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The Women of Haiti

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A woman passed me on the sidewalk with an entire table on her head. It looked like she had put everything she wanted for her journey onto a table, crawled underneath it, and then stood up. She moved down the street with her neck straight, her eyes forward, because carrying the burden takes focus. Nobody seemed to think she was remarkable.

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Little girls balance bags of rice, women twice my age carry full washtubs, men carry bananas in baskets. The movement of goods happens on the streets, resting just a head above us.

Everywhere we go, I have found the women of Haiti to have incredibly straight posture. They move with dignity and steadiness. Perhaps it’s because they have spent their lives achieving the balance required to transport their lives on their brow, and this is no metaphor. Blessed is the woman who carries the burden.

The women of Haiti are straightening my spine.

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A young woman stood at the pulpit at church. Beautiful in her white suit, she lead us in worship, singing strong like Exodus’ Miriam. No whispering, no false shyness, her back was straight, her face was forward, the microphone was on, and she sang the roof off that church. We followed behind her, straight into the throne room of God.

The front two rows were taken up with the women’s choir, all in black business suits. When they got up to sing, they moved easily through their steps, singing Hosanna for Palm Sunday. I sat in the wooden pew and tears filled my eyes. Erika leaned over to me and said, “I bet the angels wish they were here for this.” But I’m not convinced they weren’t there. Blessed are the women who sing.

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The rows of the school are filled with boys and girls. Together. Same classroom, same opportunity. The blue satin hair ribbons, one after another, crowded onto benches, just about laid me out on the dirt with their beauty and determination.

These girls are getting an education. These girls will be able to read a deed to make sure they aren’t getting swindled. Their backs are straight on those tiny benches. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” we ask. Nurses. Teachers, Singers. One dream after another. These girls will lift Haiti, I think.

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These two women cook for 150 children every single day. Think about that for a hot second. For many of the kids in Drouin, it’s their only meal of the day. The conditions are primitive to my eyes – water must be fetched and carried and then boiled before use. The tin cooking pots are four times the size of my kitchen sink. There is no light and no fan, just a cook stove and the women.

But those fresh beans and rice, straight off the stove and ladled into a tin plate were the best meal of the week. She grinned at me, her sinewy arms stirring, her headscarf a gleaming white. I thought of Proverbs 31 – she rises while it’s still dark to provide for her children, this virtuous woman. Blessed is the woman who provides for another woman’s child.

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Rosna grew up in a girls’ orphanage herself and then she went on to become a nurse. She got married and her husband planted a church in the same town where she grew up. And now she is the director of Ferrier Village. The first “family style” orphanage in the area, there are five homes filled with 26 children, all of them rescued from trafficking, under her care. Each home has a mother and four or five children. Their mother makes sure they are clean, they are fed, they sleep well, they are seen, known, loved here. Rosna is three years younger than me. Her back was straight, her floors were swept, her work is done well, and her children are healthy.

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When the children first arrive from their rescue, they are often malnourished, their black hair the colour of dried orange straw. But give Rosna a bit of time, because look – this rescued baby’s roots are coming in dark. She’s going to be well because Rosna is a high-capacity leader with hustle and peace for days. Blessed is the woman who leads.

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Wherever I go, children burrow into my mama-belly. It’s a bit soft, never recovered after those three babies in four years, but when I’m around children, I’m thankful for my softness. We mamas from the north, we stood around with their children in our arms, toddlers balanced on our hips. The sway of a mother’s axis crosses cultures, it seems. We met eyes over whiny toddlers who won’t cooperate and shrugged with a grin – we’ve all been there, we’re mothers.

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When we gathered around the women to express our thanks for the meal. “Thank you for cooking for us,” Amber said with a smile. “We have a lot of children and we’re mothers and nobody ever cooks for us!” They laughed and said they understood that.

One woman after another, sometimes in the background, sometimes in the kitchen, sometimes in the pulpit, sometimes in a home, sometimes singing a song, sometimes on the street with her stand of mangoes to sell, sometimes at the blackboard wearing a blue uniform, sometimes sitting in the classroom.

What a privilege to witness these women work.

What a privilege to talk in their kitchens, hold their babies, hear their stories.

