Proud Learner

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I went into the Kindergarten classroom to visit with the my little friends. They were all sitting at round tables and doing  their work on individual chalkboards.   As I passed by one of the tables, a little boy held up his board to make sure I noticed his work.  So I walked around the table to get a closer look.  What I found was a precious picture and a precious face!

by Jeanine Calia

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"Yet!"

Students lining up after recess before heading back into classrooms.

Students lining up after recess before heading back into classrooms.

On Tuesday, we had a great meeting with two of the directors of MPP, Verona Val and Michel Mulaire.  The focus of the conversation was on the sustainability of the school.  Mulaire starting by talking about how MPP got involved with the school.  He explained that building and operating a school is not what MPP does.  Schools are complex and have their own special requirements.  But the directors of MPP decided to take on this challenge in their continuing efforts to help the refugees of the earthquake.  He said that no matter what the government does, MPP will  always be involved in this school.

This was a great relief to our group because we are concerned about the future of the school once we stop providing financial support.  MPP knows that our financial contribution goes away in 3 years and they are very appreciative of our continued support beyond our initial 5 year mission.

So that led to the subject of the sources of income for operating the school going forward.  We asked about the agricultural initiatives.  We have contributed a lot of money to buy goats, plant manioc and plant moringa.   But these have not produced any income.  To which Verona replied, "You are correct that we haven't seen any income … Yet!"

It seems that manioc takes a minimum of 18 months before it can be harvested.  Moringa likewise can take a couple of years before producing significant yield.  Offspring of goats are being giving to families who have not yet  received a goat.  The drought has delayed progress.  Those of us in America are impatient for our return on investment.  But, these projects were funded two years ago and it's too soon to be expecting results.

We are comforted by MPP's confidence that, in time, these project will result in income to support the villages and the school.

by C. Calia

Returning

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This is my fourth trip to Haiti and the EcoVillages.    I remember my fascination with looking out the window on my first trip at all the unfamiliar sights as we drove from Port au Prince to the Central Plateau.  I must have taken 200 photos through the windows of the Land Cruiser on that trip in 2015.

 This trip feels different.   I still look out the window but the sights are now all too familiar.  I am happy to let others gawk at the view and take lots of photos.

 I coordinated this trip.   The job is all about the logistics.  I am excited about traveling with new people with diverse backgrounds and life experiences.  Now I am the tour guide, being sure to point out significant sights and relate them to our pre-trip discussions. 

 We stopped at the hospital in Mirabalais.  It's not a very impressive building by American standards.  But it is striking in contrast to its surroundings.  The hospital is mentioned several times in To Fool the Rain which was the book we read collectively before the trip.  Now, we observe the setting and contemplate the difficulties for people in the surrounding hills who have to carry sick family members to this facility.

 We move on and arrive after dark at our home for the next 6 nights.  This is Sant Lakay at MPP.  It's their training center and our home base.  The guesthouse provides modest accommodations including a bed and shared bathrooms with cold running water.  It's primitive compared to lodging in the states.  But we don't complain and recognize that we have it better than many who live here year round.  The guesthouse has new beds and a fresh coat of paint.

All our meals will be provided here as well.  The ladies in the kitchen will start their day earlier and stay late into the evening to make sure we have 3 meals a day.  The best part of the food is that it's all organic and fresh.   Bananas, Papaya, and Mango are served every day.   Vegetable dishes always include beets, carrots and tomatoes.  Protein is mostly goat and sometimes fowl.  When we told them that Ian is vegetarian, they made fish especially for him.

We are treated royally in Haitian style.  Their resources are meager but their hospitality is warm.

by C. Calia

Growing relationships while growing gardens

Notes from Haiti as written by Bailey

God works in mysterious ways.  Blessings appear when least expected.  We are, and have been, surprised by grace at almost every turn during our very full days in Haiti on the Central Plateau. 

Our partners MPP and the primary School of the EcoVillages welcome and trust us.  They anticipate our questions, our reservations, our skepticism, our reluctance, as well as our openness, our love and our support. They admit their mistakes and the difficulties and complexity of our common enterprise of relocating urban dwellers displaced by the earthquake to the rural agrarian expanses of the Central Plateau.

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We stand shoulder to shoulder, sharing educational materials and methods, taking photos and making videos, connecting through common daily activities, educational moments, digging, fertilizing, watering and planting together seedlings in the School garden.

