Saturday, January 21, 2012

Finding my Inspiration

 Tonight as I danced around the driveway with Mehto, our security guard, I was reminded that there is much joy to be experienced in the midst of my chaotic workload. In the early dawn of the mornings, I escape to the balcony of the guest house, where I can take in the panoramic scenery of Port-au-Prince, and the many mountains in the distance. Lately the roosters in the lot across the street have remained quiet, so it is just by routine, and the consistent honking of cars next-door that awake me at 6 am everyday.

 As we are planning a conference to gather NGOs and Haitian Business Owners on the 26th of January, as well as putting out monthly newsletters and developing a website to be launched early January (which i have been named Project Manager of!), I find that "Haitian time" does not apply. We have limited resources for staffing, and Daniel is a fan of "squeezing out the most" from the unpaid intern, so my days are quite full.

 Last week, however, we had 2 mentors visit and plan to travel 4 hours north to the small town of Pignon. Since no other Partners Worldwide staff member other than Oscar would be attending to the meeting of our newest Local Business Affiliate, I was recruited to join the group! Travelling into the field is by far my favorite task, as it allows me to really connect with the entrepreneurs in Haiti we are working so hard to improve their communities and connect with.

Thankful for all God's Gifts!
 Tuesday morning we departed in a rented luxury SUV. The discussion was intense from the get-go, as Terry and Bob from the Vermeer Foundation and Global Business Affiliate were quick to query Oscar and my personal relationships with Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. It really brought me back the reality that my work is entirely based on the will of God, and I was prepared for the trip based on that introductory conversation.

Meeting with the Mayor of Thomonde
 After a 2 hour drive across the beautiful mountains and countryside of Haiti, we arrived in Thomonde, where Bob and Terry would be discussing with the Mayor the possibility of utilizing their new earth-block-creating-machine to conduct an $18M project of town development, agreed upon by President Martelly himself. I spent much time surveying the plans, taking pictures and attempting small-talk with the mayor in Creole, while Bob and Terry were encouraged to provide a written proposal of the new equipment, that would create a tremendous amount of jobs in the process.

 We departed for the last 2 hours of the trip that afternoon, and were met with a very rough road after the town of Hinche. Literally it is a dirt road that has been shaped by the rough cracks and bumps of weathering, so there was no comfort in our commute. Yet we began to see the way of life in the central valley, where donkeys can be purchased for a bargain $50 to handle the need for transportation and logistics. We saw school children walking along the beaten path, and I admire them as I realize they are those who literally walk 15 miles to and from school everyday.
Meeting with Sanon
 We met with Sanon Etienne that afternoon, the leader of the new LBA, and although he is just about my age, his accomplishments are comparable to Donald Trump in local standards. As we met with most of the business people on our agenda, all were keen on referring to him as "the man!" He operates a concrete-block production facility next to a river, where he pays women to collect piles of sand from the river, and employs at least 6-7 men to operate the vibrating block machine. I have since come to learn that Sanon is also a known civic engineer, university professor, sub-contractor for a huge church-campus project, and serves as the principal at his sister's primary school in town. Bob and Terry are working to provide him with a new clay-block producing machine, and the size of his workforce and demand for product will grow exponentially!

Squeezing out the Sweet Stuff at a
Sugar Cane Processor
  We continued on with our schedule, and found that many of the business owners were actually Distillerie-proprietors. This is not something that Partners Worldwide condones, so I was glad to realize that they actually operated other business as well....machine welding, sugar cane processing, and  construction materials. We also met with the memorable George, who turned 2 1/2 acres of bare forestry into a "garden", where he is growing lemon trees, passion fruit, pineapples, ginseng, papaya, and other beautiful products that he tends to with loving care. Before we departed, he loaded our trunk with buckets full of passionfruit, that we have been enjoying as juice for the last few days. In addition our gifts from George, I was also gifted with freshly-made peanut butter, an overgrown pumpkin (perfect for the Haitian January 1 tradition of Pumpkin soup!), sweet sugar cane for nibbling, and hand-drawn postcards.
Farmer George Prays for Rain
 Although these businesses are small in comparison to the corporate standards of the U.S., one of the things I learned during orientation for Partners Worldwide is to never doubt the potential of the lowly. "Don't doubt in the face of God" has been a great lesson throughout my experience. I'm eager to follow up on the progress of our emerging affiliate in Pignon, and rejoice in the news of the promise of improved infrastructure throughout the town, as a major roadway will soon be constructed, bringing the promise of commerce along with it.
 As of 2012, my workload has begun to pile on faster than I can seem to keep my head above, but I still find those moments of tranquility in the environment. Success is earned quickly as tasks are carried out, and already I can see the fruits of my labor as people are being connected. Pray for my sanity and peace of mind during this time when I wonder how everything will get done. Yet will there's a will, there's a way and nothing is impossible with God. 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Holidays in Haiti

