Ansanm n’ap vanse. Together we move forward.
My high school freshman year RTI teacher had a sign by the door of her classroom saying,
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
It was in that room that I first read this powerful proverb and where Haiti first came on my radar after the earthquake in 2010. While regretfully I could not have cared less about the plight of Haitians at the time whilst reading article after article about the devastation and watching CNN’s reports on the television, a seed was planted that sprouted three years later and is being watered now eight years after sitting in that room. Isn’t it funny how much things change over time.
We recently observed the eighth anniversary of the 2010 earthquake on January 12th, a 7.0 magnitude trembling of the earth that lasted for 58 seconds and killed somewhere around 300,000 people (depending on whether you look at Haitian or international records). Haiti was already in ruins and bodies were rotting from poverty long before the buildings around the capital of Port au Prince reflected the internal corruption of the state, a physical manifestation of the country’s condition long before international attention was drawn to the natural disaster.
Lack of enforced building codes, overpopulated living conditions, less than developed national infrastructure, corrupt NGOs, a cholera outbreak killing thousands in 2011, and a plethora of other factors left the already devastated former Pearl of the Caribbean in unspeakable conditions that you can still see evidence of today. There are still tent cities on the outskirts of Port au Prince, rubble to be cleaned up, and billions of dollars in promised aid that have yet to reach the ground.
But today, we make the conscious decision to move forward together. Ansanm n’ap vanse.
Those words on the side of the bus caught my attention while in PAP quite a few months ago, but it wasn’t until earlier in January that I was finally aware and in position to snap a quick photo. How fitting, as I spent most of January preparing for Disciples’ Village business leader training that will begin the first full week of February. The premise of these training meetings will be to raise up business leaders in each of our partnering villages to be the future face of our microfinance, business and money management training, God willing.
We will work towards building better economic frameworks and to move our communities forward, together.
My vision for these meetings is to pour into a few leaders so they can then overflow into those interested in starting or growing their own businesses in their respective communities. Ideally, they will be learning and simultaneously working on job creation projects to put their new knowledge to action and save the frustration of a foreigner trying to get the truth while doing the ground market research. Besides, our business leaders know their communities far deeper than I ever will and can share what they have witnessed is needed and best. In my mind, it’s a win-win—Disciples’ Village can move forward in creating jobs while using the projects to train up forward thinking entrepreneurs.
I am quite hopeful for what will become of these times of training, as all the business leaders I met with in preparation were gracious, thirsty to learn more to advance or start their own businesses, and more than willing to pass along what they will learn with the vision of developing businesses and jobs in their communities. We will see how it begins come this Wednesday and biweekly thereafter.
All in all, January might have been my favorite month in Haiti to date. Joy bubbled out of my heart from finally moving in a direction with economic development and job creation that I’ve been dreaming of for a while, checking a few things off my Haiti bucket list and planning/preparing to check of some more in the coming weeks, spending time soaking up some sun and benefiting from time spent away from thinking about work, the ‘winter’ months are bringing in much cooler temps, and an abundance of sweet moments every day.
I’m beyond thankful for the highs, the lows, and the many lessons learned and things experienced this month—bring on February! For now, here are bullet summaries from the events that occurred in the past month.
Highlights and Joys
- What’s the best thing about Haiti? Easily the people. Their contagious smiles and humorous personalities elicit such joy in each day.
- Visiting a medical clinic for a day. Initially, I went to observe for a short time because I have never seen a clinic before and ended up helping out with translating/explaining the medicines to the patients. So much joy and expansion of my Kreyol vocabulary that day. The clinic saw 127 people and I had the honor of talking with every single one of them.
- My room is finished and has become an oasis away from the crazy of life in Haiti. I’m so thankful for a lovely place to chill, get work done, and rest. The yellow walls and white furniture with Christmas lights over my bed have become my home. I now have a chair to sit in, places to hang and put away my clothes, and storage space for the abundance of things I have a 1 in 100,000 chance of needing—but at least I can find them now!