We are making new friends and enriching existing friendships.

We are brainstorming together about growing and improving the primary School and the EcoVillages, adult education, rainwater harvesting, micro-financing of cottage industries. 

We are truly blessed to be connecting with our sisters and brothers in Haiti.  I appreciate this opportunity and our churches that support this collaboration.  Thank you.      

Visiting and sharing times together

Raindrops, singing and "employed minds"

Monday, April 22, 2019 – 2nd full day in Haiti as described by Becky

It’s Raining as I write!  Big, fat, beautiful raindrops!  Praise God!   The drought has been terrible – the grounds are so dry, brown and crumbly. 

The students listen carefully to the English version of the song they sang to us in Kreyol.

The students listen carefully to the English version of the song they sang to us in Kreyol.

This is my first time to return in three years to the Haiti EcoVillage School.  Such a blessing to recognize many faces…. And to be recognized in return! Chris and Jeanine have done a wonderful job leading our group.  It is so nice to relax and be a strong support person, and to share this beautiful school in person with David.  Today I accompanied Jeanine and Robert as a photographer while they presented letters and photos from Lilburn Elementary to each classroom.  But my favorite part of the day was returning to the Kindergarten classroom at the end of the day, for them to sing “Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” in French, and we taught them the song in English.  I want to teach them the Hokie Pokie—but it is not on our official “to do” list.  We will see!  

We met with the sewing group in the afternoon, and worked through a list of questions that will enable us to talk with Chavannes and our Haiti EcoVillage Partnership Steering committee about a potential investment in completing their training and funding a pilot program.  We know that in order for parents to pay tuition for school they will need to find other sources of income outside of farming, and many women who have children in the school have completed initial training but the funding from the original organization has run out.  They need additional training to produce high quality products. 

Highway 3, the road that goes right by the EcoVillages, is being paved, and it has been a big unknown in our travel back and forth from the MPP compound to the school.  When it is blocked, our commute time increases by 40 minutes, which was especially challenging when we encountered that yesterday, at 6pm.

Other highlights for me today were: having a big group of children crowding around me while a young girl read aloud the Haiti EcoVillage Book in Kreyol;  singing the song with the kindergartners; hanging out with children, showing them photos and videos from the day, in EcoVillage One, after our meeting with the sewing group, and before our drivers came to pick us up; and watching David entertain the children with his “tricks”, like doing a head stand and walking on his hands.   Last night a highlight was our devotional and centering time, with Bailey leading us, and talking around candlelight about our day and our concerns about various issues with MPP and the school.  I love the quote from Wendell Berry “the baffled mind is not employed”.  We are baffled by the problems we want to help solve, but at least our minds are definitely employed!!!!

And tonight it rained!  Precious big fat raindrops!  We are praying for more rain so the planting season can begin!   

 

 

Team Report from the EcoVillages

We arrived safely Friday after dark to the MPP compound, ate a delicious dinner of beets, carrots, grilled goat and plantains, planned our schedule with Veronal Val, MPP Director, and slept peacefully.

Saturday included a planning meeting with Chavannes Jean Baptiste, preparing Easter gift bags for families, and a trip to the Hinche market.

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Coffee beans at market in Hinche

On Sunday we enjoyed soup joumou for breakfast before we celebrated a joyous Easter worship at Verona’s church (pictured below).

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In the afternoon we went to the school. Director Ramain gave report cards to the parents, and we had a meeting with them. We learned the school serves many children living outside the EcoVillages.

Thank you for your prayers and support.













Packing "Heavy" for Haiti

My wife and I like to travel “light” when we go on vacation. It just makes it easier to get around. In fact, we recently spent 13 days in Europe using just carry-on bags!

But, when go to Haiti, lots of generous people give us things to take. For this week’s trip, we have school supplies, soccer balls, tools, a laptop computer and various other gifts for the people of the EcoVillages. Yes, the people are materially poor and the school has limited resources. So, all this stuff is very welcome.

We hesitate to ship our stuff because there is a good chance it will get lost. Instead, we pack it in 50lb packages and check it as luggage on the airplane. We pack “heavy” on these trips.

So, this week, keep watching blogs about our journey. See how the stuff you donated get to where it’s needed most.

— by C. Calia

DO NOT TRAVEL?

