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. Read More About Shersty →

Dear Shersty…

 

 

Time after time I have sat down to write a post that encapsulates all that has been my Lumos project in Haiti. Sometimes I start crying happy and sad tears simultaneously. Happy and grateful tears for all that has been these last 27 months—there are absolutely no words to express my gratitude to the Lumos committee, Disciples’ Village, Belmont, my family and loved ones, and Haitian staff and friends that have become family. Sad tears because in two years I’ve only scratched the surface of the depth and pain and suffering that cripples this country that has become home. I’m in utter awe of the people I get to share life with here, their stories, their suffering, their perseverance, and their joy…and my heart swells and I tear up every time I think of my love for them and how they have so graciously chosen to love me too.

My spirit cries now as I’m sitting at a local resort in the rain to write this post and watch football, but my mind is flooded with images of mommas trying to keep their babies dry as water runs under their makeshift huts and turns the earth floors into mud. I rejoice as one family comes to mind who we have recently helped get into a concrete room with concrete floors and a solid roof. Small victories have become my work’s lifeline here, in addition to God’s goodness and grace and the encouragement and support of my loved ones.

Other times it seems odd to write a final post and prepare a final presentation, as living and working in Haiti has become my reality and everyday life. It doesn’t feel as captivating as a few weeks or months and even years might seem in a foreign country—although each day continues to have unique and challenging adventures of its own. While I continue to learn so many things that I want to share about the world and life and people in my microcosm of a developing country (or is the term these days emerging market?? Can you even say that about Haiti??), I am at a loss as to how to communicate anything seemingly final. Each day I’m learning something new that makes yesterday’s lessons and projects seem naïve.

The reality is that these two years are only the beginning of my time in Haiti and development aspirations to come. A spring board, so to speak, launching me into a work and life that sets my soul on fire.

For now, all that has been put on my spirit is a letter to my sweet younger self as she leaves the Belmont bubble and dips her toes into the Caribbean ocean and the beginning of a lifetime of love, joy, lessons, victories, heartbreaks, humility, and hope. May future Lumos travelers and college graduates find some personal insight in these words, my community get a glimpse into what has been on my mind these last few years, and I some closure as I try to take this project and apply it to the next phase of my time in Haiti and work with Disciples’ Village. You can find a description of my next steps here.

I’m intrigued to read back through the letter and realize so little mention of actual activities and projects started. If you are interested in those details, my past blogs can be found under this one. You’ll find accounts of chickens, business leader training, car break downs, census recording, country-wide gas shortages, potholder sewing, microfinance beginnings, stories of strangers who have become family, my godchildren, manifestations, cultural and language faux pas, being a young, white woman, and the joys and pains that come from working and living in another culture.

At the end of the day, it appears my Lumos project has been about who I and those around me are becoming more than what we are doing. The daily activities are all just the means to an end of coming to the end of myself and overflowing into the lives of others to offer what I can to give a future and a hope.

P.S. this is probably revision number 24 on the letter. I finally had to give myself a time limit and go for whatever I could summarize and organize in an hour—which quickly turned into two 😉 I tried to be as concise as possible—but unfortunately Haiti and my experiences are not something that can be explained in a timely manner. Thank you for your patience and grace.

Dear Shersty,

Felisitasyon on finishing well at Belmont, and byenvini a Ayiti cheri! Enjoy this time of celebration and excitement, but keep it all in perspective that your brothers and sisters in Haiti have never heard of a GPA, softball, social entrepreneurship, Belmont, FCA, or anything that you have worked tirelessly to achieve up until this point. What matters now is what you have learned along the way: the importance of serving others when no one is looking, perseverance in the face of loss and fatigue, relationship building when you just want to draw inward, and how to laugh at yourself time and time again. You plunged into the pool of knowledge, learning, wisdom, and experience while at Belmont. But there is an unending ocean out there to explore, and you are now a cute, small, white fish in the big blue sea filled with fish of many colors and sizes and purposes.

Right now, your mission is to start a micro loan program for Disciples’ Village to fulfill the 8th benchmark after godly leadership, biblical teaching and discipleship, Christ-centered education, medical care, clean water systems, safe roofs, and sanitation. You will learn that all bench marks must work together for humans and businesses to advance. They will slowly materialize as funds come along. There is also a base level of stable infrastructure needed…something Haiti cannot offer her people. And you will begin to stare into the vacuum of corruption and indeed find that “the darkness around us is deep (William E. Stafford).” You will learn to make due with the current situations you have found yourself in, and my goodness you’ll have to get creative! But you will come out on the other side more compassionate, humble, broken, wise, and with invaluable relationships you wouldn’t otherwise have. You will have to find a firm foundation in something other than yourself, as all that you are now is simply not enough. And that is the most beautiful thing, because that is where true strength in Christ is found.

Bill will tell you that there is no guide book to starting a microfinance program, and my hope is for this letter to guide and encourage you along the winding and loopy path that you are about to embark upon. You will stumble, get lost, and chase rabbit trails, but you will meet some pretty cool people and learn an abundance in failure that you would have never known in early success. All things will work together for the greater mission at hand and for your good. And in due time, you will arrive at the beginnings of your goal to start a micro loan program with a much more firm and seasoned foundation than you began with.

To start, there is a lot of ‘self work’ that needs to begin to prepare your heart, mind, body, spirit, and soul for what is to come. This new environment has a way of bringing out the ugly hidden inside, and you will discover a variety of doctrines, habits, false thoughts, perceptions, frameworks, legalism, and triggers that you will need to unlearn. This is a process with no end, but having the humility to begin will greatly help you move more quickly through it all and on to bigger things. You will also become increasingly more thankful for your family and upbringing. There will be many times when Dad’s advice to junior high Shersty will come to mind, “Remember, you need to be extra careful to be nice today because you are tired.”

While humbling yourself to do the ‘self work’, be unwavering in upholding absolute truth. Truth transcends culture and standard of living and sex and corruption and language and generations. Seek to know truth, live truth, and lovingly hold yourself and others to the truth. Haiti—and the world—is filled with deep darkness and the enemy is looking to deceive, kill, steal, and destroy. This seems to increasingly come in the form of ‘personal truths’ and false ‘compassion’ that justifies and glorifies sin. True love and compassion is confronting your own sin, seeking forgiveness and grace, and sharing the hope, freedom, and joy you have found while pointing others to truth. Only the truth and light will set and keep you and those you love free. You will not-so-quickly learn that your capacity and reach will only go as far as your ability to set standards and boundaries and hold yourself and others to them. You must stand firm in tough love when holding yourself and others accountable no matter how weak or uncomfortable or uncertain you feel. People will try to take advantage of your kindness and youth, but stand firm on what you know to be right and true and be gracious along the way.

Shersty, dear one, you have strapped in to a roller coaster of an adventure of being a woman in this world and in a male-dominated culture and organization. You come from a long line of strong women and chose a university and athletic department where women have seats at the table and their voices are listened to and often sought after. This will not always be the case in the next few years and likely for your whole life. Chose to know your worth and value as a human and as a woman no matter how others perceive you. Being a woman is an honor—you have a power that is both fierce and loving, firm and gracious, and sensitive to the needs of others while having the capacity to solve systemic problems. Own the gifts God has given you as a woman and use them to build the Kingdom by the grace and strength that He supplies.

Daily you will find yourself in the tension between Haitian culture and hospitality and your individualistic upbringing in the United States. So much confusion and inner turmoil will come from wanting to participate in the community you live in but fighting to hold on to what you perceive to be yours. You will learn that if someone has food today and you don’t, they will share what they have today and tomorrow you will be expected to share what you have when their cup is empty. So much misunderstanding comes from locals seeing or perceiving what the blans/foreigners have that they don’t and not understanding why we blans don’t share more. You will learn to hold your personal space and belongings and money with open hands—as the more people you know and the more who know you, needs and wants will greet you every morning upon waking thanks to WhatsApp messaging and missed phone calls. Learn to set clear boundaries for giving sooner rather than later. Hopefully our future self will figure out how to handle these requests better, as this tension is currently draining every last drop of energy I have.

Shersty, while you have always known what you wanted to accomplish and have worked hard to get it, you will learn that not everything in life can be won with blood, sweat, and tears—which you will shed a lot of in the next few years. But hard work does pays off, just not always how you think it should. Please try to learn to be gracious with yourself a little faster—you will save a lot of needless worrying and calm your inner critic that way. It has taken until the last few months for you to understand how to set goals and break them down into strategic and actionable steps. But don’t worry, your floundering around in the meantime will still prove to be valuable as relationships take time and you will meet some remarkable people and see and learn some crazy things along the way. Each struggle, surrender, and ‘ah-ha’ moment will further prepare you and clarify your next steps in Haiti and in life. You will develop a heart that beats for women’s advancement—specifically those who have been left to care for kiddos and others with zero source of income or opportunity.

You will see things and learn stories that will cause you to question God’s goodness and faithfulness while walking around Dhal and seeing hut after hut pieced together with wood, tarps, bandanas, and scrap tin. The faces of the women and children who reportedly eat every two or three days will keep you up at night on several occasions. Keep questioning, but keep trusting. Not only will God prove Himself faithful, gracious, and good, but your paradigm will completely shift. You will gain a new understanding of true need and provision. His presence will become what you seek instead of tangible goods.

To turn the corner to more project-specific lessons learned: there is a handful of things I want to pass along that I hope will put you years ahead of where I started. 26 month ahead, to be exact, as that is how long it took me to finally administer our first micro loans. And I still have so much to learn and redo in reaching for excellence! But at the end of the day, most lessons are best learned by living through it, and you will have plenty of experiences to do just that!

