Thursday, October 18, 2012

Being present to the people of Guiotte

Post by Sean Murphy Up until a few weeks before the trip we had no clue where we would end up but reflecting back on our time in Guiotte, clearly God meant for us to be in this small hamlet on the edge of the Leogane plain, about two hours outside of Port-au-Prince. We had two tasks ahead of us…our assigned one: kickoff a school garden for the local Methodist school and our own: to conduct a community assessment. Although we now knew where we were going and what was to be done. There remained many unknowns. After all, this was a new community for us and community development can be a messy proposition. As we arrived in the community it became clear that our "work" would be a lot more about being than anything we would be doing as we sought to lay the foundation for a longer-term partnership predicated on mutual love and respect. While my day job is governed by turning around travel approvals on short notice and coordinating project deliverables, this trip was ultimately about being present. Presence has been critical in my own life. I wouldn't be here today without the presence of others at key inflection point and so I have sought to bear that torch and provide that witness when relating with others. I took this disposition into Guiotte last week along with a healthy dose of humility…especially important considering my decent but limited facilities of Haitian Creole and French. Over the course of our six days in the community, I watched, I listened, I walked, I touched, I tasted…I talked, at first haltingly but then mixing Creole and French as needed to engage in basic interactions. There were interactions though that transcended language…the smiles and thumbs-up from school children, the singing and dancing with neighborhood children in the evening, the gifts of sugarcane and coconuts, and the notes and email addresses exchanged as our time came to a close. My time in Guiotte served as a fresh reminder of what I love about community development work…being present and in relationship with people. While community development is an organic process and hence messy, you come to realize that it’s less about the product and more about the process…it’s about facilitating a process whereby people can grow and discover their own potential, including that of their community. It’s about relationships and partnerships over transactions. It’s less about us driving and controlling and more about empowering. If we were merely product driven, we could simply provide a handout and walk away ignoring the larger systemic issues while maintaining the dependency-model that is found all too often in countries like Haiti. While our community partners may have been expecting something more tangible from our six days in Guiotte, I believe we laid important groundwork towards changing the development paradigm. More importantly, we set an example in Guiotte that will hopefully inform UMCOR/UMVIM work in Haiti as they shift from relief and reconstruction mode to one of community development over the next year. While those six days allowed us to get the school garden and our community partnership efforts off and running, many hands clapping together (with a touch of ‘bokashi’ fertilizer), will ultimately make the fertile soil of Guiotte bear fruit. Mesi Bondye pou zanmi nou yo nan Guiotte! Sean R. Murphy

Monday, October 15, 2012

What Haiti taught me this week

A week in Haiti is spiritual nourishment for a hungry soul. During each trip I find that I learn more about myself, my relationship with God, and God’s intention for justice and love in the broader world. This trip to Guiotte, a small rural community outside of the epicenter of the devastating 2012 earthquake, was no different. Through being in community with other Foundry team members and the Haitian people in Guiotte, I felt myself growing personally and as a Christian. Having had a whole day now to reflect, I want to share some of the lessons I came away with on this trip. LESSON 1: The human body and soul have the capacity for joy, pain, and so much more. I want to be clear that it’s not my intention to romanticize Haiti and people’s suffering. There is great injustice in Haiti and people we met face hardships I could never imagine dealing with. During nights of hard rain, I wondered what type of shelter the people leaving the church would be going to that night. Without medical facilities in the area, I wondered about the type of insecurity a mother with a sick child faced. Without meaningful work in the area, I wondered how the youth in the community could continue to seek education. And yet, amidst all this, I also wondered how the people we met could also express so much grace, so much hope, and so much joy. This was a unique form of joy that was grounded in faith and people in Guiotte accessed that joy more easily than anyone I’ve met in DC—they saw blessings in the smallest of things. As I find myself dwelling on insignificant details that bring stress and anxiety this coming week, I’m going to work hard to make the people I met a living example. I will work to access all the great joy there is to be felt in great friends, great relationships, and a great community. I will not simply take those blessings for granted. LESSON 2: “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.” This is one of my favorite quotes by Mother Teresa and it is the epitome of the experience of those working for justice in Haiti. With the devastation of the earthquake; health vulnerabilities like cholera; hurricanes and storms; corruption within the government and within NGOs; and so much more, creating a just experience for people in Haiti seems daunting. And yet, the people we met in Haiti wake up each day and work for just that. They have no choice. Similarly, people like Leigh Carter, the Executive Director of Fonkoze USA and a Foundry member, continue to work each day for small, but significant improvements in Haiti. Positive change doesn’t come in big chunks in Haiti—it comes in small acts. There are the loans Fonkoze gives to women in rural communities across Haiti to start their own businesses; there is Margaret Yao’s efforts to connect the people of Mellier and Guiotte to micro-credit; there is the community meeting where people come together to listen to each other and work towards small community improvements; there is the teachers in Guiotte who work without pay to ensure the children in the school have the opportunity to reach their full potential. In the grand scheme of things, these are just small acts of love. Even so, I left Haiti with the believing that these small acts and our own small acts of love could lead to a more just end in a country that has known so much injustice. LESSON 3: Give up on perfection. This tenet goes with the previous one. If we are standing around looking for the perfect solution to all or even some of the challenges in Haiti, then we’ll be looking in perpetuity. Challenges in Haiti are complicated and have deep roots—no solution in perfect. We have the luxury of waiting for all the stars to align—the people in Guiotte and others across Haiti don’t. This is not to say that we should settle on things we know have a high risk for failure and should not work to ensure our partnership in Haiti benefits the most people possible. It is simply to say that any partnership in Haiti will have some imperfection and uncertainty built into it. Acts of love and perfection are not synonymous here. Our charge is to act based on the best information we have, to continue to be in relationship with people we’ve met, and to adjust based on what we find. LESSON 4: Know who you are and work as hard as you can to maintain that self identity in hard circumstances. I noticed so many people this week engaged in loving acts that seemed unreasonable to say the least. Teachers worked without pay to educate youth; Gontran, an educated agronomist, chose to stay in Haiti to raise up his country rather than leave the country for an easier life elsewhere; people who had no shared experience with us, opened the doors to their community, their church, and their lives to show us hospitality and fellowship. These loving, unreasonable acts were done because people were being true to their authentic selves. The people we met in Guiotte saw us and themselves as creations of one God. They believed that they and their community were entitled to the dignity endowed in that creation and saw our fellowship as a natural extension of that creation. We at Foundry must engage in a similar gut check. This is a bad economy and we have a lot of priorities. We are renovating our building and have many competing priorities. Yet, being true to ourselves and our mission to, “Love God. Love each other. Change the world,” demands that we not let our relationship and partnership with Haiti fade from our memories. We must stay informed, advocate, and being proactive partners with people we meet. Our service to God and being true to our mission demands this.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Give and take in G-Town

