There I was, sipping coffee out of my Pathfinders mug, smack dab in the middle of Anse-a-Pitre, Haiti. Dust crops to my right, shoe-less children to my left. Some say I’m crazy for taking “time off” to assist others with their broken (and I mean BROKEN) lives, as opposed to propping my feet up at a five-star resort, and watching the sunset while enjoying a nice glass of Cabernet (which, don’t get me wrong, I DO enjoy).
But I say – I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Honestly, there are a million experiences racing through my mind of the Haitian and Dominican people I spent time with. But, what holds the most weight and has the greatest impact on those I share with, is my expression of the great need these people have. Ultimately, a trip like this is a learning and sharing experience. I learned so much, and I’m here to share with you.
The organization I partnered with on this trip is called Hispaniola Mountain Ministries (HMM or #goHMM). They have been in Haiti for two years and in that time have built small housing, water wells, a church, school houses, and a compound building where visitors within their organization stay (me).
HMM has many efforts in place, but there was one thing that stood out to me as the underlying importance of all their efforts.
They empower the people.
When I’m faced with a problem, I think of what I can do to fix it. This was my initial reaction when driving into the community I stayed in. Give more money, build more buildings, dig more wells, buy more clothes. Help people, help! I was screaming inside – why are they living like this? Tin roofing for doors, brown, lifeless land, children running everywhere with no mother watching over them.
While tangible items and resources are crucial parts of further developing a country in need, I soon realized it takes more for a country to function well on its own.
The longer I stayed, I learned the importance of empowering people through education. In America, we understand education creates opportunities, and opportunities essentially create a better life. In Haiti, most adults don’t have an education; therefore, their only opportunity is selling goods or constructing buildings. And right now, nothing is being built in Anse-a-Pitre.
This hit me hard.
Even if they desire to work and create a better life for their families, they don’t have an opportunity to do so.
HMM empowers Haitians to teach, and with every person that learns to teach, they teach more people to teach. I saw an older student from the previous day in English class teach math class the following day. That’s what I love to see! People empowering people… to empower more people!
While we were there, we assisted conversations in English class so students could have real life experiences speaking in another language.
Questions the students asked us were, “What are your dreams for us?” “What is your hope for Haiti?”, and “Do you have any books for us? Not for me, but for my friends who want to learn English.” (insert tears here). The kids have such a passion for learning.
Opportunities for educated children are limited unless we empower them with skills that will provide jobs, and avenues for jobs to exist.
I can’t tell you the number of people we met, while distributing rice and beans in the community, that asked for prayer because they had no home and no job. Even with an education, if there are no opportunities, they can’t provide for their families.
How do we empower these people?
- We empower them through agriculture. Although the land is very desolate, the fresh water wells HMM has provided, have opened the possibility to grow and produce mass crops. With this, HMM also started an initiative to educate the community on best farming practices. It hasn’t hit the ground running, but it’s a hope they have for the future.
- We can empower them through simple healthcare education. Before HMM built fresh water wells, Haitians used water that ran from the mountains, which was not sanitary to say the least. They used the water for both bathing and drinking. I think you understand the problem here. Through health education, specifically on the importance of clean water, they can live longer, healthier lives.
- We can empower them through job creation. One I’ve been personally involved with for the last year is Noonday Collection Jewelry. It’s a company that provides fair wages to people around the world by having them create jewelry and accessories using their countries resources and then selling them in the United States through Trunk Shows. During my visit I met Renal, a Haitian artisan who creates jewelry for Noonday and receives 2-4 times the average pay rate in his community. I’ve hosted a show, I go to shows, and now I have visited an artisan’s home and workshop in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. I feel directly affected by the opportunity Noonday has created for the people of Haiti. I saw the life Renal can now provide his family and I hope opportunities like this will be available to the rest of Haiti.
I now see how greatly important it is for outside individuals to come inside their country to open doors. With minimal resources and knowledge, they can only get so far alone.
If they continue to empower their own people with the education we have planted in them, and we continue to enter in and open doors of opportunity, my how productive we could be together to create a developed country.
The Moment my Perspective was Shaken
During our walks through the community, passing out rice and beans and offering prayer and discussions, our leader stopped at a home she knew very well. She noticed the people who live there, an 8-year-old girl, Gevline, and her mom were both missing.
She proceeded to ask the pastor, who was leading our group, where Gevline was. He slowly walked her around the house and told her Gevline had broken her leg (femur bone) 8 days ago and was inside the house.
The family couldn’t afford the $250 payment for travel and a simple doctor visit to stretch and reset the bone after their initial visit to the clinic, where an X-ray showed her bone was completely broken and shifted out of place.
Can you imagine, walking into your living room every morning and seeing your child laying on a mattress, unable to move, all because opportunity isn’t available?
I’m so thankful we were there that day. Between our group of 14 women, we were able to provide for this family’s need. HMM doesn’t give handouts to the poor, but Gevline’s father plays an active part in HMM and the Haitian church, and if we didn’t step in, Gevline probably wouldn’t have walked on that leg again.
This is just one scenario of many that really opened my eyes to the reality that I have the resources and power to change other’s lives. I’m so thankful for the opportunity and I can’t wait to go back and have all the kids watch me as I cry, out of joy – again.
So, as you’re sitting at your desk, remember to be thankful for EDUCATION and OPPORTUNITY because not everyone has this luxury.
Now that I have seen these faces, held their hands, sang to them, know their heart, and want the best for their lives – I am responsible. I am responsible of the resources I have been blessed with and how I use them – and I choose to use them for the power of good.