Celebrating the Heroes on the Ground

It is amazing how quickly this day has come. It seems like we arrived only yesterday, yet in a week’s time we have grown closer with our Haitian entrepreneurs than many of us have with some of our friends back home. Today we all woke up with a feeling of extraordinary humility and nostalgia as we reflected on our experience in Haiti over the last few days. It is safe to say that all of us will be intimately affected and changed due to our experience here and the relationships that we have built with those we have worked with. For some, today marked the day where many variables and tasks had to be carried out with vigor to attempt to ready our Haitian entrepreneurs to have the information needed to run their businesses successfully after our departure. For others, today was a day that we could sit back and watch as our entrepreneurs ran their newly created businesses with heightened excitement and renewed hope in a future of increased possibility. Our feelings were mixed to say the very least.

I for one felt very conflicted about departing from Haiti so soon. On one hand it felt as though I had just arrived, on the other, I was experiencing a sense of belonging and sadness that could be likened to leaving my own home. Inevitably, I feel as though a part of my heart will forever reside in Haiti. I have a strong resolve to make sure that I return to Haiti again in the near future to continue to develop the relationships that I have made and strengthen my commitment to this beautiful place and its beautiful people. Never before have I been so exposed to a place of such severe poverty complimented with this level of incarnational joy. I have encountered a mixture of suffering and joy here in Haiti that is both incredibly saddening and experientially hopeful.

After all of us spent the majority of the day finalizing things with our entrepreneurs, it was time to go visit every single business as an entire group one last time to celebrate the heroes on the ground. After spending the entire week in Haiti, it is glaringly obvious that we were merely witnesses to the businesses created here. The true heroes are our entrepreneurs. They are the ones that are going to make a better life for themselves and their family, despite the inherent hardship that they have been born into. Such fierce resolve to overcome the sufferings in front of you, with devout stewardship to God’s will and absolute trust in His sovereignty, is something that I rarely see back home. However, such courage and strength is commonplace here in Haiti. Our entrepreneurs taught each and every one of us what it means to be a hero and crusader for Christ, against all fears or doubts. I expected that I would learn more from coming to Haiti than I would teach; however, I did not know just how much I still had to learn. Haiti has changed the way I see the world around me and it has done so as a direct result of the courageous faith of those who call it home.

Lord, please protect and guide those whom we are about to leave here. They are so valuable and such an amazing part of your Kingdom to come. Thank you for bringing us into this beautiful place to break bread with these wonderful people. Help us never forget the lessons we have learned here. Help us have the strength to emulate the courageous servitude of our Haitian brothers and sisters. Amen.

– Dylan

Bless the Lord, O My Soul

God’s presence and joy was incredibly present like I have never seen in my entire life. Today, my eyes were opened to how amazing God is and how He works in the lives of so many people. It was difficult to fully realize that the same God that I have believed in my entire life is the same God that is here in Haiti. He is the same God yesterday and today, but today I am in awe of just how GREAT our God is. He is magnificent and all powerful. He is loving and joyful. He provides all of our needs and answers our prayers. He breathes and exemplifies his love through the Haitian people. Most importantly, He shows up and uses us.

My heart has been changed like never before. I know it is cliché and people claim to have “life changing” experiences all the time but for me this has honestly been the most difficult, yet best week of my life. I have never seen God in this way, nor have I ever seen so much joy. I am struggling to come to terms with it because I come from a world where material possessions and desires are abundant, yet we don’t have a fraction of the faith and trust in the Lord that the Haitian people have. Why is this? Just because we are reaffirmed by living in comfort shouldn’t make our faith any less strong. This is the true cross that we bear each and everyday. Today we read Isaiah 41:10 which states “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” I have been around the world over the past eight months, from Taiwan to Northern Ireland, yet I have never felt myself fully able to commit myself and fully trust in God’s strength. Haiti did make me fearful in many ways. From people constantly staring at you in the streets, to kids daring each other to tough the white girl’s skin. This certainly wasn’t an easy place to go unnoticed. Although being in Haiti comes with immense internal fear of intimidation, starvation, and unknown environment, I never felt so comfortable fully submitting to God and trusting that He will protect us and use us in ways that are glorifying to His Kingdom. We are here to use the limited knowledge we have learned over our short 21 years of life to enable our heroes here in Haiti to engage the marketplace and ultimately have a higher quality of life.

