Business and Basketball

I was able to hear the thunderous pattering of rain hitting the metal roof just outside for most of the night. Our team arose not knowing if the weather was going to cooperate and allow us the freedom to physically launch the businesses today. After a delayed start, the entrepreneurs met us once again at the hotel. We all eagerly greeted and re-established the connections we had worked to develop the previous day. While every group was in very different stage of earning trust and developing relationships, it was inspiring to see smiles and laughter across uniquely different cultures. While communication and translation were challenging at times, all the teams remained diligent in empathetically connecting with their respective Haitian entrepreneurs.

By mid-morning it became clear that some entrepreneurs were clearly ready to begin their businesses, while others remained unclear on some of our proposed business models and processes. My entrepreneur, Josette, was excited to get started with her retail clothing business, but was a bit apprehensive to our proposed inventory system. In Haiti, accounting, inventory and pricing systems are not a cultural norm and hence, a challenge to teach and implement. These challenges remained consistent amidst many of our proposed business models.

As a result of continued unsettled weather and delayed delivery of essential products for our businesses, we released our entrepreneurs for the remainder of the day. I believe all of the teams were eager to go out and walk alongside our partners as they physically start interacting in the marketplace. Because we saw this hands-on approach as a better teaching opportunity, we where discouraged to learn that we simply were not ready to make this step. We spent the rest of the early afternoon sorting, tagging and pricing clothing for the pepe businesses.

port-de-paix

Fortunately the weather cleared, and that afternoon we all were able to travel into the hillside of Port-de-Paix in order to watch and play basketball with some of the boys from the church. While putting up a great fight, the Westmont men did prevail over our Haitian counterparts. Of course we followed the true competitive nature and leadership of our professor, Rick Ifland. Meanwhile, the women painted the nails of some of the locals. After a long game, thankfully benefitting from cooler temperatures, we gathered at one of Haiti’s more prominent restaurants, located interestingly enough, above a gas station. Here, we had the opportunity to relax and enjoy a meal in fellowship with a few of the boys from church.

When reflecting on our day, we all expressed concern and unease about each of the business models, our relationships with the entrepreneurs and a delayed schedule in which to launch the businesses. All in all, unpredictability and uncertainty seemed to plague our minds. After needed prayer and group processing we turned our unease over to the Lord in order to calm our spirits and set our minds on His great ability.

– Kyle

Meeting the Entrepreneurs

I awoke this morning at ease, but not because I was rested. I had wrestled with my thoughts, doubts and fears for the past two night since being in Haiti and had finally been able to turn them all over to the Lord, who in turn provided his peace. It could not have come at a better time. As I walked out of the hotel room to the view of a clear sunrise and the feel of the cool breeze suppressing the humidity. The Haitian entrepreneurs we were to be working for the rest of the week would be arriving in an hour and we were all a little nervous I think. However, in the midst of that, the Lord had released me from my fears of failure and not being accepted by my business partner, and I believe he did the same for many other members of the team. My classmates and I were ready to do the work we had been preparing for all semester.

After the initial awkward stage where our class couldn’t communicate with our business partners who were present with us due to lack of translators, we all finally sat down and began to get to know one another. We were all a little eased by finally getting started. Among the wells of hope and joy that sprung from discussing the dreams our business partners had for what their lives could be for themselves and their family, I distinctly remember being overwhelmed with gratitude. As the rain fell on the dusty ground, as the breeze cooled our skin and whisked our hair, and as God’s people from opposite ends of the earth loved each other as best they knew how, I could not help but recognize how good God is.

entrepreneurs

In the evening, the Westmont students and entrepreneurs, accompanied by their families, gathered back at the hotel for the presentation of the certificates for the new business owners followed by an excellent dinner. As we sat under sheet metal roofs, listening to the falling rain, enjoying a great meal, and communicating across language barriers with our family in Christ all shouted God’s praises. It was an incredible evening that filled us, and our partners, with hope that carried on for the rest of the week and gave us unified goals to work together towards. Today, God showed up.

– Nate

Church in Haiti

Our first morning in Haiti we awoke feeling excited, yet anxious: We were ready to see God’s work come to fruition, yet we were still aware of the risks involved with the entire trip. To settle our spirits, we began the morning by opening the word of God to Joshua. Beginning the week in this way allowed us to lay  our fears before the Lord so we could truly start fresh and openhearted.

After prayer, we piled into the bed of our driver Willow’s pick-up truck and headed to church at Waves of Mercy at 9 a.m. in downtown Port-de-Paix. The city was much more civilized, populated, and bustling than we had always imagined it. We were stunned that among the corruption and poverty in the country there were still so many people and buildings operating. As we reflected on this setting, some of us wondered if the decayed infrastructure made thoughts of complacency take the place of innovation in Haitian minds. “Why would I change if this is how things are going and will always go? Is change even possible?” is one line of thought the Haitians might have developed. Our week began to mean much more than a simple band-aid on a problem. It was an opportunity to innovate and unlock the hidden economic potential of a community shadowed by its deep needs. Maybe, we thought, we could begin to instill a new hope in the Hatian people. Rather than seeing Haitians caught in a cycle of survival, they could dream and innovate enough to rework their own situations. It is just a matter or refocusing their thoughts, reviving their creativity, and restoring genuine hope.

port-de-paix-2Hopping out of the truck, we were welcomed into church. We sat along the wall and listened to the Haitians sing and preach in the beautiful language of Creole. While the service was genuinely beautiful and moving, quite a few of us were still exhausted from the long journey yesterday and had difficulty staying awake. Nevertheless, we were blown away by the devotion of church-goers and Pastor Handson, as the service lasted near two hours. Their love for Jesus was overwhelming as we heard shouts of “Amen” and “Hallelujah” throughout the service.  At the end, every person in the church individually greeted us with a kiss and a hug, saying “Mesi, Mesi!” (thank you in Creole).