- Finishing my work early one day and getting to ‘captain’ the boat while Bill and a coworker went scuba diving. I had a great time soaking up some vitamin D, enjoying the uninterrupted peace and quiet surrounded by God’s glorious creation, and reading a book written by a fellow expat in Haiti who has created over 200 jobs through a social enterprise called Papillion.
- Coffee tastings with dear friends who also work with DV.
- A trip to a new region of the country to visit our ground keeper’s family. The valleys of Haiti are covered in dark fertile soil producing such beauty that I could not take my eyes off of everything green around me to get any good pictures. The man-made phone camera does not do God’s green earth justice anyways. Happy tears came to my eyes several times that day from the beauty of the earth and all the love shown by Jean Claude’s family. They shared their home, coconut water, food, and they even gave us an avocado tree seedling—something I have been wanting since moving to Haiti!
Challenges, Struggles, and Heartbreak
- A gas shortage at the beginning of January made it difficult to get around with outrageously priced tap taps few and far between and DV rightfully conserving gas. Word on the street is that this happens around the same time every year—good to know for the future to prepare in the weeks ahead. It was quite comical (and understandable) to see motos and cars swarming the pumps at the gas stations waiting for the fuel to come. I never got a clear answer on why this happens. Some locals said the ship with gas on it was late in coming, I read some allegations that the US’s oil dealings with Venezuela influenced this shortage, and a plethora of other things. In searching the web to find where Haiti imports oil/propane/gas from, I came across a splendid website that broke down percentages of imports/exports from country to country, publishing that Haiti received 89-91% of its propane/gas from the USA in the last few years. Interesting.
- No avocados to be found on the street or in the markets—a sad time in Haiti.
- Lately I’ve had a hard time being present. All too often I find myself looking through old pictures, dwelling on the great times I had in college, and looking forward to seeing family and friends. This is the first time I can remember ever recognizing that I’m not ‘living in the moment’. While I believe it is good to learn from the past and to work towards the future, it’s about balance, and sometimes I have teetered too far away from what’s going on in front of me right now.
- A sweet mother of four girls from one of our partnering villages has held a special place in my heart for about a year now. Last year around this time she came to a medical clinic a few days away from dying because she had been giving all her food to her daughters and eating a rat here and there when she could catch them. DV was able to take her under our wing and things were looking up. A few weeks ago, I learned that her husband has left her and her four girls, and my heart broke all over again. This is not okay. A family of 5 cannot live on the meager wages she is making each month. I must work to find or create a job for her but the challenge of teaching money management looms over my head reminding me that a job is useless if the money is not managed properly. There is so much work to be done here, but one by one it will be accomplished.
- My phone briefly quit working for about 12 hours, shocking me with the realization of how much I depend on my cell phone for everyday life. I could not set an alarm, I could not pull up my workouts and interval timer—let alone the music I so desperately need to drown out my heavy breathing! I could not stay in touch with loved ones back in the US or research the many questions that arise at random. I am so thankful for working technology!!
- Karl Barth says, “When we are at our wits end for an answer, then the Holy Spirit can give us an answer. But how can He give us an answer when we are still well supplied with all sorts of answers of our own?” Ouch. That speaks to the depths of my soul and to many things that I have been struggling with in Haiti these past few months.
- The essential nature of foresight in leadership—being able to see far ahead and playing the game to achieve what you want.
- Finished “Shelley in Haiti” detailing Shelley Jean’s journey to starting Papillion and the many lessons she has learned about job creation in Haiti along the way. An encouraging and hope-inducing memoir.
- Every time I get in the front of a tap tap or am accessible to converse with a younger man I get asked how many children I have. The English translation of my answers goes something like this, “I don’t have children—I’m not married—no I don’t plan on getting married soon—I live here and plan on staying for a while so marriage is nowhere in my near future.” This makes me question if the worth of a woman in Haiti is tied to her marital status and/or number of children.
