Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Back to America!

"Welcome to the United States"

A bittersweet, sentimental statement as Team Haiti returned home. Excited to return to our beds, reuniting with our friends, and sharing our stories, we prepared ourselves for our layover at JFK. Finally, around 2 a.m., we returned home to Gannon, and the journey to re-immerse ourselves into our American culture with the invaluable lessons we learned in Haiti.

After a week of experiencing love, wisdom, and community our lives changed in what I thought would be a typical "service trip" but this immersion trip revealed more wisdom and gave fruit to powerful experiences has made a lasting impacting on each of our individual lifestyles.

Beyond what we learned about Haiti's culture and the love of the people present there, we learned and experienced the undeniable power of the individual, despite horrific circumstances. The history of Haiti seemed like story after story of a country taken advantage of and exploited, but the resounding characteristic of all these stories and their entire history was their perseverance. Continually, throughout the trip, we heard the same statement by Haitians in the city all the way through the mountains: "Haitians are strong. That is why we do not give up, because we are strong."

Throughout our experience, we focused upon the issues of poverty, exploration of human integral development, and, eventually, explored the possibilities we as individuals must do in our part in a solution against poverty. Immersing ourselves in Fond Tortue, hiking the mountains of Haiti, and even our long, long car rides contributed to our understanding of poverty and how to battle the fight.

Constantly reflecting on this experience for a few days, I'm still at loss of words for our trip and experiences. Our trip has inspired us to move into action mode, to make a change for our lives, our campus, and our worlds. Whether it was playing soccer with the Fond Tortue community, hiking up the mountains with the children of the village being our tour guides, or Kim sharing her wisdom and life experiences; every part of the trip brought its own, unique growing revelation.

A lesson that can definitively be said about our experience is that the issues surrounding Haiti and poverty, or even just Fond Tortue cannot be solved in a week during spring break. Instead, our experience led us to the realization the real help and impact we can make for Haiti is how we choose to live our lives here in America. The unspeakable bond created between our group must be salvaged and expanded upon so others can also share in the intimacy and solidarity through our experiences and choices. Part of the help comes from sharing, but a strong part of this trip is carrying this experience to lead us to be more aware of our decisions and fight against injustice.

As we are returning to our daily lives, stressing over exams, and being college students our team has dedicated ourselves to add in the fight against poverty as well. We aim to make change on Gannon's campus by supporting Just Haiti and their endeavors, while expanding Just Haiti's mission to our own on campus and in our individual lives. Team Haiti looks forward to working together as a group and sharing our individual experiences, stay in touch and there will be more to come!

Thank you for your thoughts, prayers, and support,
Kishan

Friday, March 3, 2017

The Grand Finale

Our last full day in Haiti from Kendra....

Hey friends! Our morning started off with a full breakfast and an even greater discussion. We had the opportunity to read Kim Lamberty's article called The Art of Accompaniment. This article was really special because it took our experience this week to the next level from discussions to published work. We discussed a lot of how aid organizations really impact those struggling with extreme poverty by providing alternatives for them to grow themselves into a better situation.

It was really great having Kim be present to go over her article with us. She helped us go deeper into how these relationships really lead to long term results with the poor. On top of that, relating her work in Just Haiti provided another experience. For those of you reading, I really recommend reading this article. It just may change your life!

After the discussion, team Haiti once again piled into our beloved van going off to the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) here in Port-au-Prince. There, we learned a lot about the incredible work that CRS is doing here in Haiti. From education to health care, CRS plays a major role in supporting Haiti. After asking a plethora of solid questions we once again piled into our beloved white van.

After the CRS presentation, we moved on to the national Haitian museum. There we had the opportunity to see the anchor from Christopher Columbus's Santa Maria.... Crazy right? This stop was particularly special because we were able to experience the epic story of the Haitian people. A band of slaves that rose up to overthrow the French army of 40,000 people; that was the birth of Haiti. The anchor was special, but what was more worthwhile was seeing the strength of Haitians throughout the week correlate in its presence in their history

On top of the rich history lesson, the museum also offered an amazing restaurant. It was a bittersweet moment being at the fancy, westernized restaurant but we were also enjoying our conversations and leading into a momentum of discussions of what now.