 I'm absolutely thankful that despite living in a foreign country, I've been raised on tradition enough to find comfort in the holidays with good friends. Thanksgiving came one month after I'd been living in Haiti, and my boss, Daniel, had a good american friend, Allison, who was also keen on bringing the tradition of giving Thanks at Trinity Guest House.
 I was told she had invited 13 friends, and at the time, we had no utensils, cooking equipment, or even salt and pepper in the cabinets. So the Wednesday before, Daniel, Emma and I met with our new resident cook, Babbem, to go shopping for culinary necessities. There is a great store in Petionville, similar to Bed, Bath and Beyond in Haitian standards, where we found all the needed supplies. Next we made our way to the supermarket, where a 13 lb. frozen turkey can be found at a bargain price of $50! Since I am still uncertain how to manage the street markets, Allison took that challenge on, and showed up to the guesthouse that night with fresh pumpkin, haitian sweet potatoes, a pie crust, and many other fresh vegetables.

 The next day I felt somewhat guilty as my Haitian colleagues spent the day working, while I played the "American Holiday" card, and spent the day slaving away in the kitchen with Allison, and her friend Barbara. After mashing potatoes using a mortar and pestle, sweet potato casserole with a blender and freshly-grated coconut, stuffing from actual sliced bread, canned cranberry sauce flown over by American friends, and pumpkin pie boiled and completely made from scratch, (accompanied with a full case of cold Prestige beer) somehow we pulled off just enough food for 15 people- Haitian, Canadian and American alike. 
 Since my culinary skills were brought to light for that meal, I'm often found in the kitchen, making American breakfast and the occasional dinner for those staying at the guesthouse. Otherwise I'm treated daily to amazing Haitian cuisine provided by Babbem... Goat quite frequently, Creole Chicken often, Fried plantains, rice and beans every day, and never once have I had to worry about food sanitation and digestive illness (fingers can never be too sure no matter what country you're in!) As a matter of fact, I may need to add a "new-larger-size clothing" line into my budget, as I've never been fed so well!
 Christmas is somewhat different. Without the constant hum of familiar carols, lack of cold-weather, and no lit-up houses and trees, I've been stuck in a constant state of summer-time bliss. I made my way to the CRWRC Christmas Bazarre at the school up the street, but even that was more like a flea-market, and less like a Christmas festivity. Other than the miniature christmas tree complete with miniature ornaments and lights that my mom packed away in the bottom of my suitcase, I would've completely skipped the frills of the season this year. I plan to visit with the children at Wings of Hope on Wednesday for their Noel pageant and play, but Christmas eve I'll be experiencing my first Haitian wedding, and the day of I will be at a concert of famous Haitian artist, Belo, with new friends. I can't wait to catch everyone up on the experiences without the traditional-frill, but in the meantime, I'm a little homesick for that family time, so I've been baking cookies and increasing in clothing size daily! I hope everyone is staying warm, enjoying the season of giving, and truly appreciating how special it is to be with those you love! I miss you much, love you anpil, and pray for you always!


Housing Needs for my Haitian Brothers in Christ

 Getting out of the guesthouse and out into the country sometimes feels like a challenge, with uncertainty about reliable transportation and security. So when my friend Jacky Asse, from Wings of Hope, told me he'd send a driver to pick me up and take me down to see where he is building his new house, I was excited for the experience. So at 11 am on a Saturday, I sat waiting for the driver...typical Haitian time, he showed up an hour late. Then he couldn't find the guesthouse, so I recruited Daniel to explain using landmarks that only Haitians would understand. Finally a rickety old tap-tap pulled up, and a smiling, handsome young Haitian jumped out of the passenger seat to let me know he was escorting me. We rode into the deep of Port-au-Prince, and came out the other side of the airport, close to the infamous slums of Cite-Soleil. Along the way, the driver stopped and grabbed a few beers... fortunately not far from our destination. The whole way down, my escort, Richard, had me believing that he spoke little english, and was testing my creole, telling me he could be my teacher. As I've come to learn in the last month, he speaks english, french and some spanish very well!

 So we pulled up to the lot, and climbed through a few razor-wire fences, and I was surprised to see a huge project underway. The house is at this time only 1 story worth of concrete-block walls, beautiful doorways, and 4-5 rooms. The foundation is not exactly there yet...rather still a grassy heap with litter in various rooms. After I asked about the "plan", a rough drawing of a pretty elegant house was pulled out. Jacky informed me though, that the contractor is still working out the details, and they're trying to decide if they should build a second story. There were about 5 people, including Jacky on his day off, working on the construction. At this rate, it may take awhile until completion, but I was encouraged by the amount that had been put in. Jacky has been saving up for years to come this far, but will continue to build piece-by-piece until he can move his 2 sons, their mother, and 15 other family members into the home. When I asked about their current living situation, he agreed we could go meet them. We didn't travel far before we pulled up to a gated area.