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"DO NOT TRAVEL" is the warning given by the US Dept of State about going to Haiti.  I am paying particular attention to these warnings as we have a group of 10 people planning to go to Haiti in April, 2019.   This is the same warning that the State Dept gives about travel to places like Iran, North Korea and Afghanistan.

Why such as strong warning about traveling to Haiti?  It is not surprising if you don't know about the political unrest in Haiti.  The only US newspaper that consistently covers events in Haiti is the Miami Herald presumably because of the large Haitian population in South Florida.

There have been a number of protests in Haiti of late.  Some protests were violent and some people have died.  On the 33rd anniversary of democracy in Haiti, opponents of the current president, Jovenel Moise, staged protests about continued political corruption, fuel shortages and rising inflation.  The protesters want the president to resign but he is unwilling to do so.  He is determined to finish his 5 year term as the country's leader. 

The people who suffer most from these events are the people we seek to help.  Without groups traveling to Haiti, many important mission projects are put on hold.  Local people who get income from helping foreign groups will go without that extra income.

We continue to plan for our trip in April in the hope that it will be safe for travel by then.  We rely on  our friends who live in Haiti to let us know what it is truly like there.   After weeks of unrest, things seem to be settling down.  One of our friends reports "life is back to normal again".   So, about that State Dept warning, it's important but it's not the only factor we consider in our decisions about travel.  

We ask for your prayers for good decisions concerning our travel, a successful mission journey whenever it can take place and for political and economic stability for the people of Haiti.

submitted by C. Calia 

Much Will be Demanded

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I run. OK, so it's more of a jog.  I started running because all the medical community suggests that a healthy lifestyle includes at least 3 periods of cardio-vascular workout per week.  I choose running.  It doesn't require a gym membership or fancy outfits; just a good pair of shoes.  I can do it anywhere.

 On Thursday mornings, I frequently jog from my house to Eagle's Landing for the men's breakfast and bible discussion.  Sometimes it's dark, sometimes cold and maybe wet.  It's uphill on uneven ground and the cars are always driving too fast.   So why do it?  I do it for the challenge…  and because I can.   After recently explaining this to the men attending the breakfast, my 85 year old friend Charlie leaned over and said "just keep doing it as long as you can."  So, there it is.  Very simple.  I do because I can.

 I have been given much.  I was born in a time of relative peace in the world because of the sacrifice of previous generations.  I was given a healthy body, a strong mind and the opportunity to succeed at whatever I chose to pursue.

 But, for many people in this world, such opportunity doesn't come so easily.  I have been given much so what is expected of me?

 I like a challenge.   Typically, the things that are most worthwhile are hard to accomplish.  It would be easier to drive my car to the mens breakfast but I wouldn't get that cardio-vascular benefit. 

 In Luke 12:13-21, Jesus tells us the story of a successful farmer who says to himself "Take life easy; Eat, drink and be merry."  And God calls the man "a fool!" and his life is taken from him. Jesus concludes with “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

 What do we do with this?  It's OK to have wealth, be self-sufficient and have a comfortable retirement.  But we also must be mindful that our success is also a gift.  "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded."

 So, aren't there plenty of easier ways to give back; to do God's work?  Why go a place where the culture is unfamiliar, it's hard to get to and you can't speak the language?   I like a challenge.

 I'm a big fan of Bill & Melinda Gates.  They have teamed up with Warren Buffet and chosen to take on a few really big problems in the world.  About this, Warren Buffet gave this piece of advice about philanthropy: “Don’t just go for safe projects,” he said. “Take on the really tough problems.”

 When called to help people in a remote part of Haiti, we knew it would be tough.  We knew there would be a great chance that we may fail.  But we also knew God had a plan for us.  We partnered with a social justice organization in Boston and a Farmer's Co-op in Haiti.  We challenged the Haitian people.  If you want a school for your children, you design it, you build and you run it.  Let us know how we can help.  We further challenged them by telling them that we'll help them get the school going but we're not going fund it forever.  You have to figure out how to keep it going after we're gone.

 None of us had ever built a school before.  It's hard.  We may still fail.  But we live in the knowledge that we are doing what Jesus instructed us to do.  "… be rich toward God."

 We must do what we can as long as we can.  It's hard.  But it's worth it.

- reflection by C. Calia

Searching for that meaningful (affordable) gift for a special teacher?

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Consider making a donation to the Haiti EcoVillage School to honor the teachers in your life today. We will mail you the card for your child to present, or we will mail the card to the teacher you are honoring. Donate here and email the number of cards you need and your instructions for mailing. Thank you for supporting and affirming learning!