What an honour to learn from their leadership.

Blessed are the women who remain unbowed.

 from the archives

***

It’s been a year since I was last in Haiti. I had plans of returning again this year but then along came little Maggie Love and so travel is at a stop right now. But in the meantime, the work continues – my presence certainly isn’t required by anyone – in Haiti.

Want to help?

You can be a child sponsor in Drouin whose kids are vulnerable to trafficking and or host for a Garage Sale for Orphans to build a preschool for children who have been rescued from trafficking.

And as always, pray for our sisters worldwide who are quietly doing the work.

 

All these photos were taken by Scott Wade and are used with permission.

Continue Reading · Haiti, social justice, women, work · 5

Maybe there is despair – but there is also hope in Haiti

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Photo by Scott Wade, provided by Help One Now

 

Haiti makes Walter Brueggemann make a bit more sense to me.

The Bruegg (as I affectionately and irreverantly think of him) is the theologian who has been wrecking building my life over the past few years.  In The Prophetic Imagination, he writes that real hope only comes after despair. Only if we have tasted despair, only if we have known the deep sadness of unfulfilled dreams and promises, only if we dare to look reality in the face and name it for what it is, only then – can we dare to begin to imagine a better way.

Hope is subversive precisely because it dares to admit that all is not as it should be.

And I thought: Of course….Haiti.

Today, we mark the fifth anniversary of the earthquake. Five years. 

There has been despair.

There is despair.

We see life before and after the earthquake – the poverty, the gross domestic product, the politics of a developing nation, and so on – and we know it isn’t right. This isn’t what God intended for us.

But because of our Jesus, our hope sees with new eyes, with Spirit-eyes, and imagines a better way. We see the goodness. We see the health. We see the holy. We see the strong communities, we see Pastor Jean Alix, and Pastor Gaetan, and Rosena, and St. Cyr with Help One Now, and then there’s Troy and Tara, Beth and John, and everyone at Heartline and all of the ways that heaven is breaking through right in the midst of it all.

Maybe there is despair – but there is also hope.

Hope cultivates the seed of the Kingdom that is already growing wild and free.

Hope comes alongside of each other, in friendship, and says, let’s do this. 

Hope is an act of faith.

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from my most recent visit to Yahve Shamma in April 2014

 

Since my own story intersected with Haiti, I have had my eye out for that subversive hope. We’ve made friends and we’ve built a school together, we’ve started a preschool and rescued kids from trafficking. I’m late to to the party perhaps but for the past five years, Haiti hasn’t let go of me even here from my life in western Canada. The world is small, neighbour.

Together, we are holding out for, working for, listening, creating, prophesying, and living into something better. For the Kingdom to come, for oaks of righteousness to tower, for leaves to blossom for the healing of the nations, for swords to be beaten into ploughshares, for joy to come in the morning, and for redemption.

Light a candle for Haiti today.

Say a prayer.

Make room to remember Haiti’s complex story.

And, if you can, perhaps send a bit of money to Help One Now projects in Drouin, Port Au Prince, and Ferrier village or to Heartline Maternity Centre which not only delivers babies but empowers women to raise their children. You can trust that your money makes a difference right on the ground in real lives with these two groups – they’re the real deal.

Also, all of the profits from the Jesus Feminist collection go to support these two worthy orgs.

 edited from the archives

Continue Reading · Haiti, social justice · 2

Christmas is for family, Christmas is for Drouin

It seems nobody loves Drouin. It’s a sequestered, hot, poor, and isolated spot in rural Haiti, far from the TV cameras, the decision makers, and the big NGOs. The earthquake left them largely untouched but they suffered mightily in the cholera outbreak and continue to navigate the fall-out from rice subsidies which put them largely out of work.

This community of proud and hard-working Haitians captured my heart precisely because they are a bit on the margins of the rest of the world’s love, resources, compassion, and consciousness.

Even now, out of all our initiatives in Haiti, the kids in Drouin are among the last to be sponsored.

I’ve always loved to root for the underdog though.

