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

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