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?!