After 3 Years, Some Final Words

Nearly three years ago, Martha and I began writing on this blog; sharing with you our desire to go to Haiti and work with World Concern.  A lot of stories have been shared, along with some personal ramblings. It is with mixed emotions that today I write our final post on this blog and formally ‘sign off’ as we prepare for a new chapter.

As I let my mind wander now and consider all we’ve seen and experienced since first arriving in Haiti, it is the faces of the dozens of people we’ve met that stand out—moms, dads, pastors, farmers, entrepreneurs, students.

Then when I think about specific faces, I’m reminded that each of these faces is a beautiful creation of God with a distinct story.  Everyone has a story and each is unique.  We have heard stories of healing and restoration and also ones of difficulty and loss.

CHAMP- Mother & Son with Baby kit

We’ve met women living with HIV/AIDS that were given new hope through a support group, which showed them they are not alone and life is still worth living.  Support groups for pregnant women helped them learn how to prevent HIV from being passed to their babies.

 

Farmer in NW1

 

 

We’ve met farmers who didn’t know how they would provide for their families because it wasn’t raining enough.  To the right, Charles explains the challenges of farming where rain is scarce.  He received seeds that required less water than commonly used seeds.

 

Mersan, Goats Trees HTK_101

 

We’ve met kids that were given a shot at school when they thought it wasn’t possible.  Kids are given goats to help provide additional income so they can go to school.  On the left, Myrlande shows off her goat and is now in sixth grade.

 

 

 

A common phrase in Haitian Creole is “Sa se lavi” which means, “That is life.” When I first arrived in Haiti that phrase seemed more fatalistic and hopeless than it does to me now. Now I see it for what it is; acknowledging the beauty of life without neglecting the reality that life can be difficult as well.

Haiti has taken away my naiveté while leaving me with a realistic and hopeful feeling. Life is full of ups and downs, and that’s just how it is. Some of it can be reasoned with but the reality is that many of life’s’ best and worst moments cannot.

While challenges remain and life is difficult for many people, it’s clear that God is using World Concern in Haiti to serve vulnerable people and help them live better lives.  So thank you. Sincerely and with grateful hearts, Martha and I want to say thank you for your generosity, prayers, and partnership in this impactful work.

Snowbargers_-Gelée-Beach-LesCayes-S-Haiti_6-11-13__143-300x199It has been such a joy working with you and World Concern in Haiti these past two years!  We hope you will remember these faces and the faces of the many others we’ve shared with you.  Join us in continual prayer for them and their families.

As this is our last post on this blog we want to encourage you to keep up with what God is doing in Haiti and around the world through World Concern by following the primary World Concern blog and also the daily updates shared on Twitter and Facebook.

Blessings to you all in 2015!

 

Like any developing nation after disaster, Haiti has progressed “piti piti” (little by little)

After living in Haiti for two years where Martha and I worked with World Concern, I returned to the U.S. a couple weeks ago.  Aside from getting used to much colder weather and way too many cereal options at the grocery store, I have been attempting to answer, as best as possible, all kinds of questions about Haiti.

Destruction after the earthquake shook Port-au-Prince on Jan. 12, 2010.

One of the most common questions has been how the country is doing since the 2010 earthquake—Haiti’s strongest in two centuries, claiming more than 230,000 lives. This tells me that perhaps not everyone has forgotten about Haiti and that fateful day on January 12, 2010.

And break.  This is a teaser:)  To hear more about how Haiti is progressing and what challenges remain, check out the rest of this post on the World Concern blog where it was originally posted a couple days ago.  We want to direct attention to the main World Concern blog as we transition out so you can become familiar with the site and all that it has to offer.  It is a great way to keep up with what is happening around the world and in Haiti.  Thanks for clicking and reading!

Giving thanks always and continually

fall

Oh fall. If you were only with me in Haiti. Taken in Colorado in October.

Today is Thanksgiving in the United States and although today is like any other day for us in Haiti, I can’t help but reflect on the whole giving thanks thing.    All in all I have a lot to be thankful for—food to eat, a roof over my head, a loving wife, genuine community, and good health for starters.