As we walked into the yard, I saw many women, young happy children, a dog, chickens, and a few tents on the side of a pretty beat-up house. At this point, I was still nervous about my ability to communicate in Creole, but Jacky urged me to learn anyways. I was excited to meet his sons, the oldest one very curious to meet me, and the youngest still grouchy from being woken up from a nap. The women were at the time painting each others nails, so I asked if I could join. I was not prepared for the spa-treatment they subjected me too, but as I sat soaking my feet in a tub while getting my nails polished, I felt like I was easing into the "community life" a little. Later, when we realized that my tennis-shoes were not painted-toe-friendly, Jacky's madamn went out into the neighborhood and returned with perfect-fitting sandals. Then they continued to indulge me with a huge serving a rice and beans, and I'm pretty sure I was the guest-of-honor as I was the only one eating with a spoon (the rest used their fingers).

Some of the children, especially the little boys, sat staring at me in awe, and Jacky's son spent some time fiddling with my bracelet and stroking my hair. We had to depart before dark, but I hope to see them again soon, with encouraging news of helping to build them a home.

 The meeting with Manno was trickier, as he is only off work on Mondays, and my work week has been crammed since arrival. Yet Manno was very persistent in meeting me, and eventually my creole became strong enough to understand our phone conversations. So when I found I was able to take off work, I had him meet me up the street, where I assumed we'd be taking a tap-tap to his vacant lot. Instead, as we were in the midst of prime-traffic time, he decided it wasn't too far to walk to his house, where I'd get the chance to meet his wife and two young children. So our "short stroll" turned into a long journey, as he requires a prosthetic leg due to his leg amputation a few years ago when the tap-tap he rode on back of was rear-ended. After about a mile of walking up and down treacherous hills, he gave in and flagged down a  motorcycle taxi. We continued through a small market-town, and jumped off, just to walk through a maze to get to his small 2-bedroom abode. His son was very sick with a cold (i assume), and his daughter was dancing around as I was greeted by his very beautiful and sweet wife. We conversed as much as possible before Manno and I took off with his moto-driver friend, Toto, to survey the land he has recently paid off, by the kind gesture of a loan through Michael Gellenfeld of St. Joseph's Home for Boys. I definitely feared for my safety as we zoomed around 3-to a- moto, past Michel Martelly's massive residence compound, over a couple bridges, through a few streams, and even past a brother of Manno's who just happened to be walking across the street at the time.

Toto & Manno
  After a long climb via moto up a gravel path, we reached an uphill stretch of open land. Manno leaned on myself and Toto as we managed to examine the 1 1/2 acres of shrubbery and banana palms. Food for the Poor has been out to survey this land, and has pledged to assist in building a home, however the communication is unclear at the moment, so it will take some work and string-pulling on my part, but I can only thank God above that he has decided this will happen, and those from Clifton Presbyterian Church who have agreed that they will financially support this decision.

 I returned home later that evening to a full-load of work, and a mind full of possibilities, riddled with questions about the difficulties it will take to reach the goals I've set forth in making a better future for as many as I can in Haiti. This is God's work...everything is for Him, and everything is possible by Him, so I don't doubt that one day Jacky and Manno will be living in proof of His love for them!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Reunion with the Wings of Hope Family!

This past weekend I returned to see my family at Wings of Hope-Home for children and young adults with mental and physical disabilities. It was a much needed break from my 7am-7pm work days within the Trinity Lodge/PW Haiti Office, where ongoing renovations make for a very long and hectic day. Plus I really, really wanted to reconnect with my friends in Haiti that I haven't seen since June.

Gesner & Frank Ely
It was a miracle that I even remembered how to navigate my way up the mountain and back into the remote area of Fermathe where Wings is tucked away. Daniel dropped me off early Thursday morning, just in time for prayers. I was met with the excited squeals of David, the happy grasp of Frank Ely, and warm hugs from Manno and Jacky. I love prayer time, because the kids are given the opportunity to share their own requests, which sounds a little like incoherent mumbling, but I know God hears and understands them. Often you can make out a few words, and some even gave thanks for my visit with them.

While a majority of the children were at their weekly horse-riding class, I attended John-John's class, where some of the pre-teens, Frank Ely, Fritz and Carline were learning basic language skills. Really only Frank Ely is capable of participating, but even his attention span makes for pretty difficult lesson plan. So John-John took the opportunity to teach me some creole words using a white board and pictures. At least I could make the group laugh with my non-existent artistic abilities in drawing.

Ashley & Katie

John, Karen and Frank Ely
 Also present at Wings are three girls who are spending 3 months there as volunteers, Ashley, Katie and Karen. I was actually very relieved to have a few girls to hang out with and work alongside. It didn't take long for us to warm up to each other. Katie and Ashley are life-long friends from Colorado, who are coordinating a program to teach some of the kids about "feelings" as well as setting goals for them, such as Peterson not rambling, Nelio not eating trash and scavenging food off the floor, John eating at the table instead of feeding like a wild animal in the corner... some are working out better than others, and John (my beloved baby) is actually starting to seem  like a normal, happy kid! Karen, from South Carolina, is working on a clay-sculpting project, helping the kids create work that can be sold as souvenirs and special keepsakes to visitors. I really enjoyed their company, and it made spending the night in the guesthouse feel like a slumber party, as we talked and laughed heavily in states of total exhaustion after the long days.                

