Ermelia’s kerosene stand launched yesterday! Today Rick, my translator, and I walked the mile or so from the church to where her stand is set up in a small market by the airport to check on her. When we showed up, her daughter was out at the stand, so we went to her house. We helped her carry some kerosene and other things out to her stand and then got to see her in action. She was so happy to see us and so proud of her stand. Soon a lot of people gathered around the stand to see why there were “blancs” here at this kerosene stand. They talked back and forth in Creole for a while and all laughed. I had no idea what they were saying, but it was obvious that they were talking about me because of the way that Ermelia looked at me and was hugging me.
The past few days I haven’t really known what Ermelia has thought about me. She has been pretty independent and not too excited or interested in much of the business advice that I have been giving her. It has been easy to feel like she doesn’t want me around, and honestly I have been a little discouraged. Today after her friends laughed about me we asked the translator what she was saying. In explaining who I was to all of her friends she told them that I am her godmother. They couldn’t stop laughing at the idea of a 21-year-old blonde girl being the godmother of a 60-something Haitian kerosene vendor. The translator explained a little about why she called me her godmother. Even if she doesn’t listen to any of my business advice or “accomplish” anything, it mattered to her that I showed up. Even though I don’t speak Creole and have a hard time communicating what I want to say even with the translator, I was able to be with her as she launched her business. I got to see her daily life and go shopping with her in the market. A kerosene stand may not be the most lucrative business, but the joy that it brings her to be able to work and provide for herself is incredible.
Today was a big day for Jeff Jean, for it was his second day working his smoothie stand.
Last night he made $430 Haitian dollars, which is roughly $33 US dollars. This blew me away because it was not only his first night with the stand, but he also set up very late last night after church, after 7pm. If he continues at this rate, he will be able to pay off his loan quicker than expected. The days prior to his launch, we gathered supplies and searched for the best prices. I left him yesterday, praying that he had gained the knowledge and the ideas to set up his booth effectively since I wasn’t able be there for the initial launch. When I talked to him this morning, he claimed that it was successful.
Today I helped Jeff figure out his budget, and had the privilege of seeing him in action, validating his success the prior night. This morning, right when Jeff showed up, his eyes were brighter and his smile wider than I’ve seen yet. It was amazing talking with him and seeing the excitement in his eyes. We parted ways around 1pm, and planned to have him set up his stand after he was finished with church. Later that night around 8:45pm, Professor Ifland, Cole, Eva, Kristen and I went to visit his business.
We left our compound as it was starting to rain again. The night was dark and I was just hoping that Jeff was still out serving smoothies. He could have easily taken the night off since not many people were out because of the rain. We hopped on some taxis and headed over. Riding in the dark and the rain in the mud was a blast! As we got closer to Jeff’s smoothie stand, I could see the rechargeable lights illuminating Jeff’s stand, and the two blenders underneath the roof drawing many customers. We walked up to a huge crowd and I instantly felt so happy for Jeff. He looked completely in his element, and it seemed as if he had been working the stand for years because it was running so smoothly. He had one friend with a money purse, one friend grabbing ingredients, and he was serving and making the smoothies. The smoothies had a native fruit called breadfruit as well as banana, cheese, condensed milk, and other items. I was surprised about how tasty it was. I spent some time taking pictures and affirming Jeff on his incredible success, and then we rode the taxis back. Today was one of the best days on this trip hands down. I cherished seeing Jeff’s idea, and his business come to life J.
Well, I can officially say I was pretty terrified when I woke up this morning. Today was the day that I officially met my entrepreneur, and I was honestly very worried that it would be difficult to connect with him. Since we were launching similar businesses, Trae and I shared a translator. When everyone arrived, the five of us grabbed a table and quickly sprung into conversation. We learned a little bit about their faith, family life, why they wanted to be in the taxi business, what their dreams are, and much more. We tried to go into detail with them on certain financials when Trae’s entrepreneur spoke up. “Business is Business”, he told us. This man knew no English but threw this phrase at us out of nowhere and we got a kick out of it. Both of these guys were so awesome and we had a great time with them. They were ready to work, stoked on their faith, and were an overall joy to be around. After going over a few more things, we went our separate ways to prepare for the celebration dinner that night.