This isn’t always true but in general I wonder if it is easier to pick out what we’re thankful for when we’re encouraged to do so on one particular day.

But what about the other 364 days of the year?

This is what I’m asking myself this morning—how am I doing with giving thanks with a grateful heart on all the non-Thanksgiving days?  And if I could add up the moments when I expressed my gratitude on these other 364 days, how many of those would have been during a moment when all is well and in order compared to the chaotic or discouraging moments?

A friend of ours recently wrote about remaining thankful despite the valleys we sometimes find ourselves in.  I found her words encouraging and relevant to the questions I’ve been asking.  She shared the following verse:

I Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Always.  Continually.  All circumstances.  Give thanks not just on one day and not just haphazardly either but do it well, do it often, and do it with rejoicing.

What a beautiful and hopeful calling.  I’m choosing to trust that today on Thanksgiving and on all the other days of the year, God will give me the strength and grace necessary to live out this calling through Christ Jesus.

I’m also encouraged by people here in Haiti like Manoucha.  We recently visited this young woman who has faced tough challenges yet still manages to keep moving forward.

Crabier, Goats HTK 19-11-14_106

Manoucha shows off her beautiful smile.

We met her for the first time in the summer of 2013 after she received a goat through World Concern’s Hope to Kids program.  The program is meant to provide students with a goat—and therefore a source of income—which can help them pay for school and meet their basic needs.

Crabier, Goats HTK 19-11-14_094

Manoucha walks from her church to her home in the seaside village of Crabier, Haiti.

Manoucha is a little old for her grade at school.  As a 20-year-old she is in the same grade as her 16-year-old sister, Dieunike, because health issues in past years have kept her out of school and at home.

“Now I am well but sometimes I still get sick which means I cannot go to school or work,” Manoucha said.

It hasn’t been an easy road however she was able to begin school this year on time, for the second year in a row, and is now only two years away from graduating high school!

“I choose to keep giving effort at school so that I can one day help my family,” she said.  “I want to study to become a nurse because I like this.  Then if someone in my family is sick I can help them.”

Manoucha is already finding ways to help her family.  Her goat has given offspring and she gave one of the kids to her sister Dieunike so she can also benefit.   The gift of one goat has a multiplying effect within this family.  It is encouraging to see Manoucha continue to persevere despite her challenges.

Crabier, Goats HTK 19-11-14_120

Manoucha with her sisters Dieunika (middle) and Nadine (far right) outside their house.

 

Crabier, Goats HTK 19-11-14_129

Dieunika and her goat.

The call to “rejoice always” in 1 Thessalonians is for all of us whatever season of life we find ourselves in. This is an important reminder for me today but also for tomorrow and all the other tomorrows in this next year and I hope it gives you hope as well.

Happy Thanksgiving to our American friends and family.

They say a photo is worth a thousand words

One of the ways Martha and I communicate the impact of World Concern’s work in Haiti is through photography.  Actually Martha does all the photography.  My work begins when we get back from the field and I try to put into words what we experienced and learned from people.  As Martha takes photos, I carry the bags, provide moral support and try to chat up the people we are taking photos of to make them feel more at ease.  I suppose you could call me the photographer’s assistant.

austin1

The photographer’s assistant (left) who will remember to get a photo of the photographer next time.

Visual communication is becoming more and more important to capture people’s attention in our fast-paced and digitized world.  Did you know photo posts on Facebook get 38% more interaction than those without a photo?  This trend is true on social media but also in print or elsewhere on the web.  Basically people respond positively to photography and other forms of visual expression.

So for an organization like World Concern who has a cause to promote and a story to tell, high-quality and thoughtful visual communication is really important.  This is a primary reason why Martha and I are here in Haiti—to use our skills in communication to move people to a place of empathy and then action.