Give and take in G-town We awoke to another glorious morning in the Caribbean. We enjoyed a delicious breakfast of oatmeal, spicily prepared with ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, milk, and sugar. It's a coincidence the last time I posted on this blog on a prior mission trip we had eaten an oatmeal breakfast. Every coincidence in Haiti is not providence, I keep reminding myself. Our mission today in Guiotte (G-town, for short) was two-fold. First, meet with our Haitian agronomist colleague, Gontran, with the children and teachers at the G-town school. Second, meet with community members to begin mapping community assets here. Gontran struck me as a true believer. A true believer in justice. A man unafraid of give and take. His work with UMCOR took him from Haiti to Japan where he studied agriculture. Now he has returned to Haiti to plant several school gardens at Methodist schools. It is a mission of hope and empowerment. The school garden will be a demonstration vegetable garden, based on organic techniques, composting, and use of organic "Bokashi" fertilizer. After a growing season, vegetables could be harvested for the school. More importantly, students will start home gardens with their families. Gontran was addressed respectfully as, "Agronomist Gontran." It is a title of respect. The conversation with the teachers and students was meant to introduce the project to the school. Questions and answers with teachers were an exercise in give and take. I suspect that Zen Buddhism rubbed off on Gontran while he studied in Japan. Despite his denials, he was extremely balanced in addressing the community's concerns. "People in town say it's possible to over water plants. Sometimes it is too dry. How will the children know when to water the garden?" Gontran's response: "Don't listen to people in town. When it is hot, you will be thirsty. The plants will also be thirsty. When you are not thirsty, don't water the plants." "How long will the garden program last?" Gontran's response: "How long will you live? The garden will last that long. You will use seeds from the program in your own home." His responses seem self-evident once you hear them. Yet he is direct and motivational. The garden is one way to support child nutrition and food security. But his give and take approach is genius in its Zen-like qualities. It seeks the natural equilibrium. The main problem is that Gontran estimated needing 40 students, 10-17 years old, for this project. On this first day of school, there were 41 students total in class, ranging from 1st to 6th grade. According to Tony, the principal or president of the school, it will take 2-3 weeks for all approximately 120 students to make it to school in uniform. It will take time for the garden to ramp up. After the meeting and lunch, we took time to walk off of the hill on which the church and school are situated. We ventured on the dirt path toward Duplessy and Mouchepe about 2 km down the road. We returned and entered into another team strategy meeting. They have been taxing but essential. We set out to finally plan how to map assets in the G-town community, or at least among churchgoers. It is unfortunate we have taken so long to decide on an assessment format to implement. Our project site was switched shortly before the trip. We ran out of time to plan, and I fear the data gathered will be skewed. But we forged ahead as best as we could. We are amateurs in Haiti, although led by policy professionals with offshore experience like Lauren, Margaret, Megan, and Sean. Margaret suggested that community members physically draw out maps depicting daily life. She suggested splitting into 2 groups, men and women. We tried out the exercise ourselves. Apparently, I drew a male map according to Megan. It was geographically accurate and emphasized physical assets - hospitals, roads, my office, my house, my family's homes. Megan took a fairer approach. Her map was not to scale and emphasized relationships and less tangible assets - which family members live at home, what she enjoys about her community, where she bicycles. The gender differences were evident. Even our translators' predictions about prospects for success of this exercise were stratified. Jean-Claude said the exercise would be good. Carine was not sure women would be able to conceptualize the maps at all. The exercise went as expected. The men in our community who responded to our invitation really took to the mapping. Through Kevin and Ace's facilitation, we learned about their roofs, their discos, their wells, their father's farms. The women, albeit a larger group, were less forthcoming and all drew very similar maps - the church, their house, their children, the market, and no men. Our facilitation had to shift quickly for the assembled women. Instead, ideas were drawn out in conversation. Needs identified included livelihood training in sewing and baking, microfinance loans, better healthcare access, and more financial independence from men. Through this interaction, many in the community might conclude that we are a different type of mission team. One that is committed to empowering people to build their own futures. This required a bit of give and take. On Saturday, we had listened to the community ask us what we might be able to deliver. We had an unsatisfactory answer at the time - we first wanted to find out about our friends' lives. Now the community wants to get on with telling us their stories. We will visit our community partners' homes tomorrow. Growth comes from this type of pulling back and forth. Our Haiti ministry team has also matured. From the first trip in February 2011 to now, we have grown from uncertainty to a more mature approach to the work of mission. Sometimes you need tension to grow. Sometimes it just takes time and frank discussion among friends. Prayer can help. At the end of our mapping activity with the men, a deaf-mute gentleman in his thirties was pushed forward by the crowd. They wanted to see how Bebe might draw a map. Our approach is to pay close attention to the marginalized in the community. Kevin and I approached Bebe to talk with him, and the crowd followed. What could we do? Our translators communicated non-verbally this wasn't a good idea. We shook hands and turned away. Later, I learned Bebe is the brother-in-law of the local lay pastor, Fecky. His name is Markis, and he lives with Fecky. In speaking with Fecky, he told me how his brother-in-law is respected by the community as a strong worker. After dinner, we talked about hospitality during our reflection time. Our Haitian hosts have been unbelievably gracious. Goes without saying. In Micah, the prophet writes, "What does the Lord require of you, but to act justly, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" It could be read as an isolating verse. Truthfully, I'd rather love people than love kindness. But what does it mean to walk humbly? Perhaps it is to walk with our Haitian brothers and sisters with respect. With open ears. With open hearts. But I believe acting justly is inherently relational. There can be no justice without give and take between people. Between Haitians and Americans. Between men and women. Between rich and poor. Justice requires dialogue. I would even say there is no justice where there is no dialogue. In God's wisdom, we have been given the capacity to work things as mature and responsible people. Thanks be to God. Doug