First, do not hold one more meeting, interview one more person, or research another economic development method without getting a team/committee of national leaders to bounce ideas off of and get input from. While you have always been a lone wolf and prefer working alone to get stuff done, that is simply not possible to achieve real change in the real world—especially in a culture, socioeconomic, and political environment that is as foreign to you as the language being spoken. Truly listen to the advice and wisdom of those around you, and work it into the framework for everything you do. They know their people and financial situation better than you ever will, but too, keep in mind there are certain blind spots that stem from 200+ years of corruption and brokenness.

Also, do not start a new project without a national leader in it every step of the way. Delegating is not a strong suit of yours, but you will need and want as much input and local leadership as you can get to make projects endure for the long run. This will be a difficult but fruitful training ground for holding others accountable in the standards you have set and tasks assigned to do.  As you have heard many times, begin with the end in mind. And the end goal is nationally led business training, job creation, and microfinance projects that operate without a foreigner on the ground at all times.

Where are you going to meet these leaders? It truly does take time. Thankfully Disciples’ Village has a strong Haitian staff with many connections and solid community leaders who will recommend good people. Continue to reach out and listen to their stories and aspirations for their country even if you have to ask for yet another ride and coordinate one more translator.

Speaking of translating, Love, you have been saying you’re 60% fluent in Kreyol since the end of your second summer in Haiti. To this day, you are still 60% fluent but have thousands of hours of conversation and hundreds of new words under your belt. Vocabulary and slang and culture and relational context will be forever changing—but stick with it. It is all worth it to see eyes light up as people you pass in the street know you love them enough to study their language and culture. Your ability to communicate, joke, and speak truth in their heart language will lead to the sweetest of friendships in unexpected places. It will also help you earn the respect to be listened to by people who otherwise wouldn’t occupy a young woman in a serious conversation. As Coach Levin always said, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. You will hear many times, “Oh! White girls speaks Creole?!” Own it. Love it. Use it.  You will go through a phase when you hate your “other-ness” and the constant attention. Learn to use standing out as an opportunity to love others with an open heart and open arms.

Understanding Creole will also lead to disheartening times when you pick up slurs and hateful words otherwise not heard to untrained ears. You will be called cheap, stingy, wicked, evil, and foreign. You will be asked for almost every article in your possession, including to cut you hair and weave it into theirs. Men will ask you to have their white babies, and you will learn to graciously handle being be proposed to by strangers. Navigating these odd situations with a light heart and understanding spirit but a firm  “no” will prove to be invaluable.

When engaging in conversations, people will mostly respond and react to the assumptions and attitude you bring to the table during your interactions. For example, if you harden your demeanor as you roll down the window at a police stop, they will likely give you a hard time and point out everything wrong with your paperwork. If you smile and ask how they are doing while taking your sunglasses off, they will kindly inquire about your work in Haiti and wish you well as you drive off. Always be gracious to decline their inquisition of your phone number or Facebook profile info. This will be valuable in relating to and getting to know those you will work with. Haitians are a loving, warm, and playful people. If you carry this and a collectivistic perspective into business conversations, things will run much more smoothly and there will be less confusion on both ends.

Likewise, planning meetings and trainings will only go as well as the vulnerability and humility you demonstrate. Never, ever, think you know more than the locals just because you think you can see their situation from a higher, more ‘educated’ perspective. Not once have you lived an hour in their shoes, and you never will because your upbringing and perceived status will follow your blonde hair and white skin wherever you go. No matter how desperate or hopeless a situation gets, by the grace and mercy of God you have a massive support system in the US of A to pick you up—something a majority of the world cannot fathom.

Dear one, you must never speak of any financial opportunity unless in the context of a relationship where the other knows you are discussing possibilities—not grasping for any chance at a “gift” from the blan. Many people will ask you “So, what can you do for me?” as if you are obligated to help them because you are a foreigner and what else did you come to Haiti to do?? You will have to politely decline many times, but always keep your heart open for the tug when those without hope pass by. Some people are just being difficult, but many are asking because they have nowhere else to turn. Do everything in your power to give a hand up to the hurting and vulnerable.

To wrap things up, Shersty, there are too many words and not enough time to share with you what is about to go down in your life, in Haiti, and in the world in general. It will get crazy and challenging but wonderfully beautiful and expectation-shattering. In short, a few more pieces of info I want to pass along:

It, whatever “it” is, does not have to be perfect for you to begin. Start the project, have a conversation in Creole even if you don’t know all the words you will need, bring up that tough topic even if your opinions are not fully thought out.

Fix the car when it first shows signs of wear and tear or starts clanking. You will know the sound. Do not wait until you are an hour away from home and having to send someone on a moto to find a mechanic. Although these are unfavorable situations, you will meet some of your guardian angels and have some good laughs at yourself.

Sometimes you will be hesitant and timid and afraid. Go anyways. But learn to be sensitive to the Spirit in discerning God-given boldness to go and God-given wisdom to stay put.

The enemy will often lead you to believe that you have been isolated and set aside. Never confuse being set aside for being set apart. You were made to bear unique fruit from a branch located away from that of many of your peers. Location and perception does not make your fruit any less valuable. We all come from the same Vine.

Haiti will be “locked” a few times for various reasons, most involving some past and present government corruption, the people being tired of suffering (rightfully so) and evil taking advantage of vulnerable situations. You will learn to keep nonperishable food on hand and get creative with preparation. You will also experience a few gas shortages that cause prices to spike and work to slow. Use these times with limited mobility to quiet your soul and listen and to pour into those around you. Some of your greatest moments of insight will come when you still your mind and say, “Yes, Lord,” because there is simply nothing else to do.

In the end of your two years, you will realize it has all been the birth pains and joys of a new beginning. Every surrendering of possession and control, moment of bravery and gumption, and person that you meet will guide you into the next phase of your time in Haiti. Your heart will break and then beat for loved ones and their suffering you have yet to know, and you will find it easier to say yes when you need to say yes and no when necessary. Best wishes to you, dear one, and n’a we nan kèk ane! All my love and grace from the future.

In Christ alone,

SAS

Transitions

Bonswa zanmi’m yo! Good afternoon friends!

While my time as a Lumos Traveler has past, I am still in Haiti working with Disciples’ Village! To lay the groundwork for my final post, an update on my transition from my microfinance/business training/job creation Lumos project in Haiti with Disciples’ Village (DV) into a longer-term work:

As soon as construction is finished and the brick house is turned into a home, I’ll be moving in as the mentor for our Alex’s House young women’s transition house. You can learn more about Alex’s House/Disciples’ Village here. In this transition home, by the grace of God, I will shepherd several young ladies into becoming Haitian women who are zealous followers of Jesus Christ; wise, bold, and compassionate leaders; unwavering in their value as godly women; and have a heart for serving others.

Together we will learn to manage a household (budget, clean, maintain, and repair), prepare for financial independence (with money-making skills and prep for university), and become confident in their ability to communicate in English at a high level. Not to mention, have some fun figuring out intercultural living, exploring this beautiful world together, and inviting other young women to join us.

Women’s discipleship and advancement will also be an update to my work in Haiti with DV. I’ll continue to oversee and delegate for a majority of my current job creation and business training projects, but I will start to focus on the heart behind the women I’m serving with the discipleship of a few female leaders in our partnering villages.

As I will mention in my final post, stepping into my next phase in Haiti would not be a smooth transition or nearly possible without the last two years working on a microfinance project for Disciples’ Village through the Lumos Travel Award. These last 27 months have been invaluable in training me in language, culture, driving, healthy relationships, navigating markets, problem solving, applied economics, overcoming corruption, leading, and starting the process of surrendering my control over my future and plans.

In the living and working in Haiti, specifically with finances and job opportunities, I have found my heart beating more and more for the women who are suffering yet persevering here. I have seen both the pits of despair in raising children alone in abject poverty and the hope of women empowered with some love and business skills. My desire is to get ahead of generational brokenness by pouring my life into a few young women and leveraging the support of others during these next few years, praying they go on to boldly impact their nation for Christ and to build His kingdom here.

My sincerest offerings of gratitude to the Lumos committee; Belmont community; Disciples’ Village staff and family; my mom, dad, and sister; loved ones; and the grace and goodness of God. You all are the ones who have made every single day possible these last few years, as none of this has been done by my own strength but though the support and empowering of all of you. M’ap priye pou Bondye a beni nou anpil pou tout bagay nou te fè pou mwen.

I have this hope

Mid-July I sat down to do a quick assessment of the projects I’m working on now and planning for the future, trying to identify goals and value creation as the summer wraps up. While each project has a specific goal that is similar to the others but unique to its nature (i.e., the chicken coop and potholder sewing both create jobs but produce product specific goals), a few days later it struck me that above all I desire for my work to provide a future and a hope (2) for the individuals and families I have the honor of walking beside.

A little later I was climbing a rocky hill in the car I drive when the idea of hope hit me again while brainstorming names for a new project (because what is a project without a cool name?!) What is hope? Why is it seemingly in half the names of orgs working in Haiti? It is too simple of a name? Will the work live up to the definition?

A quick internet search says that hope is a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen; a person or thing that may help or save someone; grounds for believing that something good may happen; a feeling of trust (3).

This is exactly what I’m looking for: expectation, opportunity, belief in a brighter future, trust in the process.

Hope, faith, trust—are all concepts and ideals that can roll off of the tongue so easily…but what does it mean to truly lean into these things when you meet another woman whose husband has died, she has 5 kiddos to take care of with one on the way, no family in sight, gets kicked out of the home she is squatting in, and keeps offering her body to men to feed her children?? What do you say to the family whose momma pig (current large asset) unexpectedly dies, leaving six newborn piglets (future assets) behind? How do I talk through business plans with a mom who recently moved houses due to family problems and now does not know where she will live permanently and where her little gals will go to school?