Perhaps you’re wondering what we do with all the photos we (err, Martha) take.  They are used in reports to partners, on social media, in marketing materials like a brochure, and sometimes even a calendar!

drr calendar cover photo

This summer Martha entered a few photos in a contest run by one of our partners, USAID/OFDA for their 2015 USAID/OFDA Disaster Risk Reduction Calendar [PDF].  I was confident at least one would be chosen (a little bias and overly confident perhaps) but neither of us expected for two of her photos to be chosen!  Check out the cover (also above) and the month of March to see how World Concern is involved in Disaster Risk Reduction.  These calendars will be distributed to partners, staff and USAID colleagues around the world.  This is fantastic exposure for World Concern and our work in Haiti.

Another recent example of what Martha’s photography is used for can be seen in World Concern’s 2014 Global Gift Guide.  This booklet is a primary way that World Concern raises money each year.  Martha’s photo of a girl named Encise, who we first met in 2012 but most recently visited in July, is being used as the cover photo for this year’s Global Gift Guide!  If have contributed to our work in Haiti financially or have given a gift to World Concern before you may find a copy on your doorstep shortly.  See if you can spot any other photos from Haiti in it.

GGG cover photo2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Martha and I have the privilege of traveling throughout Haiti to see firsthand these important projects and meet the people World Concern is working alongside.   We realize many others do not have that chance, so we’re grateful when our photos or stories or anything else we produce for that matter can be used to educate, encourage and inspire others to action.

A story I didn’t write

noel

Noel (right) and another colleague at our office in Port-au-Prince.

Loyalty and perseverance.  Makings of a great story.  These are the common themes in Josette’s story, a small business owner and World Concern microcredit client in Port-au-Prince.

I’m happy to share with you the story of Josette below, thanks to the hard work of Noel, one of our colleagues.  He is one of the Microcredit Promoters, which means  he and the other promoters are in the streets, markets and squares of Port-au-Prince almost daily, engaging with clients and offering them support and encouragement.  Here’s a story from one of the clients he visits on a regular basis.

Port-au-Prince, Josette Cézair ACLAM_1

Josette Cézair (left) is one of the most loyal and honest customers of our Microcredit Program.  For more than seven years, this woman has been working in this way. Despite the many difficulties that our country knows, she has always been disciplined and faithful to her commitments.

She was a victim of the Tabarre (neighborhood of Port-au-Prince) market fire in 2012 where she lost everything, including her merchandise.  Josette had many responsibilities, especially to her family and she did not know which way to turn.  Finally, like manna from heaven, she received a loan through World Concern’s emergency refinancing program allowing her to gradually regain her regular activities.

Now she has reached her ninth loan of 200,000 gourdes (approximately $4,500 USD) and thanks to this loan has completely re-launched her regular activities.

Thank you, Noel, for sharing with us this remarkable story.  Not only is this a great story, it represents a small victory for us as we work towards more teamwork as well.

In June we shared on our blog about our desire to collaborate more with the staff in Haiti who engage with beneficiaries often.  We gave them training and resources so they can help us gather photos and stories of the people World Concern is serving.

We said that through this process we hope to (a) create a spirit of collaboration, (b) further develop the skills of our co-workers in the areas of photography and interviewing, and (c) capture more stories to show our supporters exactly what we’re doing and who we’re serving.  On all three accounts we’re seeing slow but steady progress.

 

Konferans Agrikol and Seeing Potential

I recently read a blog that began with the words, “Haiti is a country known for its statistics.” Such statistics being the not so good ones such as majority of the population living on less than $2 a day and tens of thousands dead following the 7.0 magnitude earthquake in 2010. As this blog said and as I believe too, “Haiti is full of potential” despite these statistics and the bad press the country often gets.

This potential is often best seen within Haitians themselves.  They are people very capable of becoming change makers in their families, communities, and country.  I was reminded of this recently when Martha and I attended a five-day agricultural conference called ‘Konferans Agrikol.’

The goal of the conference was to bring together delegates from across northern Haiti who are actively working in agriculture and sustainable development for exchange, cross-learning, stimulating presentations, and hands-on workshops.

banner The conference was hosted at L’Université Chrétienne du Nord d’Haïti’s (UCNH) beautiful campus in Limbe and coordinated by our good friend and Christian Veterinary Mission (CVM) missionary Rhoda Beutler, who is actually an agronomist.  Rhoda worked closely with a committee made up of UCNH faculty and a couple others from organizations in Limbe and Cap-Haitian.  There were also many other volunteers who put a lot of effort into making this conference come together.

