance in one of our villages. I’ve been asking similar questions for months, and in one particular meeting, I learned that several people in the community had gone bankrupt due to high interest rates on the loans they received paired with no knowledge on how to manage their money. Good to know and to proceed forward with caution.

 

Zi Zi Ze Poulaye—Sassy Eggs Chicken Coop

  • Updating records, creating financial documents for end of the year.
  • Informed that I cannot purchase more ready-to-lay chickens until June! Mezanmi! But upon a visit in person to purchase chicken food they said they might be able to sell me some at the end of February. Thank goodness, as the eggs are in high demand and we want to capitalize on this opportunity to earn more revenue!

 

Fun Times

  • Many hours spent on the trampoline at a local beach—so much fun channeling my younger self and flipping off like crazy. Unfortunately, my body is not quite in Division I shape anymore and I tweaked my back a little bit, but it was worth every uncomfortable twist and turn for a few days after. I saw how much good it did for my mind and soul to chill for a few hours and have some non-work related fun.
  • The first trip into Port au Prince (PAP) with only other twenty two year olds to run some errands and stock up on inventory for our souvenir store. It was so fun to adventure through PAP, get a little turned around along the way, and find our way on our own.
  • Planning a semi work, semi fun trip to the Dominican Republic during February. There is a social enterprise that focuses on economic development and job creation that I will get to meet with if all works out! I am beyond interested in everything that they are doing and look forward to learning from them! It has also been fun to do a little research on the towns we will be visiting and to read some history on the DR.
  • Rocket stove adventures…a DV teacher preparing to teach more efficient fuel usage in the classroom so we build and tested out a rocket stove to teach the kiddos how you can conserve fuel and create a safer flame with four concrete blocks. It doubled as a lesson on how fire works as well. Fun was had by all!
  • This past Saturday we went to the open house of a new coffee roasting facility in the Port au Prince area! We got a tour of the facility and explanation of farm to roasting to selling from the CEO of the social enterprise. It was a splendid day trip and now I am even more intrigued by coffee in Haiti and what it can do for the people here.
  • Trying to stream the Grammy’s- a fun time as I had never watched them before.

Other Happenings

  • Learning of a man who was adopted from TFB wanting to help entrepreneurs in his home town. Erie to see another person/group other than DV working there. It’s also interesting that I have been present and asking questions in TFB for many months now and this is the first time I have heard of him. I wonder if it stems from a fear that we will not partner with that community if we know someone else has already been there. It makes working and getting the truth difficult—but who can blame them?
  • Came across the remains of a whale shark on the beach one Sunday afternoon. The vertebrae from the deceased creature were massive…I’m so thankful it was dead when we came across it!!
  • I tagged along to visit a formal bank in Haiti for the first time since moving here. The sitting area was comfortable and the air conditioning provided a nice break from the humid air. I enjoyed the opportunity to observe a more formal and institutional side of Haiti while chatting with some DV staff about my ideas for business leader training.
  • Wrote and sent out an extensive intern orientation packet for our summer interns—exciting to get the ball rolling on preparing them to serve this summer.

Thank you all for your continued support. I am not where I am or who I am (and am becoming) without the influence of each one of you. My heart swells with love for you all, and may Bondye beni ou.

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Bon Ane!

A few nights ago, while searching for shooting stars in the clear Haitian sky, I was talking with a friend about sharing our stories and how different they would be if told on the same day each year. For example, me sharing what’s going on in my life with you today looks drastically different than if we were to have chatted together on January 1st of 2017, 2016, 2015, etc. This statement got me thinking about just how much change each year brings, especially all that came on the dates ending with the year 2017. So many truly bittersweet ‘lasts’ followed by major life changes and an abundance of foreign ‘firsts’.

A first I was pretty happy about...fresh lobster on the beach in Grand Goâve!

A first I was pretty happy about...fresh lobster on the beach in Grand Goâve!

While the new year is a time of reflection of the year(s) past and dreaming for the year(s) to come for all, in Haiti there is an entirely new layer of anticipation and excitement around January 1st. It is the day the former (and future, if you ask me) Pearl of the Caribbean gained her independence from France in 1804, the beginning of the good and the bad that would become of the first and only successful slave revolution in the world to date. It is a day of celebration and traditional soup joumou (pumpkin/squash soup)! For us all, it is a day of remembering and honoring what was and looking forward towards what is to come.

