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.