Friday morning we woke up, prayed for the long day ahead of us, and set out to complete our last day of working with the six businesses. This morning was exciting and a little sad. Seeing the businesses begin to take their places in Port De Paix’s market while having to say goodbye to our entrepreneurs was bittersweet. Two highlights of mine were asking Sulfise, the entrepreneur Julia and I worked with to tell a joke again (We were not sure if we missed something the first time she told it), and seeing her sell someone milk as we walked away from her stand. Getting to see the other businesses flourish was an amazing experience as well. Being with Sulfise the whole week and knowing the effort she put in to getting her shop set up made watching the other entrepreneurs thrive all the more meaningful. Celavy’s charging station was incredibly organized and was a hub for countless children to come play with us before it started to rain. We hiked up the hill back to the church soaked and with what seemed like an army of kids and their smiling faces. The last thing we did before leaving the downtown area was eat plantains from Lucenia’s fried food stand: arguably the tastiest thing I ate all week.
This morning we went to see our entrepreneurs for the last time. Right when we got there, Edna our entrepreneur, had her food stand all set up with a nice shelter and some fresh produce. Kami and I were so impressed and proud of the way she had taken full advantage of her loan and the opportunity she has been provided. After praying with her and saying goodbye, we went and visited other entrepreneurs and played with kids. When we caught our last moped to head back to the hotel, I felt sad as I realized how much I looked forward to going home to a life of comfort when the people I met in Port de Paix don’t have that same luxury. Living in Port de Paix would be hard. I don’t think I could do it. It will still be hard work for these entrepreneurs despite the hand up they’ve been given. Leaving Edna today though, I felt confident that she would be successful.
After we left our entrepreneurs, we waited around getting ready for what we hoped would be an uneventful bus ride across Haiti in the middle of the night. That’s what we thought it would be. We waited for the bus to show up…and we waited…and waited. Pretty soon it was 12:30 a.m., over three hours past when the bus was supposed to get us. We finally got on the bus, annoyed with the three-hour delay and the bus driver’s excuse of having to bribe a police officer and change two tires before he came to get us. I made my way to the back of the bus, the only open seat, when we finally started moving. Kyla and I turned to each other and started laughing when we realized how ridiculously bumpy the next 8 hours were going to be. About 10 minutes into the drive we stopped. We didn’t move again for another hour as our bus driver attempted to bribe a police officer to let us pass. Our money bribes weren’t working, as the policeman wanted to ride with us to Port de Prince. At this point we thought there’d be no way we could make our flight on time. It was 2 a.m. and we had to catch a flight at 8 a.m. Finally, miraculously, we made it out of Port de Paix. At this point I was pretty confident that there would be no way we could make our flight. The drive normally takes 8 hours and our flight left in 6. Throughout the drive I couldn’t sleep, and just focused on not getting sick. Our driver was speeding through the uneven, pothole filled roads in order to make up time. Despite all the drama, we somehow made our flight. Praise God! We were the last ones on the flight, but all of us were just relieved to be headed home.
Today, if you can believe it, might have been the most tiring day yet. I’m sure things will only get crazier from here. Yesterday our entrepreneur signed the contract for his loan. It was about as much to him as four years of student loans is to a Westmont student like me. But let me rewind a little.
We started our day off at 8 am, just like every day. Getting up early is one of my most difficult challenges and so this morning I had to muster up every ounce of energy I had because I knew today was going to be a big day. After a little bible study in the dining area of Jerry’s Hotel, which is right one the Caribbean, we met up with our entrepreneurs and the translators at the church office around 9. To travel, we all take mopeds across town. Some of my favorite memories have been our rides through town while the locals point and call us “blanc”. We would wave to the little kids running around along the side of the road and when we drove past and waved, we would get huge smiles.
Luckily, Celavy was the first the first entrepreneur to sign his loan and Maddie got a bunch of pictures of him. After signing the loan, Maddie, Natalie, Ulrich our translator, Celavy and I went to the market to purchase the materials he would need. Right before we left, Celavy mentioned that he only was going to buy 2 or 3 items today and do the rest later. We were a little confused why we wouldn’t buy it all today. So we asked if we could go and make a checklist and something clicked for him after we asked about each material, that he could purchase everything today.
