Last week I tagged along on a trip up the mountain to Vielo where a parent meeting was scheduled before school starts the first week of September. The visit served several purposes for me, one being to talk to an awesome business woman who has established a little shop after the hardest part of the hike, the second to selfishly see and spend time with a community I have fallen in love with, and the third to sit in on some discussions regarding the school and village developments. The mid-day hike was a little toasty and more breath taking than usual but so worth it to see and learn from my friends. What stood out to me most was a conversation concerning the building of outdoor toilets for the school. After the hole had been dug progress had been halted for various reasons, and the Disciples’ Village staff and parents worked out a deal that if they provided the rocks to line the hole and build a firm foundation, we would come after them and supply the funds necessary for the blocks, cement, roof, etc. When later thinking about the agreement that was reached, I marveled at what that little building will represent. People who pass by in the future will only see a few rocks of the foundation and mainly notice the walls and roof. They will not see the hard work it took to carry the rocks up the mountain, only the finished product. It seems as though I’ve been carrying and placing rocks for the foundation for a while now, and I am elated to report that it is time to start raising up the boards for the framework!
In other words, if July was the month for climbing then August has been a month of finding a nice spot to camp out for a while and build a sturdy foundation. The past few weeks have been filled with many highlights and several low points, a variety of challenges and struggles and lessons learned and things to think about, and many works in progress, pivotal decisions, and dreams of exciting times ahead! Step by step this framework for economic development is moving forward, and soon it will be time to start using this ‘building’!
Time. Is. Absolutely. Flying. Each day brings new discoveries and jewels of information, and sometimes I feel like the more I learn the less I know. August was an especially educational month where I got to pick the brains of several people currently putting their own spin on micro finance in Haiti. They shared with me their success, their struggles, and overall invaluable information that will help maneuver past some of the hard spots to inevitably arise on my assent up the mountain of economic development. Many opportunities also arose to visit and inquire about several job creation/non-monetary loan possibilities for our communities. With my time at Belmont, the many people who have poured into me, seemingly endless HOURS of research online and on the ground in Haiti, and the grace of God as the cornerstones, August and it’s many adventures has one by one filled in the large stones needed to get the foundation ready to be built upon! While there are still a few weak spots and details that need to be filled in, September is ready for meetings to train future savings group leaders, pre-savings group meetings to prepare and inform future group members, preparations for job creation in our communities, and business lessons upon business lessons to a wide range of audiences!
Here is a (not so) brief recap (compared to all that has happened over the last 31 days) of the (sometimes not-so) glorious times August held here in Haiti!
- Ending my 21st circle around the sun unbelievably in awe of the past year—senior year of college, life-changing coaching staff, deciding to move to Haiti post-grad, classes that challenged me more than ever before but prepared me for the ambiguity and out-of-the-box thinking necessary for life in Haiti, seeing the fruits of planting and watering many seeds of friendship over four years of college, the beautiful exchange of knowledge through new relationships, leadership and life lessons in abundance, more mistakes made than ever before but increasingly more aware of God’s unconditional love and grace, and the list of many sweet times can go on and on. 21 was fun, and I have high expectations for 22!
- Exploring the natural beauty of Haiti via hiking and snorkeling and wishing others could and would do the same. I am far too aware of the desperate poverty that is all around me, but I greatly enjoy seeing the glorious potential the west side of Hispanola has to offer for those who look—this leads into a ‘pet peeve’ of mine: people saying ‘poor Haiti’, those ‘poor’ people, having this savior and ‘greater than’ complex about them. We are foreigners in this land. We are not Haiti’s savior—Jesus Christ is—and it is our responsibility as people seeking the best for others to invest and push Haiti forward in a way that respects and honors the natives, the culture, and the dignity of all we work with.
- “Connecting” with others in microfinance and learning about how other people are bringing about economic development all over Haiti and picking up what I think will work for our villages
- Experimenting with the fresh foods Haitian markets have to offer—lots of rice and beans, bananas, avocados, passion fruit juice, and PLANTAIN TACO SHELLS!!
- My first of many fruit-bearing trees—a mango tree of my very own!
- Becoming more conversational, hearing and understanding more Creole—leading to greater conversations with people I meet and seeing the beauty of someone light up as they tell you their story
- A crippling ignorance displayed when many locals believed what the radio said about radiation from the eclipse burning skin if exposed. The streets were bare on a trip into Port au Prince that day.