Another photo of food at the beach in Grand Goâve, but this time I'm eating my favorite food (avocado) and reminiscing all the times I've been gifted avocados in 2017

Another photo of food at the beach in Grand Goâve, but this time I’m eating my favorite food (avocado) and reminiscing all the times I’ve been gifted avocados in 2017

In honor of the roller coaster that was 2017, here is a listen into the soundtrack that played along the beginning of my post-grad ride (as Spotify so kindly reminded me):

 

Both in my senior year and in Haiti, I’ve taken quite a few “L’s” in 2017. And as Big Sean so kindly reminds us, “if you a real one, then you know how to bounce back…  (Bounce Back).” Here’s to praying that I’m a ‘real one’ in 2018 and that I can learn to ‘bounce back’ faster and stronger from the  inevitable “L’s” in the new year. This past year I also learned that “I got loyalty got royalty inside my DNA (Kendrick Lamar, DNA.).” Enjoying old and new relationships, playing my senior season of softball with a team and coach I would go to war for, living in Haiti, and working with Disciples’ Village has taken my sense of loyalty to those I love, work for and with to a whole new level. In the words of Johnnyswim, “love at any cost is a bargain, it’s quite the bargain (Summertime Romance).” Learning to better love and be loved in the past year has shown me what a true and priceless gift relationships and fellowship truly are, especially that found in family (my mother refers to herself as ‘Queen Mum’, hence the royalty inside my DNA) both in the United States and now in Haiti.

In 2017, especially in transitioning from my known arenas of athletics and academia and beginning my economic development and microfinance work in Haiti, I have become well acquainted with the many unknowns that come with new life stages and working in developing countries. As Switchfoot quite accurately says, “My lungs and I were born to fight, sometimes I’m not sure what I’m fighting for, but death ain’t the only end in sight, cause this ain’t a battle it’s a lifelong war (Hope is an Anthem).” But as the song continues, “My heartbeat, my oxygen, my banner, my home, my freedom, my song, Your hope is the anthem of my soul.” Through the unknowns and uncertainty in traversing new waters and new fields (both academic disciplines and the kind you grow crops in), I have found my anthem and source of hope. I have learned that “maybe I don’t know, but maybe that’s okay” if my next step is to seek the answers and act upon them (Jon Bellion, Maybe IDK), because “…I guess if I knew tomorrow, I guess I wouldn’t need faith, I guess if I never fell, I guess I wouldn’t need grace, I guess if I knew his plans, I guess He wouldn’t be God.” For, “without wonder, how could life ever be wonderful (Switchfoot, Begin Forever).”

"Your grace abounds in deepest waters..." (Hillsong UNITED)

“Your grace abounds in deepest waters...” (Hillsong UNITED)

Grace is the anthem of my days in Haiti, prompting me to respond with, “I wanna sing with all my heart a lifelong song, even if some notes come out right and some come out wrong (Switchfoot, Live it Well).” And trust me, especially in learning Haitian Creole, I’ve had some notes come out right with many more coming out wrong. But “I got one life and one love, I got one voice, but maybe that’s enough, cause with one heartbeat and two hands to give, I got one shot and one life to live.” Grace allows me to keep pushing, keep dreaming, keep finding ways that don’t work, and keep working towards what could be. Love and grace provide what is needed to keep giving, keep speaking, and “Keep On Keeping On (Colony House).”

Looking forward to what is ahead for me in Haiti with microfinance and economic development, “As I walk this great unknown, questions come and questions go. Was there purpose for the pain? Did I cry these tears in vain? I don’t want to live in fear, I want to trust that You are near, trust your grace can be seen, in both triumph and tragedy.” And, “I have this hope, in the depth of my soul, in the flood or the fire, You’re with me and You won’t let go (Tenth Avenue North, I Have This Hope).” And as Aha Gazelle so confidently says, “Ima problem and they know it, you can’t stop me from where I’m going… (All Gold Party).” Are you “Ready for It?” (T. Swift).

Here's to many more adventures in 2018 with stunning views similar to this one

Here’s to many more adventures in 2018 with stunning views similar to this one

December brought with it many joys and much hope for what is to become of my continued time in Haiti. I’m learning to create and operate my own systems from which to work and one day succeed from. My heart overflows with love and gratitude for the country and people I get to work with and for each day. Dreams and vision for the future of Haiti fill my heart and mind and help shape my steps for today. Here are some of the happenings of December:

Highlights

  • First trip out of the area without a man! Another female working with DV and I drove by ourselves to TFB to pay our lovely employee and deliver the dust pan to the coop. We were met with a hole in the feed box dug by a rodent and a beautiful record of the eggs produced by the layers—a record I thought was lost. Mesi Jezi for the small victories!
  • NEW ROAD TO VIELO!! While I previously thought I enjoyed the hike up the mountain to Vielo, I sure enjoyed now getting to ride in a car for the first half of the trek. It was beautiful to see new grounds in Haiti, farming land with larger trees and dense crops. This is also a major win for moving forward with infrastructure development in Haiti.
  • Most brilliant shooting star I’ve ever seen during the early morning of a meteor shower while making coffee
  • Museum in Montrious- on beautiful grounds of a former plantation turned into a resort. “Not in Haiti anymore…” The tour guide gave a brief overview of everything from the voyage from Africa to be sold as slaves, the native Taíno people of Hispaniola, the living conditions and lack of accommodations on the plantation, development of Haitian creole, Haiti gaining her independence from France (in 1804 on this very day), Haiti aiding Venezuela and Bolivia in gaining their independence (I had not heard this before), Voodoo’s history in the nation, and a variety of other things that I had and had not heard or read before. I would like to go back when I have more time with a smaller group to ask more questions and read through more of the displays.
  • Trip to Grand Goâve on the other side of the island to visit a team from Belmont Athletics- my joy overflowed! It was unbelievably refreshing to spend time with people so near to my heart and still get to serve the people and country I dearly love with much less responsibility. My time across the island brought much clarity, joy, and strength as well as a new friendship with the woman who runs the organization we stayed with. Time with Ms. Jenny brought much encouragement and insight from someone a little further down the path than I. She shared how she worked through some of the difficulties I am experiencing, giving me the push I needed to keep moving forward. She too is starting to implement business training in her organizations worked, and we discussed some of the materials we have come across and what has and has not worked so far. Grand Goâve’s beauty is also beyond comparison. The mountains were greener, the cities more developed, the speech slower, the air cooler, and the sunsets more vibrant. It was a beautiful time and place filled with awe inspiring people and memories that I will cherish for many years to come. Time at the beach on Sunday also brought new views, new foods, and new items being sold by vendors.
Vendors at the beach...micro enterprise in action!

Vendors at the beach...micro enterprise in action!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Times of Growth and Thought-inducing Lessons

  • Christmas marketplace at Pizza Amour with many vendors/social enterprises, both for and non profit, who offered a wide variety of products from soaps to coffee to Haitian leather goods to bags made out of water bags—8 ounce bags that clean drinking water comes in. All interesting- creating value now but how sustainable is it? Eventually people (read Americans) will no longer need bags and jewelry that are piling up in their closets. Need a product that is needed on a reoccurring basis.
  • After an early morning run to the beach to watch the sunrise, I followed a little guy who often hangs around our campus as he walked quite far to retrieve water before getting ready for school. I’ve heard hundreds of stories about kiddos and mamas walking miles upon miles a day to get water for cooking, drinking, cleaning, etc., but something about following in a few of the footsteps of a sweet little guy near to my heart brought the weight of the reality of the situation he and thousands of others face each day. What hurts the most is knowing that it doesn’t have to be this way.
  • I’m slowly learning that I have forgotten how to feel—challenged to find two words a day, one in the morning and one in the evening, to describe my feelings at that time. My records of the December days are filled with sentences reporting that I had yet to be able to label my feelings.
  • Finally able to label feelings of loneliness in the midst of a crazy busy week surrounded by plenty of people. So strange. I guess it’s more of a lack of being truly known rather than lonely because of a lack of solid interaction.

 

The sunrise on the morning I followed my sweet little friend as he carried water home before school

The sunrise on the morning I followed my sweet little friend as he carried water home before school

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Continued Chicken Coop Activities

  • Received the coop/egg records I had been asking for after several miscommunications- cross referencing the eggs laid per day and eggs sold to find them almost identical. And man, the feed from our supplier must be DANG GOOD. Almost an egg a day per chicken—2 more eggs per chicken per week than expected!
  • Several improvements to the coop in preparation for the addition of more layers- lips on the nests so the eggs don’t fall out, filling the roosts with greenery to make them soft and a desirable spot to lay eggs, filling in the feed box with concrete to ward of a pesky rodent, spending hours training the chickens to lay their eggs in the nesting boxes- it was hilarious to observe the lead layer freak out when I moved the eggs from her hole in the ground and into the boxes. She walked from box to box, stopping and squawking at each one, until finally hoping up into one to lay an egg. Mission (temporarily) accomplished.
  • Time spent crunching numbers for the coop expenses and revenues, trying to find out what needs to be changed to make it sustainable, self sufficient, and replicable for our other villages
  • Teacher/egg seller in TFB approached me saying (in Creole) we needed to get more chickens in the coop so she could buy more eggs from us—yes ma’am!
  • Adventure to find the Haiti Broilers chicken farm in Thomazeau, Haiti to purchase more layers, housing likely millions of chickens far, far away from any other civilization. Such a high intensity experience, trying to find the location, communicate our purpose for being there, retrieve the chickens and correct paperwork on a crowded pay day, and finishing the day by joyfully releasing the layers into their new home and collecting 5 eggs along the way.
  • Chicken coop became a warzone between the old and new- super insightful to observe.
Relocating the eggs was a traumatic event for all

Relocating the eggs was a traumatic event for all

 

 

 

 

 

 

Views from the chicken farm

Views from the chicken farm

 

 

 

 

 

 

50,000 chickens per coop! Mezanmi!