Martha and I were representing World Concern at the conference and also documenting the conference through photos, videos, and interviews so that materials can be produced to attract delegates for future conferences throughout Haiti.

martha and interns

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Additionally Martha gave a short photography training to the conference’s interns who were responsible for take photos of what they saw throughout the week and then sharing highlights with everyone at the end of the conference.

first evening sessionThe first evening was spent giving a presentation of activities for the week and introductions.  As introductions in Haiti can take a long time (an open floor is just too enticing) delegates were encouraged to take 3 minutes to introduce themselves and the area of their work.

We didn’t get to everyone that first evening but right away I was impressed with the high level of interest and capacity shown by the delegates who introduced themselves.  Delegates were representing churches, grassroots groups, non-government organizations, and peasant organizations but all were focused on agriculture and sustainable development.

delegates in session

Presentations were given almost daily throughout the week on topics such as: soil conservation, animal husbandry, new and improved agricultural techniques, and even the chikungunya virus which has been wreaking havoc in Haiti the past few months.

While the presentations had a lecture feel, there was often discussion and comments from the delegates, each sharing their insight and asking questions.  The fact that the conference created a space for cross-learning was the most unique aspect in my opinion because everyone had the opportunity to benefit from each other’s experience.

friends at breakfast

UCNH was an ideal place to host the conference because as a university it has a dormitory, cafeteria, and meeting facilities, not to mention lots of space outdoors.  I told Martha it reminded me of summer camp for adults!  Here are some of our new friends enjoying breakfast before the day began.

making compost

In addition to presentations, the conference also organized several hands-on workshops. This is a photo of the compost workshop.  Some of the delegates were familiar with composting already but it was new for others.  This workshop and the others were valuable because they involved ‘learning by doing’ not just listening.

dr kelly

Dr. Kelly Crowdis (center, at the table), also with CVM, gave a workshop on diseases which can be transferred between animals and humans.  This workshop was very conversational and delegates took turns sharing stories and asking questions.

nivo a wide shot

Any idea what these delegates are doing?  This workshop was about the “Nivo A” (or A-frame) technique which is used in contour farming and helps prevent water runoff and soil erosion.  Obviously this is a very important and relevant technique for people working in agriculture in Haiti to know.  I sure learned a lot!

mfk visit

Later in the week, there was a day of field visits.  Three field visits were organized in total to three different organizations doing unique or new work in the region and each delegate was given the opportunity to choose one.  Martha and I helped lead the visit to the Meds & Food for Kids (MFK) factory and experimental peanut plots (pictured above), and to Carbon Roots International’s production site.

inside mfk

MFK makes a nutritious and peanut based ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) paste for malnourished kids in Haiti.  They work closely with local peanut producers in the region and teach them about growing and storing this crop.  MFK produces this paste in Haiti and has a beautiful facility (pictured above) which we also toured.

Green Charcoal (1)

These photos are from Carbon Roots’ production site.  They are all about sustainable charcoal technologies.  Haiti continues to see its trees chopped down to fuel the ever hungry charcoal industry; contributing to many problems such as climate change and environmental degradation.  Carbon Roots is trying to provide another option–treeless charcoal or “green charcoal” made from agricultural waste like sugar cane and corn refuse.

The staff at both sites were very hospitable and receptive.  The delegates were very curious about the work both of these organizations are doing and hopefully encouraged them to think outside the box in terms of how their own organizations operate and function.  Local ingenuity is certainly present in this country, it just needs to be channeled in the right direction and I think these field visits helped delegates see what is possible.

group photo

What a good looking group of people!  It was refreshing to spend a few days with these remarkable people.  I walked away feeling very encouraged because I met many people who love Haiti and are working diligently to help people in this country live more healthy and productive lives.  Haiti has tremendous potential and there is so much more to this place than statistics.  Things are changing for the better, albeit slowly, and it’s fun to see a glimpse of that happening from the ground up.