Christmas is traditionally a time for family. We gather together for worship and celebration, for meals and for gifts, for parties and to make memories. Whether our families are together by birth or by choice, Christmas is a time for gathering and connecting with one another in beautiful ways. We make time and spend money and tell stories with our families, Christmas gathers us together.

And in Drouin, that is exactly the value that guides our work: family.

Our work in Drouin is all about keeping families together, empowering parents to raise their children, ensuring that these kids don’t ever end up in an orphanage because of preventable economic reasons. 

Orphan prevention is a key part of orphan care.

Too often, we show up after the crisis when the holy work can also be found in making sure that the crisis never happens. 

If Christmas is for family, then Christmas is also the time for Drouin.

 

A Tale of Two Josephs

On the day that I wrote about Drouin when I was in Haiti last April, my mother was prompted by the Spirit to participate in redemption’s story here. She decided to sponsor an older boy named Joseph. She saw his picture on the website and some part of her heart just knew that this was the boy she could focus her bit of good and prayer and resource onto in Drouin – he shares a name with her only grandson, after all.

That night, my mother emailed me in Haiti and told me what she had done. I was sitting on my bunk, sweat running down my back like a river, enjoying a brief moment of wifi connection when I read her email and then I wept.

Because Joseph was a boy that I knew. I knew his name and his face right away. I get overwhelmed in large crowds of strangers so I typically find just one or two people to talk to in a bit more depth. On this hot day in Drouin, it was Joseph who caught my eye and became a friend for the day. Earlier, we had sat together under a tree and talked, we ate together. Out of all the kids at that school, I hung out with that kid, I had pictures of him in my camera phone, and of course that was the boy my mother felt lead to sponsor.

These are the ways of the Spirit, aren’t they? Just those little kisses from heaven to let you know you’re not alone and we’re in it together and it all matters.

This Christmas, our family story includes two Josephs – my Joseph here in Abbotsford and another woman’s son named Joseph in Drouin.

My mother is making sure that Joseph stays with his mother.

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This Christmas, we will love Drouin

As you prepare and budget for Christmas, would you make some room in your family for Drouin?

Look through the website here and pray, ask God which one of these kids belong with your family Christmas conversations and gatherings this year.

Click here to sponsor a kid in Drouin for Christmas.

From our corner of the Internet, I believe we can sponsor 20 kids. That’s not outrageous, but it will have an outrageous and lifelong affect on 2o families.

With your sponsorship, you’ll ensure a child receives one good hearty meal a day at school. You’ll contribute towards paying for the teachers at the school as well as supplies, towards childcare for the younger children so their parents can find work in peace and remain confident that child-traffickers or predators have no access to their unattended children, and also towards community development funds to improve roads, build homes, water, and finance farming initiatives.

All of these things will keep families together, you see?

That’s a happy Christmas, indeed. I can’t imagine a better gift for your family and for the families of Drouin.

Together, with Drouin, let’s celebrate family this Christmas.

Photos courtesy of Help One Now.

Continue Reading · Haiti, social justice · 4

In which the women of Haiti make me stand straight

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A woman passed me on the sidewalk with an entire table on her head. It looked like she had put everything she wanted for her journey onto a table, crawled underneath it, and then stood up. She moved down the street with her neck straight, her eyes forward, because carrying the burden takes focus. Nobody seemed to think she was remarkable.

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Little girls balance bags of rice, women twice my age carry full washtubs, men carry bananas in baskets. The movement of goods happens on the streets, resting just a head above us.

Everywhere we go, I have found the women of Haiti to have incredibly straight posture. They move with dignity and steadiness. Perhaps it’s because they have spent their lives achieving the balance required to transport their lives on their brow, and this is no metaphor. Blessed is the woman who carries the burden.

The women of Haiti are straightening my spine.

13836763794_5fb5b2d80b_b

A young woman stood at the pulpit at church. Beautiful in her white suit, she lead us in worship, singing strong like Exodus’ Miriam. No whispering, no false shyness, her back was straight, her face was forward, the microphone was on, and she sang the roof off that church. We followed behind her, straight into the throne room of God.

The front two rows were taken up with the women’s choir, all in black business suits. When they got up to sing, they moved easily through their steps, singing Hosanna for Palm Sunday. I sat in the wooden pew and tears filled my eyes. Erika leaned over to me and said, “I bet the angels wish they were here for this.” But I’m not convinced they weren’t there. Blessed are the women who sing.