Aid can be an appropriate short-term, emergency response but what will provide a future and a hope long term? We know skills/trades, jobs, TLC, and heart change are proven to bring about these things, but goodness gracious it is difficult to move from reacting to becoming proactive when the sweet faces behind these situations show up at your door.

July brought about many opportunities to live out this idea of hope. These mind-boggling situations brought a lot of clarity and focus to what projects I want to keep moving forward and who they will be best tailored to serve. I have said I am hopeful and expectant before, but now I’m to the point where both happy and sad tears flow when I think about the circumstances of the women and families I get to know and the excitement of old and new things coming to fruition.

I have this hope, friends, because I know the best is yet to come. And I don’t want to stop working to bring a future and a hope until little ladies like the one in the featured photo get to wake up each day excited and expectant for the honorable opportunities that lay ahead.

(1- “I Have This Hope,” Tenth Avenue North; 2- “a future and a hope,” Jeremiah 29:11; 3- hope definition, Google dictionary)

July was filled with both hopeful and seemingly hopeless times. This was probably the hardest month to relive through writing, as so. much. happened. even though I mainly only highlighted the good. I’m finding that some stories are not meant to be shared right away, but in due time they will come through as it all has shaped me and how I will live, love, and work in the future. For now, here is a glimpse into the glorious month of July that passed by in the blink of an eye!

In the business training world, we wrapped up our group trainings/meetings that began in June and moved into individual meetings to work through business plans and micro loan applications with each lady. By the end of the month we had three plans that are projected to be profitable! Our microfinance committee decided to fund the business proposals and now our trainer is meeting with the women once a week then once a month to track their progress as they repay the loans. We also prepared to do another business training with our potholder sewing ladies in Dhal during my absence in August. Most of the ladies have expressed interest in doing business, and my hope is for them to learn solid business principles and money management/record keeping to properly manage and invest their salaries from potholders!

Our potholder sewers also continue to make good quality products that are selling well at our Alex’s House girls’ souvenir store! We continue to spend time during our weekly meetings discussing business ideas and better sewing techniques with the help of Rose. I look forward to observing the progress these women will make in their sewing skills and overall understanding of business and setting standards of excellence.

This little business has become so much more than women making potholders. It is an opportunity for these women to earn a small income with dignity and improve the lives of their families while advancing themselves. It is an honor to observe and learn from them, and I have even gained a future godchild from one of our ladies who is pregnant and come across my phone number written on a purse so it wasn’t forgotten! I love these women.

For other sewing projects: Verna is almost finished teaching another business leader how to make men’s shirts and pants from a pattern! After this he will be ready to try out working as a tailor on his own. And our Alex’s House and local Kaliko gals are almost finished learning to make pleated skirts! While their work is beautiful, the most exciting thing is to watch their relationships with each other grow during our weekly lessons and throughout the week at soccer games and other social events. They even planned a trip to swim at the beach together and walked to retrieve each gal from her house! We have come a long way since January when the girls would separate themselves at different tables and barely exchange 3 words. Mesi Jezi!

At the chicken coop, the layers continue to lay an average amount of eggs that are being sold to local vendors and also bought for kiddos showing signs of malnutrition in our partnering villages while DV schools/meals are on break for the summer. I’ve also started to take some AH kiddos with me each time I buy feed so they can see and learn about job opportunities in business where English is highly valuable!

July brought about lots of good times with both local and foreign friends:

  • Celebrating Canada Day with a local Canadian expat family and friends
  • Fully going into ‘soccer mom’ mode and making 27 PB and Js for our soccer team
  • Wrapping a graduation gift for a godchild in Christmas paper provided by one of our lovely cooks from her home boutique. Goodness, I love these women!
  • Attending the final games in the soccer league. Our team lost in the semi final but we still had good friends on the other team to cheer on. What an event!

The not-so-pleasant times were abundant as well:

  • Times of reflection—who am I? What is my personality? Have I adapted during my time in Haiti or is my true self coming out?
  • Car problems galore—but forever grateful for coworkers willing to help me out and laugh at my mistakes! This month I had a few flats, the breaks went out, and I somehow slashed a 4 inch cut into a tire while climbing to visit a family.
  • Visiting sick family of my sewing gals—hate the sickness, love the sweet family! It hurts to know that they cannot afford medical care.
  • Family trouble caused a good friend to move out of her home, now unsure of where kiddos will go to school, where she will live more permanently, what business she will start b/c unstable living situation
  • One of my sewing gals needing glasses but the cost is wayyyy to high for her family.
  • Helping a woman and her family quickly move out of a house she was kicked out of squatting in. Such a surreal experience that I really cannot put into words. All I can say now is I’m thankful for her current concrete room surrounded by good neighbors.
  • Visiting a sick friend and finding out that their family pig had died the day before after giving birth a few days prior. The babies all eventually died, and I hated not being able to fix the situation.
  • Not feeling 100% made wrapping up the month and preparing for my time away in August difficult. By the grace of God I RARELY get sick. I’m still not sure where the nausea and fever came from, but I’m thankful it’s gone!

 

July was the month of becoming godparents!! In Haiti godparents (Marenn, Parenn) are given for a variety of events in a child’s life, including education and graduations. A coworker and I had the honor of being the godparents of a dear friend/cook’s son for his graduation from English school! It was a day-long affair, leaving the house early to pick up the family and drive to the ceremony location. As always, we arrived about 2 hours early, all the graduates wanted to take pics with the white folks, and we enjoyed/made it through many, MANY hours of demonstrations, fashion shows, speeches, speaking ourselves, and finally the presentation of the diplomas! Followed up by a beautiful celebration with food and friends and cake! We also were godparents for a local soccer team (as I may have mentioned before), and our team played for most of July! It was a fun experience and I walk away with a greater understanding of how to be more wise in sponsoring a team next year, si Dye vle. While our team was not the best skill or attitude wise, I enjoyed getting to share small pieces of wisdom I learned during my  athletic career about losing well and winning with grace. What an incredible opportunity it was to get to know more people living around us and to share such a fun part of their lives! I also gained a few more godchildren from women I connected with while out and about—I need to come up with a better vetting process as I’m not good at saying no! And as I mentioned earlier in the post, one of my sewing ladies is ‘giving’ me godchild in late August! What an honor it is to be chosen by her.

Regarding future endeavors, after taking some time in the US of A in August to rest and revamp I’ll continue working with Disciples’ Village in Haiti for the foreseeable future. I’ll chat a little more about what of my work will stay the same, what will change, and new additions in my final post on the Lumos blog. Until then, kenbe ko’w zanmi’m yo!

 

Who Over What

“So, what do you do?”

I’d probably have the funding for several micro loans if I received a dollar or two every time I’ve been asked this question over the past few years.

I, too, am guilty of peppering people with these words and forming an opinion of someone’s “worth” based upon their response and the level of confidence from which it is said. It is all too easy to narrow in on what people do and the value they create and miss the bigger picture and importance of WHO people are and their inherent value and worth as human beings with breath in their lungs, blood flowing through their veins, and a purpose written on their heart.

This month I have been prompted to ask a different question that elicits an often over looked response, one that dives deep under the skin and into my soul:

“Who am I?”

And in turn, “Whose am I?” and what characteristics am I called to reflect?

I see these responses as roles and qualities that will last far longer than positions I will hold and projects I will complete, things determined before the creation of time and many that will endure for all eternity.

I am a daughter, a sister, a friend, a teammate, and a follower of Christ. I am a student of the Haitian people and a fellow laborer in the fight to reveal unrealized potential hidden under corruption, poverty, and human suffering. This past month I gained the role of “marenn” or godmother for a local soccer team and a co-worker’s son’s graduation from English school, but more on those fun adventures later.

By God’s fullness and grace alone I am to exude the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. And I am to reflect His holiness, justice, grace, mercy, truth, and wisdom in whatever I do. My goodness I fall so short every day.

In thinking through the paradigm shift of focusing on who I am rather than what I do, I was prompted to reconsider what I’m working towards in Haiti and how I view her beautiful people. Am I interacting with a hot dog seller or a passionate mother working hard to feed her two daughters, a tailor and agricultural technician or a kind father and husband hustling to lead and provide for his family?

While I do not want to lose sight of how what we do is part of who we are, I must be careful to not prioritize the what over the who but rather let the who influence and overflow into the what.

Am I training up leaders, thinkers, lovers, and fighters who participate in business? Or am I settling for facilitating the teaching of job skills and helping people put a few extra dollars in their pockets?

Am I focusing on who I am working with or the project I’m trying to complete?

While I have much more to think through and adjust in the months to come, I am thankful for a fresh and convicting perspective on my who, why, what, and how. Haiti and the grace of God are refining and molding me more with each passing day, and I hope a handful of this month’s thoughts, lessons, and cherished memories shine through in my summary of June below.

Business Training

At the beginning of the month, we started business training with a few ladies from our partnering communities but had some issues with attendance and timeliness due to uncertainty on the roads and a lack of public transportation. After a few meetings delayed, they will be putting business plans and micro credit applications together in the first few weeks of July and we will move forward as wise counsel and sound business principles lead!

So much did not go ‘excellently’ during this first go around of business training, and I greatly look forward to stepping up our game as we hope to offer this training and access to micro loans in more partnering communities. Every day I’m learning how to be a better leader and communicator, and I’m so thankful for our staff and participant’s patience and grace with me as we work together—especially through my broken business Kreyol.

Sewing

Our sewing projects continued with our Alex’s House and Kaliko gals finishing up their skirts and our ladies from Dhal continually improving on their production of potholders. Our older guys house momma, Rose, has also started helping me with the potholders and in teaching budgeting, saving, and investing to our ladies. What an impact I foresee her lessons and time investments making in the lives of these women!! Many of which do not have a steady source of income and are the primary providers for their households.