Photo Essay: One-of-a-kind Latrines

Desroulins, Latrines Nursery_006

Pastor Marc shows us a newly built latrine in Desroulins

“It’s a big problem in this area,” said Pastor Marc.

We were standing in the shade of a tree in Desroulins, a small community in North West Haiti.  Near us was a newly built latrine–the ‘toilet seats’ still drying in the sun.  Pastor Marc is a mason and was responsible for overseeing the latrine work done in Desroulins by World Concern in partnership with the community.

We were talking about open defecation–the practice of relieving oneself outside.  That’s the problem Pastor Marc was referring to.  Open defecation leads to an assortment of diseases including cholera, typhoid, hepatitis, polio, and diarrhea.  Many people in this area simply don’t have a toilet.

And I’ll stop right there.  This is meant to be a teaser.  Teased?!  Martha posted a very interesting photo essay on the World Concern blog yesterday about these recently built latrines and two of the people who will use them.

Here’s the link.  Head there for the rest!

 

Stories and Photos: We need help!

Recently there was something a little different going on just outside the World Concern office in Port-au-Prince.  One of our co-workers was ‘pushing’ a parked van, another was ‘washing’ their hands under a faucet, and you could see someone else ‘watering’ the plants.  They weren’t actually pushing, washing, and watering; they were having their pictures taken.  We were practicing photography!

noel washing

It’s exciting to work toward something with others.  It’s also important to recognize when you need help.  Martha and I have realized we need to put more energy into collaborating with and leaning on our co-workers here at World Concern when it comes to stories and photos.

We all need photos and stories.  Our co-workers write reports of their activities and insert photos and write short stories about the people they are serving.  We do the same, primarily for fundraising and advocacy purposes in the U.S.  So why, we asked ourselves, don’t we work together more on this?

Since the introduction of our communication liaison position a year and a half ago, we have seen an increase in the quantity and quality of stories and photos collected in-country, but we know we could accomplish more if we worked even closer with the World Concern staff that are interacting with people in the field each week.

By working with our co-workers to create a system of storing and sharing collected information and exposing them to some tips and tricks of interviewing and photography, we hope to (a) create a spirit of collaboration, (b) further develop the skills of our co-workers in these areas, and (c) capture more stories to show our supporters exactly what we’re doing and who we’re serving.

We recently held our first training session on all this with our microcredit co-workers in Port-au-Prince and we had a little fun with photography practice.  They will each collect a story with photos in the next month and we’ll meet again in July to see what went well and what can be improved.  To make it even more exciting, we are having a little contest to see who conducts the best interview and takes the best photos.

Martha 1

Martha sharing about why we collect stories and photos.

They say that two minds are better than one.  Well how about a whole team full of creativity.  We’re excited to see how this journey of working together to collect stories continues to progress.

lesly & van

austin & staff 2

Checking out the finished product.

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Role playing!

Chicken-what?

It is quiet at our Port-au-Prince office this week.  Office doors are shut and lights are turned off.  There is less chatter coming from the cafeteria at lunch time.  No, people are not on vacation.  Unfortunately several are out sick with a mosquito-borne virus called Chikungunya.  Oh and that’s not a typo.  The first few times I said it, it came out sounding more like chicken-something.

Everyone is talking about Chikungunya.  Over the past two weeks it seems I have not gone a couple hours without having a conversation about it.  The Chikungunya first arrived in the Caribbean in late 2013 and has quickly spread throughout the region.  The first cases in Haiti were reported in early May.

The virus causes joint pain, rash and fever but is not fatal.  One friend (who is young) told me the pain was so bad in his joints it made him feel like an old man!  Some people have been calling the virus kraze zo which means “broken bones” in Kreyol.

Quite literally, people are dropping like flies.  I can think of 10 co-workers who have had Chikungunya in the past two weeks and many people in our church community have gotten it too.  Apparently this kind of virus spreads very fast.  It doesn’t help that we’re in the middle of rainy season here in Haiti which means there are lots of places for mosquitos to make babies.