Learning is a Gift

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It brings me great joy to see the pensive look and ready hand of this girl.  She does not know that she lives in a country abandoned by her own government and disparaged by foreigners.  What she does know is that today she has the opportunity to learn and be all that she can be.

As I review the photos and travel logs from our most recent mission team trip to the EcoVillages in Haiti, I find myself reflecting on all they have accomplished.  Sure, the people could not have gotten the school built without our help.  But we did not construct the building, hire staff, and manage the budget.  We do not oversee day to day operations.  THEY DO.  It's their school and what a marvelous job they are doing with the gift they have been given.

It started with the simple question "how can we help?" and the principle that we wouldn't do for others what they can do for themselves.  The result is something that exceeds our expectations and demonstrates what is possible.  As our friend, Mark Hare, put it "I don't know if there's hope for Haiti but there is hope in Haiti".  Despite all the disadvantages and lack of opportunity, the people are eager to work and the children are eager to learn.

Chris Calia

Thanksgiving in The EcoVillages

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As we gather with our families and friends to express gratitude for our blessings, a different kind of “thanks” giving emanates from the people of the EcoVillages.  This Haitian version of gratitude is directed towards YOU.

They are thankful for your gift of learning.  You have helped provide the classroom, the workbook, the teacher and the full belly for this child to learn.  And 266 other kids like him.  When we visited in October, parents and children asked us to deliver this message to you.  “Mesi!”

They are thankful for your gift of community. The school has become the center of community life.  People collaborate to raise the food that feeds the kids so they can learn.  “Mesi.”

They are thankful for the gift of optimism.  For people who are rebuilding their lives from the personal devastation of earthquake, from the uncertainty of endless days in tent cities and from the hungry months of drought in their new homes, optimism is an incredible contrast.  Make no mistake.  It has been and still is hard, requiring enormous resilience just to keep going. They have done the backbreaking work required to scratch a living from fallow soil.  They have had to adapt to living among people who were strangers in the beginning.  But now they can see the results.  The EcoVillages are lush with growing food.  Children play with abandon like children are supposed to play.  Parents see the possibility of a more prosperous life where there is something left over after the family has eaten.  They are optimistic that they will control their own destiny soon and that their own efforts will sustain their school. 

They want you to know how they feel about your support:  “Mesi. Mesi anpil.”

On this Thanksgiving as you express your gratitude for the ways others have enriched your life, hear the voices of your unseen friends. You have done a good thing.  Let their Mesi brighten your holiday.

Insights from my first visit to the EcoVillages of Haiti

U.S. Americans tell me, “Haitians are poor.” Haitians tell me, “we aren’t poor, we are happy.” On this, my first trip to Haiti, I have come to believe the truth is dependent on one’s perspective.

Haiti is a land plagued by hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, tropical storms, and waves of cholera.  Records going back to the 1700’s show this, and the inhabitants know more will come. The earthquake of 2010 is probably the worst tragedy most have experienced in their lifetime. The country is still struggling to come back from the severe devastation and loss of life it caused. There is still a lack of infrastructure, paved roads, repaired bridges, unclean drinking water, food shortages, crowding, unsanitary living conditions, health issues, and high unemployment. 

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For Haitians it doesn’t help to dwell on a past that can’t be changed or fear a future that is unknown, yet will inevitably bring more disasters with it. They focus on living in the present: learning what they can each day, understanding it fully, improving what they can – so the future will be better too. 

Getting through hard times is easier if one has support from others. Pooling resources and sharing helps everyone. 60 disparate families that came together after the 2010 earthquake to build a community with the help of an Haitian organization, MPP.  First MPP helped them get shelter and food. The next thing the families fought for was a school for their children. With the help of the Atlanta Partnership for the Haiti EcoVillage School and the UUSC, the villages now have a nationally certified school. Every family works in the school garden so the children have food at school. 

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Now each village is tending goats, growing manioc, goat feed and moringa. They are working together so the village can become self-sustaining and bring in some income from these products. They started learning to sew over a year ago. They make school uniforms for their children and hope to sew them for surrounding schools as well. This is a joint effort of all the EcoVillages. In observing this group I saw them working hard, hours long without a break, yet they laugh and tease one another as well. Small children come to work with their mothers. When the older children come in after school they help take care of their siblings and seem to enjoy playing with them. When I visited the school the children all smiled and laughed and were eager to learn.