Our sewers have also transitioned into buying materials for their potholders so they have some skin in the game and we don’t lose money if good quality is not produced. My relationships with these women are also opening up, and we are able to have more in depth conversations about why I hold them and their work to the standards that I do—for their ultimate good and advancement far past the time that we will work together.

Future Endeavors

Regarding future Haiti endeavors, I spent some time in June visiting local professional schools to inquire about their course offerings and cost to think through opportunities for job trainings in the months to come. We also received the order from 2nd Story Goods for aluminum cuffs that can be stamped and sold to help some women with another income source!

Highlights

This month has been packed with cultural experiences such as the wedding of dear friends; soccer tournament games at the field next to the local beach; lots of life conversations with our older Alex’s House kiddos about working hard when tired, controlling our attitudes when others are being difficult, and healthy interactions with peers; simply getting to experience everyday life with local women; and spending one on one time with former acquaintances who have become dear friends and catching up with others who are visiting this breathtaking island.

A local organization sponsored a wedding for nine couples, one of which have grown to be dear friends. It was an honor to witness their union and celebrate with many new friends! This was a more Americanized version of a wedding compared to others I have attended in Haiti, but it was sweet none the less to see people all dressed up and enjoying the celebration!

A coworker and I were asked to be the ‘marenn’ and ‘parenn’ for a local futbòl/soccer team (godparents/sponsors) who is competing in a league throughout the summer. It has been a blast to get to know the guys and spend time with our local community during the games. While I don’t fully understand the logistics of futbòl, I sure do enjoy the energy and excitement the coaches, players, and fans bring every time they compete. The league staff has impressed me with their professionalism and organization, even if there is some Haitian flare (late starts and questionable timekeeping) added in.

A long time ago I vowed to never be a ‘soccer mom’, but I have enjoyed passing along some of the life lessons and sportsmanship principles that shaped me throughout my years in athletics.

In addition to being the marenn and parenn for a soccer team, my coworker and I have the honor of being the godparents for one of our cook’s son’s graduation from English school here in a few days. It has been fun to meet our godchild and challenging to figure out our responsibilities amongst the cultural communication courtesies of indirect speech and unspoken expectations.

While the roads were blocked quite a few days this past month, it allowed for time to sit and hand wash clothes with a dear friend, carry water via buckets on our heads from the source to a home, and I began learning how to clean and cook fish Haitian style.

June was also a little more relaxed and adventurous for Disciples’ Village because we have our summer interns here with no teams to take care of (several canceled after the February issues). We spent a lot of evenings enjoying the company of local expats and trying out restaurants and the weekends hiking or at the beach swimming, learning tennis, or scraping my knees up with sand volleyball. I’m thankful they allowed me to tag along as work responsibilities allowed! At various times throughout the month, I was also able to spend quality time with some other young female expats who have become cherished friends.

And last but not least, throughout June we were able to combine our love of friendship, business, and good food while spending time talking with local women who sell fried Haitian food at a local crossroad.

Lowlights

June brought story after story of men leaving women with their children to fend for themselves with no home, no job, and no money. This past month I have spent much time…

...feeling the burden of a friend who has cared for her niece since she was 14 or 15 years old and the little lady was 1.

...learning the story of a good friend who had to leave her home in February when the mountain men came to claim the land where she was living. Now she lives with her parents and 3-4 other families and has no money for food, hospital visits/meds, or a business. Yet she is joyful, protective, and loyal. My heart bleeds for her.

...listening to another dear friend share about the father of her children leaving her for another woman and now she sells hotdogs for very little profit to try to provide for her girls.

...sitting with a local woman who suffered a head injury after a weak concrete roof collapsed a few months back. This was the first I heard of this woman, and more of her story has unfolded over the past few months. She has 6 kiddos (one in an orphanage) and a week old baby makes 7. Her husband passed away a few years ago and she has no family to take care of her. A few weeks ago the owner of the house she was squatting in came and kicked her out, she was very pregnant and how without a home in addition to having no income to feed her family. I do not know where the father of her newest child is, but I’m at a loss as to how to care for this woman and her family.

...hearing a local young man share about how his parents have either passed away or left him in the care of his uncle. His unstable living situation lends to scarce resources to live and attend school.

All in all, bearing one another’s burdens is wearing me down. I’m forever in awe of the Haitian people, their shear strength and resiliency. They know no other way. They choose to smile, crack jokes, and care for each other anyways.

Other lowlights include...

...a bridge dropping and becoming impassible via car on Route National #1—the only good, paved road from Port au Prince to the northern half of the country—the day before we were to have a team fly out and another one come in. What a time of transportation coordination and walking blans plus luggage across the bridge! It has been “fixed” for now but I foresee it will sustain further damage after another good rain or two.

...struggling with being gracious with men who like to ‘hit on’ white women. I want to be as kind and cordial as safety allows but the grace runs out quickly. It is not okay for them to treat me or other women with disrespect, and I have found myself thinking that I will make sure men have learned to respect women before I leave Haiti—this will likely require a massive undertaking but at least I can begin with the men around me. I do recognize that this is a global issue, but we must start somewhere.

...a local home with 4+ families living is having an issue with all of the kiddos and a few adults having scabie-like sores pop up all over heads and hands and a few other places.

In the middle of the highs and lows there were many lessons to be learned, including but not limited to...

...Delegating: how it is so easy for me to save 10 minutes by not teaching someone to do something when I could take the extra 10 minutes and save SO MUCH TIME in the long run not having to do it. A small vs. big picture mindset. This will HAVE TO BE something I do more of as I continue to work in Haiti.

...The self-sacrifice required for unity and love. If I say I am willing to lay down my life for my brothers and sisters, then why am I so hesitant to lay down my time, my resources, and my selfish desires and plans? Yet another internal tension as I seek to live and love here and participate in the community.

What a month of learning and experiencing and beginning to see WHO over what. Wow. As my last month with Lumos begins, I am humbled and in awe of the glorious time I have been graced with living through here in Haiti. Until August, zanmi’m yo.

P.S. No pictures of the Tracker this month, mesi Jezi, so here is a snap shot of a three hour ordeal to find propane before the northern half of the country ran out while the bridge was not passable for fuel tanks.

 

The supplier of the propane suppliers...a magnificent find!

Three Hands

In the center of a roundabout not far from the Port au Prince airport, there is a monument with three large hands holding up a globe (pictured to the left). I’ve always been told that two hands represent the Haitian people and the other is the government’s hand reaching in their pockets. It wasn’t until recently that I learned the monument’s intended meaning was a representation of the Haitian proverb,

“Ou pa ka kwit diri sou de woch” or You cannot cook rice with two rocks.

It’s common to see people cooking rice, beans, corn, etc. in a pot held up by three rocks over a small fire while walking around the communities we work in. These three rocks represent much of Haitian culture—you cannot cook rice with two rocks, or you cannot do life with only your two hands. Three rocks and hands are often necessary to complete a task.

What a beautiful picture of the shared life that enables survival here, and this has been an accurate depiction of my time in Haiti—especially this past month. There have been many times I’ve needed a third hand, or a fourth or a fifth! It is evident that I simply cannot, and do not want to, do this life alone. And with each passing day it becomes more clear that my job here is not to always be the hands but rather to lend one of my own to empower another.

May absolutely blew me away. My cup has ebbed and flowed. I am worn out but invigorated from being able to dive into work I am zealous about seeing through. I’ve made many new friends, deepened relationships, and felt the heavy burden of doing life with my loved ones here. This month I’ve taken steps towards starting small business training and microfinance in June, continued trouble shooting with our chicken coop, facilitated several sewing projects, and experienced both fun and hard things in the past few weeks. I’m continuing to refine what my role with Disciples’ Village will be after the summer and the Lumos Travel Award while trying to steward and delegate current projects well.

There have been many three hand moments these past few weeks—mainly with the car I get to drive and navigating a few cultural things. And likewise there have been a few times where I was able to lend a helping hand to some folks here. I’m continually grateful for and in awe of every person I have the pleasure of conversing with and for my many third hands.

And…the 23rd of May marked two years in Haiti! Thank you, Lord, for your continued faithfulness, goodness, and mercy as I navigate working and living here. What a crazy few years this has been, and I look forward to many more years of sharing life with my loved ones here, si Dye vle.

Microfinance

A national coworker, business leader, and I went to a microfinance “Train the Trainer” seminar in the beautiful town of Thomassin. It is south of Port au Prince at a higher elevation and COOL!!! What a treat! The gracious folks at Middle Ground—a malnutrition clinic—translated and interpreted a small business training curriculum after witnessing so many patients returning to their clinic because their parents did not have the means to take care of them. They have kindly shared and trained others in using their information.

It was an honor to get to sit, learn, and share with a few rising leaders in Haiti. The seminar was a time of stretching my cultural knowledge and expanding my Kreyol vocabulary and listening comprehension. We soaked up all of the information and teaching techniques that we could, and we are ready to launch a business training of our own this first week of June, si Dye vle. Mesi Jezi!! I look forward to sharing more details of our training as is appropriate.

Attending this seminar consisted of many early departures, long car rides, and late arrivals home. I’m thankful for gracious hosts, kind coworkers, friends who know Port au Prince like the back of their hand, gas, and a car that made it over 400 miles of hilly terrain in a week! I believe this seminar will be a catalyst of not only Disciples’ Village’s microfinance work, but of my greater confidence of working and getting around in Haiti.

Chicken Coop

The older chickens continued to die at the beginning of the month, and I was finally able to get ahold of a vaccine. Now the remaining chickens are laying well and we are working out a plan to get eggs to some of the kiddos in our schools who are showing signs of malnutrition when school lets out in a few weeks.

