“Manje kwit pa gen met.” This is one of the Haitian proverbs we learned on our pilgrimage to Haiti during April school vacation. Translated from Creole it means, “Cooked food has no master (or owner).” Haitians are taught to share from the time they are tiny children. If you have food, you do not own it. You must share. Haitian culture is rich in such proverbs that describe the values of a society that has suffered much and learned much.
On the morning of April 18 eight high school youth from First Church and five adult chaperones boarded American Airlines flight 1050 bound for Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The group included students: Lisa Garrity, Noelle Peluso, Mercy Togba, Aaron Richardson, Keating Flaherty, Abigail Glick, and Mary Catherine and Emily Carroll. The adults were senior pastor Dr. Jay Terbush, Mark Garrity, Mary Ellen Flaherty, Monica Torpey, and Mary Friedman.
In the tiny remote village of Gwo Jan the group spent three days and two nights learning about Haitian culture, history, language, and music…..and lots of proverbs: “Woch nan dlo pa konnen doule woch nan soley.” (“The rock in the water does not know the pain of the rock in the sun.”)
Then we transferred to Walls’ International Guest House in Port-au-Prince and spent two days at the headquarters of CONASPEH (the National Spiritual Council of Churches of Haiti) where we delivered solar lights, a solar panel, a battery, and projector donated by our Board of Missions, soccer uniforms and balls donated by the Longmeadow Soccer Association, children’s books, and other items. Dr. Jay led a seminar for the Haitian bishops and the students toured the school and visited classrooms, talked with the students, and played soccer!
We learned that, “Yon bel ‘bonjou’ se paspo ou.” (A beautiful “hello” is your passport!) We spent two days in Bon Repos, an hour outside the city painting a church inside and out as well as some office space, , resurfacing the chalkboards in the school, distributing school supplies, teaching two classes how to make “God’s Eyes” , attempting to play soccer with 250 excited students, and generally feeling very welcomed by our Haitian hosts. Things are not easy or convenient in Haiti….”Deye mon, gen mon” (“Beyond mountains are mountains.”) There is always another challenge to face. But we did learn that “Men anpil chay pa lou.” “Many hands make light work.” (And I thought my mother invented that!! )
We also learned that things in Haiti don’t necessarily happen on OUR timetable! “Piti, piti zwazo fe nich li.” Be patient. “Little by little the bird builds its nest.”
The students shared some of what we experienced in worship on Sunday, May 3, incorporating the hymns we sang and the scripture we read while in Haiti. It was a deeply moving experience I think for all of us and one we will not soon forget.
Have to close with my new favorite Haitian proverb: “Fanm se kajou: plis li vye, plis li bon.” (“A woman is like mahoghany: the older she is, the better she is!”) That one’s a keeper!!!
Last month I again had the privilege of leading a group to visit our friends and partners at CONASPEH in Haiti. The group consisted of Dianne Doherty and myself from First Church; David Entin, Pauline Bassett, and Heidi Rademacher from First Churches in Northampton; Ayesha Ali, nursing professor at AIC, with five nurses and students.
One purpose of these trips is to see with our own eyes what is going on at CONASPEH and try to determine if the help that First Church has provided over the years is being effective. This goal can be difficult to determine during a short visit, but overall things seemed to be going well. The school was very busy, the students seemed happy and active, and many small improvements were noted. The ceilings and interior walls are being finished in the school building, glass windows are being installed, the utility building to house equipment for the trade schools is nearly complete, and a new (at least to Haiti) yellow school bus sits proudly in the school yard read for service next fall. The nursing mannequins and textbooks and beds are in a secure place and appear to being used. There is now a lecture hall on the second floor lined with shelves of books that Nancy Marshall kept insisting that we carry down on previous trips. The water truck to fill the cistern for the flush toilets in the headquarters building came one day.
The main purpose of our visit is to share knowledge with CONASPEH students and here the results are more apparent. Dianne did an effective job teaching the basics of small business development. In the mornings, she taught a group of pastors and in the afternoons, a group of university students and teachers. She was able to solicit a few specific business proposals that will need some start-up funding. David helped with teaching leadership skills and Pauline teaching team learning and networking skills. Heidi, who is fluent in French, helped with the translations and shared her passion for knitting with the students.
Ayesha Ali and the students again interacted with the CONASPEH nurses, by examining healthy students together and using the mannequins together. Eric Ruiz again taught CPR to the nursing students. Since he is now a certified instructor, he was able to hand out certificates, legitimately, afterwards. Unfortunately, there was not time for distribution of the eyeglasses that Dan Bausch had collected, but that will happen later. The nursing kits collected by Mary Friedman last Christmas were given to Madam Chery, the new nursing director.