50,000 chickens per coop! Mezanmi!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Preparing for Future Projects

  • Attempted meeting with village leaders to discuss business leader training possibility in 2018—rough because translator got called away right before the meeting and two of four leaders ended up not being present for various reasons.
  • Discussions of numbers of business leaders in DV villages, maybe if I ask the same questions enough times I’ll get accurate answers.
  • Reading the GrowBook about essentials for developing business in the developing world
  • Visit with another expat in Haiti discussing her vision for utilizing and exporting the beauty resources of Haiti

 

 

Inquiring minds want to know...a layer checking out Jerry's work as he helps me make improvements to the coop

Inquiring minds want to know...a layer checking out Jerry’s work as he helps me make improvements to the coop

In 2018 I’m deciding to be bold and unrelenting in the pursuit of what sets my soul on fire. I’m resolving to take care of myself, but by the grace of God not live for myself (Mike Donehey). I desire to simplify my life (it’s absolutely incredible how much junk I have drug with me to Haiti and collected along the way), and to spend time cultivating things that will advance my work in Haiti both now and in the future, and my life and the lives of those around me. May my story on January 1st of 2019 tell of these things, si Dye vle.

Bon ane! Happy New Year!

Looking back on 2017 like I'm looking out the back of the tap tap

Looking back on 2017 like I’m looking out the back of the tap tap

As the sun sets on 2017, I'm in awe of the beauty of the year and expectant for the sunrise of 2018

As the sun sets on 2017, I’m in awe of the beauty of the year and expectant for the sunrise of 2018

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Perspective

Yesterday I had the joy of a gorgeous boat ride on the Caribbean with Disciples’ Village staff a little before the sun set over the island of La Gonave for the evening. It’s amazing how much larger and magnificent the mountains of Haiti look from a few miles out on the ocean. While we can see the mountains from our campus and drive around at the base of them daily, this new perspective brings a larger picture of just how majestic they are—adding a new dimension of beauty to the place I get to call home.

The sun setting over La Gonave a few weeks ago...I was too caught up and covered in salt water to pull out my phone the other night but this is a close second!

The sun setting over La Gonave a few weeks ago...I was too caught up and covered in salt water to pull out my phone the other night but this is a close second!

The first time my feet touched this mountainous ground of Haiti was five years ago to this day. And just like a boat ride brought the size of the mountains into perspective, five years of questions, research, experiences, and the wisdom of those who have gone before has given me a drastically larger view not only of Haiti but of poverty, differing cultures, communication, economies, relationships, etc., my place in this world, and the interconnectedness of it all. While time has slowly revealed a greater understanding of these things and has brought a higher level of learning, leading, living, and thinking, I also recognize that if I’ve had my eyes and mind opened this much in five years, I cannot fathom how different my perspective will be in the decades to come.

A young Shersty trying to learn Creole five years ago. Little did I know that some of these kiddos would become my co-workers one day!

A young Shersty trying to learn Creole five years ago. Little did I know that some of these kiddos would become my co-workers one day!

The deeper into the waters I go the more of the island I see, but I know that if I keep moving away from the island it will eventually become a small spec in the distance. I wonder if life is like that. Each day you see more, learn more, experience more, and one day you realize just how small everything is in the grand scheme of it all. It’s an intriguing thought.

A particularly clear morning provided a gorgeous opportunity to capture the ocean and south side of the island on the way to a meeting

A particularly clear morning provided a gorgeous opportunity to capture the ocean and south side of the island on the way to a meeting

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anyways… here is a compilation of five lessons I’ve learned during a five year fixation on Haiti as told by Haitian proverbs and sayings.

  1. Figi ou se paspo ou…Your smile is your passport. This was the first proverb I came across when preparing for my first trip to Haiti, meaning a kind smile paired with an attempt to communicate in Creole will get you many places that you need to go. While Haitian and American cultures, communication contexts, economic statuses and a plethora of other things differ, we share the meaning of a smile and it goes to show how body language and actions often speak far louder than words. I also like to say that love knows no language…whether my Creole is working that day or not, I can love people regardless of what language they speak, their geographical origin, ethnic background, and many other things that often divide people are simply different from each other.
  2. Dye mon, gen mon… Beyond mountains, there are mountains. This little phrase packs quite a punch. Not only is this the meaning of the name Haiti (or so I’ve been told), the title of an insightful book by Tracy Kidder and Paul Farmer about their experiences working in Haiti, and an accurate description of the geography of Haiti—it is a kind reminder that after you face and conquer one problem or mountain, there is often another one waiting for you to traverse not too far in the distance. It would be hard for me to find a more accurate depiction of much of my time in Haiti thus far, one problem rolling right after the other. Yet while there are many literal and figurative mountains to climb here, the beauty that surrounds us and the richness found in the hike—though tiring at times—far surpass the momentary struggles and sticking points.
Some mountains take your breath away more than others. These in particular always stop me in my tracks.

