This past weekend while roaming around Port au Price running errands, we (Bill- founder and President of Disciples’ Village, Jennifer- his sweet wife, and myself) got a little turned around when trying to get back to the main road from Papillion Enterprise. Bill was looking at the outdated and incorrect Google maps app on his phone, Jennifer was looking for familiar landmarks, and I was no help sitting in the back seat thinking that street signs and an accurate map would be extremely useful as this point in time. I was aimlessly looking around, completely uncertain of our location, and increasingly aware of the absence of street signs that we so desperately needed to guide us on our way. The lack of street signs telling us where we were, where we were heading, and a map indicating street by street where we needed to go increased the difficulty of the unknown and made getting to our destination rather difficult.
Our little 10 minute detour drove home a potent point relating to my situation in Haiti right now—there are no obvious street signs or map to guide me in how to develop this micro finance project, no official sign of where I’m at or where I’m going, and no step by step directions to tell me the best way to attain sustainable economic development in our partnering villages. While there is an abundance of research and past/current programs to be observed, no two villages and needs are the same. But what I do know is that I must keep driving, keep researching, keep talking to community members and leaders, keep finding my way and above all keep praying for direction, guidance, and clarity in this exciting adventure of a project.
These past six weeks have felt like six days, and they have been filled with an abundance of growing experiences and insightful information about living in Haiti and the specific economic needs/current resources of Disciples’ Village’s partnering communities. With the help of several teams, some of my interns/associates and Haitian community members/leaders, we have collected a complete census of three of our four partnering villages and are halfway through the fourth community. The census allows Disciples’ Village to have an updated record of who is in our villages we partner with, what work they are doing, the education level of each family member, health needs, and living situations (house conditions, access to food/water, etc.) among other things. Through the census I have also been collecting information on families’ access to banks (savings, loans, etc.) in the area, how individuals are earning their income, what their business interests are (starting a business or investing in a current one), what challenges they face in starting a business in their village, and the physical, natural, and human capital of the area and families.
Participating in collecting the census has been beneficial in multiple areas of my project. This time has been spent getting to meet and build relationships with potential participants in Disciples’ Village’s up-and-coming micro finance program, hearing their stories while learning of their specific needs and what they are interested in. My understanding and speaking of Creole has also drastically improved through asking questions and listening to answers and only asking the translator for help on occasion or when the information is too important for me to translate incorrectly.
Most important to my project, the census is shifting my project and business model/plan from being assumption-based to being able to incorporate the real and difficult truths of the needs of our Haitian villages. While the research and planning I had done prior to moving to Haiti has been useful in knowing what to be looking for in our communities and has given a vague direction of what methods of economic development have been successful for developing countries in the past, nothing could have prepared me for the absolute lack of access to an economic infrastructure relating to banking systems and the absence of micro enterprises for micro loans to even be effective with the possibility of being repaid. Fortunately for me, “From Dependency to Dignity” by the Chalmers Center outlines what methods of economic development best aid the differing levels of poverty and this will help in knowing what direction to go in once the census of our fourth and final partnering village is completed.
Potentially the greatest challenge facing me right now is the drastic difference in the needs of each community. On one end of the spectrum we have one village consisting of farming jobs only 3-5 months out of the year with dirt and rock huts for shelter, and on the other end we have a village with many construction and masonry jobs where some residents have a car parked inside of a solid wall surrounding their multi-room, concrete home. All are in need of access to savings, loans, and business skill training but all are in different current income brackets and varying levels of foundational knowledge to get them on their way to a more stable economic position. In the words of Dr. Cornwall and Shawn Glinter, I can find myself trying to boil the ocean—or trying to pursue too many opportunities rather than focusing on one specific need of one level of poverty and developing a solution for it. The need is so vast and my time is so short in the grand scheme of things…I’m continually praying for God to provide a pillar of fire to lead me in the exact direction He would have me to go to make the greatest impact for the greatest number of people. People in each of our villages could use a variety or combination of savings and credit associations, micro loans, business development training, and job creation among other economic development opportunities.
The questions I’m faced with now are who will I choose to me my target market and customer? And what method of economic development most closely meets their needs that I’ve learned through the census?
In addition to gathering business and banking opportunity information from the census, I’ve had the chance to speak with several leaders and pastors in our partnering communities to get a feel for what they see as the needs and resources of their communities. It has been interesting to compare what they say to the information we’re getting from the families themselves. These leaders will be essential in the successful implementation of our micro finance program in our communities, and it has been a joy to get to know them and the people they serve.
The beginning of my time in Haiti has brought many joys and many challenges. With the help of Disciple’s Village leadership, each day I’m learning more about Haitian culture and the essentials for living and leading in Haiti. At times I have found myself frustrated with the difficulty of communicating with our Haitian staff due to the differing individualist/collectivist styles of speech, and I have learned enough Creole to know that our translators are not always correct—presenting difficulty when asking questions and receiving answers in our villages. It has also become evident that absolutely everything takes longer in Haiti, partly because of the many communication barriers and mainly due to random incidents that need to be resolved or that call for improvisation.
Living in Haiti has also brought many fun adventures and neat learning experiences in addition to microfinance. Hiking has highlighted many weekends and brought (literally and figuratively) breath-taking views as well as precious time spent with many people in Haiti that I love and am learning from. My favorite hike to date began at 6:30 AM to avoid the market traffic on our way to census a mountain village called Viello. We watched the sun rise over the mountains and had the chance to greet the sweet people hiking down to the market to sell their produce. Not only did I get to enjoy the hike up the mountain, but the community members proved to be very entrepreneurial and eager to invest more into their businesses and farming. Several weeks back I also got to tag along on a trip to see and tour a medical and dental clinic down the road where many Haitians are getting the care they need while providing jobs and training for other Haitians. We got to see the behind-the-scenes storage rooms, peak into the dental clinic, walk through the workrooms where prosthetics are built, and step into a fully equipped operating room—bringing joy to see first hand that Haitians are being trained in a variety of medical fields and using their knowledge to help their people.
To quote Switchfoot, “This is home, now I’m finally where I belong.” The peace that fills my soul and the joy that flows from my heart in both the good and the bad are reminders that I am exactly where I need to be at this time of my life. The lessons I’ve learned about life, economic development, and learning/living/leading in a foreign culture will stay with me for decades to come. I’ve been brought to a spiritual, intellectual, and cultural place of weakness, and that is where I know that Christ’s grace and power will be made perfect in and through me (2 Corinthians 12:9). Each day brings new situations requiring wisdom, clarity, and boldness far beyond what I currently possess, and I am being stretched and grown more than ever. I cannot wait to see what will become of this next month, six months, and two years, and I am ecstatic to continue driving on and creating my own map in the land of micro finance in Haiti.