The other purpose of these trips is to introduce and reintroduce the problems, complexities, and wonders of Haiti to people. This time we saw some of the beauty of Haiti by going to a local beach because school was cancelled due to a partial traffic ban. We also visited a nursing school in Leogone that is the first private nursing school to offer a four-year baccalaureate degree. The hope is that CONASPEH can be the second such school.
The long-term effects of such a trip is harder to measure. One student nurse announced that she was going to change her career choice and go into international nursing. Others are already planning how to help re-establish the micro loan fund at CONASPEH or to help individuals with their business plans or graduate education. I think all return home more humble, more appreciative, more thankful, and more willing to work to help the less fortunate, no matter where they are.
More reports are available on the First Church Forum in the Haiti Matters section, available here.
Congratulations to First Church Longmeadow for its nearly 20 year history of loyalty and investment in CONASPEH, the Haitian Council of Churches. Dr. Mark Pohlman, Rev. Gary DeLong, Mary Friedman and others who helped develop its programs are to be commended for their initiation, dedication, and sustainability.
In addition to our delegation of five nursing students and professor from AIC, other delegates from UCC First Churches Northampton joined our mission. My assignment was to work with 15 pastors and 22 students about what it takes to start a small business. These hard-working pastors and ambitious students who would someday like to own their own businesses radiate hope in a country where poverty is endemic and constantly visible.
Haiti is complicated. It is difficult for me to write about it based on only a week there. I was there to help Haitian citizens understand the dynamics of successful small businesses. I truly believe that small independent enterprises are a key to alleviating Haiti’s current 80% unemployment rate. Job creation through entrepreneurship is a practical foundation for building a viable economic development strategy.
The history of Haiti does not generate optimism. The strength of the church and the faith of the Haitians are the most hopeful dimensions of the country. Like Cuba and other Caribbean countries, music and art also play a very important role in the rebuilding of the country.
Our translator, Cedrak, for me, personified the hope for Haiti. Twenty-five years old and about to graduate from high school, (13 years in Haiti), he plans to go to law school when and if he can find the money. The youngest of six children, Cedrak credits his ambition to his mother, who neither reads nor writes. She insisted that all her children must be educated.
CONASPEH with its 600 students and First Church are making a significant investment in education and health care, the hope for the future of Haiti. It was an honor and a privilege to be a part of the First Church delegation about which I have read with pride for so many years. The outreach and mission committees of the church are in sync with the ideals of our global economy and Christian ideals in trying to promote the equalization of opportunities and wealth. Haiti presents a challenging and important opportunity for meaningful impact. Thank you Mark Pohlman and First Church.
Dianne Fuller Doherty
This was my fifth trip to Haiti. Every trip to Haiti is different and special and touches your soul. Upon arriving I was again struck by the poverty and the desperation of most people’s lives. The many men standing outside the airport pedestrian exit vying to earn a dollar by carrying your bag drives home their situation.
The three hour Sunday morning worship in a crowded and very poor “God’s Faith Church” was one of many examples during the visit of the deep faith of most Haitian people. This church was particularly interesting because of its charismatic worship style. The pastor often preached with his eyes closed and members would shout out phrases such as “praise the Lord.” Many had their hands raised high with eyes closed as the Spirit seemed to seize them. The church has a tin roof and unfinished walls but most of the bench seats were full.
I enjoyed lunch at the iconic Hotel Oloffson (as seen in “The Comedians” with Liz Taylor, Richard Burton, Alec Guinness). The rum punches were especially strong. Our conversation with Richard Morse, the proprietor, was enlightening if not fully truthful. Once we moved beyond Princeton reunions he told us how he supported the election of his cousin Martelly, “Sweet Mickey” the pop music star, for President and at first advised the newly elected chief executive but then broke with him over the high degree of corruption. Richard also talked about his well known band, RAM (his initials), and their famous Thursday night stands at the hotel. He first began a band in NJ with three Princeton buddies after graduating.
Our visit to the national museum reinforced the pride Haitians feel about their independence, the only successful slave revolt in world history. But it also showed the tortuous and painful history since independence more than 200 years ago.
Monday was a delightful gift: beach visit due to widespread public transportation strike that closed the CONASPEH school. The turquoise ocean was perfect and the surroundings of the private beach resort luxurious by local standards. The denuded hills and barren landscape as well as rural poverty were very apparent on the two hour ride to and from the beach.