Chillin with Lazaar & Teddy
I was amazed that some of the kids like Josephine, Jozye, and Steve! remembered who I was. Even David and Teddy immediately pointed to their ears when they saw me, referring to the "Mizic" of the ipod I often let them borrow for hours last trip. Fortunately I was prepared this time, and made rounds circulating the 3 ipods I brought (2 were donated just for that purpose from amazing friends in VA).

After lunch, I sat with Manno, so we could discuss the status of his land and hopeful start of constructing a new home for his family. He is currently waiting for the land surveyor and public notary to return certain documents before he can remit them to Food for the Poor, who is arranging for this construction. He has taken a loan from the St. Joseph's family to take full-ownership of the land, and has to begin paying $65 a month to pay this back, which is feasible, but still a hefty amount from his earnest living. The issue now is that in order to get these documents back, it requires a small "fee" to the officials who currently possess them. We are praying and working through this, but where there's a will, God will find a way. I hope to travel to the site of his land next Monday when he has off, and will update you on the progress. Jacky is currently working on his own construction, and still requires a large amount in materials, but I am looking into arrangements other than through FFP to coordinate any assistance for him. Even though I didn't spend much time talking with him this weekend, I will be meeting him on Saturday to go visit the site of his new home and catch up.

Peterson Gives Pierre a Ride on the "moto"
One familiar habit I found unique to my stay at Wings is waking up just before 6 am, to the sounds of roosters, squealing pigs, and glorious moaning children. I find I don't mind this early start there, because it gives me the chance to be apart of their daily lives that much longer. Yet early one morning, while I was attending to Delome and his breakfast (slowest eater because he doesn't really have chewing-capabilities), I caught Peterson crash to the floor out of the corner of my eye, and had a split-second realization he was  having a pretty-standard seizure. The need for his always-constant helmet became instantly obvious, although I had never thought about it before. So Peterson crashed, and yet nobody seemed too phased or concerned. While I fussed and struggled to release his backpack from his shoulders, everyone else just stepped over. Grateful for my slight-creole communicating abilities, I discovered that this common-occurence only lasts for a few minutes, and he snaps out, stands up, and continues on his sweet-merry way.

Steve's Drum Warm Up

Cuddling with Junior
Friday morning we all congregated out onto the patio for the weekly "dance party". For many of the more immobile ladies at Wings, this is their only chance to escape their beds for the whole week. It takes about an hour to get everyone set up, but it just allows for the excitement to build. Steve's prepares with his own drum-renditions before the staff (Manno, Jean R and Jacob) take over for some serious beats. Bells, maracas and tambourines were passed around, and even Junior came out of his cloud for a little while, cuddling on my lap and stroking my face in the sun. These dance parties are by far the greatest moments I've had in Haiti so far. At some point the wheeled-kids were rolled back into a circle, and Teddy picked out who would dance in the circle. Some like Tigga, Pierre and Erique have "moves like Mick Jagger", while others like Steve and Frank Ely prefer the more spastic-elastic summersaults and intense bouncing. Once each of the kids had a turn, I knew it was inevitable...the "visitors" were picked out. Even though I might've looked slightly ridiculous, I definitely took the opportunity to let my hair down and let loose! The rest of the girls followed with renditions of the running man, macarena, "blanc dancing" basically.

Saturday afternoon, Katie, Ashley and I were guided by our trusted-bodyguard, Alcindor, on an incredibly long walk up the mountain to the next village of Kenscoff. Although us girls had an actual "destination" in mind, I'm pretty sure Alcindor was more focused on the cardio-intense benefits, as he came out ready for action in bright-turquoise windpants and jogging shoes. It was a great chance to escape the sometimes-draining enthusiasm that is required with the kids, and we got to see the beautiful scenery along the way. It was a little risky, as the hike back was pretty much in the dark, hugging onto the side of winding mountain road shared with tap-taps and moto-taxis. The girls tagged Alcindor with nickname, "Prom King", as his popularity was widely known as we often passed by many of his friends and local cohorts. Since it was a Saturday night, we stopped by a local "dive" pub for a cold drink and what I thought I ordered as a hamburger, but in actuality was mystery-meat on a sandwich roll. Fortunately I'm still alive to tell of it, so it must have been somewhat edible. Also on our travels home, we came across home to a family of at least 15, that also operates as an amazing bakery. For 10 goudes, roughly equal to $0.25 US, we got an entire sack of hot bread, fresh out of the oven!

Saturday Night Outing with Alcindor, Ashley & Katie
Come Sunday morning, it was time for orevwas! and a trip back down the mountain. It was much easier to say goodbye this time, knowning that I will be back for Christmas in just a few weeks. Plus I was almost more worn out than before my "vacation" to Wings, just from the constant attention to the kids. Frank Ely gave me a drawing, and as I was leaving, I got the joy of seeing a barefoot John chase Steve around the house, both laughing hysterically before they tackled each other.