Following church, we returned to Jerry’s and rested.  Our eyes quickly shut as if they had been longing for comfort, familiarity and sleep. Some went into town to explore, returning to us with a story about a self-proclaimed rapper they had met while out.

A few hours later we headed back to church for the Revival. This ceremony takes place each night of Holy Week to keep the Haitians occupied while the rest of Port-de-Paix tends to engage in voodoo activities. Having the knowledge that voodoo was a cultural practice for many people disturbed our thoughts as we entered into the service. There was a real spiritual tension going on—one that only God could break with His light and truth.

The service took place outside on the mountain behind the church. The congregation set up lights, benches and a sound system. Children danced, everyone sang, and powerful words were spoken. It wasn’t really until this night that our uncomfortable spirits began to soften as everyone around us was stirred to dancing and shouting praise. The presence of God fell heavy on our hearts. This loud praising all of the sudden seemed relevant and we found ourselves joining in without much question or conversion of internal resolve. Many of us began to understand the hearts of these people even if we couldn’t translate the words they were saying. We were stirred to praise the same God that works marvelously to redeem the dirty and broken in each of us. Whether we were filled or hungry, whether provided for or left in financial insecurity, there is still room among uncertainty to rejoice and trust in a power high above it all. What a cool way that God crosses cultural boundaries and unifies His church in spirit.

After the revival, the team headed to Larry and Diana’s to make dinner and bond on the roof. It was almost as is if our newfound connection with the Haitians revived our own team’s spirit and connection too. We were no longer outsiders infringing on a community and it came as a relief. Feeling accepted, we were able to leave with the confidence that God intended us to be here to connect with and support the people.

– Annie & Avery

Westmont Students Arrive in Haiti

After an exhausting 27 hours of travel, our group arrived in Port-de-Paix, Haiti at 8 p.m on Saturday. We left Westmont at 3 p.m. on Friday, driving 3 hours down to LAX to catch a red-eye to Miami and then a flight the next morning into Port-au-Prince. Though we had initially planned to take a short commuter plane into Port-de-Paix, even the best laid plans can go wrong, and we ended up in a 14-passenger bus with 28 pieces of luggage strapped to the roof. During a hot, crowded, and bone-jarring 7-hour bus ride north, we got our first-taste of Haiti—unbelievably beautiful aqua water and lush countryside juxtaposed with deforested mountains and trash-lined streets.

haiti

Our first encounters with this country are overwhelming, to say the least. For some of us, this is the first time we have encountered this level of poverty. For others, the abrupt departure from Western scheduling and efficiency instead running on “Haiti time” is unsettling. For all of us, the difference between our drive on unpaved roads through rural Haiti from our drive to LAX through Malibu along the Pacific Coast Highway is laughably absurd. These differences only highlight the potential of this week, and how much our group has to learn about Haiti and what our role can be in pursuing sustainable development for communities operating at the bottom of the pyramid.

We arrived at the home of Larry and Diana, missionaries with Waves of Mercy, who greeted us with a delicious meal. After a late dinner, we took our first ride in the back of a pick-up truck (a “tap-tap”), to “Jerry’s Holiday Beach Hotel” where we will be staying this week. Excited, overwhelmed, and a bit delirious with exhaustion, we headed to bed to rest up for our first full day in Haiti.

– Zoë

Students Prepare for 2nd Spring Break Trip to Haiti

students-prepare

This week, students in Westmont’s Business at the Bottom of the Pyramid class went shopping in preparation for their upcoming trip to Port-de-Paix, Haiti. In addition to purchasing food items for their upcoming trip, the class recently led a campus-wide clothing drive for Haitian entrepreneurs who will be operating pepes, used clothing stands in the marketplace where many local Haitians do their shopping.

In the past, would-be entrepreneurs had to purchase their pepes (literally bundles of old, unwanted clothing from the United States) and have them shipped from Miami, with no guarantee as to what would items they would contain or what quality the clothing would be. In the old model, running a pepe was about the luck of the draw – if an entrepreneur was fortunate enough to have lots of brightly-colored clothing and denim goods, business was good; if they received items with stains or completely unwanted items (such as bedsheets), business was bad.

With the generous gifts of Westmont students and faculty, these new entrepreneurs will be able to purchase clothing items as needed from Westmont’s strategic partner in Port-de-Paix, which they can turn around and sell in the marketplace for a markup. This new system ensures that entrepreneurs will be able to make a profit on goods sold, that all of their clothes are of the highest quality, and that none will go to waste.

The Business at the Bottom of the Pyramid class will be traveling to Port-de-Paix, Haiti from March 27 – April 4, and will attempt to keep the blog updated throughout their trip (internet and electricity permitting). To stay updated, please visit the Business at the Bottom of the Pyramid blog.