Some mountains take your breath away more than others. These in particular always stop me in my tracks, or rather make me tell the driver stop  so I can take a picture

3. Piti, piti, zwazo fe nich li…Little by little the bird finishes its nest. I first heard this proverb in the context of learning to speak and understand Haitian Creole, and mezanmi (my goodness), this could not be more true! While we do not always know or see what the bird is doing while collecting and carrying twigs, threads, dirt, etc. off to an unknown location, piece by piece the bird crafts a safe haven for its babies and a foundation for a solid life. Little by little, piece by piece, a word here or there each day…and before you know it you are on your way to communicating in Kreyol—it just might take five years before you can put much of anything together! I’m finding this is also true of working in Haiti and of life in general. Each day I need to keep picking up twigs of information, threads of truth, the occasional ugly dirt of reality mixed in with the love of the process and maybe one day something beautiful and unexpected will be created from which to work from.

A picture of the woman who told me (through a translator) five years ago to not come back to Haiti until I had started to learn Creole. Yes ma'am!

A picture of the woman who told me (through a translator) five years ago to not come back to Haiti until I had started to learn Creole. Yes ma’am!

  1. Naje pou soti…Swim to get out. This is a friend’s description of the Haitian economy. The funny thing is that I have observed and been told that many Haitians have never learned to swim. Maybe if someone taught them to swim, or taught business/job/finance skills, and provided the initial resources to float in the sea, Haiti would be a different place in a few decades. It’s exciting to hear of ‘swimming lessons’ taking place all around and to get to play a small part in the big sea. Now the challenge is to teach people to swim, and then convince those who know to stay and teach the person behind them that they all might rise up together to create the infrastructure and systems necessary to float and not have to fight for survival in a rough ocean all of the time.
  1. Blanc! Blanc! Blanc! This term for foreigners in Haiti is loaded with meaning and weighted down with the history of the western side of the island of Hispaniola and the people who have officially and unofficially controlled it. While not a proverb in the definition of the word, understanding the implications of being a ‘blanc’ has been a game changer in my time working, living, and loving in Haiti. The most common uses of this title of sorts include it coming from the mouths of sweet, innocent children trying to get my attention as I walk by and from not-so-naive adults who have observed the past and sometimes current reality of many foreigners giving hand outs. They are angry because I am not interacting with them in a way they perceive I should, i.e. I’m not giving them the money they think I have in abundance at my house that I’m not forking over.

I have been greeted with statements from both children and adults alike such as, “Blanc, ou visye!” “Blanc, ou shish!” Meaning White/foreigner, you are greedy/wicked! White/foreigner, you are cheap! These statements and accusations are so much deeper than the words being shrieked as I casually walk by. They stem from Haiti’s detrimental history of foreigners coming in and throwing money and supplies at people, destroying the local economies and putting many farmers and people in ‘ti commerce’ or small market stands out of business, because why would someone with little money want to spend it on food, clothes, and other needs when they are being given away for free or even dropped from the sky?

Decades of corruption of international aid organizations and the Haitian government have led to this point, leading to people perceiving me as greedy, stingy, cheap, or even wicked as I walk by simply because I am not giving them what they think I should. But who can blame them? All they know or want to remember of foreigners is the temporary handouts and money being thrown at projects that rarely follow through or live up to expectations.

While this is the reality that many who work and live in Haiti, I can either choose to let the locals’ perception of my purpose for working here derail my progress or I can take it into consideration and learn to move past it to accomplish what I came to Haiti to do. In the eyes of a few we foreigners might be greedy and cheap, but in the eyes of many we have come to shine light in the darkness together.

(Side note- not all or even a majority of the people I interact with on a regular basis think or act this way. Many understand that the United States does not in fact have money trees and value what we can bring to the table other than cash. These scenarios and themes just seem to be the common threads that keep me from easily accomplishing what I want to do in our communities.)

Sometimes I feel as effective as this goat trying to cross the road with a cheetos bag over his head

Sometimes I feel as effective as this goat trying to cross the road with a cheetos bag over his head

 

Through these proverbs and sayings I’m beginning to see that it is all about perspective. I can see my inability to communicate at times or choose to do what I know how and smile at everyone I pass. I can see the inevitable mountains ahead as discouraging or attack them ‘with enthusiasm unknown to mankind’ (Brian Cain via Belmont softball’s Coach Brian Levin), grow stronger from the challenge, and enjoy the beauty along the way. And on and on the proverbs impart their wisdom.

A futbol game at sunset beside the ocean. It's too bad softball was more of my thing than soccer. I was more of one for the hand-eye coordination games than the foot-eye coordination.

A futbol game at sunset beside the ocean. It’s too bad softball was more of my thing than soccer. I was more of one for the hand-eye coordination games than the foot-eye coordination.

To change up the conversation (however one-sided—although I would love to make it more two-sided if you are to comment with your thoughts) towards an update and in a more succinct fashion, November has been a month of coming to the end of myself, my plans, and my ideas. I’m realizing that I need to dial it back several notches and train up the business leaders in our communities with the hope that I come across a few who are investing in the people around them financially or even in more of a mentorship format. It is evident that being on the front lines of microfinance as a foreign woman in Haiti simply will not work in an honorable and sustainable way. My next step is finding local people of high integrity to ‘fight’ the battles in front with me supporting with all I have unseen in the back. It will take some doing and many long hours of grueling work digging out the trenches, but I’m willing to put in whatever it takes to create healthy and sustainable change in the economic climate of Disciples’ Villages’ partnering communities and maybe one day all over Haiti.