Now I'm back in the office, wondering when my long work day will be over, and planning ahead to the Traditional Thanksgiving Feast I am preparing in a couple days along with Allison, Daniel's American Friend.... for 15 people! I am awestruck as I think about all that I am thankful for this week, and in my life. Most importantly that through the ability of others' giving, God has placed me in such a beautiful place where he wants me to be, with all the tools and good health needed to carry out his work. I am utmost grateful for my family that keeps growing everyday, and I give thanks to God for His Kingdom! 

View from top of the mountain

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Work Hard, Jwe Hard!

It's amazing when you realize you're apart of something so huge, and you're just at the beginning of even slightly understanding what that thing is. In the United States, it's so easy to get lost in your own little corner. If you want to be individual and keep to yourself, you have plenty of space to do so. Living and working in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, does not allow for isolation, and why would you ever want to do such a thing here?!

Oscar takes on Leogane!
 This last week I've been much more rooted in my homebase versus the constant travelling over the mountains and down the hill to other locations. It's been very key in establishing meaningful relationships, and I'm definitely feeling at "home" now. Last week we had 2 new mentors come down from the Entrust Mentoring Group in Florida. This was Oscar's first solo-trip guiding the mentors to Leogane, so I played the worriesome mother, packing him a first-aid kit complete with hand sanitizer, band-aids, flashlight, emergency contacts, mosquito-repellant, pepto-bismol, etc. Other than having to forefeit a small 'fee' to the police at the car-rental in the airport to put the license plates back on the car, and buying a new car-battery once they got to their destination because the rental place just didn't think that sort of thing was necessary, I'm confident it was a success! I'd like to paint a picture of the inefficiencies that just naturally exist here, but please keep an open mind about the insanity in it. We've actually tipped men on the street for not breaking into the car while we were dining in a nearby restaurant. We still have to tip the servers at restaurants, even though "customer service" virtually doesn't exist... A "drive thru" trip to the bank is usually a 2-hour time committment at the least.... and I'm not even sure what the need is for that other than the fact that the bank severely dislikes having to dole out it's precious cash to account holders. Intersections have no meaning other than that's where drivers duel it out to see who can get to the other side faster. This is most disturbing when there is a 2 year old riding in the backseat of the car with you... minus a carseat....or seatbelt for that matter. You begin to build a natural tolerance for chaos and tough life, and rely totally on faith in the Lord to get you through to the end of the day...when you might lay in bed listening to the mosquitos dancing across your ears at night.

Jenny & Cadence
 Yet I really do love this place even as my perception changes on a daily basis, and am still incredibly intrigued by what God has in store for me everyday. Last week I was blessed with the friendship of an American missionary who's been working with the  Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC)  for at least 8 years, her name is Jenny. I reached out to her last wednesday to see about joining in a small bible study from the church. She picked me up, along with 6 others from various NGOs, and we shared dinner and stories before we went to the study. It was at the campus of the Nazarene, actually a small house located on the compound home to a very sweet family from Tennessee, Michael, Karen, and their 7 year old daughter, Cadence. It was strange, yet so comforting to be in their company, and they were quick to welcome me as part of the extended family. In fact Karen was very pregnant at the time, and we got news today that she just gave birth to Elijah. The bible study was focused around the book of Nahum. A book so distraught with prophetic taunting of war, blood, and absolute destruction, that I was astonished to learn that "Nahum" literally translates to mean "comfort". Seeing as how it was one couple's last evening at the study before they depart for a new mission in Bolivia, we ended the night with brownies, angel food cake and ice cream.

Since the bible study, Jenny has let me tag along to the market (she is quite popular among the sweet little ladies selling their produce on the side of the street). I'm learning how to discern the difference between bananas and plantains, unfortunately there is a whole array of produce that I've never seen or heard of! Jenny even got me to join in a game of Ultimate Frisbee in the neighborhood at the Quisqueya Christian school, along with other mission workers about my age. I've been eating a healthy abundance of Haitian food (also chinese food, pizza, seafood, cake, etc.) for the last 3 I was definitely the weakest link on my super-competitive team!

Happy Birthday Emma!
 Work is getting intense. I finished compiling my 5-page work plan, and yet the tasks keep piling on! I suppose it's a good thing that my room is smack dab in the middle of the office, but this just means that there is never an "end time" to the work day. We're getting wrapped up in planning a conference, trying to figure out how to launch a website and marketing plan for an initiative aimed at connecting huge NGOs and local businesses in order to promote commerce and wealth-creation- 100,000 Jobs for Haiti. It's been a lot of fun working with Emmanuella, Daniel's office manager/cousin. She does not speak english, so we've been finding very creative ways of communication, and it's actually easier than I thought. Last week I figured out it was her birthday, just based on the number of phone calls that made her soooo excited and happy. Today, I drew a picture of a hamburger to explain what it is I wanted for lunch. Although I'm getting verry good at reading people's body language and facial expressions, i'm relieved to start lessons with a Creole tutor on Monday, so I can start chattin it up with everyone in no time!

