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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.

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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.

 

***

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 · 13

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 · 20

In which I fall for the beautiful facade

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Oh, how pretty! Look over there! All the houses are painted the most wonderful colours!

So, we the tourists, we pull over and take pictures of the lovely little houses on the hill. Purple, orange, apple green, sky blue, look at all the colours. What a wonderful public art project, I say.

I wonder why the other houses aren’t painted? It’s almost like a line, straight down the hill. Perhaps it’s an ongoing project, who knows. But it’s so pretty! Quick, take a picture and put it on Instagram! Oh, I want to frame that and put it on my wall, I think.

***

And then the truth comes out: it’s Jalousie.

A slum.

A shanty town for the poor and destitute.

There is no running water, no sewage system, no electricity except what is illegally tapped into off the grid.

But the government made sure to paint the exterior walls of their homes bright colours.

Critics say that the homes of Jalousie were painted because their slum faces the rich part of town, the place where people like me come and stay in the lovely hotels.

Quick, paint the buildings so people will want to take photos! To the tune of $1.4 million dollars and a PR campaign, it is so lovely.

(After all, everybody knows the rich folks don’t want to look at ugly grey cinder block shanties. It sort of ruins supper.)

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This entire story is pretty much a metaphor for my experiences in developing nations. 

I’m inept and ignorant. I don’t know what I’m doing. This is because I fly in and out, I don’t stay here, I don’t live here, I only know the stories I’m told, and I long for a quick-fix happy-ending.

When I heard the truth of the beautiful painted houses of Jalousie from our translators and then from my friends Tara and Troy Livesay, my stomach sank. Because I’d fallen for a facade. Again.

Haiti keeps me humble. These moments – and this is not the only time I’ve been wrong or ill-informed or just plain ignorant – they remind me to keep my mouth shut, to listen, to dig a bit deeper than the facades, to look past the shiny bright exterior into the home, into the streets, into the truth.

This goes for the bright ice-cream coloured hillside, the organizations that serve, the churches, the people, in every corner of my life. But especially when we are talking about the vulnerable and oppressed.

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It’s easy to fall for the bright colours because we want so badly to believe in a good story for once.

Spend any amount of time in the orphan prevention and anti-trafficking conversations, and you learn to become a bit distrustful of the shiny pretty buildings.

You become a bit suspicious of the facades.  You learn to peek behind the story and poke with a stick. You learn to ask real questions of the real people, not the PR team. You grow tired of another pop-up well-meaning orphanage in lieu of preventative measures of community and economic development. It’s hard to settle for more dingy half-peeling-off band-aids when you’re longing for a full healing.

There isn’t much room for romanticism in the real world of orphan prevention and community development.

This world needs open eyes, this conversation needs hard questions, these are real people. Real people. Real homes. Real families.

They deserve our open eyes, our respect, and we need to honour them by hearing the truth.

***

We were in Drouin today. They are the rice farmers of the country. After the earthquake, NGOs and international governments dropped tons and tons of free rice here. That grand gesture was meant to help. And now this region is starving and out of work because all the rice is free and they no longer make a living. Their children were sick and starving to death. I met parents today who had to decide which child gets to eat on which day. Because of free rice.

Again, the well-meaning facade.

***

The funny thing is that just when I start getting mad at the facade, I peek behind it and guess what I find?

The Church.

The people of God are already there, among the poor, serving the poor, loving the ones behind the beautiful colourful lies. They’ve just been waiting for the rest of us.

I’ll tell you more about Drouin and the Church behind the facade tomorrow. It’s a precious and good story, a real one.

***

I think that’s part of the reason why I’ve thrown my heart into Help One Now: they’re terrifyingly transparent with me. They embrace the complexity. They aren’t out to save the world by next Saturday. They welcome constructive criticism and the perspective of outsiders. They value and honour the local leadership, seeking only to serve them. I’ve peeked behind the facade of Help One Now, and I feel pretty good so far.

I think there’s a way to be a critical thinker without having a critical spirit. I think there’s a way to help without hurting.

The truth will set us – us, all of us – free.

***

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 want 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.

 

Continue Reading · Haiti, social justice · 26

In which we visit “our” school in Haiti for the first time

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Do you remember when I wrote this? It was just eighteen months ago.

So we want to build a school at Yahve Shamma orphanage for the entire community. We want to build a legacy, a real brick-and-mortar Haitian-built, Haitian-managed, Haitian-taught community school to be part of lifting Haiti out of poverty. And we want to do it with you, too.

This isn’t just one small step, not really. Because, you see, there will be 170 beautiful tinies there. In one school, every year, 170 steps, one right foot after another left foot, right forward, into God’s purpose and plan, God’s future and hope. Plus twelve teachers, well, every year, step, step, step right into where they were meant to be all along. And we can be a part of it, walking alongside of them.

Eighteen months ago, I stood in that very spot and told you about our crazy dream with Pastor and Madame Gaetan. And even more wonderful? You all said “absolutely.”

Absolutely we can do this.

Absolutely this matters.

Absolutely we will love these tinies and we will build them a school.

Absolutely.

And now, today….

We walked through the gates of the Yahve Shamma orphanage, and I took one look at that gigantic and gorgeous school – and I burst into tears.

I couldn’t stop weeping or smiling, this was one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen with my own two eyes.

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I stood on holy ground when I stood in the kindergarten classroom at Williamson Adrien Academy in Petion-ville, Haiti.

Over the past eighteen months, I feel like I have been witness to the miracle, the miracle of the Church together, the Church united across nations, the Church that shows up and loves well, a Church that stretched from my little home in Abbotsford all the way here to Haiti to your home across the world in Ireland, Australia, the United States, and beyond.

The school is beautiful. Painted the colour of sunshine, each classroom was a joy to my heart. (I’m so glad it’s lovely.)

The school was not simply aid nor is this a hand-out or an invasion. No, this was a Haitian-led community development plan born out of friendship and relationship, and I simply feel honoured to even be a small part of this thing.

I couldn’t wait to share today with you. You were a part of this vision right from the start and you really showed up for these kids in this neighbourhood. You donated money, you fundraised, you wrote your own blog posts and harassed your churches, you prayed and you advocated and then you prayed some more.

Thirty-four orphans and another 250 neighbourhood kids plus all their teachers and parents and families say thank you.

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(Sorry for the grainy iPod photos – better ones will be coming soon!)

 

It’s real, you guys. It’s real and it’s really here. It’s really tiny chairs and desks, blackboards and homemade days-of-the-week posters, notebooks and drawings.

I love doing life with people who are so committed to living out the Kingdom of God in real ways.

And that includes all of you.

I thought of you while I stood there, I did. I thought of you when I sat on the steps, in the heat and the dust.

I thought of you, my friends, and I gave thanks to my God for you.

Next up….

So much more happened today but I’m still processing it a bit. We visited church, another children’s home, as well as two micro-loan recipients. I can’t wait for you to meet everybody here. Sometimes the stories are too dear to my heart to be told quickly or lightly. I want to give them a bit of time to soak and then hopefully I’ll give them all the dignity and justice they deserve.

Tomorrow, we’re off to Drouin to learn more about our work in the field of orphan prevention in that area. See you back here tomorrow!

P.S. 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 want 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.

 

Continue Reading · Haiti, journey, social justice · 18