Haiti

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

Across the Divide

 Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, 2005 Goldman Environmental Prize Winner, Islands & Island Nations (Haiti), at a traditional konbit--a communal work day spent building walls to conserve the soil.

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

Planning with Partners

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This week, Oct. 16-20, delegates are gathering from UUSC in Boston and The Haiti EcoVillage School Partners (formerly known as Atlanta Church Group). They are traveling to The EcoVillages to meet with the Executive Team at MPP to discuss plans for the coming year. 

Scott Grosse and Chris Calia, from Atlanta, will be sending news updates and photos as the internet connections allow. 

This time together builds our bonds, enhances our connections and strengthens our goals as we enter our last year of building the classrooms for our school.  

Follow their journey and keep the families and friends of the EcoVillages in your heart and mind.

Bracing for Irma

My brother Sam French and his family have lived near the beach in Puerto Rico for 45 years.  Many hurricanes have passed over.  For the first time, they may face an evacuation order today as Irma bears down. There is fear in PR.  My extended family is full of anxiety for their safety. 

After Puerto Rico, Irma will visit Hispaniola. 

The EcoVillages of the central plateau of Haiti are about to be hit if current projections bear out.  The good news is that the 60 families should be safe in their reinforced concrete homes.  They have a school that opened this week for the new year.  Now, every grade has their own classroom.  The Haiti EcoVillage School Partnership has partnered with them to improve their lives in this way.

The news may not be so good for their livelihoods.  Families live garden-to-mouth from the food they grow in the ½ acre outside their front doors.  Mark Hare describes their gardens as “their grocery store, pantry and refrigerator combined.”

In addition, each village has planted new cash crops of moringa or cassava & peanuts, while 3 villages have built enclosures and bought goats to raise funds to support the school.  Our partnership has funded these cash crops by providing loans through their credit union. 

When hurricane Mathew devastated the western part of Haiti 10 months ago, winds were strong enough in the central plateau to disturb their gardens and make it harder to feed their families.  Irma is on a more direct path.  I can only imagine the fear in Haiti, too.  I feel anxiety for their well-being.

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In April we met all of the women of the EcoVillage households as Jeanine Calia shook hands with each as she passed out gift boxes sent from women in Atlanta.  Everyone of village women is a survivor of the 2010 earthquake (and years in tent cities) that deprived them of everything they had.  Their faces show the strain from living always on the edge. They are tough. They are resilient. They will survive Irma, too.  The unknown is what toll it will take on them.

I invite you, as you go through your day, to think of these friends.  See their faces in your mind. Embrace their fear with them. I admire their toughness, their resilience. I will accompany them as best I can from the comforts of my home.  And, when the storm moves on toward our homeland and we feel the fear and anxiety for ourselves, I will remember them.  I hope you will, too.

Gordon French