Yesterday I got the chance to meet up with Alcindor, from Wings of Hope. It was tough for Daniel to have to play the fatherly role... I think he even sent a spy to watch and make sure I was safe, even after meeting Alcindor. We went to Epidor, a restaurant I've gotten to know very well for it's McDonalds-esque atmosphere of a chain restaurant. If you've never been, it can be a rough experience, determining how to order, what to order, where to pick it up... and to my amazement, Alcindor had never been before. So this was the first step in me feeling like I was a "local" here. Loved it! It was great to catch up since I last saw him, and share stories about life. Turns out, we're not much different, even though our backgrounds are absolutely 2 different worlds. I have this weekend free because Daniel is travelling up north, so I'll be staying at Wings of Hope for a few days, catching up with the kids from my last mission trip. I'm sooooo excited I can hardly wait!  

I feel blessed for Skype, Facebook, Washington Post online, and all the other ways I've been able to keep in touch with my family at home. I can't say I'm homesick quite yet (I do kinda miss my cat- Boogie), but my heart is still in the U.S. as I pray for everyone's health and happiness!


Sunday, November 6, 2011

Death for the Kingdom, Rebirth for the Paradise

Partners & Friends: Jack & Daniel
 I can only hope that most of my updates will start this way but, Wow! Today was an amazing day! Daniel's business partner and a key member of the Partners Worldwide Board of Directors, Jack Van der Ploeg, has been in town for the last week, as we travelled 2 hours north to Gonaives, and 1 hour southwest to Leogane. The dynamic has been so rewarding as we often find ourselves literally rolling on the floor laughing, or experiencing some amazing dinner conversations over a bottle of red wine (Jack's doctor prescribed it), discussing what 100,000 Jobs for Haiti Initiative really looks like in vision and practicality. Jack is convinced he's too old to bother learning Creole, so he doesn't even attempt it... compared to Roger speaking spanish to everyone last week... it's been a fun lesson in communication, and shown how valuable Oscar is to the operation.... which is great because I want to keep my new friend around! Jack's even decided to give Oscar a loan for a new car, just to show how committed Jack is to not having to speak Creole ;) Also like Roger, Jack is inspirational in his work ethic, his ability to analyze finances, procedures and standards, and his absolute devotion to seeing the progress in hard-working, Christian entrepreneurs. On a funny side note to describe Jack's sense of humor and slight issues in communication.. the first day we got to the guest house, Jack introduced himself to our Security guard, Mito:

Jack: "Hello, I'm Jack!"
Mito: "Metoh"
Jack: Oh wow, how cool! Hi Jack!"

So north we travelled along the coastline to Gonaives... past the rolling hills and beach resorts, through the tropical villages and local markets of women carrying huge baskets on their heads and sugar cane vendors on every corner. It was a first-time sight for me to see the rice-fields, and the tedious work being put into rice-farming. Gonaives is a place that only a few years ago was underwater from flooding (evident based on the fact that the road there is a long gravel highway bridge on a desert plain), yet it still contains that old-french style, New Orleans feel. Something about it made me feel less safe than in Port-Au-Prince, but it may have been the unknown, as well as the way everyone stares at the blancs driving by in the car. It was here that we met with the Jerusalem Affiliate as I mentioned previously, Wilsonor, Exode, and Tony the baker.

 This week in Leogane, we had the job of prospecting for new businesses to take part in the training classes beginning in January. Brunel is Daniel's business development coordinator in Leogane... and he plays an integral role in discovering christian businesses that meet the criteria of being an SME who could benefit from our partnership model, potentially growing to create new jobs. This is not as easy as it might sound when so many of the businesses are street vendors and micro-enterprises, who have no vision for the future other than survival. Although Brunel has a Business Administration degree and background in finance, Daniel has come a long way in shaping him into a creative business professional who takes initiative, and maintains focus on the mission. He speaks about as much english as I speak Creole, so we've been having fun using a lot of broken sentences and hand motions. Our little family of big dreams might have a few communication problems, but it's such a comforting relief to know I can really depend on my new Haitian brothers, and we are learning a lot from each other- especially as I am the only female in the family, and I'm working on teaching them to be perfect gentlemen in addition to great businessmen!

While in Leogane, I had the opportunity to take a visit to the site of the first mission trip I attended with Clifton Presbyterian, in July of 2010- Hospital Ste. Croix. It was amazing to see the Patient Wing fully functioning as a hospital, and the huge (not-very-good) rainbow we painted in the Children's room was keeping watch over some pretty sick kids. It was bittersweet, as I did not recognize any of the workers, and even the family that lived across the street no longer seems to be living there... I have some really great memories of playing soccer in the street, and watching the World Cup on a big screen in a field where the UN is now building a wierd-looking structure. I guess that's the thing about change.... it is inevitable, and good... but I can't help but wonder where that family went, and what happened to those that made me fall in love with Ayiti Cherie in the first place.