Our chicken grandma has also started to build a new house with two of her daughters. It is beautiful to see these independent women pull their resources together to build a safer home. I’ve enjoyed watching the progress of the building and chatting with Madame Cecile as she goes through this process.

Sewing

May consisted of the continuation of a variety of sewing projects. Our Dhal ladies continue to progress in producing good quality pot holders and they are learning to measure and cut the fabric themselves. Our older Alex’s House young ladies and some local gals are in the process of learning to sew pleated skirts to fit their size!! And private lessons continue between a local tailor/business leader and a young man looking to learn to sew to support himself. Lots of fabric and materials were bought this month!!!

Etc.

  • A wonderful gift of black beans!
  • English ‘lessons’ with our Disciples’ Village nurse. She has such a beautiful heart and a hard work ethic
  • Starting the census on Disciples’ Village’s newest partnering village!
  • Talking with many local ladies about the small businesses they would like to start, and even visiting a wholesale beauty/medical supply boutique tucked away in a local market to get prices for starting a small stand.
  • I’m thankful for our current and past interns who helped me inventory our girls’ store and enter census data! They have been one of my many third hands.
  • A sweet gift of watermelon from some of my sewing gals!

Fun things

  • May day and Flag Day celebrations at the beach!! No one could really explain what May day celebrates, but Flag Day commemorates the creation of the Haitian flag and I would say it is one of the biggest holidays of the year! Lots of good food and time at the beach!
  • Exploring new markets!! We spent HOURS at the best market I’ve been to yet. Lots of fresh produce, clothes, fabric, home supplies, and charcoal by the beach to wade through. Roaming through markets while buying vegetables and chatting with the machann (vendors) is possibly one of my favorite pastimes here.
  • Buying, killing, skinning, then cooking a chicken all in about two hours!! I really just held the sad critter, took pictures, then took it out of the oven. But it was a fun experience that ended with a good meal in great company.
  • Attending many futbol (soccer) matches to support some local friends and people watch. It’s always fun to enjoy regular life outings here instead of being so work minded all of the time and meeting some great friends along the way. It was also fun getting soaked with water during goal celebrations!
  • Lots of time spent chatting with local ladies while they sell hotdogs and other Haitian foods at night.
  • Spontaneous dance parties with my sewing gals
  • A school dance party and pageant with our Alex’s House kiddos
  • Birthday celebrations with a few sewing gals—a trip to the local gas station, visiting family off of the beaten path, and sitting down to enjoy a meal and some cake together.
  • Learning to wash clothes by hand with my chicken caretaker
  • A day in Port au Prince buying beautiful souvenirs for our girls’ store! Lots of pieces to choose from and traffic to sit in.

Hard things

  • It is an honor to be considered a friend and sister in our local communities here, but one can only be asked to help financially so much before wearing out mentally and financially! With friendship comes bearing each other’s burdens, and I need to keep praying about how to do so without burning out.
  • Fighting insecurity and doubt about projects ahead
  • Some of my sewing gals telling me they are too hungry to walk—probably half dramatic and half true. Hard times have fallen on many Haitian families with the devaluation of the Haitian gourde and fewer opportunities for jobs
  • I am so hesitant to pay for things for my friends because I don’t want to only be the white person with money. However, they are always quick to share their water or a snack with me. Finding a balance is necessary.
  • Disrespectful Haitian men.
  • Fighting with my local phone company account. My data did not work for about 4 weeks until calling Digicel 3 times. Now I have LTE after only being able to access 3G for the last two years!
  • A local lady telling me she is hungry because she does not have money to feed her family. When I asked about why she was not eating at the school where she works and receives a hot meal every day, she said she doesn’t like the food they serve. Tèt chaje (head charged)!! I don’t understand!!
  • My phone fell from the counter top and stopped working!!! I’m thankful for resourceful coworkers and a local shop that repaired my phone the next day.

And last but not least, car things

  • A new spare tire after the old one spontaneously popped!
  • A coworker properly attached the alternator with a new bolt. This is the likely culprit causing the serpentine belt to shred.

Wow. What a month. What a time to be alive and working in Haiti. Maybe one day I’ll have the time and metal capacity to share all of the things I’m learning, feeling, and experiencing. But for now, here is a glimpse into the glorious madness that ensued this month. N’ap pale tale!

Patterns

At the beginning of the month I was marking off squares on heat resistant interlining for our potholders when I noticed that I had ran out of interlining at 6 ½ squares instead of the 7 there should have been room for. I had been tracing the squares with a piece of the interlining that was already cut—a very malleable and stretchy fabric—and it was stretched larger than the 6 square inches it should have been, causing me to trace larger squares and come up short on fabric. Once I retraced the squares with the original paper pattern, again I had enough room for the 7 squares that had been accounted for in the financial breakdown. Thank goodness I had decided to trace before cutting!

Immediately it struck me that this was such an image of what can happen in life when morals or regulations are measured against a faulty standard. Or in my Christian faith, I fall short when I compare my life to a standard other than biblical truth. It is so easy to cut corners in our integrity, character, firmness, and life principles just once or twice or a ½ inch here and there. But before we know it, each small compromise has compounded and we find ourselves noticeably short of where we should be. I only have enough room for 6 ½ squares instead of 7.

This happenstance was a timely reminder of the importance of measuring my thoughts, actions, and intentions against truth. Lately I have found myself a little weary and in situations where I would rather compromise than push through the uncomfortable interactions that need to happen to hold myself and others accountable. Almost two years into my time in Haiti, it is also easy to fall into a routine of flawed culture and norms. I’m starting to see cracks in my leadership threshold and I need to step it up in boldness if I want to get where I think I need to be going. I have a difficult time holding people accountable, and I often doubt if I was clear in my instruction or I become too empathetic because I know the Haitian life is not an easy one.

I’ve also seen how easy it can be for me to pass things off and say “Oh, this is just how it’s done in Haiti,” or “You can’t help everyone.” And while culture and scarce resources need to be accounted for, I need to start paying more attention to what pattern or standard I’m using to make my decisions. Am I relying upon what I know to be just and true? Or am I succumbing to faulty norms because it is ‘easier’ and stops the conviction when I don’t say or do anything?

I most struggle with this when people come up to us and ask for food, jobs, or money. While some people are obviously just trying to take advantage of the foreigners, often it comes from a place of genuine suffering. It’s all too easy for me to say I don’t have anything instead of taking the time to walk with the momma to go buy some food for her kiddos in the market with the spare gourdes I have in my pouch. It’s easier for me to justify not sharing what I have because I don’t have easy access to more—when Haitian families give and take in times of great need like we are experiencing now.

Unfortunately these situations do not have black and white or easy answers. The solutions are as diverse as the many excuses I’ve made to not boldly lead or become uncomfortable in truly assisting and loving someone. As I continue in Haiti and in life I’m praying for discernment to choose the right pattern to cut my decisions from, regardless of cultural or organizational norms and standards.

April was a blur with good times, hard times, and lots of learning in between! Sewing lessons continued, the chicken coop is surviving but not yet thriving, and my little car lives to see another month with some TLC and the help of gracious coworkers!!

Sewing

In the sewing realm, we had the completion of our first school uniform example made by a Trouforban seamstress—lots of adjustments to be made but it’s a start in the right direction towards getting the capital from school uniform purchases flowing through Haitian markets!! The Alex’s House young ladies also continue to take sewing lessons and began the process of learning to make a pleated school uniform skirt. We also set up private sewing lessons in one of our partnering villages between two business leaders—one who is a long-time seamster and a younger man without a job.

Our potholder sewing group continued to meet and make improvements in their skill and design. Some of the ladies are picking up the project faster than others, so I’m looking around for other simple but useful projects to teach the ladies for whom sewing does not come naturally. So far we have a prototype of an aluminum cuff made locally in Gonaïves that could be stamped and personalized. Our fav Haitian social enterprise 2nd Story Goods and Ms. Olivia Hosey are helping me make this happen!

Chicken Coop

For the chicken coop, my sassy ladies continue to give us fits with low egg numbers and a few more have died with old age being the likely cause. As our employee says when asked if there are any odd/sick behaviors, the (dead) chicken eat and drink and then they die by morning. We are working to sell the older chickens to partially recoup the cost of new chickens. In May I plan to get serious in making decisions for the future of the coop regarding meat or egg chickens.

In addition to new sewing projects and chicken coop changes, there are a few conversations in the works regarding business training and micro loans.  I am continuing to work with a few of our partnering villages’ business leaders to craft a plan that works for their people.

Hard Things

  •  Forever confused on the difference between Haitian cultural parenting styles and bad parenting in general—and when is it okay for me to speak up? I want to respect my place as a foreigner in their land, but I just can’t be quiet when I witness the poor treatment of sweet kiddos.
  • The father of a young lady who I’ve been working with in sewing made an unnecessary comment telling her to have the “blan” pay for minutes on his phone since we’ve been working together with other things. It’s also always heart-crushing when someone tells you that their parents asked if we could take them into our children’s home—needless to say, this father is not my favorite person right now but I’ll continue to love his daughter none the less.
  • We had a few people come visit who are trying to start a children’s home. Splendid people, but the stories they shared of what is happening to the unwanted babies in their area is horrifying.
  • Haiti continued to struggle with gasoline throughout April. Rumor has it that the gas is/was sitting off shore but the government did not have the USD to pay for it. This greatly restricted our movements at the beginning of April and caused some interesting situations syphoning gas out of non-essential vehicles and waiting in line for hours at the local gas station to fill up. I’m forever thankful for our local staff who continue to help us navigate these tough situations. It was also fun to revisit my tap tap (public transportation- covered pickup trucks) riding days to save the gas!