From there it was off to the Fair Trade Cooperative. This special store is run by an amazing woman who meets individually with each artisan to make sure that she is buying their goods at a price that is able for them to live off of. On top of ensuring fair payment for the hard work that the artisans put into the products the cooperative also ensures that they are making products that will sell. Over all, this business model is a great way to empower local artists and is one that I am happy to put my money and support behind.

This theme of empowerment is extremely important to our work this week in Haiti. It is one thing to offer handouts to the poor but in the long run that isn't sustainable. The current approach to Haiti which is giving substantial amounts of aid from donating clothing to putting up telephone poles to even emergency relief programs are just putting a band aid on a much larger issue: Poverty. It is an epidemic that can only be treated by providing options for the poor. The people of Haiti are rich with resources. They are overflowing with assets from land to human capital. The people want to work and know how to help themselves but do not have the connections to do so. The communities, like all communities, possess leaders who need empowerment to help themselves.

The aid agencies are in a better position than the government to meet the needs of the people, mostly due to money. These vulnerable people do not need our charity but rather they need us to listen. The Haitian people know what Haiti needs but due to their situations they are not in the place to help themselves.

These words come from a place of experience. I, too, have been guilty of sending money to philanthropies that I am not sure how much money is trickling to the people at the bottom.

I'm no expert, but what I can say is share what I have seen. I have seen the American flag on the shirt of a poor farmer. I have learned first hand the complicated process of growing coffee beans. I have spent time with the children of these communities. I have experienced their hospitality, received their generosity, but most of all I have felt their love. A love that persists through all. I have seen the resilience and strength of an entire population.

These people, these friends, deserve better and it starts with us. So now I invite you my friends, to ask us. Ask us about this wonderful, beautiful, life changing experience so that together we can make a better future for Haiti. Also, check out Just Haiti, because they are an organization that is actually doing something worth supporting.

Lasts and Firsts

Hello from Team Haiti, Kishan here! An early morning consisted of cleaning and rushes of emotions for everyone on the trip. It was a day we feared, leaving our relationships with the community of Fond Tortue. After cleaning the house Françios generously loaned us for the past several days, we were delighted to have spaghetti for breakfast - I don't think we can go back from that for breakfast, ever. It was truly delicious! After a few hard goodbyes to Françios family, we started our journey to the first- ever Federation meeting. This meeting consisted of all the different Haitian coffee grower associations that partner with Just Haiti on their underlying mission of sustainability. However, before we reached our destination we once again witnessed the familial love and community displayed by Haitians. In the midst of our car being stuck, we attempted to manage our way out of the predicament by lead of our a driver. The power of giving and love overwhelmed us, it was a truly powerful experience. But, before we knew it a crowd of Haitians appeared, that we had never met, with tools and (literally) helped dig ourselves out of trouble. The car ride continued, it took about 5 hours to reach the Federation meeting which was held at a Church facility. Finally, after reaching on the bumpy ride we rushed to the bathroom before the meeting started. At the meeting, there were 6 Just Haiti partner representatives and Kim and Joann representing Just Haiti. Personally, the meeting filled my mind with ideas even through the heat of the day. Hearing the passion and joy all the members expressed for Françios' hard work, the collaboration of different association leaders, and the ideals and goals of Just Haiti developing before our eyes was truly a special moment to me and the team. A major advancement was the legal recognition of Just Haiti to make the shipment of coffee an easier task so a heavier load can be shipped and it wouldn't all have to be under the pressure of Françios' name. After approximately 2 hours of the federation meeting and discussing their plans as an organization and plans for development, it was time to eat! We walked across the street and ate at a restaurant together as Team Haiti and the federation in a delicious meal, some of us had the classic (but amazing) rice and beans and others had chicken. After dinner, the lasts of the trip continued. We piled into our indestructible van once again for our last long car ride. Personally, the long, treacherous car rides were priceless experiences themselves. The rides featured solidarity, intimacy, and love amongst ourselves and within conversations. From Becky asking if we needed snacks, my horrible jokes, to intimate conversations of our experiences immersing ourselves into this culture, we developed special bonds to empower each other and our individual ideation and personalities. In reflection, our day consisted of the development that the ABST program, Just Haiti, and our personal purposes so expect. It was a day of learning and noticing. Noticing the love, noticing the solidarity, noticing the people of Haiti as a population of potential and idealistic values that we desperately need to integrate into our lives. The culmination of our trip is at our fingertips, the love of Haiti is instilled in us, and the best part is what we are receiving on this trip has blossomed into something we will take and empower beyond our days in Haiti. We look forward to a day at CRS and Port au Prince, see you all soon! Love and prayers for all, Team Haiti