So, on Tuesday we finally arrived at CONASPEH and began our “work.” The pastors slowly trickled into the small business development seminar. Within an hour we had fifteen participants eager to absorb the knowledge and wisdom Dianne Doherty was imparting. I enjoyed observing Dianne’s wonderful and effective teaching style and assisting in any way I could, such as offering her feedback and putting key information up on the board. This seminar continued for three mornings with the pastors showing up each day and maintaining their level of interest. Dianne began with more general propositions and gradually moved to more specifics. At end of the first day she gave out an outline for a business plan in English and Creole and challenged the pastors to fill out as many of the questions on the planning sheet as possible and bring the results to the seminar. In the seminar she covered such topics as profit and loss, pricing, networking, marketing, business cards, business plans, and mentoring. Pauline did a segment on mentoring the second day and I covered leadership. Pauline and I both had the groups form small groups for a related exercise. Dianne was careful to ask for questions at the end of each topic and conscientiously responded. Each of the pastors’ seminars began and ended with singing a familiar hymn and a prayer, in Creole..
Each afternoon was a group of students, actually high school graduates, some of whom were enrolled in post-secondary education and all basically unemployed, the condition of most Haitians. This group of twenty-two young adults, mostly male, was also eager to learn and a bit more aggressive in their questioning and a few eager to show off their ideas, relevant or not. They too showed up three afternoons in a row. This afternoon seminar covered the same ground. On the third day we asked the pastors to a lunch and asked them to stay for the students’ seminar, which they did. The last day featured discussion of three case studies, two brought in by two pastors and one by a student. Two pastors want to enlarge what are small home bakeries producing bread, cakes, and cookies, to serve a larger population in their neighborhoods. They had some useful ideas for marketing and expansion needs.
On Wednesday I spent about an hour and a half with the Terminale or 13th grade class, which they call philosophy, on the topic of leadership. The sixty-student class in a small space was almost unwieldy. After a general discussion, I did get eight groups to write what they saw as the three most important qualities of a good leader on the board. The groups displayed good insight in their responses. Last year President Martelly was named as a leader they know and admired; not this year. Miguelson told us his popularity had nosedived and citizens up north even threw rocks at his car on a recent visit there. I also had the class brainstorm on what they saw as the most important problems facing Haiti. For the first time using this exercise the first problem listed was security. I was also interested to see the ninth and final problem suggested was “over-population.”
We got to see Miguelson twice. He and his friend Antonio came by Sunday evening and shared information about their lives and Haiti with the group at our evening meeting. On Wednesday Miguelson took Pauline and me and Antonio out in his new SUV to Petionville. We went to the outside restaurant and bar of La Reserve, an upscale hotel, where we had rum punches and tried the Haitian dessert best described as sweet potatoe pie. We learned more about their university careers and Haitian politics. Miguelson is now half way through his law program. Previously Miguelson and his friends had met and talked with Baby Doc at the same restaurant, though the former dictator appeared quite sick and has since died.
Friday afternoon Pauline, Heidi, and I took 31 schools kits to a small school in Cite Soleil, the largest and worst slum in Port-au-Prince. The pastor of the Church of God of the New Jerusalem, Bishop Luc Fontus, greeted us and took us inside. 160 students from kindergarten through elementary grades are housed in small spaces covered with tin roofs and divided by rough blackboards, with many children squeezed onto the wooden benches. We visited several classes where the students sang a welcome song to us. Since we only had 31 kits, all donated by Patti Richmond’s school, the pastor, with our help, divided up the contents to make enough for every student to receive something, such as a few pencils and small hand pencil sharpener, or a package of eight crayons. I referred to this turning 31 kits into enough for 160 children as our “fishes and loaves” miracle. The students came into the pastor’s office by class and each student seemed delighted to receive a school gift. At the end of the line the pastor gathered us and his staff around a circle and sang a song and prayers as we held hands.
Each night we gathered on top of the third floor of one of the Wall’s Guest House buildings to review the day and plan the next day. Our planned last night there party turned out to be more cathartic than celebratory. We were all moved by our experience in Haiti, and especially the obvious and ever- present poverty. Some tears flowed as we recalled a few of the difficult scenes we had observed: 1) a man sucking fuel oil out of tank into his mouth and then into a container; 2) our interpreter telling about having five siblings that were able to get some degree of education and his mother being so proud, since she could neither read nor write; 3) the students at the poor school being so happy to receive a few pencils; 4) our young interpreter humiliated when his name was read out in class because he had not yet paid his tuition bill, as he had no money. So many people so desperate to survive and somehow get ahead in life and yet thanking God for what little they had. All is a testament to the spirit of the Haitian people which pulls on the hearts of all visitors to that poor island nation.
David Entin is a member of Northampton UCC, where he is the chair of the Peace and Justice Committee. This was his fifth trip to Haiti.