Tomorrow we head out on a bus and head back to one of the richest zip codes in the nation. To my own surprise, I am not thrilled about it and not ready. Although culturally I am starting to feel fractionally comfortable in Haiti, my desire to stay is much larger than that. The trusting relationships we have built over the past week are not only being further solidified but are growing. To stop that growth now is upsetting to me. This came as a huge surprise to me because I thought I would be very much ready to leave but instead I am longing for more and see how we can assist in changing more lives and engage this immensely disorganized marketplace. One thing I could really rest on was the fact that our work here doesn’t end when our physical presence leaves Haiti. Not only will 10 family’s lives be impacted for years to come but this will spur others to have a sense of hope for the future and see the possibilities when God shows up. We are just some college students from a small Christian college in Santa Barbara, CA who came to Haiti to enable some people to change their lives. We are not better than them, we do not know more than them, and we do not come with all the answers. That is a pretty cool thing to embrace.

berline

Not only did today culminate many of these emotions but it was also filled with excitement as 3 days of bonding with our entrepreneurs has led us to this special Thursday where they will enter the marketplace. Throughout the week, I have been working with a lovely woman named Berline. Berline is not only incredibly beautiful on the outside, but her beauty really shines from within her sweet character. From the minute I met her, her smile lit up the room and I knew we would be best of friends. Just yesterday she whispered in my ear that she loved me as we held hands going through her village. You can say that I was blown away by her love and sweetness toward me. She has a young four year old daughter named Nora and a husband named Alex, who is a mechanic. She lives in this adorable little house that has red walls, two beds, and a table. When I stepped in her house, I didn’t feel like I was in Haiti any more and realized just how much she wants a better quality of life, even in a difficult place like Haiti. She is a member of Waves of Mercy Church where she has found a sense of family and community. She emphasized her desire many times to just be in business to give glory to God. That touched my heart. She loves reading the Bible in her spare time and singing. Her dream is to one day own a salon to be able to give people manicures and also do hair and makeup for women. It was fun to hear her express this dream, even though it is not a present reality. However, there is great hope and excitement for the future as she establishes her Pepe business now and saves up for her salon in the future. It was really a cool adventure to get the opportunity to see what hopes and dreams she had for the future. Sometimes, as Americans, we can form that dream for them without even asking. The hours of conversations we had about life and business solidified a trust and bond that would otherwise be absent. I was very blessed that God provided us the space and opportunity for this kind of dialogue.

This morning was pretty hectic arranging all of the four Pepe owners to get their stands loaded in the truck and delivered to their particular locations. Lots of waiting time really allowed us to catch a breath of “Haiti time” and the realization that things happen at a different pace here and that is more than ok. Definitely difficult for someone like me to adjust to because I am always 5 minutes early or on time. Eventually, we got to the area where Berline wanted to set up her Pepe stand which was about a 2 minute truck ride down the street from the church and a 2 minute walk from her home. When we set up the stand there were floods of people interested in her clothing. At first I thought it could have just been me attracting the attention but I took a large step away to find that the customers were very interested in the high quality clothes that we had to offer. They were trying them on, examining them, and pleased because they looked very new. Berline’s business was different from other Pepe models because the quality of clothing is often unknown and often very used.

