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.