So today was so amazing because it was my first trip to Quisqueya Christian Church, which is located pretty close to the guesthouse. It is an American Church, non-denominational, but very Christian Reformed in nature. There is a great integration of local Haitians, and ex-pats living in the area. Thankfully the service is in english, and everyone was so welcoming! The service began with praise worship, and I was in awe of the musical abilities- saxophones, electric guitars, grand piano, drums and a great family of vocalists who get very passionate. Our opening prayer was given by Alan, a pastor of the New York Times Square Baptist or something like that... he is one of those seriously intense prayer-pastors who begins with a mild vocal praise, and builds into an intensely loud participation, willing God into the room with "AMEN!s" and "Thank you JESUS!" The sermon to follow was a response to John 12:20-26. The more quiet-spoken pastor preached death as a prescription to life. It described the "Kingdom way of thinking" and understanding that you must die to have life, versus the "Culture way of thinking". To let down your pride, and respond to God's way of creating a Kingdom through your life. The pastor asked, what stage of death are you in? I pondered this... and I still do not know where I am in the death of my self, and rebirth for His kingdom... but every day I am listening to God. Every day I am going through the process of realizing that it is He that brought me here, He that has saved me, and He that will bring about rebirth for a country that's been through a lot of death. It was an emotional service, and afterwards I made so many connections with incredibly welcoming people who have a lot of experience living and working here, and I'm really looking forward to the fellowship of the Bible Small group on Wednesday evenings.

 We had to skip lunch today (which is ok because I've been eating like every meal is my last), and drove up to visit the Mission of Hope Haiti compound about 30 minutes north of PauP. This was a network connection we made at Movement Day's Rebuild Haiti Session in New York City in September, and MoH has pledged to create 10% of our 100,000 Jobs goal. They work in many different mission-areas, focusing on education and vocational training. They were eager to find a way to partner with us, and working together to push the economy forward. Ralph Edmond (directly to my left), co-founder of Farmatrix Pharmaceuticals and Board of Directors for Partners Worldwide Haiti, along with his friend and Executive Director of Haiti International Traders, Ken Michel (far left), met us there as well. I met Ralph in New York at Movement Day... I will have to get into his story later because it is incredibly inspiring, but he is a huge personality with an IQ level through the roof. It is a huge possibility that this may be Haiti's next president, even though he insists he couldn't deal with politics. Ken is actually very similar to Ralph, and the two of them were quite the dynamic team as we got into intense dicussion about the biggest issues in Haiti. Ralph states...."you have no idea how painful it is to be Haitian." And I know this is true because I hear it in his voice. The meeting was made up of 3 Haitians and 4 Americans. Why, they ask, is it that Americans care more about improving their country than Haitians do? So that is where our conflict lies.... convincing Americans to find a new way to "help" our neighbors other than mass donations that are killing the free-market society of Haiti, and the even greater struggle of not only creating wealth in Haiti, but convincing those Haitians that become wealthy (Diaspora?) to give back and lift up their fellow countrymen out of poverty. I hope to be sharing interviews of these great men with you later, because believe me.... this was a meeting of great minds, and a lot of progress was made as we build a network of effective NGOs and Haitian leaders.

Mentors bring value in expertise and
encouragement to entrepreneurs
This week I will be doing the administrative work, writing stories and profiles on the entrepreneurs we are working to connect with mentors, and planning our upcoming January 27th conference in Haiti. The time I've spent in the field, made me realize there are quite a few Christian business professionals with varying specialities  who would do great at walking alongside these business owners. It's a really rewarding experience,  and the only investment is in the cost of trips to Haiti for consulations, and the time spent dedicated to being a life-transformer as a partner to people who really just need good, sound financial advice and encouragement in their field of business. If you know of anyone who fits this description, please send them to me-, or my regional partnership manager, Dave Genzink-, and respond to the call to share in wisdom and love for they neighbors.

Thank you for your thoughts, prayers, and financial assistance for making this opportunity possible. I hope to see some of you making your way down here for a Caribbean getaway sometime in the next 12 months...the guesthouse is almost open for business and all are welcome once it is! May God bless you and Keep you well.

In His Praise,

Friday, November 4, 2011

New Views & Time for a Change!

When I started writing a blog back in May, it was originally to keep my family in touch while I went on a short-term mission trip to Wings of Hope, a home for children and young adults with physical and mental disabilities in Haiti. 5 months later... and I am back in Haiti with a renewed passion, a new purpose, a new outlook on life.... and a much bigger Family to stay in touch with! I am still flying on hope that one day Haiti will not be known for it's poverty and tragedies, but for the next year, my mission is to walk alongside Haitian business owners and entrepreneurs, encouraging growth, and witnessing God transform lives through partnership.