 

Other things that happened in November include the continuation of the chicken coop adventure, working on the small business our Alex’s House kiddos work with (drink sales and a souvenir store), and a variety of exciting and crazy times that spontaneously occur in the madness of this glorious life in Haiti. Our chicken coop employee is doing a marvelous job taking care of the chickens, selling eggs, and having someone help keep record of egg sales/revenue. Just yesterday she told me we need to buy more layer chickens because the demand for eggs in Trouforban is too high to keep up with our current amount. What a great problem to have, and I look forward to getting more chickens in the coop soon! I also spent more time talking with leaders in our communities about economic development and job creation possibilities. Possibly one ‘highlight’ of the month was a day spent in Port au Prince driving around and sitting at the car insurance place watching other people run around like chickens with their heads cut off (not my chickens) trying to transfer papers and purchase insurance, ending the day heading back home in a car purchased by a couple also working with Disciples’ Village. It was a taste of freedom through another car and driver and a glimpse into the chaos of dealing with government agencies.

Egg sales records make me a happy coop manager of sorts!

Egg sales records make me a happy coop manager of sorts!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The only documentation I have of our adventure in Port trying to transfer car papers and purchase insurance

The only documentation I have of our adventure in Port trying to transfer car papers and purchase insurance

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life is grand, and the simple joys and small victories make passing through the mountains 100% worth it. Similarly to “ain’t no mountain high enough, ain’t no valley low enough, ain’t no river wide enough…”, there ‘ain’t no’ problem complex enough to keep me from choosing a positive perspective...sometimes I just need to find a different location to view it from. As always, God’s grace sustains me and the love of Christ compels me forward. With joy I run into December ready to keep climbing the mountains beyond mountains of Haiti.

The simple joys of driving up on two baby goats frolicking amongst the cement!

The simple joys of driving up on two baby goats frolicking amongst the cement!

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A Higher Level

The more I learn the less I know.

The reality of this phrase is becoming more evident with each passing day, leaving no realm of life untouched. With language, culture, faith, economics/finance, business, relationships, life, emotions, health, myself, and on and on, it is beautifully frustrating to get a glimpse of all the knowledge, wisdom, and information roaming around in the world but knowing that it is unlikely I’ll ever obtain even a small fraction of it all. I’m learning a higher level of learning and thinking, of living and loving and leading, and it is revealing in abundance how little I actually know about myself, my faith, my host country and it’s culture and language, of leadership, microfinance/economic development, and life in general. And it’s awesome.

It appears the more Haitian Creole I learn, the more aware I become in real life conversation just how far I have to go to become fluent and to truly understand what is being said beyond picking up singular words. Learning a higher level of a foreign language is tough but oh so rewarding to get around a tad more on my own. I have even come across my new favorite Kreyol expression equivalent to “I’m chilling like a coffee cover” while learning the slang of everyday conversation.  Absolutely incredible. Why don’t we say things like this in English?

In knowledge and understanding of business/financial management in a third world country, just when I think I’ve communicated something clearly, I often find that my words were likely taken out of context and heard as they wanted to be heard. While not a completely foreign concept, talking and asking about savings and loans in a deeply impoverished nation proves to be tricky. I’m learning to think on a higher level to recognize how my words might be taken before I say them and to make the appropriate adjustments.

The more I inquire about and observe Haitian culture, communication, and interaction in a collectivist context, the further I realize I must go in learning to communicate effectively and efficiently in a style far different from my own. This higher level of communicating extends into my culture of origin too, as I learn to recognize and respect where people come from and how that effects every aspect of life.

The larger the amount of leaders I observe becomes and the more leaderships scenarios I find myself in, the more I cringe at how I have led people in the past but I’m ever more grateful for the incredible number of examples of great leadership I grew up with and am surrounded by now. Leading at a higher level is grueling work, and forever I will be thankful for the many who have gone before me and taken the time to smooth the way that we might achieve more than they ever dreamed possible.

The deeper my friendships become with those I’m doing life with and the many people I’m meeting on a regular basis, the more I see my shortcomings in relationships, communication, and thoughtfulness and I appreciate unconditional love and grace all the more because it. is. hard. to put others before myself and to be aware of their needs when I’m still figuring out my own.

The more aware I become of my intentions, thoughts, and actions and the Holy Spirit reveals piece by piece my many shortcomings, the more I learn of my utter dependence on the sovereign Grace of God and the less I understand how a righteous God could ever use a sinner like me. Mèsi Jezi pou gras ou.