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

In Haiti, there's always another mountain behind the mountain.

Bonjou! It's co-leader Maddie! What a beautiful and powerful day in Fond Tortue it has been for Team Haiti. Our day started with a Haitian delicacy for breakfast - pumpkin soup! It was a delicious and wonderful way to start our final full day in Fond Tortue. After eating breakfast, we headed to the community church to celebrate mass for Ash Wednesday. We arrived after a short fifteen minute walk through the town. As a whole, Team Haiti found Mass to be a humbling and awe-inspiring experience. The congregation felt like home to the group, even those who aren't Catholic. The young priest and the congregation were very welcoming to us. For the members of Team Haiti who are Catholic, Mass was a time where the true meaning of Universal Church came to light. After Mass the group decided to go on a hike through the Haitian mountains. Originally, the plan was to a hike a mountain that we had already been up, but that changed when the kids in the village wanted to take us up a different mountain. We agreed and our adventurous mid-day activity began! For some (mainly me) the hike was challenging and honestly extremely sweaty. But the different views of the village and the group bonding made it all worth it! After arriving back from the long and adventurous hike we all enjoyed a yummy lunch! Following lunch we had a little time to rest before François took us on a tour through the village to show us the devastation of Hurricane Matthew and explain the process that the coffee goes through from plant all the way to bean! Seeing the devastation from the Hurricane throughout the village left the group feeling somber and upset that the houses couldn't be immediately fixed. François also showed us the process that the coffee growers go through to prepare the coffee bean for Just Haiti coffee. For the group it was a experience that showed them just how much labor and intention goes into preparing the coffee bean for consumption. Well, friends and family, it's been an insightful and impactful few days in Fond Tortue and we are very sad to be leaving tomorrow. But, we are also looking forward to experience Port-au-Prince and all that the rest of this week has in store for us! Thanks for reading the blog and we'll be home soon...but not too soon. :) Peace and Prayers! Maddie

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The General Assembly

Day 3: Hello everyone, this is Arron!

So, it's day 3 in Haiti, and so far we've been immersed in many different parts of this country's culture and community. Today was another day full of new interesting experiences. After breakfast this morning, we had a huge meeting with leaders of KDB and some of the community where the leaders were from at the church that was just down the road.

On the way there, we encountered a group of kids playing instruments and singing with one child in the middle with a costume. All the kids were dancing to the music. The reason for this was that we came Haiti during the season of Carnival. It was one of the more exciting things that I've seen the youth in the community partake in. But the meeting we had at the church was more amazing to be apart of! There were so many people at the meeting, which, according to Kim, hasn't been that way in the past because lots of the people live very far away. In this meeting the leaders and communities discuss their commitment to the plan they've made and also share their appreciation to Just Haiti and their partners for helping get them to the place they are now. The main concern of the association right now is replanting to recover from Hurricane Matthew. Members of KBD were concerned about the origins of these seeds, but Just Haiti plans to buy seedlings that are from Haiti, despite the fact that seed prices here are higher than in the United States. This commitment to the Haitian community reaffirms Just Haiti's commitment to accompaniment and sustainability.

After the meeting was over, we had lunch, which since we've been here has been absolutely delicious! Once all of us had our fill, we individually hiked up the mountain with some of the children. For some of us it was for the view of the town and the mountains, and for others it was training for a marathon! When we all made it to the top, it was actually a beautiful moment of solidarity as it was a struggle for all of us to get there but we all got to enjoy the beauty of Fond Tortue from an overview perspective.