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The rows of the school are filled with boys and girls. Together. Same classroom, same opportunity. The blue satin hair ribbons, one after another, crowded onto benches, just about laid me out on the dirt with their beauty and determination.

These girls are getting an education. These girls will be able to read a deed to make sure they aren’t getting swindled. Their backs are straight on those tiny benches. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” we ask. Nurses. Teachers, Singers. One dream after another. These girls will lift Haiti, I think.

13859635754_69777ae3de_b

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These two women cook for 150 children every single day. Think about that for a hot second. For many of the kids in Drouin, it’s their only meal of the day. The conditions are primitive to my eyes – water must be fetched and carried and then boiled before use. The tin cooking pots are four times the size of my kitchen sink. There is no light and no fan, just a cook stove and the women.

But those fresh beans and rice, straight off the stove and ladled into a tin plate were the best meal of the week. She grinned at me, her sinewy arms stirring, her headscarf a gleaming white. I thought of Proverbs 31 – she rises while it’s still dark to provide for her children, this virtuous woman. Blessed is the woman who provides for another woman’s child.

 

 

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Rosna grew up in a girls’ orphanage herself and then she went on to become a nurse. She got married and her husband planted a church in the same town where she grew up. And now she is the director of Ferrier Village. The first “family style” orphanage in the area, there are five homes filled with 26 children, all of them rescued from trafficking, under her care. Each home has a mother and four or five children. Their mother makes sure they are clean, they are fed, they sleep well, they are seen, known, loved here. Rosna is three years younger than me. Her back was straight, her floors were swept, her work is done well, and her children are healthy.

13885618193_4ee3428d2a_b

When the children first arrive from their rescue, they are often malnourished, their black hair the colour of dried orange straw. But give Rosna a bit of time, because look – this rescued baby’s roots are coming in dark. She’s going to be well because Rosna is a high-capacity leader with hustle and peace for days. Blessed is the woman who leads.

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Wherever I go, children burrow into my mama-belly. It’s a bit soft, never recovered after those three babies in four years, but when I’m around children, I’m thankful for my softness. We mamas from the north, we stood around with their children in our arms, toddlers balanced on our hips. The sway of a mother’s axis crosses cultures, it seems. We met eyes over whiny toddlers who won’t cooperate and shrugged with a grin – we’ve all been there, we’re mothers.

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When we gathered around the women to express our thanks for the meal. “Thank you for cooking for us,” Amber said with a smile. “We have a lot of children and we’re mothers and nobody ever cooks for us!” They laughed and said they understood that.

One woman after another, sometimes in the background, sometimes in the kitchen, sometimes in the pulpit, sometimes in a home, sometimes singing a song, sometimes on the street with her stand of mangoes to sell, sometimes at the blackboard wearing a blue uniform, sometimes sitting in the classroom.

What a privilege to witness these women work. What a privilege to talk in their kitchens, hold their babies, hear their stories. What an honour to learn from their leadership.

Blessed are the women who remain unbowed.

 

***

You can catch up with the other bloggers on the trip here. Or follow along for the days as wi-fi permits on Instagram or Twitter with the hashtag #HONbloggers.

Want to help?

We need to sign up 100 child sponsors in Drouin whose kids are vulnerable to trafficking and 100 hosts for a Garage Sale for Orphans to build a preschool for children who have been rescued from trafficking while we’re here on the ground. And as always, pray for us, pray for our families – and help spread the word by sharing our posts on social media.

All these photos were taken by Scott Wade.

Continue Reading · Haiti, social justice, women · 17

In which nobody loves Drouin

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It seems nobody loves Drouin.

This struggling tiny community of rice farmers never seems to capture anyone’s imagination. It’s just not an easy community to love because this isn’t an easy community in which to live. It’s not even easy to GET here.

Drouin is far out in the country, four hours from Port-au-Prince, then another hour down a treacherous, bumpy, rocky road. It’s hot. Even our Haitian translators complained bitterly about how “it’s always hotter here.” It’s dusty. It’s isolated. Their sole income is rice farming.