However, in the midst of frustrations stemming from my many shortcomings both internal and external due to taking steps towards living on a higher level, there have been so many glorious moments in October shining a light on what I have learned. With each passing day, I am continually more in awe of the lessons and experiences being had here in Haiti. The learning curve is steep when immersed in a foreign culture, country, language, academic disciplines, and a new stage of post grad life, but I would not want to spend these precious days any other way. I’m being stretched beyond what I could have previously imagined and experiencing feelings I have never felt or recognized before. My cup is being drained faster than ever but now simultaneously being filled at a rate impossible by human standards. Coming to the end of my knowledge and understanding of the world around and within me is a beautiful (yet painful) thing, and I am eager to continue plowing through new territories while striving for higher levels.

The stunning few after an early morning run!

The stunning few after an early morning run!

Here are some abbreviated versions of October’s many lessons, difficulties, adventures, new norms, simple joys and small victories, and progress in microfinance/economic development/job creation in Haiti:

Lessons Learned

  • God did not give me the gift of skillful hands—I have struggled to create a wooden frame for a painting, build box for chicken food, mini chicken coop for sick chickens and am oh so thankful for the MANY people who have helped me and taught me things like how to use a skill saw and drill along the way
  • Striving to obtain peace with craziness of post grad life in general, let alone trying to figure it out in a third world country. Grace upon grace upon grace from God and for myself as His plan is revealed
  • 1 Peter 4:10 NASB “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” I need to be a steward of God’s grace—something I have not been doing in exhaustion.
  • Regretfully I found the end of my own strength and mistakenly I didn’t cry out to Jesus for help nearly as quickly as I should have. It was ugly, and I pray it will turn out differently next time.
  • The abundance of scattered and semi burnt trash in Vielo that I didn’t notice until today is kind of like my sin. It is ugly, unclean, impure, not supposed to be there, bad for the environment and our health, and I often get used to seeing it all over Haiti and not cleaning it up until one day it stops me in my tracks after building up for so long.
  • The joy of the Lord must be my strength (Nehemiah 8:10) Joy is a fruit of the Spirit that must be cultivated in the good and the bad.
  • Communication on my end must improve with people back in the United States—family and friends that pour into me and keep me going here in Haiti. The times I felt drained this past month is when I had isolated myself from those who know me best.
  • Grace upon grace upon grace, given by God alone, is my sustainer and source of hope

Difficulties Encountered

  • Continuation of ‘manifestations’, demonstrations, protests, and strikes at the beginning of October, making it difficult to get out and about around Haiti
  • Letting my spirit run on empty—not good for me or the people I was doing business with
  • Miscommunications and continually being reminded of gaps in my knowledge of Haitian culture and how to properly be assertive while being culturally sensitive
  • “My mom doesn’t have a house either”… there will always be a need. I struggle to keep a laser focus on the tasks I have been called to do.
  • Some days I don’t know if I can say ‘no’ one more time to the endless requests for money, food, and water from kiddos—sometimes it makes me wish I didn’t know the Creole to understand what they are saying. No matter how hard I try to explain that a dollar won’t help or that I don’t have enough crackers or water for all of the kiddos who will come out of the woodwork if I begin passing them out, I understand that their circumstances and meager upbringings make it difficult to look beyond the immediate and see the bigger picture.
  • More grossly swollen mosquito bites on my arm, wrist, and face…for some reason nothing breaks my spirit faster than a deformity on my face.
  • Letting my spirit be depleted and suffering from a physical manifestation of what was happening within.
  • Note to self–parasites might be hiding in the yummy street food. But who knows that you acquired it there unless you try it again??
"Lalo" aka potential home for parasite that may or may not be residing in my stomach

“Lalo” aka potential home for parasite that may or may not be residing in my stomach

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zizi Ze (Sassy Eggs- my temporary name for DV’s chicken coop)

  • Disciples’ Village first economic development project came to fruition halfway through October!
  • I thoroughly enjoyed the process of researching the current egg market in Trouforban, forecasting revenue and expenses, pricing to keep other sellers in the market, measuring land, pricing and purchasing supplies for coop, etc.
  • Language of coop—it is DV’s coop and we are hiring an employee to ensure they don’t say “It’s my coop and I can give the eggs away, sell/kill the chickens…” with the possibility of having her purchase it in increments in the future , etc.
  • Working with fixed salary while training and will shift into percentage of egg sales once we get more layers. Other revenues will go towards savings for employee(s), reserves for future chicken purchases, food, repairs, etc.
  • Interviewing and briefly training employee for coop—I learned to stop assuming that everyone can read and write, searched for the proper questions to ask to learn the information you desire and to make it clear who is the best option to hire
  • Endless frustration trying to find layers to be purchased by Friday, communicating in another language, difficulties picking up b/c manifestation
  • Joy of meeting chickens and seeing them lay their first eggs!! Mesi Jezi!
  • Excitement from first egg sales!
  • Interesting process of writing up contract in simple but sufficient terms, translating and proofing Creole, etc., walking through pricing and sales, learning of first sales!
  • Realizing things needed for the coop—a box for eggs and food, isolation coop, etc.—and trying to build them with the help of SO MANY PEOPLE. It has and will continue ‘to take a village’ to get this coop up and running and to keep it going. I’m so thankful for the many people who have helped construct boxes, patiently teach me to use a saw and drill and how to best stabilize things, and transport things back and forth from the coop. 
The completed coop!