Fun Things

  • A nice lunch shared with Fre Jean Claude in PaP—and the first avocado I’d had in a long time!!
  • Visiting Ganaud’s future fish farm in Montrious and the gorgeous scenery along the way. He wants to use this plot of land to teach local young people to farm fish and certain harvestable plants while investing in their character and future thinking. He is an awesome job creator and change maker in Haiti!!
  • Going to a local restaurant/job creation project to watch the Final Four.
  • Revisiting my basketball days to play with some of the Alex’s House boys
  • An evening at a local beach to celebrate Ganaud’s birthday with good food and greater friends
  • Helping carry water via my head with a local family. This is probably my favorite memory so far even though it soaked my freshly washed hair and dried curls. Life shared with the local women is something I need to make sure I do more of. How can I ever understand what solutions are possible if I’m unaware of the problems? 

Car Adventures

Learning to maintain a vehicle in Haiti is forever fun! April brought us a broken muffler/exhaust pipe that needed to be melted back onto the car, a torn serpentine belt, issues with spark plugs, and many other fun things :). My favorite was when the front license plate was ripped off by a moto driver who got too close in the line for gasoline. I’m grateful for generous co-workers and local mechanics who can put the car back together.

Orevwa, April. And bring it on, May! Here’s to wisely choosing patterns for new projects and asking the hard questions to improve old ones.

N’ap Kenbe

N’ap kenbe, we’re holding.

A few nights ago, I was out eating tacos and catching some March Madness at a local restaurant geared towards job creation when I was slightly caught off guard by a new expat asking what jobs I have observed to be most needed in our area—or what skill training would be most useful to help people find work here. My knee jerk response was probably something geared towards the foreign market where there is readily available capital or work that produces what locals need and will spend their limited income on (sewing and school uniforms, agriculture and food, businesses/’boutiques’ with household goods), as many people I know who are trained in jobs like masonry, nursing, etc. have a hard time finding consistent work—unless you’re a mechanic in this land where vehicles struggle to run properly :), not speaking from experience or anything.

Regardless of the answer to that question—and I’d be curious to learn how others with more experience in Haiti would respond—we concluded that people in Haiti need and want job opportunities. Period. And moved on to sharing how we can often get caught up in the big picture and overwhelming needs and complex intertwining of financial, social, religious, and political issues that we can all too quickly forget to see and love the person standing in front of us.

Last April I wrote about the phrase “kenbe ko ou,” hold your body, and the salutation’s nice reminder to stand strong in the face of uncertainty and risk. Today I find myself responding “N’ap kenbe,” we’re holding, and trying to speak life and strength into my spirit and in those around me even though I fail daily. While things have returned to ‘normal’ here, in my opinion Haiti is currently like a body that was deprived of oxygen for an extended amount of time. Sure, we’re alive and breathing, but certain organs have yet to recover, some are not functioning without assistance, and others need a total transplant altogether.

Haiti and her resilient people are holding like they always have, and this past month I had no other option than to practice setting aside my big picture focus and goals and choosing to sit down with the person in front of me. Everyone is tired here in my area, but we’re holding and focusing on joy, grace, gratitude, and patience over easily giving into fatigue and the ugly that comes with it. Sure, many small businesses have closed, market vendors are scared or having trouble finding scarce produce, and many job-creating projects have been delayed due to the large foreign presence pulling out for the time being. But we will continue to hold our bodies and our spirits strong until the risks become rewards and we triumph over uncertainty with a hope and faith that will never fail, one person and one job at a time.

I’m thankful to have arrived back in Haiti on the 7th of March. I returned to clear but burnt roads, my Alex’s House and Disciples’ Village family, a dead car battery, a secure home, and a deep gratitude for safely returning to my heart’s current home. Rumors of continued manifestations were sprinkled throughout the month—however, the opposition seems to have run out of funds to fuel the protests and the population is deeply feeling the effects of a locked country. Many local small businesses have closed and people are going hungry with no jobs and inflated food prices. The general population suffers the most from the consequences of a locked state, and we are all thankful for the flow, hustle and bustle of normal life.

March brought a lot of people through the doors of our campus, a variety of incredible humans both Haitian and American, all using their gifts to serve others and their families. Our AH/DV family has also suffered heartbreak and rejoiced in precious time together the past few weeks. And forever I’m thankful for the continuation of ongoing projects and the beginning of some new ones this past month!

We’ve had some difficult times at Alex’s House and Disciples’ Village with the cancer diagnosis of one of our young ladies and other sicknesses affecting various staff members. Our hearts are heavy with the diagnosis, but we hope in our sovereign God’s plan for her life and ours. All in all, these tough times have prompted us to spend more cherished time together over ice cream and treats and on the playground and at the beach. My time learning and having fun with our Alex’s House kiddos (with some hard life conversations sprinkled in) has left me with the sweetest of memories that I might not have otherwise!

Many godly, intelligent, and wise people visited our campus these last few weeks, including Dr. Clay Smith who is launching “Health Moms, Health Babies” through DV to reduce pregnancy risks in women and set babies up for better success in life through prenatal care, hospital deliveries, and continued nutrition and checkups until the age of 5. We also hosted our annual Pastor’s Conference, where I enjoyed the company of many of our partnering pastors in the United States who came to teach and was encouraged by the empowered leaders of our Haitian communities. Brother Rob from my hometown shared some great pieces of wisdom, including: If someone makes it look easy, it probably isn’t; and There are no small actions in life. We also had other stateside staff members who have become dear friends come visit to make up trips canceled in February.

Disciples’ Village added our fifth partnering community a few months ago, and with our partnerships comes the need to know who is in the community and how we can work with the local leaders to serve them! Over the last two weeks the census of Cadenette was conducted by Pastor Fresnel and other community leaders, surveying 56 homes, 299 people, averaging 5.3 people/home aged 22. I always enjoy observing this leader with his people, especially in walking the boundaries of beautiful Cadenette!!

Sewing has again been a hot topic in March, with the start up of a new potholder project, visiting sewing schools, continuing lessons for our older Alex’s House and local girls, adventuring in the market to find buttons, a meter stick, and fabric, and having a model school uniform made by a local seamstress!

About a week ago two seamstresses from South Carolina came to teach local ladies in Dhal to sew simple pot holders by hand. I wasn’t looking for this project, but it has been a great jump start for these ladies trying to earn money for their families and for my understanding of the simplicity of testing out ideas. I’m learning to hold people to certain standards in their work, whether that be sewing, translating, leading others, etc. and it’s against my nature and uncomfortable at times but oh so good as an aspiring leader. Some of our ladies have a natural talent for the craft and other do not. But there is joy in the trial and error and patience to be learned when I have them redo their stitches for the fifth time :).

Ganaud and I were finally able to visit a local sewing school—a good, through program at a great price. The only issue is a minimum education of 9th grade is required—something that many of the ladies I want to send to this program lack.  Back to the drawing board to see if I can set up private lessons.

After over a year of thinking, we finally got to work on a model uniform shirt for our DV schools with a Trouforban seamstress. It has taken some time but the dream is for this to be a job creation opportunity for local seamstresses in our partnering communities, replacing the shirts currently bought in the US and shipped over. This has been a very long process of finding paper and materials, cutting a pattern, cutting the fabric, tacking the fabric, learning the thread the treadle and electric sewing machine, and 15+ hours later we have a finished product that’s not exactly the quality I want—but I am hopeful and learning patience in the process. And who knew you had to order a yard/meter stick from a carpenter or ask 10+ market vendors where to buy buttons!?

Our older Alex’s House gals and some local young ladies have continued to meet together to learn to sew on a machine! Some are picking it up quickly and others come for the snacks...either way I’m happy to spend some time with these future leaders!

In one week we mourned the loss of two chickens, one to a long term eye problem and another to an unknown cause. Through the manifestations we also learned that we have some sassy ladies on our hands! They refused to eat corn meal when their “Ponn Vit” or “lay fast” food ran out during the road blocks. Their egg #s suffered because of it.

March had a few other highlights/lowlights, including:

  • I finally picked up my checks from the bank 6 months after they were ordered!! I’m thankful for clear roads, a free morning, and a willing Ganaud!
  • Internal tension of sharing my space. Ridiculous as I want to be hospitable, difficult because I have grown too comfortable being able to live freely in my home.
  • A few eventful market runs, “highlighted” by watching two goats get their throats slit while waiting to buy their meat for a conference meal. While I enjoy eating meat and especially goat, I could live the rest of my life without seeing that ever again!
  • Disciples’ Village welcomed our sixth partnering community of Lanzac!
  • Haiti Design Co. adventure in Port au Prince…I accidentally went to the wrong gate, we parked and sat down before talking with the house keeper enough to realize this was not the business but a rental property! I quickly apologized, saw that I had us pull up about 75 ft too short on google maps, ensured we could keep the truck parked—as parking in a safe place can be tricky—and continued to walk until we found the correct building! It’s always an adventure!
  • I often go down a mental rabbit hole of how little I actually have to show for my time in Haiti. I’ve spent so much time thinking and sharing and discussing ideas, and many things have not come to full fruition. It finally occurred to me while sitting in on a conversation where job creation was mentioned that if it was easy or quick, Haiti would not be in its current unemployment situation. Such grace and compassion was felt in that moment! I’ll keep holding my body until something finally clicks.

Goodness gracious, what a few weeks we’ve had here! We’ll keep holding and planning and hoping and praying. Until next time, zanmi’m yo (my friends)!

And last but not least, no blog post is complete without a few moments with the car I get to drive. This month we got a new fuel pump and my spare tire oddly popped on a cloudy and cool day! Who knew that could happen?!