A difficulty the Pepe businesses have been dealing with was introducing an entirely new model to the marketplace. Typically, Pepe owners would go to the ship yard to purchase a box of mystery items that could be 50 new clothing items or 3 comforters. It is a huge and unknown risk that could easily put an owner out of business with the purchase of one bad box. This is why we wanted to try to introduce a new system. We had a clothing drive at the beginning of the semester at Westmont and were able to get over 1,000 clothing items that were in incredible condition. We spent hours sorting these out prior to shipping them weeks before we arrived. When we arrived in Haiti we sorted through and spent days pricing them with Handson to establish a small store where owners could hand pick and purchase their items they wanted to sell in the marketplace. This places the risk on our end and not on the Pepe owners’. Although our 1,000 item inventory is not endless, we are working on efforts to continue the supply or purchase Pepe’s in Haiti to sell to entrepreneurs. Again, the risk is taken away from the individual owners. Offering this system and an entirely new way of operating in this type of business was a tough concept to swallow for some. However, Berline was open to taking advice and ended up being the most successful Pepe start of the entire trip.

After working at the Pepe until about 4pm, Berline ended up selling half her initial inventory, 25 items!   Praise God! This was such an exciting moment because she had high margins around 75% and ended up with a profit of around $40 US dollars for one day. WOW. She inspires me so much. She was willing to have an open mind to all the new ideas that we were throwing out and she ends up being a boss in the marketplace! This was such an inspiration to the other entrepreneurs and showed them that thinking differently could pay off. As inspired as I was, I also had a deep feeling of fear because I didn’t want to give her a false sense of hope. This could have been so successful because she was entering the marketplace for the very first day. However, she has the business attitude and mindset to make this last for years to come. She stands firm by believing in what she charges and doesn’t let others take advantage or manipulate her. Berline might be quiet but shouldn’t be underestimated. She is an amazing business woman with a great spirit of entrepreneurship.

nwhcmAfter the business day had ended, we all piled in the back of trucks to head to the Northwest Haiti Christian Mission. It was an eye opening experience to see more of the country side and even being surrounded by a group of people with machetes. When we arrived at the mission, I was not even close to being emotionally prepared. I knew that the work of Larry and Diana was incredible and I was excited to see how they’ve changed this little town, but seemed emotionally drained to be up close and personal to more suffering. This was a heart breaking part of the entire week for me, when I thought I would find hope. No doubt, the mission is doing great work and helping many people, but my empathetic heart was overtaken by all that we saw. One of the hardest experiences for me was entering the maternity ward. A woman had just had a miscarriage and the dead child was in a box on the floor. Heartbreaking is an understatement. Visiting the elderly people was actually a fun experience as they were so incredibly joyful and happy to see some young faces. In a place that I thought could be hopeful, I found more condensed pain. Don’t get me wrong, the mission is a place that is hopeful. Without this place, these Haitians would not have the quality of life that they do. However, it was still difficult to witness these varying areas of suffering

After dining on some moldy cheese sandwiches and facing a few voodoo mobs, we returned to Jerry’s Hotel to experience God’s beauty shining through the most incredible sunset we had seen on the entire trip. We all sat on the edge of the wall, taking in every second of the sunset and were just in pure awe. I was in awe of God’s unending beauty through this land and these people. I was in awe of this incredible group of people I have had the privilege to work with over the past week. I was in awe of how God was working through each of us to enable our heroes to engage the marketplace. I was in awe that I was in Haiti. I was in awe that the same God I have known all of my life is the same God that I feel so much closer to. For the first time I feel like I can fully trust Him to use me in ways that I could never imagine. I am learning that the complexity of my faith is what makes it stronger. This week certainly has been challenging, but that is what has made it so incredible. There is so much for us to learn and I do feel inadequate but I know that our physical presence brings a sense of hope to the people in Haiti. I am having difficulties expressing the emotions that I am feeling but there sure are a lot of them. Haiti has taken a piece of my heart that is going to be tough to get back.