It was really cool, while we were in the marketplace, Natalie saw one of the ladies from our hotel and we were able to chat with her for a bit. She spoke a little English but perfect French. I loved being able to chat with her because everyone in California takes Spanish and it’s extremely useful in Mexico but not so much in Haiti. I felt proud to speak French and converse with her for a bit and I also felt proud of Celavy for purchasing all his materials. We went with him to each vendor but stood to the side as to not increase the prices. Some items were more expensive than he had previously stated and some items were less. We also had to purchase other materials that were not specified on his loan like a lock and a piece of wood to fix the floor of his shop. At the end of all our purchases, we added up the total to find out that we used up exactly the amount of the loan, which was crazy because Maddie and I were worried about having enough money.
After taking everything back to his house, we parted ways with Celavy and thanked him for the fun and productive day. The rest of the group met up to walk to a voodoo tree a little bit into the woods. As we walked, the group collected a gathering of little children. Even though we were exhausted, hot and extremely sweaty, the kids didn’t care and held our hands anyway. We walked into the woods and saw one of the biggest trees in the forest. Many of the kids didn’t want to come any closer to the tree than the road but some kids did and I think that because of the kids and our presence with them, I didn’t feel any heaviness from the area.
Back at Jerry’s Hotel, a local kid named Benji asked us to play some basketball. Although I don’t know anything about basketball, I tagged along with Jack, Cody and vacation Rick so that I could get some good pictures. It ended up being a 30-minute walk to these basketball courts. The coolest part was the local boys leading us through different marshes and switchbacks going to and from the courts.
At the end of the day, I felt a lot of emotions as I always do. I felt privileged to be well taken care of by not only Celavy and our translator but by the local boys and people who barely knew me but loved me so well. I was extremely proud of Celavy and his dedication to his business and God. He was very inspirational and said beautiful things about us coming together as brothers and sisters in Christ. Celavy has truly touched my heart in so many ways and I will never forget his persistence, kindness and gentle spirit. By the end of the day I felt so lucky to be given the opportunity to partner with someone and give them a little bit more hope in life.
– Kyla, aka ‘super blanc’
Cell Phones in Haiti?
It has been such a joy getting to know our entrepreneur, Celavy. He said that he has had the idea for the cell phone charging business for a long time, and he is so happy that he now has the opportunity to start his business. He has proved to be ambitious and hard working, but his honesty and willingness to learn has been extremely helpful in partnering with him. Starting a business in a different country and culture comes with a lot of confusion and miscommunication, so it has been a goal of mine to seek to understand the business in context of the way Haiti does things, rather than my own understanding of the way things should work.
It was very confusing to me why so many Haitians have cell phones when they lack so many other basic human needs, so today, I pulled Celavy and the translator aside and began to get to the bottom of this. I was playing devils advocate and seeking to understand Haitian culture and needs. I pried trying to discover why Haitians living without running water or electricity needed cell phones. After all, this is the market for Celavy’s business. Many Haitians have cell phones, but no power, so they have to pay a vendor to charge their phones every day. It seems silly. It seems foolish. It seems obvious to me that people who are only eating one meal a day should not spend their money on cell phones and minutes. At first when I asked Celavy why Haitians in what condition buy cell phones he laughed. His answer was basic and not enough for me, “so we can text and call our friends and family”. This was not the answer that I was looking for, so I asked again and demanded a more honest answer. He began to explain “its like this right now, I am with you, so I am happy and distracted, so I do not remember that I am hungry and have not eaten today…”
This answer was painful to hear, but as I chewed on it for the rest of the day I realized this was not a unique trait of Haitian culture. Neglecting our needs and distracting ourselves with our phones, friendships etc happens just as much in America. My initial judgment of their needs and my own idea of how Haitians should manage their money was not beneficial to my understanding of them while discovering the heart behind the need for Celavy’s business changed the way I could encourage him.