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The U.S. seems so different. It is an individualistic society where often suburbanites drive into their garage and walk directly into their house without seeing anyone. When we pass someone in the grocery store, we seldom know or greet one another. We have individual goals – a more prestigious position at work, a better car, a bigger house. We work long hours under great stress to “make it” in our jobs. Many people live alone and are lonely. That is not to say we are unhappy, for we are fortunate in many ways.

In contrast in the EcoVillages of Haiti everyone lives together, works together, and struggles together. The individual depends on the community for spiritual and emotional health. One Haitian, who moved to the U.S. and then came back to live again in Haiti, told me stress in Haiti is different. In the U.S. we are under a lot of pressure to succeed and build a career and to have material possessions. In Haiti happiness is independent of the physical. It is based on family and community.

Haitians are proud, proud of their heritage, proud of their culture, and of what they have accomplished. They need and want the help U.S. Americans are giving them but they do not want to be told what to do and how to manage their affairs. They want the relationship to be one of mutual respect. 

So, are Haitians happy or poor? Happiness seems indeed to be a matter of perspective. Despite meagre physical infrastructure, money, and comforts Haitians are happy for they have what they value most, community and family. We could all learn something from them. I know I have.

Written by Marty Maxwell

Life Improves in the EcoVillages

Education. Enrollment at the school has grown from 170 last year to 267 this year. A new 7th grade classroom was added. 

The thirst for learning is contagious. Parents are now clamoring for adult literacy classes so that they can learn to read and help their kids in school.

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Electricity.  It doesn’t look like much, but a pole can be a beautiful thing.  Our partners at the Unitarian-Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) in Boston approved a grant to bring electricity to the six EcoVillages this year.  The power is now on! There is a pole next to the community center building in each village which provides light at night.  Residents must buy a meter to bring power to their own homes, which some have already done.  Residents are already imagining how their lives might change.

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Water. Wells in two of the villages were broken last year. UUSC paid to have them fixed.  Now there is nearby water for everyone. Clean clothes feel good.

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Food. Everywhere you look there is food: congo beans, cassava, plantains, papaya, bananas, peppers, cabbage, squash.  You even hear chickens peck and goats bleat and an occasional pig grunt.  The days of empty pots and lean harvests are behind them – at least for now. 

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Collaboration.  Parents understand that they must coordinate their efforts to grow food for school lunches.  Thanks in part to a grant from PATH (Atlanta’s Presbyterian Answer to Hunger) new school gardens have been planted, expanding their contribution dramatically. Hot, organic meals are served to the students every day of the week. Cassava came in this month, cabbage next week and squash in November.  As a result, the school budget for food has been slashed so that precious funds can be allocated elsewhere.

When asked about his life in the village, one man replied matter-of-factly, “Sometimes it’s good, sometimes not.” In other words, for many life has returned to familiar routines.  The struggle for basics -- survival and safety and a place to belong – is being replaced by the struggle to get ahead.  You know -- normalcy. 

Gardens are growing

Moringa, hibiscus, bananas, beans—beauty surrounding the houses in EcoVillage 1.

Moringa, hibiscus, bananas, beans—beauty surrounding the houses in EcoVillage 1.

Luscious papayas!

Luscious papayas!

Our travel team is listening, meeting, watching, sewing, talking, playing and absorbing all the news and needs. With deep gratitude for this Partnership, they continue their work today. I’ve included two photos they were able to send this morning.

View from the EcoVillages

The rains have arrived in the Central Plateau, and it is a sight to behold. The countryside is lush, the rivers are full. Papaya trees bear many fruit and the breakfast passion fruit juice was rich with taste.

As Claude and I stood at the entrance to the Community Center for EcoVillage 1, he asked “But where are the houses?”  In the early years you could stand there and count all 10 houses. Today, you can see some roofs and paths to those houses. What you see is papaya trees, moringa shrubs, bougainvillea flowers, banana trees and bean gardens. What a relief for people who two years ago went hungry during a year-long drought. This is the break from hardship they deserve after years of struggle since their homes collapsed in the earthquake.

It is good to return to the EcoVillages to see their promise being fulfilled — at least for this year.  
What about the school, you ask?  Today we took the all-school photograph. 264 students, preschool through 7th grade. There were 170 students last year.

We hope to send photographs tomorrow.