The completed coop!

 

 

 

 

 

 

In progress and providing jobs along the way

In progress and providing jobs along the way

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Norms- Becoming Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable

  • Uncertainty is uncomfortable—it doesn’t matter what I want but what God wills—this is becoming the mantra of my work and life
  • “Who’s in more danger…the persecuted or the comfortable?” KB’s “Crowns & Thorns (Oceans) Ouch. Where am I letting my desired comforts get in the way of seeing the needs of those around me?
  • 4:45 am wake up, 5:30 breakfast, 6:00 departure for church or meetings at Vielo is by no means abnormal anymore, and I love life that way.
  • Walking through a very active market and then on up the mountain via aqueducts and dirt paths is totally normal to visit one of our partnering communities. There is such beauty to behold past ‘normal’
  • Aimlessly roaming around the side of a mountain looking for a boss farmer lady that stood out during the census, not having a clue where I was going but equipped with the determination to find her. And upon finding this sweet soul, sitting down with her on her front porch without a translator and trying to communicate back and forth about her current farming methods, equipment, seeds, irrigation, etc. and how they can be improved upon…a previously extremely uncomfortable situation but now a semi-regular occurrence.
  • While a traumatic event for some, standing on the side of a very busy road after our truck broke down one morning is something that I didn’t even think twice about or remember by mid afternoon—as it is not the first time I have stood/walked on the side of that road nor do I think it will be the last.
  • Never did I think that I would be managing a chicken coop or researching chickens. The good Lord has a sense of humor.

Simple Joys and Small Victories

  • During the wedding of two friends this summer I decided that it would be neat for my future wedding ceremony to be spoken in both English and Haitian Creole—and even better yet that I desire to have two ceremonies, one in the United States and one in Haiti, so all of the people I so dearly love can be in attendance. It is with great joy that I report that I have found the church that I will have my Haitian wedding ceremony in one day. It features crisp, yellow concrete walls, plenty of room for the many people who have become family here, a short walk from Alex’s House/Disciples’ Village, electricity and operating fans… what more could one want??
  • Observance of a ‘legal’, peaceful protest with police walking along the street with the protesters; street signs and road improvements; fixing a river/path destroyed by hurricane Matthew a year ago—progress is progress!
  • The pleasure of being in the presence of great leaders and having them ask challenging questions
  • A visit to a bakery centered around job creation to meet a fellow expat doing the economic development/job creation thing in Haiti and learning about the “GrowBook: 25 Essential Drivers of Small Business Success in the Developing World” that can be found in both English and Haitian Creole!! I look forward to reading in my spare time
  • Small victory: two trips and many outgoing, incoming, and missed phone calls later, we were able to retrieve the small amount of money overcharged for the layers and supplies
  • Meeting with leaders in partnering village to start discussing various methods of economic development/job creation
    • Brought ‘ti manje’ of bread from bakery, moringa bread I had made, and eggs from the coop to showcase various job creation possibilities
    • Markets for sewing, a bakery, broiler chicken coop, water purification, etc.
  • Joy of sleeping in long sleeved shirt for over a week! Mesi Jezi for showers, electricity throughout the night, fans, cooler weather, and a homey room! The sponsor of the house I stay in came in October to finish our rooms. While I am oh so thankful for a space to myself with a bed and fans no matter what it looks like, she painted the walls a beautiful light shade of yellow, made a daybed, hung some paintings and curtains, placed some rugs on the floor and made an oasis away from the unpredictability and madness of life in Haiti. Sound sleep has made me realize the importance of creating space to breath and retreat to, and for that I am ever thankful for the kind soul who is turning our house into a home.
  • Disciples’ Village’s PR director came in October and brought the GrowBook and chocolate—I almost teared up out of thankfulness. Mesi Jezi
  • Started running again—I didn’t realize how much I needed that time to myself to zone out (while still being aware of surroundings), jam to hype music, and enjoy the beauty around me
  • A MAN IN VIELO GAVE ME A GIFT OF 7 AVOCADOS!! MY CUP OVERFLOWS!!
  • Seeing the good record kept of eggs sold after being uncertain that our coop employee and I were on the same page. It wasn’t exact but we can work with it!
  • Not being able to purchase eggs from our own coop due to demand from the community and so few chickens currently.
The coop has a captive audience on most days--the kiddos are super interested in the chickens!

The coop has a captive audience on most days–the kiddos are super interested in the chickens!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our first eggs! Mèsi Jezi!

Our first eggs! Mèsi Jezi!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

October has been a dream filled with quite the spectrum of high and low points, and I enter into November more equipped than before and ready to take on the next higher level I am to achieve.