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Wednesday in Guiotte

Things are continuing to go well for the VIM team as we develop new friendships with community members here in Guiotte and "get our hands dirty" - very dirty - working to help set up a new school garden, the first of many that UMCOR hopes to help establish in communities across Haiti, in cooperation with local Methodist schools. Gardening isn't among the strengths of the Foundry team, but fortunately there is lots of expertise on hand from community members and also from Gontran, a gifted Haitian agronomist working with UMCOR on the school gardens program. Today Gontran showed us, as well as many students and visiting agronomists, how to make "bokashi", a kind of fertilizer that can be produced with local organic materials, allowing for improved yields without costly and environmentally hazardous pesticides. In addition to our time in the garden, we've been welcomed for many walks throughout Guiotte and surrounding villages, which has helped us gain a better sense of the challenges facing this region, the spirit our hosts bring to bear in addressing them, and the modest ways in which our team might contribute to this work.


Monday, October 8, 2012

Sunday in Guiotte

This week we are staying in a community called Guiotte, and we are working with the Methodist Church of Haiti on a school garden project. When we arrived, my first impression was that Guiotte is a beautiful, green and fertile part of Haiti. Today we went out into the community to see it first hand, and everywhere we looked there were small farms and trees growing all kinds of fruit. Along the way, we also met individuals and learned more about the community. I was struck buy the excitement and passion that filled the people we met. It's clear Guiotte is not only fertile for gardens but for great ideas and community growth.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

First day, many emotions

On our first day in the field, the Foundry team was struck by a mix of emotions. We felt sadness as we visited Mellier, the community we had grown so close to. It was sad to see friends and know we would not be staying. There was joy in seeing old friends and meeting new ones, seeing their authentic smiles and feeling their warm embrace. Our partners really appreciate the spirit through which Foundry enters the community. Lastly there was hope as we had a community meeting and felt the enthusiasm through which people visualized their future. There was hope in how our team worked together through complex logistical issues. Our team is going to bed tonight with this last emotion, hope, burning strongest, excited about opportunies the rest of the week holds.
-Ace Parsi

Friday, October 5, 2012

Day One Haiti VIM Trip October 12, 2012

We landed safely in Port at Prince today and were driven to the Methodist Guest House in Petionville. After a wonderful dinner provided by our hosts, we sat and chatted with other Methodists here for the week as well as folks who are here working on various development projects. We've had a great time speaking with folks who are on the cutting edge of development here and its amazing to hear the various ways that people are sharing the love of Christ around the country through innovative projects and partners with major US corporations. Foundry is just getting its feet wet as we explore what a long term partnership with our brothers and sisters in Haiti looks like. There is no doubt that God is with us as we move forward together. We're excited to head out tomorrow and get to our site at Guillotte.