Even before the earthquake, the rice subsidies of the world caused trouble here. After the earthquake, the world dropped tons of free rice into Haiti. But those “gifts” put these farmers out of work and they began to starve. (Remember to look behind the beautiful facade.)

Then cholera broke out because of dirty water. Locals tell us that a UN-affiliated team from Nepal dumped sewage into the water far up the mountain and when it came down to their canal, where they bathe and eat and drink, well, people were dead within a day. The bodies piled up here.

The children began to starve. Their parents were dying.

But Pastor Jean-Alix remembered Drouin.

Pastor Jean-Alix had planted a church there years ago. Despite his best efforts to advocate for Drouin as a focus for an org or a church, nobody loved Drouin.

Finally he convinced Chris Marlow, the founder of Help One Now, to visit Drouin. After a bone-rattling drive out to the middle-of-nowhere-Haiti, they toured the small cement school filled with brown-eyed hungry children. The children were able to go to school for free – unlike the rest of Haiti – because of Jean-Alix’s work already.

But every kid was frighteningly malnourished. A child collapsed to the floor and when Chris gathered her into his arms, he was told that she was hungry. Just hungry. It wasn’t her day to eat, you see. Tomorrow would be her day to eat.

At the time, Chris had a very clear idea of the mission of the org: they were going to focus on double-orphans only. Yep, that’s it. That’s our differentiator as an organization, only and ever serving double-orphans.

And these starving kids were not orphans. They had out-of-work destitute parents. It’s sad but it’s not our problem.

According to the white board back in Raleigh, these kids were not a priority.

When Chris tried to explain that strategic decision to Jean-Alix, the pastor said, “Okay, fine.”

They walked in silence for a while. Then he stopped and looked Chris right in the face.

“And next year when you come back, THEN you will be able to support this community, right? because by then, all of these children will be double-orphans. You’ll show up when it’s time for the orphanage but you won’t be here to make sure that orphanage never needs to be built.

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Orphanages have their place, absolutely. Praise God for homes and safety, food and families. (Personally, I’m not a huge fan of institutional care for children and prefer family-based or foster-parent model situations like Ferrier Village.)

But at what point do we enhance the conversation about orphan care with a conversation about orphan prevention?

This point.

Yes, right at this point, right here on the map, this is where the conversation became focused on orphan prevention for Help One Now.

Chris dropped the strategy and embraced the Spirit.

“We will love Drouin,” he said.

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(I wish I were a poet – I’d write about the women of Haiti I have met. Right now, I’m still carrying the teachers, the cooks, the house-mamas, the caregivers, the worship leaders, all of them right in my heart. There aren’t words for the mighty women I have met here.)

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Help One Now set up the sponsorship program for Drouin.

With the $40 USD/ month, a child receives an education, a good meal each day, medical care as needed, and – just as important – Jean-Alix administers funds to improve infrastructure, finance farming, build homes, and even a church.

Orphan prevention is part of orphan care. 

Now the children are eating one good healthy meal a day at school. No little girls collapse in the back room of hunger in Drouin.

Now the teachers are paid a small salary. So they can stay and teach instead of leaving.

Now there is childcare for the children so their parents can try to find work.

Maybe the rural areas, the forgotten roads, the ignored villages, can rise.

Now the community development fund has improved the road. They are building homes, they are financing farming initiatives.

Now there is a reason to stay in Drouin.

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The rest of the world doesn’t know about Drouin. But now we all know about Drouin.

Now I’ve held her children in my arms, I’ve shared a meal, I’ve heard their stories, I’ve stood in her classrooms. Hope is rising in Drouin.

100 sponsorships will support 250 kids plus community development.

Once upon a time, nobody loved Drouin.

But that story isn’t true anymore.

***

You can catch up with the other bloggers on the trip here. Or follow along for the days as wi-fi permits on Instagram or Twitter with the hashtag #HONbloggers.

All photos provided by Scott Wade.

*this post has been edited to reflect a bit more education. A reader named Ruth corrected my timeline on the rice issues in Drouin to include the subsidies which had a negative impact even before the earthquake.

Continue Reading · Haiti, social justice · 22