I cannot believe I’ve already been in Haiti for two weeks. At the same time, I cannot believe I’ve only been in Haiti for two weeks, as it feels like I’ve been here forever. These days have been filled to the brim with excitement, adjustment, and lots of joy. I am honestly very surprised by how easy it has all felt so far, and so is everyone else here when I tell them that. I have so much support here and feel that I have many people (both American and Haitian) who want to help me with anything I may need. I think that is just God’s way of welcoming me here and assuring me this is where I am supposed to be for now.
I spent my first weekend in Haiti at none other than a gorgeous beach (on a personal trip of course). Laura, a new American friend who also works in Gonaives, invited me to go with her after she had an especially difficult week. We stayed in a wonderful Airbnb and it was so important that I got to take some time to experience the beautiful, peaceful side of Haiti that foreigners aren’t as used to seeing in the media. Additionally, when living in a culture that is so different from your own, it is so important to prioritize self-care, and sometimes that looks like getting away from your normal environment and relaxing on the beach for a little while. People are often reluctant to come to Haiti as tourists, and foreigners here on short-term mission trips often feel guilty when their group spends part of their time at a resort when they feel they should be “helping”. But tourism is such a needed industry in Haiti, one that, in time, can greatly contribute to the economic development of the country.
On Saturday night, Laura and I were preparing to go to bed and had just turned on the air conditioning in the room when everything started shaking. I thought it had something to do with the AC and Laura thought it was the fan so we both ran around trying to fix them. Then, the shaking stopped, and Laura suggested that it was actually an earthquake. I didn’t believe her until our host confirmed it. We got in contact with our friends in Gonaives and everything was still standing and everyone was safe, but (quite literally) shaken up. We found out that a 5.9 magnitude earthquake had hit Port de Paix, a town only 50 miles (although a several hour drive) north of Gonaives. We found out later that at least 11 deaths, hundreds of injuries, and several damages to buildings occurred as a result. Immediately after though, since I didn’t even know what was happening until it was over and only felt it slightly anyway, I actually kind of forgot about the earthquake soon after it happened.
The following day, I was back in the guesthouse in Gonaives that I have been staying in. I was unpacking and organizing my room, when all the sudden, the entire room started shaking. The metal-framed bunkbeds in my room banged around loudly while I heard several screams outside my window. I immediately knew what was happening and sprinted out of the house into the front yard. I was greeted there by the pastor who lives in the downstairs portion of the house and his family. Thankfully, he speaks fluent English, as I am still working on my Creole. He saw that my whole body was shaking from fear and offered me a hug as well as a chair to sit on. I sat outside with them for almost two hours. They were so kind and offered me food, conversation, and companionship as we all tried to figure out what had just happened and what to do next. We discovered that this was not an aftershock from the day before; rather, it was a completely separate 5.2 magnitude earthquake.
After communicating with Kathy, I mustered up the courage to go back inside and pack an overnight bag, and then headed over to spend the night at Kathy and Beaver’s. We planned to sleep outside as a precaution, but a heavy rain came, so we ended up staying indoors for the night. As I lay down to sleep, memories flashed through my head of the semi-traumatic event that occurred just hours before. I somehow managed to still fall asleep relatively quickly and get a full night of rest.
First thing on Mondays, we have a thing called the Big Question meeting with the whole 2nd Story Goods staff. It is a beautiful time for everyone’s voice to be heard as we discuss important ideas related to Haiti or to us personally. Naturally, our Big Question involved how everyone was feeling after the earthquakes that occurred over the weekend. We have a few people on staff that were in Port au Prince during the devastating earthquake of 2010, and they were definitely the most affected by the recent happenings, as it brought up painful memories for them. Soon after we went back to work, Kathy started running around yelling at everyone to get out quickly. It turns out that she had mistaken a big truck passing by for another earthquake. It was clear that everyone was on edge, so she said that maybe we should just close down for the day. Instead, everyone insisted on working outside instead. They determinedly dragged their desks and equipment out from under the concrete building and continued working. As Kathy put it, it just “seemed like we were better being together”.
I keep reminding myself how in college, I used to do the kinds of things I’m doing for 2nd Story Goods “for fun” in my free time in my work with Enactus -a university student organization that partners with social enterprises and non-profits to help them with their business models- and now I am getting to do the work I’m most passionate about full-time! I was very involved with Enactus at Belmont, and 2nd Story Goods is actually one of Belmont Enactus’s projects this year, so I will be working closely with a team of Belmont students and delegating tasks that they can do to help us grow 2nd Story Goods from Nashville. I am so excited for this partnership, because Enactus was integral to my development in college and taught me so many skills and lessons that have prepared me to work in social enterprise in Haiti; it will be a joy to give other students the opportunity to learn like I did, and it will be such a blessing to have their much appreciated help and opinions on things we are doing here. I will be managing what they are working on from here by keeping in contact with their project manager, Bailey. On Monday, the Belmont Enactus 2SG team had their first meeting and I called in to meet everyone. It was surreal to Facetime with them and see their excited faces; they are going to start by researching new markets for 2nd Story to enter in the U.S. While 2SG does have three employees stateside currently, only one is full-time, and this team of students that is dedicated to increasing sales is sure to be a huge help to us growing the business, and in turn, being able to employ more people who are in need of jobs in Haiti.
My arrival to Haiti has already shaken things up in the company a little bit. We spent a big part of last week shifting the job descriptions of the 2SG leadership team as well as defining my own job description. One of my goals in coming here was to be able to provide Kathy with the space to do the things that we as a company most need her to do, and take the things off of her plate that she can pass on to other employees. She didn’t know that I was thinking this way, but after we discussed it, she told me that she has been praying for this kind of space to be created for her. We have cleared her schedule a little bit and delegated tasks that others can do so that she can spend more time writing and designing new products (not to mention taking a break from work on nights and weekends), two things that are her natural gifts as a writer and artist, and two things that are vital to the success of the company. I have essentially taken on the role of her personal assistant, so I can manage her schedule, keep things organized, and make sure these important things are being accomplished.
On a side note, if you are familiar with the Enneagram (a personality typing system that has transformed my understanding of myself and others), Kathy and I have a wonderful working relationship (and friendship) because we are both 3s and can completely understand how each other thinks; however, she is a 3 wing 4 and I am a 3 wing 2, so instead of driving each other crazy, we balance each other out. The 3 is the Achiever: the productive, goal-oriented type that can become obsessed with, well, achieving. While working closely together, Kathy and I will be able to hold each other accountable for not overworking, which will be very beneficial and healthy for both of us.
In addition to managing the Enactus team and Kathy’s schedule, I will also be focusing on developing and implementing marketing strategies and leading the leadership team through a book called Traction that will essentially help us develop a strategic planning process. I will also be working some with ProLead as they establish a framework for rehabilitating the culture and systems of existing organizations and incubating new businesses. I can’t express how perfect every single part of my job is for me. I couldn’t have come up with a better dream job if I tried!
When the earth does it, shaking things up is sometimes not the best thing. But when we do it, sometimes it can be really fruitful. Sometimes, we have to be willing to shake things up in our own lives and organizations in order to accomplish the things we truly want. Here’s to continuing to shake things up in the next year!