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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tomorrow I will travel to Haiti with Claude Henry Pierre and Marty Maxwell, two new members of the steering committee of our Haiti EcoVillage School Partnership. Claude will translate both the language and the culture for us while looking for ways to improve our long distance communication with our partners in Haiti. Marty will study the prospects of forming a sewing business using the six machines that have been donated and the ample enthusiasm of the people to learn both how to sew at a commercial level and how to run a successful business.
One of the joys during our trip will be to deliver many books for the children. Supporters have been providing funds for books each year for the past 3 years. This year, for the first time, we have targeted a wide range of interests beyond just early Kreyol readers. Here are some of the books we will be taking to the school.
Follow our posts this week as we deliver the books and talk about our trip to the school and the EcoVillages.
We all know that education is important and is vital for a country like Haiti where most citizens struggle for the basics in life. But did you know that gathering with others to raise funds for a village school could be so much fun?
An impressive group of more than 200 members and friends of three churches came together in Clarkston to learn about and support the work of an exceptional leader, Chavannes Jean-Baptiste. This extraordinary man responded to the needs of children, including many refugees escaping the horrors of the earthquake, by coordinating the efforts of local Haitians and those far away in the U.S.
As they say, success breeds success. The evening was part celebration of the classrooms that have been built and the improved lives of many children, and of the partnerships which have made this EcoVillage School possible. It was also an opportunity to highlight the needs of the children for further education and to support the teachers dedicated to helping them with the most basic of resources (chalk, paper, pencils). The fundraising portion of the evening was a quick and lively “auction,” with a rewarding end. A quick tally indicated that nearly $30,000 was raised for another year of school for children who are obviously eager to learn.
As a new attendee to the Flavors of Haiti event, I encourage everyone to attend in 2019 and experience a warm evening of collective enthusiasm for strong partnerships, good food served by conscientious youth, the satisfaction of donating to a cause that has been vetted and endorsed, and the very grateful appreciation of those involved with the EcoVillage School.
The divides are many.
We are the richest nation per capita in the Western Hemisphere. Haiti is the poorest.
We speak English. They speak Kreyol and French.
Our lives are aided (dominated?) by complex, ubiquitous technology. The EcoVillages don’t even have electricity.
We drive and walk fast. They walk everywhere at a relaxed amble.
We live in splendid isolation behind the walls of our houses, where most of the faces we see each day are on our devices. They live interlocked lives with their neighbors, with whom they collect water, raise large families and even share outhouses.
We demand security from police, EMTs, retirement funds, Social Security, warranties, contracts, and armies. They have no security except for the good will of their neighbors.
We grouse about pot-holes near us. The nearest paved road to the EcoVillages is 5 miles away.
We shop at Kroger, Publix, Your Dekalb Farmer’s Market, Sprouts, Whole Foods, depending on what specifically we want. Plus, we eat out a lot. They eat what can grow in their yard gardens.
We watch AcuWeather forecasts and movement of temperatures during the day. They pray for a safe hurricane season that doesn’t level their crops.
We are God’s Frozen Chosen, adhering to the rules of the Book of Order, but keenly aware of an elusive God whom we cannot detect with our scientific instruments and whose presence in the world seems confusing. They are part Catholic, part charismatic, part voodoo, 100% believers that God controls their fate.
We frown a lot. They smile a lot.
I know. I am going on, but I could keep going. The differences are many and they are fundamental.
From the beginning of our project to build a school for children who would otherwise not learn to read, we articulated a commitment to bridge that gap, to build relationships. We intended to know these people, to understand their struggles and their joys. We decided to learn from their wisdom and to authentically present ourselves so that we could be known to them, too. For 5 years we have dispatched delegations to meet, learn and share. Ask anyone who has been and they will tell you about the life-enriching experience. And our Haitian partners know something more about us, as represented by the child who reaches out to touch our skin to learn if it is real like her own skin.
Last year we exchanged art between the children at the EcoVillage school and our own children. We said, “Draw a picture about your life.” The art about their lives has hung on our walls for our children to see. Our children’s life art hangs on their school walls now. Photos show curious children looking at the others’ images, wondering about their lives.
This year, to bridge the distance, we have invited the founder of the EcoVillages to come to us. He is a man worth knowing.
When you meet him you’ll be drawn to the smile, in part because you’ll see that his 70-year-old face has spent a lot of its time smiling. This from a man who has avoided assassination through exile and has spent all of his life living among some of the poorest people on earth. There is wisdom to be learned from someone so courageous.
You will see a man of the world who has traveled to Lima and Durbin to contribute to United Nations conferences on climate change, Paris and San Francisco to receive honors for his work. Yet he still lives in Papay among the people he spends his life helping. There are insights to be gleaned from someone so broad.
You will hear from a man who has wielded political power as adviser to Haiti’s president, but has never compromised the well-being of his people for personal gain. Can we ever get too much from people of integrity?
So come meet Chavannes. Broaden your experience and understanding.
At the same time, let him learn about us through your presence. You will be one of the people he talks about when he returns to talk to the families in the EcoVillages and the children at the school. Your presence will help build that bridge of understanding and respect that holds the promise of a better tomorrow for all of God’s people, Haitian and American, rich and poor, smilers and frowners.
Hear Chavannes at Emory University Candler School of Theology, Thursday, 4/12 5:30-7:30pm
Plans for the 4th Annual Flavors of Haiti are underway! As we prepare for our one fundraising event of the year, we try to consider ways to make the event meaningful, inviting and fun. We want to raise funds, and we want our guests to feel energized and enthusiastic and educated about the impact their support makes.
These critical components of party-planning are also basics in community building. As we have worked to build a school, we have worked to build community in Atlanta with our three-church partnership and to build community with our friends in Haiti. We are excited, enthusiastic and energized! We celebrate the new friendships, relationships, understandings and potential for the future that these years have provided.
We invite you to come to the Party! April 15th, 5:30-7:30pm. Meet the person who founded the EcoVillages. Hear the leader who inspired us to build the school. Learn about the families who have hope because of the communities that support them.