Locked

Peyi a bloke. Wout yo bouche. Peyi ap kraze. Moun yo grangou. Pa gen gazolin. Pa gen dyezèl. Gourde ap monte.

The country is blocked. The roads are impassable. The country is breaking. People are hungry. Do not have gas. Do not have diesel. [The price/exchange rate of] the gourde is rising.

Or in other words, Haiti has been “Locked”, and these are a handful of the phrases I’ve been hearing and reading on a daily basis for the majority of February. This stand-still state of existence is not a new phenomenon for Haiti, and it doesn’t appear as though the corruption that causes the population to suffer from rising costs of living and scarce access to food, fuel, and transportation will be going away any time soon. Peace has returned after a long stretch of unrest, but the root issues and fundamental brokenness of the nation have yet to be addressed.

It is for the solutions to these systemic problems that we think, discuss, collaborate, labor, and pray.

Yes, people have always been hungry (by American standards) and access to precious resources has always been sparse (again, by American standards), but is this really how it should be? Will many of our brothers and sisters in Haiti be hungry on a regular basis? Will many of our brothers and sisters continue to wake up each day and work without ceasing to survive until the day they leave this earth? Why do I feel in the core of my being that collaborating to develop and implement solutions to these problems (yet again, problems diagnosed by my American standards) is something worth spending my life working towards?

My American perspective screams that this should not be the norm!! It is a basic human right to be able to feed, clothe, and provide shelter for your family. And after sitting and thinking and discussing this topic I firmly believe that these things are needs, but maybe the fulfillment and the extent of those needs looks drastically different than my lenses lead me to believe.

Many of the people I know and love work HARD day in and day out to provide for their families and usually fall short of my standards of success. But they are happy. They continue to help others when they can. They always greet me with a smile and ask how my family is doing and if I slept well the night before. They wait out these locked time periods with resilience and continue working when it is safe and possible to do so. They also have an underlying essence of joy and peace that is hard to spot in many chasing after the American dream. Maybe I need to take the time to sit down and ask my brothers and sisters what will bring them more joy and peace and fulfillment to their lives. Is it really work and business and financial success?

This locked physical/economic/political state puts development efforts into perspective, and it reveals cracks in my plans and the fragile nature of the work we strive so hard to see through. It appears the area of Haiti I have the honor of working in may be rapidly slipping from needing development to relief efforts. An extensive period of no public transportation due to gas shortages and blocked roads means people cannot work, and no work plus the devaluation of the gourde means little money to buy the few resources available to an ever-growing population.  People are hungrier than they have been in a while and jobs and supplies to meet their needs are harder than usual to find. It is a trying yet beautiful time to be invested in Haiti as job creation and business development are needed more than ever but also the toughest to get started—especially trying to do so sustainability.

But even in this semi-locked state, the people of Haiti continue to blow me away with their resiliency, will to keep working to move forward, and the hope they carry that their children will live to see a better day. It is an honor to live and learn with my brothers and sisters here (in Haiti, as I’ll be returning the first week of March—but more on that later), and I am grateful that this is the time and state of the nation that I get to go to work on Haiti’s systemic problems on a micro-level. Yes, people have always been hungry and in need of work, but why not now be the time we say enough is enough and determine to dig our heels in until we see real, lasting fulfillment and change?

(The photos below were not personally taken by me, but shared in a WhatsApp group of expats living in Haiti)

While February may be the shortest month on the calendar, this has by far been the most eventful, exciting, insightful, and heart-wrenching 28 days of my life! What started out as a month brimming with promise and flowing creative juices quickly turned into country-wide unrest and rapidly escalating local situations that led to my temporary trip to the United States along with the rest of the Disciples’ Village foreign staff.

February happened in three stages: the 1st-6th happily going about my daily work and life and loving what was materializing, the 7th-15th with unrest and road blocks starting in Port au Prince and a few other heavily populated cities then spreading to rural areas, and finally leaving Haiti on the 16th and spending the rest of the month between IL, GA, and TN. All three stages brought a different type of beauty, toughness, clarity, and more time to sit and think than I’ve had in a while.

February began with great promise for continuing to improve our sewing lessons and researching sewing seminars to fully train several seamstresses in each of Disciples’ Village’s partnering communities, putting together a plan to see if starting a bakery in Trouforban would be a viable job creation option, and crunching the numbers to look at transitioning our chicken coop from layer chickens to broiler chickens, as the cost of running the coop has far surpassed the current market price for eggs.

I spent many joyful hours in local markets with great friends asking about fabric and notion prices and forever in awe of the people who compose the backbone of Haiti’s ‘market’ economy. I had the honor to sitting outside a dear friend’s home and discussing their experience in sewing school and the possibilities of making homemade peanut butter—which turned out to be the best  PB I’ve ever had! And I kept my distance as our older sewing lesson attendees finished their projects and began to help the little ones who hadn’t picked up on the necessary skills just yet.

We went to a local resort restaurant to watch the Super Bowl, and I ended up getting to chat with some new friends and dancing Kompa, a traditional Haitian dance. I was able to follow up on several connections made at the job creation marketing forum in January, and we began preparations for conducting a census of DV’s newest partnering village of Cadenette.

On the flip side, I hated coming to terms with the likelihood that we’ll have to kill our chickens and start over with broilers to become profitable again. I almost lost my cool several times during our sewing lessons when there were too many kiddos for our professor to teach and poor ‘classroom management’ on my end. My oh my how my patience and classroom understanding has grown. I hope my girls know I love them. I also had a difficult meeting with a woman I enjoy working with. We’re struggling to understand each other when it comes to business loans for her community.

Starting on February 7th, many took to the streets to protest the current administration and a plethora of current and ongoing problems plaguing the Haitian people. In our area that meant the roads were blocked in each direction so we stayed close to our campus. Road blocks are set up to accomplish several things (from my outside perspective), including but not limited to preventing people from getting to work, keeping businesses from making deliveries/doing business, and putting pressure on the right people to get policy/regulations/administrations to change. They also keep the average person from working to make money for their families and blocks make buying food and supplies difficult.

While we were limited to hanging out around our campus and surrounding areas for over a week, we had a blast chilling with our Alex’s House kiddos and local friends. We made several trips to the beach, hosted a Valentine’s Day dance, competed in a few corn hole tournaments, and our AH young adults bagged and distributed rice and beans to the local Kaliko community—letting families know we love and care about them during these especially difficult times. As always, I’m amazed by their love for others and hearts to serve their people. I also got to take a whack at chopping off a goat’s head...something I’ve never before dreamed of doing and will probably leave for others to do if the opportunity is to arise again.

While being limited to areas in a walkable distance, we enjoyed exploring some new territory in our partnering village across the road and spending time with old and new friends in a local village. The time of relative solitude also allowed for the largest brain dump I’ve ever experienced to take place.  Thank goodness for fast fingers to record all of the ideas flowing through my brain!!

The area I work and do life in is usually peaceful with a few blocks here and there, and usually we wait out the ‘locked’ state until cleared to move about. But this time after about a week of manifestations, the threats of violence that are usually localized to Port au Prince started getting closer to home and our leadership had to make a decision regarding temporarily removing our American staff until the situation in the country as a whole became calmer. While we love our Haitian brothers and sisters with all that we are and did not want to leave them in this great time of uncertainty, I had to conclude that if we love them enough to stay we must love them enough to go when our presence is hazardous to their ultimate safety. Certain circumstances made it clear that it was best for us to leave until things settled down, and through great travel insurance we were able to secure a ride to the Port au Price airport via a helicopter on the 16th.

 

My goodness, it still pains me to think about leaving two weeks ago. My heart has been unsettled and yearns to return, although I’m thankful for the unexpected time with family and many loved ones.

The cry of my heart has been the chorus, “M’ap kriye, kriye pou glwa’w; m’ap rele, rele pou glwa’w; mw vle we ou, nan yon lot nivo; mwen vle we ou, nan yon lot nivo.”

“I’m crying, crying for Your glory. I’m calling, calling for Your glory. I want to see You, on another level. I want to see You, on another level.”

And this is the prayer and cry of our hearts, that God’s glory, honor, and name be made known and lifted high in Haiti. The corruption, the broken systems, the economic despair will all continue until a radical change and great awakening occur in the hearts and minds of many in power in Haiti and around the world. What a time to be living and working in Haiti, and what an absolute honor it is to observe and serve with our Haitian brothers and sisters pushing to move forward even in ‘locked’ situations.

Fanm Djanm

My eyes were opened to the utter awesome-ness of women this past month. Fanm Djanm: Robust Woman.

My mother came to Haiti for the first time and I got to observe her selflessly love on and serve people she’s never met and who could do nothing for her in return—myself included.

We began teaching sewing and I witnessed women of a higher social class take the time to teach the women who normally serve them how to use a treadle machine.

Many ladies who work with Disciples’ Village and Alex’s House continue to take me under their strong wings, offering cultural advice and wisdom that transcends all oceans and borders.

Many times, I have enjoyed the bustle of a market with the machann (vendors) who are working hard in the hot sun to provide for their families yet still oozing with kindness and grace as we barter.

A few weeks ago, a coworker misplaced their phone while hiking down a mountain and the local women rallied around us to help find the phone.

The women in my life wake up before the sun to prepare for the day and serve their families. They lie down long after dusk and a hard day’s work. They carry 5 gallons of water and balance 120 eggs on their head—not at the same time…yet, and smile and joke and call me out while cooking dinner over a hot stove. They have several side hustles to make sure their families are well cared for, and I’ve been told that on average in either Haiti or the entire developing world, 80% of a woman’s income goes towards the needs of her family compared to 30% of a man’s.