Business Leader Training
- Spent the beginning of the month talking with fellow DV staff about their ideas, suggestions, and recommendations for business leader training in DV partnering zones
- Gaining the support and partnership of a fellow staff member who holds a Haitian accounting degree, has previously taught business lessons, and has a similar vision for job creation in Haiti
- Writing out meeting notes far in advance to get translated and copied in time—so good for me to break my college habits of procrastination!
- Met with the leaders of each village to ask them to think about two to three business leaders or aspiring business people in their communities to meet with me the following week
- The people I met in meetings the next week blew. me. away. Some I have worked with quite a bit and others I have never seen before.
- Each meeting continues to bring up more information about the history of microfinance in one of our villages. I’ve been asking similar questions for months, and in one particular meeting, I learned that several people in the community had gone bankrupt due to high interest rates on the loans they received paired with no knowledge on how to manage their money. Good to know and to proceed forward with caution.
Zi Zi Ze Poulaye—Sassy Eggs Chicken Coop
- Updating records, creating financial documents for end of the year.
- Informed that I cannot purchase more ready-to-lay chickens until June! Mezanmi! But upon a visit in person to purchase chicken food they said they might be able to sell me some at the end of February. Thank goodness, as the eggs are in high demand and we want to capitalize on this opportunity to earn more revenue!
- Many hours spent on the trampoline at a local beach—so much fun channeling my younger self and flipping off like crazy. Unfortunately, my body is not quite in Division I shape anymore and I tweaked my back a little bit, but it was worth every uncomfortable twist and turn for a few days after. I saw how much good it did for my mind and soul to chill for a few hours and have some non-work related fun.
- The first trip into Port au Prince (PAP) with only other twenty two year olds to run some errands and stock up on inventory for our souvenir store. It was so fun to adventure through PAP, get a little turned around along the way, and find our way on our own.
- Planning a semi work, semi fun trip to the Dominican Republic during February. There is a social enterprise that focuses on economic development and job creation that I will get to meet with if all works out! I am beyond interested in everything that they are doing and look forward to learning from them! It has also been fun to do a little research on the towns we will be visiting and to read some history on the DR.
- Rocket stove adventures…a DV teacher preparing to teach more efficient fuel usage in the classroom so we build and tested out a rocket stove to teach the kiddos how you can conserve fuel and create a safer flame with four concrete blocks. It doubled as a lesson on how fire works as well. Fun was had by all!
- This past Saturday we went to the open house of a new coffee roasting facility in the Port au Prince area! We got a tour of the facility and explanation of farm to roasting to selling from the CEO of the social enterprise. It was a splendid day trip and now I am even more intrigued by coffee in Haiti and what it can do for the people here.
- Trying to stream the Grammy’s- a fun time as I had never watched them before.
- Learning of a man who was adopted from TFB wanting to help entrepreneurs in his home town. Erie to see another person/group other than DV working there. It’s also interesting that I have been present and asking questions in TFB for many months now and this is the first time I have heard of him. I wonder if it stems from a fear that we will not partner with that community if we know someone else has already been there. It makes working and getting the truth difficult—but who can blame them?
- Came across the remains of a whale shark on the beach one Sunday afternoon. The vertebrae from the deceased creature were massive…I’m so thankful it was dead when we came across it!!
- I tagged along to visit a formal bank in Haiti for the first time since moving here. The sitting area was comfortable and the air conditioning provided a nice break from the humid air. I enjoyed the opportunity to observe a more formal and institutional side of Haiti while chatting with some DV staff about my ideas for business leader training.
- Wrote and sent out an extensive intern orientation packet for our summer interns—exciting to get the ball rolling on preparing them to serve this summer.
Thank you all for your continued support. I am not where I am or who I am (and am becoming) without the influence of each one of you. My heart swells with love for you all, and may Bondye beni ou.