The celebration dinner was such a cool experience. All the entrepreneurs came looking snazzy in their fancy outfits and many brought family with them to watch them “graduate” from the Westmont entrepreneurial program. Getting to meet their families was so special because we got to see what is motivating them to come start their own business and better their lives. Many of them just want to be able to make their families proud and provide for them, so when the entrepreneurs were presented with their graduation certificates everybody was overjoyed. Seriously, if you want to experience God then just come here and see a Haitian man or woman smile.
I just have one more little story to tell, and if you know me, you’ll know that this is a classic Conner moment. After dinner we all decided to go on a walk before sundown, but there’s only really one road we can take to reach the main road. Unfortunately, due to torrential rains earlier in the day, the street was completely covered in mud. Thinking I could make it through with no problem, I went ahead of the pack. I jumped onto a rock, slipped, and sunk my feet deep in the mud. An entire street of people, including my fellow Westmont students, all joined together in an uproarious laughter as I stood there about ankle deep in mud. So I now have a new most embarrassing moment! Thanks Haiti.
It’s yo boi Cole back again for another daily vlog. Make sure to smash that like button and press subscribe. Meme of the day is #haitifullsend
Today was the day that we had anticipated. Almost three months of preparation for this moment. I desperately hoped that I would build some kind of relationship with my entrepreneur, Fenel. He was one of the first people to come into the room, and I was met with a nervous smile. Over the course of the next three hours, I attempted to form a bond with Fenel through our translator. After asking a few basic questions about his past, we jumped straight to business. It was really cool figuring out how business operated in Haiti, and how to successfully launch a new business. I asked questions that could assess how far along Fenel was in the planning process for his drink stand. He was fairly far long compared to other entrepreneurs, and was ready to launch his business.
I asked Fenel what he wanted to name his stand, and he quickly responded with, “God Bless Westmont Shop.” I was taken aback by his response, and I asked if this was really what he wanted plastered all over his drink stand. He started to explain that he grew up with one brother, and in 2010 his brother saved up and left Haiti for the US. Fenel explained that he has contacted his brother many times and asked for help financially, and not once has his brother responded to his pleas. Fenel then said that Westmont, a program that barely knows him, is willing to give him a loan and help him start a business. He was very touched by what Westmont offered him, so he named his shop appropriately.
It is moments like these that really affirm the work that we are doing here in Haiti. I hope to have more of the moments throughout the week, and grow closer to Fenel and God in the process.
What a day of rejoicing in the LORD! We got to take part in two church services today and it was such a blessing to enjoy. Haitians love to sing! I was encouraged by how many people came up to the front of the church to share a special song. They sing boldly and joyfully, delighting themselves in LORD. One very special moment was during the evening worship gathering when the band started playing a very upbeat song. The congregation began swaying their hips and waving their arms, which turned into jumping and twisting, and before I knew it the whole front area of the church was filled with people dancing for joy! I had the sweet privilege of having a precious little girl as my dancing partner. We shimmied and hopped, grinning enthusiastically. As this all took place, I had the wonderful thought that this moment was a small glimpse of what the Kingdom of God will be like; the body of Christ dancing with unhindered excitement in the uncovered presence of our Good Father.
Another incredible memory-making moment was swimming in the BEAUTIFULLY blue ocean right off the coast. After quite a few price negotiations¾shout out to Trae for staying strong and sealing a deal¾some strong Haitians paddled us out into the ocean and let us dive into the water. Floating in the warm, clear water, being surrounded by incredible people, and getting to gaze along the beach was blissful. God has certainly created a gorgeous world!
God has not forgotten His people in Haiti. Looking around the church today, I got to admire the unique beauty He has created each of His children with. I’m so grateful for the opportunities I had today to meet some of His beloved, and I’m looking forward to getting to know more people here as the week ensues.
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.