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

1 comment:

kenn speicher said...

What a superb and thoughtful post. You and your team are truly in the learning process that being 'in mission' and building relationships are all about. Congrats!