The term ‘Fanm Djanm’ came on my radar while perusing through some screen-printed shirts at a social enterprise in Port au Prince. I asked one of our local staff members about the meaning behind the word, and his reply brought to mind pretty much every Haitian (and American) woman I have the honor of interacting with each day. While I need a few more years of life experience and wisdom to reach this status, there are dozens of fanm djanm in my life leading the way and bringing me with them.

I think the Haitian economy and government and the world in general will greatly benefit from the influence of family-minded, compassionate, others-centered, strong, and determined women who selflessly and quietly serve our communities and countries each day. And I think the world as we know it would look drastically different if more of these women had a hand in establishing policies and regulations that affect entire nations.

What a blessing it is to have the honor of working and doing life with some of the most compassionate, brave, and joyful men and women to walk the planet, and I’m especially grateful for the many fanm djanm working behind the scenes and selflessly leading us forward towards a brighter tomorrow.

I don’t have many words for January or how it passed. It’s been a rather long month but for many good reasons:

My mother visited Haiti for the first time at the beginning of the month and it was one of the greatest weeks of my life. There’s something special about watching the people you hold dearly in life get to know each other and grow to love one another. Now everyone is always asking how my mom and sister (and one day, dad) are doing and when they will be returning to Haiti to visit them again. She never stopped taking care of people or the house and I have so many memories that I will cherish forever!

 

We kicked off a sewing lesson project with our Alex’s House girls, local gals from the surrounding community, and our AH house mamas and staff! During the first week of January we hosted a sewing seminar for our Alex’s House girls, house moms, and local young ladies. Everyone learned to sew by hand and got to take home a hand-made practical zipper pouch/wallet. The lessons continued throughout the week with our older ladies learning to use the treadle sewing machine. For the next few weeks we will be hosting a weekly sewing lesson with a local seamstress to build upon our seminar and teach the gals the necessary business and sewing skills to make their own projects! I believe this will be a great opportunity for these young ladies to get to know and love on other gals while learning a practical and marketable skill.

Ganaud and I attended a networking forum hosted by Partners Worldwide about sustainable job creation, economic development, and working together to help Haiti advance. Partners Worldwide’s mission is to end poverty through business, and we had the honor of meeting and hearing from a variety of progressive entrepreneurs working in the private and NGO sectors of Haiti. I was able to make several fabulous connections and look forward to collaborating with others in the future. I also got to sit in on a discussion about how business leaders can better engage the government and non-profit sectors to advance the Haitian economy. Better engagement and communication will lead to more effective and beneficial policy once this deep issue of corruption is forcefully addressed and removed. The problem now is so many people and broken systems are benefiting from the corruption that it seems unlikely it will ever completely end. But for this we work and pray.

While our chickens continue to lay eggs well and our employee is doing a great job caring for the layers, sustainably speaking things are getting more difficult for the chicken coop as feed prices are increasing exponentially. The Haitian gourde is very unstable now for a variety of reasons, and prices are jumping frequently to try and keep up. We’re researching new feed sources and the possibility of making our own feed hoping to find a less expensive option.

For our business leader training, we are continuing to work on identifying, planning, and preparing potential business projects in a few of our partnering villages. A problem I’m facing now is finding times where everyone is available to meet together. Our business leaders all have 2-3 jobs that take them all over and people are getting sick more frequently. However, I was BEYOND encouraged to hear from our business leaders about dreams and plans they have for their respective communities in this new year. Exciting things are coming!! In January they all came to the table with ideas of what businesses and types of training will benefit the most people in job creation and business development. Now it’s time to get to work making these ideas a reality!

Lately I’ve been researching options for a business incubator—meeting with an org in Gonaïves who is in the same process, having lots of conversations with Ganaud, and reading online published studies of the success and challenges of business incubators in developing countries. We’re also beginning to brainstorm the possibility of a business training conference, and I’m excited about the potential of lessons and experiences that could be shared!

Some non “work” highlights of the month were an overnight trip to hike up Bienac mountain at sunrise with friends, lots of time with goats, sweet time spent with the littles in my life, showing my mom around my stomping grounds here, watching ground being broken for a girls transition/staff house, visiting one of our fanm djanm cooks at her beautiful home, a Sunday afternoon soccer game with some of our Alex’s House young men, LOTS of fabulous food and other market finds, and the usual car repairs and enhancements!!

Politically speaking, elections are on the horizon and the seemingly annual gas and diesel shortage at the beginning of the year is lasting longer than usual—rumor has it the government is having trouble finding the USD to pay for it, so tanker ships wait off the port. My theory for the USD shortage is potentially due to a government order around last April that all business be done in gourdes and not the USD...an interesting decision given most of Haiti’s importing and exporting is done with the United States. Inflation is rising rapidly these days and prices are sky rocketing! We continue to work at the micro level and wait for the day macro possibilities for change arise.

It’s a beautiful time to be working and living in Haiti, with the urgency for commerce and training increasing every day. The beauty and resiliency of the island and the people continue to propel me forward, and I look forward to continuing to work with the fanm djanm and upstanding men that continue to labor for a brighter tomorrow.

A few of Haiti's future fanm djanm!

A few of Haiti’s future fanm djanm!

L’Union Fait La Force: Unity Makes Strength

Unity Makes Strength: the moto of Haiti

During my last semester at Belmont (Spring 2017), one day I was feeling rather confident for some reason and told my coach that I had changed my life goal from being First Lady of the United States to being the President of the United States (now TBD at a much later date). A few months later, a few of my teammates, Coach Levin, and I were watching TV in a hotel lobby during breakfast before the conference tournament when a segment on the news demonstrated the widening division between the Democratic and Republican parties. Coach Levin turned and looked at me and asked something close to, “Shersty, as President of the United States, what is your plan to unify our country—especially our two-party divide?” In all honesty, I was quite stumped by the question and replied along the lines of, “Well, I’m not sure yet. I’ll have to get back to you in about 30 years.”

Since that day, the idea of unity has been lying dormant in the back of my brain. A few weeks ago, I was chatting with an English/French/Haitian Creole speaking friend while looking at a flag of Haiti when I asked what the Haitian moto “L’Union Fait La Force” means to double check my poor French vocabulary knowledge. “Unity Makes Strength,” he said, and the idea of unity has been on my mind ever since. A few days later I was drawn to a stunning yet simple necklace of a circle suspended on a delicate chain. After purchasing and donning this piece, it occurred to me that circles represent wholeness, timelessness, and to me unity. And while I’m typically not one to choose a “Word of the Year,” as my mind is usually filled with too many words of things I want/need to focus on improving, I just cannot shake that in the months to come I need to lean in and figure out what it is that I need to be unifying within and around me. What is not whole? And what work is worthy to be called timeless?

Unity makes strength. But right now it often seems like we live in a world divided. We see the need for unity all around us and the weaknesses that result when a lack thereof reigns supreme. Poverty continues to engulf people groups, families stumble, businesses and organizations crumble or become stagnant, marriages fall apart, friendships fade, we disagree with the ones we love and let our pride persist in division.

Progress halts, we backslide even. We lose track of what we set out to do. Corruption continues to flourish. We put the individual, our individual selves, over the collective.

But unity proves to make us stronger, and I’m fortunate to have the honor of living in a culture that puts the collective whole above self. If you talk to most people in our partnering communities and discuss food, you will learn that most do not have the money to buy it often or eat every day. Clean water is out of reach, clothes are tattered and worn, shelters leak in the rain.

“How on earth are you still alive??” I often think, and I am reminded that the greater population of Haiti lives out their moto day in and day out and their unity makes strength. You make an extra plate for your neighbor when you have food, clean water is drawn from the same bucket. You spare a few gourdes to help a brother or sister out when their own come up short.

I have been on the receiving end of this selfless generosity more times than I can count. And I’m convinced that I and this world need a little more of what my beloved Haitians have to offer. Unity. Wholeness. Joy in the midst of despair. Hope because we know that there is more to life than our physical state or possessions. I am the student when I came to be the teacher.

While I’ve learned a lot during my time in Haiti, I’ve come to realize that it’s just the beginning of a lifetime of experiences, knowledge, love and loss to go. Thankful cannot begin to describe my thoughts and feelings towards the many beautiful souls who have welcomed me in as one of their own…no matter how ‘blan’ (white) my skin and actions may appear sometimes.

I often find myself thinking or saying “I’m here for it.” And keeping “unity makes strength” in mind, I want to move forward in saying I’m here for you, I’m here for us, I’m here for wholeness, and I’m here for the timeless good of the gracious people who call Haiti home.

December was a month of wrapping up and preparing for new beginnings, and in the new year I can only imagine the joy and lessons and pain and experiences each day will bring. The past few weeks I’ve spent time working on a few current and ongoing projects and planning for a few new ones. I enjoyed purchasing fun and new inventory for our girl’s souvenir store, working with our chicken coop employee to better regulate feed to reduce costs, and holding a business leader meeting to get a feel for current business planning concept knowledge among other things.

Looking forward into the new year, I was also able to look and ask around Port au Prince and Gonaïves for a metal source for a potential jewelry collaboration, make plans for a sewing seminar for our Alex’s House ladies and some local young gals, and briefly brainstorm and swap ideas about business incubators with our DV staff and another recent Belmont grad living in Haiti.

2018 is a hard year to describe and summarize. I saw lots of ugly and doubt and fear come out of my heart that I didn’t know was there. I also found an unending grace and strength that is not of this world. I left a lot of people, opportunities, and things behind and discovered a greater joy in my work and the people I get to do it with. A slideshow of God’s faithfulness day after day plays in my head when I think back through December and the rest of 2018. While I don’t know all that lies ahead in the new year, there are a few things I know for sure: we are stronger together as unity makes strength, and it is an honor and joy to continue to work towards the prosperity of Haiti with the brothers and sisters I have found here.