Happy September! It is actually crazy that I’ve officially been on this Lumos journey for 11 months, with only one more month to go. It feels like it’s gone by so fast. Though I am planning on staying in Haiti doing the same work for another year after my Lumos time is up, the end of my first year in Haiti approaching is definitely significant.
And I most definitely feel like my creole should be better than it is by now. For some reason, I have in my head that after living somewhere for a year, I should be fluent in the language. That, apparently, is not how it works for most people, which has been hard news for me to come to terms with, since I sometimes place too high of expectations on myself. I still am getting 4 hours of creole lessons a week, 2 hours on Tuesday night and 2 on Thursday. I have been the only student in the class for about 3 months now, which I think has actually helped me progress a lot since I’ve been getting so much individualized attention. While my speaking and (finally!) listening are always improving, the hardest thing for me has been steadily increasing my vocabulary. I have struggled to find consistent ways to do that amidst the busyness of every day life. We finished our book a while ago, so Creole class has just been conversation recently, which has been super helpful. Now my teacher is sending me words to be learning every week, and I am sticking them on a sticky note in my laptop and sharing them with friends at work so I can be challenged to use them more. I am also trying to pay more attention to my accent because I can use a lot of improvement there as well. Learning the language has for sure been the hardest part for me about this whole thing. After being here for almost a year, it’s really becoming evident that relationships obviously only go as deep as we can communicate. And I really want to know what people on the street are saying about me as I pass by! (Or do I really?)
I spent this weekend helping our warehouse manager and operations manager finish up taking inventory. Since we have over 1500 SKUs in our system, this has been quite a laborious process, but so important. It has been clear for a while now that a lot of the numbers we have in our system aren’t correct, so getting these numbers correct is going to be so helpful for us not only in truly capturing our assets to better understand the financial health of the company, but also for me in my job. When I can see clearly what things we have a ton of sitting in the warehouse in Haiti, I can make a marketing plan accordingly to try to move some of that product.
Though we’re still not meeting our goals every week, we have seen an increase in sales this month which has been awesome. On weeks when I’ve felt discouraged the last time I looked at sales numbers on Friday, I have come back to work on Monday to find that a large order was placed on Friday and have been encouraged. One week this month, we even went over our weekly goal, which honestly provided such a vital shift in mindset for me. I’ve been thinking for a while that it is frustrating that our sales goals are only based on what we need to make to break even, rather than what we can realistically do. But doing this work that I truly believe is of the Kingdom of God requires learning a new dance. One of balancing hard work with trust. One of doing everything we can possibly do with what we have, and trusting God to make something out of it and to do the rest. So I am trying to practice going to God with the number of dollars we need, and saying, help us get here. Lead me in my ways, show me where to focus my time, give me guidance from those who know more than me. This is difficult, but the more I do it, the more I see the fruit of it.
One example of that is the back to school fundraiser we are currently doing. After hearing how hard it was for our staff to be laid off for 3 weeks, especially because of school fees being around the corner, I knew we had to do something about it. To show them that we hear them and care so deeply about this. We decided to link a $5 donation that would go directly towards our families’ school fees to one of our products, and also offer people the opportunity to just donate if they don’t want to buy the product. We decided to link it to leather keychains that have “Haiti” engraved in them. The story behind this product is that Benson, our leather artisan, had a ton of leftover leather scraps that he needed to figure out how to monetize. He came up with these keychains that we could personalize with our laser engraver, so we hopped on board to try to sell as many as we could as fast as we could. Then the laser broke and we had orders coming from so many different directions and it ended up being a pretty big mess. So anyway, we ended having these keychains engraved with “Haiti” sitting in the US warehouse with more on the way, and keychains are the perfect “back to school” item because you can attach them to backpacks! A pretty cool little redemption story. We’ve raised over $700 for the back to school fund in the past week, and hope to raise more before our deadline on September 9. I am excited to show our employees how much our tribe of customers cares for them and is with them, even during hard financial times.
Part of my original Lumos plan was to help entrepreneurs here write business plans. While that hasn’t happened in the way I originally imagined, I have been so thankful to have gotten to do so with two particular businesses that are so near and dear to me. I mentioned in my first few months here that I was helping Prolead (our employee training program) write a business plan for the coffee shop/juice bar that is going to open in our new building. We have officially set a grand opening date for Market Place Gonaives; November 2 is a holiday to celebrate Gonaives so we are excited to be able to align the opening with that date. After months of attention being focused on other pressing things with the building, conversations about the cafe have started up again and it is so exciting to see it start coming into fruition.
The second business plan I’ve been involved in has been Pedale. Remember how I mentioned friends of mine had started a kind of club around bike riding? Well they have found an investor and are turning it into a real business. I have gotten to sit with them to talk through the ins and outs of it as well as make financial projections. It has been so cool to see how this knowledge from school is so valuable , and I most definitely think my entrepreneurship classes were some of my most important in college.
Yesterday, we had a group visit 2nd Story Goods. Typically when groups come, they are made up of foreigners, but this group was different. A few Americans brought the older kids from a children’s home a few towns away so they could learn about us and start imagining jobs and dreams and skills they wanted to attain. This is the first time I’ve taken so much time to give a group a tour, and considering everything I had going on I am surprised but so glad I did. It was amazing to see faces light up as the world was opened to these young people who had never even been out of their home town. As I was talking about everything that Much Ministries is and stands for, I had one of those “I can’t believe this is my real life” moments. I couldn’t believe that I am actually apart of these amazing things I was describing. That I get to do more than just hear the stories; I get to witness them. That it’s more than just pretty words in a fundraising email but real, messy, beautiful life lived out, and real change is happening here. I am living my dream, and 11 months later, I still can’t believe it.