As of Monday, I have officially made the big move to Gonaives, Haiti. It is so surreal to finally be here, and these first few days have been filled with so much excitement and joy as I’ve started to come to terms with the fact that this is actually my real life for the next year. I feel like I’ve stepped into my higher calling, and it has been so fulfilling already.
As providence would have it, my flight from Atlanta to Port Au Prince was the same flight as Beaver and St. Juste, leaders with MUCH. They were making their way home from a week of fundraising in the USA. Beaver and Kathy Brooks are the founder leaders of MUCH. MUCH is organized into three distinct entities that work together to accomplish the mission: The transformation of individuals, families and communities from systemic poverty to a place of thriving at every level of life.
Market Place Gonaives (MPG) Strategy : A physical space that hosts an environment where businesses, entrepreneurs and employees thrive. The renovation of the old Match factory in Gonaives into a commercial retail development.
2nd Story Goods Strategy: Dignity through jobs Those trapped in crushing poverty are best served when presented with opportunity to realize their abilities and earn a living by their own hands.
PROLEAD Strategy: Education that flips broken businesses and employee relationships. Creating a healthy sense of personal power and responsibility and company culture where everyone thrives!
MUCH has been working on Market Place Gonaives (MPG) for several years now. MPG will include the first full-service grocery store outside of Port au Prince in the entire country, as well as space for vendors, a cafe, an auditorium, and space for both Pro-Lead and 2nd Story Goods. MPG was supposed to open in September, but they received heart-breaking news in July that the outside walls of the building (which were already standing before the project was started) are not earthquake-proof. Beaver and Kathy were grateful to receive this news prior to opening the Marketplace, but described the news as feeling like they were climbing a really big mountain and thinking they were almost at the top, only to find out they had much farther to go. So, it is an interesting time for me to be here, as they are working very hard to fundraise the rest of the money they need to complete the building. (I have just skimmed the surface on MUCH’s projects here. If you are interested in learning more, please check out their website at much ministries.org)
My plane ride to Haiti was eye-opening. As soon as I got on the plane, I saw that the amount of Americans outnumbered the amount of Haitians and it made me feel a number of things, one of them being that it is a reminder of humility amidst texts from everyone at home telling me to “go change the world” that there are many people here already trying to do just that and none of us have found the answer yet. As I landed and looked out over my new home, I was overcome with a feeling that this was exactly where I was supposed to be all along and that it is God who has brought me here.
Kathy was waiting for us outside of the airport when we arrived. Kathy will be my boss for the next year, as I will primarily be working with 2nd Story Goods. When I was here 3 years ago, Kathy and I developed a deep connection, and she became one of my biggest role models and closest friends. We have kept in touch since I left, and I am so excited to get to spend this year working under her and learning from her, as she is one of the wisest people I’ve ever met! As we all piled into the car that was already half-way filled with materials for 2nd Story Goods, Kathy introduced me to Manoucheka, a woman in her 30’s who was adopted from Haiti when she was 3 and grew up in Holland. She studied fashion design and is in Haiti for 5 months; she is working with another organization doing fashion design for at least the first 2 months and we are hoping that she will come work with 2nd Story Goods for the remainder of her time in Haiti. So, she came along on the 3 hour ride from Port au Prince to Gonaives to spend a few days testing the waters at 2nd Story Goods. Manoucheka and I became fast-friends during the car ride; she has only been here for one month, so she is also adjusting to the culture, language, and hot weather. She stayed with me in a guest house for the few days she was in Gonaives, and I saw having her here as a huge blessing as I was adjusting.
In my very first few hours in the country, I got a taste of the complexity of the challenges that Haiti faces. We were all chatting away during the car ride when suddenly, St. Juste told Beaver to quickly pull over the car. We had, unknowingly, driven straight into the traffic caused by a manifestation. Manifestations are protests that happen in Haiti when the people are frustrated with the government and want to get their attention. They often cause road-blocks in the process. While we were waiting in the car, St. Juste got out to find out what was going on. He found out that the people were very angry because every time it rains, water floods their houses and businesses and they want the government to fix their streets so this doesn’t happen anymore. After waiting a little while for things to calm down, we were able to pass through the rest of the town safely.
We soon saw why the people were so upset when we passed a street that was flooded with at least 2 feet of water and it was getting in all of the buildings on that street, with various possessions floating around in the water. We were very thankful to get through and sat in silence for some moments as we passed by the pink and orange sun setting on beautiful rice fields and the beauty of Haiti shone through again, before they asked St. Juste his opinion. We had an interesting conversation about how there are ways for them to get this done without a manifestation; they form a community association and talk to the mayor, and then either the government or an NGO responds. However, often times the government takes a long time to do something, so they get very frustrated, angry, and grieved over time and a manifestation happens, in an attempt to get the government’s attention. Beaver made the comment that all they need to do is get the water in the houses of the people who are making the decisions, and then the problem would be addressed over night. This led to a conversation about loans that were given to Haiti many years ago for development projects and now it is time for the money to be paid back, but it is clear that the money was stolen by some a Haitians instead of invested. St. Juste said that he feels the best way for loans or aid to happen would be for the organization or country to ask the Haitian government to present which projects they think need to happen, and then instead of giving them the money, that group or country would oversee the development themselves in order to reduce the likelihood of corruption.
Since Monday, I have been settling in and defining more clearly what my day-to-day will look like in Haiti. I have been in lots of exciting meetings, and in the coming days, I will have exciting news to come about what my role will be here for the next year. I also promise to take more pictures, but this is what I have for now!