– Heather

A Redeeming Day

This was a very redeeming day for our group. The previous day brought much confusion and emotional conflicts. We woke up eager for refreshing experience.We started by meeting our entrepreneurs as usual. The pepe businesses experienced a slow start due to hesitation in adopting our new clothing model. One entrepreneur in particular, who had previous experience with a pepe business, was being very obstinate in her view that no other way would work. This was a frustrating experience because it led to hesitation on the part of the other pepe entrepreneurs. We really wanted her to be on board with our idea and get her to understand that we had constructed a system that was going to help her. It was heart breaking to hear that she had lost her previous pepe business that she had owned with her husband once he died. This was not even the extent to the tragedy that she had experienced in her life. Recently, one of her sons had purposefully electrocuted himself by touching a live wire. We were overjoyed when we finally convinced her to join our venture so that she could improve her life by making an income in order to support herself and her remaining children. She then signed her contract and everything was ready to go. The entrepreneurs then went through the clothing that we had set up for them. They chose which items at which price they thought would bring in a profit. This was a slow yet eventful process that ended up taking the whole day. Although the slowness was frustrating, we were glad that we were at least moving in the right direction. We were thankful that they purchased their items and we were excited for setting up the businesses the next day. Food services got off to a slow start as well. We were unable to purchase food since the stands had not yet been built. The day consisted of sorting out logistics and having fruitful conversations with the entrepreneurs. Although looking back the business side of things seemed to be “unproductive”, the day was still very fulfilling and life giving. We seemed to be moving in the right direction and developing closer bonds with our Haitian business partners every step of the way. We are hopeful to launch our business by tomorrow.

charcoal

One of today’s highlights was Jaclyn’s—one of the entrepreneurs—success. Despite the daily challenges she faces, Jaclyn is one of the most hardworking, joyous, and loving people you will ever meet. For years, her husband’s job was to carry people across the river on his back; however the job has taken its toll on his bare feet and ankles, leaving him with limited mobility and inability to work. In addition, several years ago one of her four sons drowned in the same river. She was left with three boys and a daughter who has some form of a mental disability. Each day, Jaclyn fights to overcome the inertia of poverty by washing clothes in the river. She brings in about 60 cents each day or a dime a day for each family member. It was refreshing to see people who are so financially poor to have such great joy for the Lord.

Chandler and Jaclyn (the entrepreneur) started the day off by collecting agricultural waste from a local banana farm. After collecting a truck-full of agricultural waste and fighting off hundreds of ants on their legs, Chandler and Jaclyn headed back to Jaclyn’s family home—a small hut on the outskirts of town. It was a major learning process for both Jaclyn and Chandler, but at the end of the day they were able to successfully produce the first batch of charcoal from the agricultural waste. Jaclyn, who had been slightly skeptical of the process, was thrilled to see that it worked. The success of the first batch was a spark of hope that transformed her unconvinced demeanor into abounding joy and excitement for the future. If her and her boys want, they have the potential to exponentially increase their daily income—taking a huge burden off of Jaclyn and her family.

Beyond the physical success of making charcoal there was an even greater success: the mutual restoration of hope. For Jaclyn (someone who is spiritually rich) it was financial hope. For Chandler (someone who is financially rich, simply because he’s from America) it was spiritual hope.

jacqueline

After a full, slightly confusing but very rich day of work, Larry led us on an adventure to the “Voodoo Tree”. We were all a bit exhausted as we had been standing in the hot sun for the majority of the day, however as soon as we walked through the small village that led to the tree our mindsets completely shifted. This village was an eye opening experience as there were many little children who were obviously malnourished as their bloated stomachs and orange hair attested to. The severity of poverty and hunger became very real and overwhelming. Despite their physical ailments, the people of this village were filled with joy. The children were excited to see us and sang to us with smiles on their faces as Larry danced beside them. It was so cool to see Larry in his element with these children, his childlike joy and faith was such a refreshing experience. In this same village, we saw Nelta, Avery’s business parter, in action on her first day of business selling charcoal. Seeing a business up and running was very encouraging to the others who were experiencing a slow start. We eventually made it to the “Voodoo tree” and were fascinated by the stories that Larry told us as we stood gazing up at the massive trunk. It was a powerful moment to be at peace amongst each other in a place where Satan is very present. The Lord really showed up and the experience we had was one that we will never forget.larry

We ended the night by having Haitian spaghetti (noodles, hot dogs, and ketchup as the sauce) which we were extremely grateful for at Larry and Diana’s. It was fun to spend time with the group after a long a day. We are all excited and eager to what the Lord has planned for tomorrow.

– Mandy, Becky, and Chandler