- “Pran li! Pran li! Li pa gen fanmi. Pran li!” Or the cry “Take him! Take him! He doesn’t have family. Take him!” that met my ears in the market one day. I didn’t know whether to shake it off and laugh or to burst into tears. I’m still not sure this has been processed in my brain yet.
- The stark reality that apart from the people of Haiti coming to know Christ, I think one of the last things the enemy wants is for the economic, political, and social tides to change and the potential of Haiti to be realized and capitalized upon on a large scale. This means that with every small step closer to economic development and advancement, the push back and challenges will become greater and harder to cross. Fortunately for me, I know that the almighty God who created the world and holds it in His hands is on my side fighting for the people of Haiti. There is no darkness that the light of Christ cannot illuminate, and there is no evil that God’s goodness cannot overcome. No swollen face will stop me, no anxious thoughts of doubt will keep me from pushing forward with the help and grace of God alone.
- Minor yet annoying physical ailments like inexplicable rashes and an unattractive reaction to mosquito bites on my face—I can handle a lot of annoyances that pop up on my skin from time to time because well, Haiti, but something about my face being slightly distorted cuts to the core of my fear of my face never looking the same.
- The realization that I was not returning to Belmont at the end of August—strange mixture of longing for the school and people I love, thankful for what my time at Belmont taught me, and looking forward to continuing to use the knowledge that was abundantly poured into me
- Deciding on best action for the implementation of chicken coops in one of our villages—it’s a good thing I learned how to research, calculate, and forecast expenses and revenues in Entrepreneurial Financial Management and think through market ‘pain’, proof of concept, and operational plans in Venture Planning! My fellow Belmont entrepreneurship students will understand.
- Individual, institution, industry, infrastructure, and investment breakthrough—finally realizing the need for simultaneous advancement in all of these areas and how the progress of one can be hindered by the stagnant or declining state of another.
- Cannot have a 4.0 in every area of life- a 4.0 in economic development means many relationships and potential experiences will suffer—I’m forever having to be reminded of this lesson.
- It’s extremely difficult and seemingly silly to let go of “good” things in life when they are keeping you from what is “best” even though you might not see it yet
- What goal setting looks like outside of the and arena of athletic and academic competition—planning on what I want to accomplish before the end of the year
- Meetings with parents of DV school students—evident that they have no concept of saving money, preparing for future needs, etc.—CANNOT SAY NEED FOR SAVINGS GROUP ANY LOUDER
- DO NOT ASSUME that people in Haiti will react the way you would react, think through things the way you would think, take initiative, etc.
Things to Think About
- Talked to a friend who grew up in Haiti and had recently visited the Virgin Islands—this conversation got me thinking about the similarities and differences of the two Caribbean nations and wondering how the VI progressed the way it did, and how can that be replicated in Haiti? Maybe this has much to do with the initial ownership of the islands and the possibility of investments that have been made
- Idea of non-monetary loans through physical and human capital investments—building bread oven and ‘loaning’ flour, making a way for sewing lessons and ‘loaning’ sewing machines and necessary supplies, working together to build chicken coops and ‘loaning’ chickens, feed, and coop—all to be repaid with profits made from new jobs. Ideally this could kill two birds with one stone, the necessary investments into economy and the jobs to put them into.
- Have successful business people in Haiti come to lessons to share their knowledge, experiences, and overcoming of obstacles
Works in Progress
- Preparing to teach basic business and finance lessons through DV adult education program
- Teaching leadership and business lessons at Alex’s House for interested staff and kiddos
- Analyzing the financial cost and impact of chicken coops in a partnering village, and thinking though a maintenance plan to ensure sustainability
- Laying the foundation for Savings Groups in Vielo—talked with DV director, pastor, and principle in Vielo to get permission, outlined expectations and benefits, wrote out timeline of events, to begin recruiting members and training leaders in September to have this thing off the ground the first week of October
Whew! What a month! If you made it to the end of all of that craziness, thanks for sticking with it and I appreciate the time you took to read about what I have been learning and experiencing. None of this would be possible without the support of Lumos, the guidance of Bill, Steve and many others at Disciples’ Village, the many translators who are willing to work closely with my project, my extraordinary family and friends for encouraging the pursuit of my dreams, and above all the amazing grace and unconditional love of my unbelievably mighty God. No amount of thanks can do justice for what I feel for all who have walked with me this far. If this is a glimpse into what the next two years of my life will hold, I cannot wait to continue building upon the mountain of micro finance and enjoy the view along the way.