We visited the Northwest Haiti Christian Mission today and needless to say it was a blessing to each of us, even though it became a rather emotional time. We began by piling all 15 of us into the back of a pickup truck (we apologize to our mothers for not wearing seatbelts, unfortunately they were unavailable!) and endured a bumpy ride down a mostly dirt road up to the town of St. Louis du Nord. We played two truths and a lie and enjoyed being squished like sardines baking in the Haitian sun.
They pulled the gates open for us and we came into the mission that Larry and Diana built, which their children now run. The mission holds orphaned children, special needs children, a section for the elderly, a birthing center, prayer chapel, and a Bible college. People at all stages of life and in vulnerable situations surrounded us, but what made this place different was the hope that was almost tangible in the air. Diana led us around, telling stories from the past and the process it took for them to build this establishment over the last 30+ years.
It was inspiring to see the special needs children, whose lives were transformed simply because of specified care and consistent nutrition. The old people lit up with joy when we came down to visit. They sang songs, kissed our cheeks, and exuded grace towards each of us, even though some of them were in severe pain. As I looked up and saw Rick dancing with one of the elder women, I couldn’t help but feel extreme joy and thankfulness for this program. He did not have to take this much time and effort to create this class that each of us get to step into for a semester, while he carries on for years and continues to spend his time in Haiti. Being part of this class has shown me more than any other part of Westmont how to take an education and use it to glorify God and share the Gospel.
After seeing the elderly, we headed up to the orphanage section where many of the young girls assembled and began to sing the most beautiful praise music. Complete with harmonies, their worship led some of us to tears, not of sadness, but full of joy. And then we saw the birthing center beneath the orphanage, of which they estimated over 10,000 babies had been delivered there.
All we did was see children, say hi to the elderly, and listen to singing. But the time we spent at the mission was emotional for all of us, leading some to uncontrollable tears. The depths of despair contrasted with the pure and quintessential beauty of worship, evoked feelings that only the Spirit of God can create. We spent time with the vulnerable, and through it we saw compassion from the Lord, how Jesus changes everything, and that He is the only one worth praising with our total and complete effort. To see God’s continued faithfulness was truly rewarding, and definitely a highlight of the week.
Tuesday began with devotions bright and early to start the day off right! As a group, we discussed what it means to see God as our day goes on. We prepared our hearts and minds to be more aware of how God is working throughout our day. It was clear to me that I needed to have a different perspective going into this day and I was excited to see what God had to show me.
MONDAY – WORKING WITH ENTREPRENURS
Our day began at 8 AM—already sunny and hot. We met for a morning devotional, preparing our minds and hearts for the full day ahead. One by one, the entrepreneurs and translators arrived at our hotel. Irlaine, my entrepreneur, greeted Emily and I with a wide smile and a kiss. She was humble and shy-natured, but I could sense her joyful spirit instantly. Conversation was awkward at first—the language barrier made it disjunct and slow. But as Emily and I asked question after question, she began to warm up to us. With each answer, my respect and amazement for Irlaine grew. She spends her days selling goods around town to provide for her seven children (SEVEN!!). Her husband does not come around the house often, so the responsibility of feeding seven mouths is hers to bear alone. After about an hour and a half, she kissed us goodbye and left. That morning, the fear that I wouldn’t be able to connect with her weighed heavy on my heart. While I still sensed a little bit of distance, my fears were dissolved by her kindness.
SUNDAY – CHURCH
The day started off with the most exciting ride to church of my life. A swarm of mopeds lined up outside of our hotel, and one by one we headed off in our “taxis”. As my driver and I zoomed through the busy city’s unpaved roads, I clenched the edge of my moped as to not fall off while dodging traffic. When we arrived at church, I entered the building as lovely tropical worship music with powerful vocals wafted out its doors. I didn’t have my coffee this morning, but it was impossible to fall asleep due to the energy in the room. Our Westmont group could not help but sway along to the music and children swarmed around us to sit on our laps and give us hugs. The adorable children kept us entertained during the forty-minute sermon that followed.