After months of preparing for service through prayer, fundraising and anticipation, I was welcomed back into the warm Haitian culture and climate one week ago. At 27 years of age, I'm pretty confident in travelling solo, but i'll admit I was kind of nervous about navigating my way through the airport with 3 large suitcases and a very small capacity for the local language. But here, for a few bucks, there are many people eager to be your friend and give you a helping hand. My partnership manager, boss, and mentor for the year, Daniel Jean-Louis, was waiting outside the airport at the end of a long walkway, looking like a pretty sharp businessman, and my new life began!

The Montana Hotel
It's pretty cool having Daniel as my boss, mentor, landlord, and really my new Haitian brother I can look up to. The 100,000 Jobs for Haiti Initiative is really his vision, and the last week as I'm seeing it put into action, I realize that Haiti actually has a chance with educated people such as himself bringing about change and   restoration. On Sunday we had a chance to tour downtown Port-Au-Prince, and visit the Hotel Montana, where so many perished as the main structure on top of the mountain crumbled into oblivion. It was heartbreaking as we slowly made our way through the trash-and-sewage strewn streets near the Presidential Palace (which still lay in ruins almost 3 years after the tremblemante), and Daniel reminisced about spending his childhood at the now-deserted movie theater, or about playing soccer in the park that is now home to huge cities of tents and "temporary" shelters, about Quisqueya University where he teaches class, which had just completed a $5 Million construction project just weeks before it all came crashing down on January 12, 2010. Much like 9/11, people here refer to the earthquake as January 12th.

Trinity Lodge S.A.

My first week in Haiti has been greater than I ever could've expected. The day after I arrived and got settled into my cozy room at Daniel's Guesthouse, Trinity Lodge, we welcomed Roger, a Christian entrepreneur/engineer/mentor/amazing character with a huge personality. Daniel, Roger and I immediately took off for Leogane, where his Church in Arkansas, Lake Valley, has been working with the newest affiliate of business owners. It also happened to be the first day of work for Oscar, who was hired as a driver/translator. Oscar is still in "orientation", but he's been an a hugely valuable part of the team. He speaks Creole, French, English, Spanish, and is currently teaching himself to speak Italian. He's been working with me on my Creole, and I'm grateful for his friendship.

I suppose I should explain exactly what it is Partners Worldwide is doing before I go further into the personal stories of all the business owners I've been meeting in the field. In each country we operate in, the focus is slightly different, but the model and philosophy for this small-NGO remain the same. We don't
give hand-outs, but we provide training classes, connection to North American business mentors, and make small-interest loans available to small-medium sized enterprises already operating in their chosen field of business. In Haiti, Daniel is the country-wide Partnership Manager. He sets up a network of  business owners (tailors, dry-cleaners, bakeries, block-makers, farmers, etc.), and determines their needs on a case-by-case basis. He is currently meeting in Leogane every Friday to give training classes to the first group of 20, who are being evaluated financially and operationally to determine the viability of expanding their business and equipment with loans and mentor-relationships. Further North, in Gonaives, a Construction Block-Producing company, Jerusalem S.A. was partnered with Brookfield Partners, a group in the U.S. that provided them with a loan to purchase new equipment and materials. Wilsonor, the owner of Jerusalem, expanded his 


Training Classes in Leogane



Daniel, Jack Vander Ploeg (N.A. investor
& mentor), Oscar & Wilsonor

business and has been paying off the loan, and recommending new businesses in the area for expansion. His payments on the loan are being reinvested by Brookfield into these recommended businesses...a Bakery run by a Jamaican who fell in love with Haiti and realized he could bring amazing pies and pastries into the community. He was provided with a loan, and has expanded into new stores, a delivery truck, and an increase in local-Haitian employees. Also expanding into new operations through this loan is Exode, a dry cleaner. Let me explain however that dry-cleaning here really only means they press your clothes with a steam-powered press. The problem with this is that steam-powered means they are burning trees for fuel at a rapid pace with a "boiler". Haiti cannot afford to be burning it's trees. Daniel says the country is dying...the deforestation is killing the country, and it's these small-medium enterprises that are responsible for 70% of the problem. Therefore, we are seeking alternative methods in propane-boilers and propane-powered electricity. This change in operation requires not only capital for different equipment, but changing the way Haitians operate their antiquated methods of work. So you're starting to get the picture of what we're doing's about sustainability. It's about creating jobs and opportunities for Haitians so the children can go to school  and not be enslaved as restaveks in the home, or worry about where their next meal will come from as they fall asleep in a cholera-ridden pile of filth under a USAID tent in the slums every night. It's about those same people who've been given opportunities to work and expand so they can return the favor to their neighbors and communities of faith. It's about the huge population of naiive NGOs making the decision to purchase locally-produced products, instead of ignorantly importing free "aid" to unconsciously destroy any hope of the market society. And this is just my first week! I can't wait to share my new experiences of living in another culture... it will take me the next year just to explain what I've gone through in just the last week!

  I'm so grateful to everyone who's made this experience possible. Please continue to keep the people of Haiti, all people struggling to maintain dignity through lack of employment, and those pushing for a world without poverty in the creation of wealth in your prayers. Bondye Blesi Ou, Bon Nuit!