It was again another eye-opening day in Haiti, and we look forward to another one tomorrow!

Bon Nwit!






Monday, February 27, 2017

Day 3

Today was a really significant day for Team Haiti. Not only did we immerse ourselves even more into the community, we finally got to meet a few of our community partners and have our first real look into the hard work and dedication it takes to keep KDB (Kafé Developmen Baraderes) up and running.

As usual our day began bright and early with a simple breakfast of eggs, coffee, and Haitian bread. Afterward we were able to help clean the dishes. This was a great opportunity to create connections between the group and the community. We all needed to work together to wash, rinse, and dry our plates and utensils. Afterward we were greeted very enthusiastically by the kids who again wanted to talk and play with us, regardless of the language barrier. This kind of openness to communicate and interact is apparent in all the Haitian people we've encountered.

As we played with the kids, our community partners as well as Joann, an agronomist partnered with Just Haiti arrived in Fond Tortue and greeted us warmly, despite our broken Creole. As the last of our partners arrived we made a small trek to a grove of sorts where we were able to sit and participate in the business meeting between Just Haiti and KDB.

Right off of the bat we were struck by the strong presence of the growers and the equal share of power present in all their interactions with one another. As stories were shared of life post Hurricane Matthew with the destruction of homes and their gardens, it was hard to miss the pain in everyone's voice. Although Just Haiti played a significant role in hurricane relief efforts there response was one of concern for relationship rather than charity for the other. Overall the tone of the meeting was one of hope for what's to come.

It was then that we got to do exactly what we had been waiting to do for months, help with coffee planting! All 8 of our team, plus Kim and the growers made our way to a patch of forest with enough shade for the plants to grow and got to work. The growers (and Arron) used a pick axe to break the soil and after watching the growers plant the first few trees we hopped right in. The growers would dig the hole, and a member of Team Haiti would take the trees from their plastic and transplant them into the ground, making sure to pack enough soil to keep them upright. We fell into an easy routine, the growers even trusting us enough to just move on after the hole was ready. This is something that resonated with me the most, the complete and utter trust that was shared with us when handling something so vital to their survival.

A common theme in our adventure so far is the sheer willingness of the Haitian people as a whole to put their trust and faith by allowing us to know them as fellow humans with varying cultures despite the stark differences. Be it the kids willingness to play with us, our hosts willingness to let us help with chores, and finally the growers complete trust in our intentions as partners is phenomenal. Cheers to another full day in Haiti!

Bon nwi,
Cytalia

Bonjou Zanmaim mweh (good morning my friends), this is Melia!

Day 2 in Haiti started bright and early with mass at 6:30. The simplicity of the chapel at the Outreach to Haiti guest house reminded us of our commitment to simplicity this week. The reading I read represented the fact that only God has the right to judge us, a reason as to why we are going through the week remembering to "notice rather than judge."

Following mass, we all piled in the van to travel up the mountains of Haiti to visit Just Haiti's community partner in Fond Tortue in the Baraderes region. The drive took about 7 hours. The ride was filled with scenic views and plentiful conversations. There were no planned stops, but when we finally decided we couldn't go any longer, we stopped to use the bathrooms. Unlike the United States, there are no rest stops along the road. Instead, we stopped at a random house. Our group was a bit nervous to impose on strangers, but we were welcomed with Haitian hospitality. Not only were we allowed to use the bathroom, but they offered us all fresh coconuts to drink the water and then eat them!

We were greeted by many smiling faces, including some kids of the town who remembered my name from last time I was here! For dinner, we ate a feast of rice and brans and goat meat (cabrit).  After dinner, we blew up the soccer balls we brought and started a game. Despite our language barrier, we formed relationships with the kids via dancing, soccer, smiling, and other forms of universal communication.

At the end of the day, most of the group reflected on the fact that today was a wonderful day despite spending 7 hours of it in the car! We enjoyed each other's company and felt solidarity within our group. We are thankful for our opportunities to continue to form relationships with each other and our new community partners!