So far Martha and I have been spared.  We’ve been using mosquito repellent and candles in our house to ward off the little villains but it is hard not to get bit even with all these precautions.

It’s tough to see something like this hit Haiti.  One thing I’ve learned here is how important good health is for the poor.  Many people work in the informal sector meaning they do not have a salary or guaranteed income, much less health insurance or sick days.  If you are a subsistent farmer or a day laborer, you will not get paid or eat if you do not work.  So being sick can prevent you from earning an income, providing for your family, and taking care of your kids.

The CDC has produced some fact sheets in English and Kreyol which are helpful.  We emailed the Kreyol version to our co-workers and also posted it on our message board in the office.

Please join us in prayer for healing and protection for our co-workers, their families, and for the thousands of others affected throughout the country.

Here’s a couple recent news articles about Chikungunya if you’re interested:

Mosquito-Borne Breaking Bone Disease Spreads in Haiti – NPR
As Haiti awaits confirmation, a quickly spread mosquito-borne virus in Caribbean sparks concern – Miami Herald

 

Why Lending To Women is a Smart Investment

Pignon is neat and clean with a population of around 48,000.  The paved and walkable streets, along with the laid back vibe of the place were a nice reprieve from the noise and chaos of Port-au-Prince, where we live.

Pignon, Credit ACLAM__27

Isidor Jean-Pierre was giving us a walking tour of the city.  He is the World Concern Regional Coordinator in Pignon, central Haiti and earlier this week was our first visit to the office there.

We passed the city’s plaza, which has a small stage and sitting area, where Isidor explained they sometimes have concerts.  “Visiting church groups from other places in Haiti have played there before,” he said.

Soon we stopped at a brightly painted concrete building.  Here Isidor introduced us to Emilienne, a 35-year-old mother of four, who runs a business selling a variety of products like beverages, ketchup, and some food staples like beans.  “Rice and soap are the most popular,” she said, pointing to the boxes of soap sitting at the front of her shop to attract customers.

Pignon, Credit ACLAM__15

Since 1998 World Concern has been serving small business owners in Pignon by providing loans and training.  The loans, taken individually or as a group, give people access to much needed capital to purchase products or other inputs and grow their business.

Emilienne received her first individual loan from World Concern in 2011 and is now on her second.  Although she has had this business for some time, the loans have allowed her to purchase different products and expand her stock.

Pignon, Credit ACLAM__20“I buy the products in Hinche and Port-au-Prince mostly and a truck brings them here,” Emilienne explained.

Her shop is not the only one like it in Pignon.  There are many other shops or stands—some smaller, some bigger—selling similar products.  One of the challenges small business owners in Haiti like Emilienne face is how to stand out from the rest.  So I asked her how she competes.

“There is a shop over there,” she said, pointing.  “Some of my products are 10 gourdes cheaper.”  She answered quickly and confidently.  This was a woman who knew what she was doing.

Around midday we went back to the two room office where the four World Concern staff in Pignon work, and drank Cokes with Isidor.  I was thankful for a break from the heat.

Pignon, Credit ACLAM__33

Our Pignon colleagues–Isidor is the really tall gentleman in the middle

Martha asked Isidor why so many of the microcredit clients in Pignon are women.  “If you lend money to the women, you know she will invest it in her own household,” he said.

His answer was profound yet not foreign.  It is one we have heard from a number of our colleagues around the country.  Empowering women often impacts not only the woman but also her family and community.  

The World Bank published a series of studies, including “Engendering Development” and “Gender Equality as Smart Economics,” where they show that women and girls reinvest an average of 90 percent of their income in their families, compared to a 30 to 40 percent reinvestment rate for men.  With a simple loan and basic business training, women like Emilienne are given the resources needed to succeed.

I need you to step inside Emilienne’s cultural context for a moment.  When I say succeed, don’t picture her buying a large house or a new car.  By succeed, I mean that she has consistent income and thus is able to continually provide food, clothing, shelter, and education to her immediate family and maybe even others around her.   Definitely something to congratulate her for.

Emilienne and her youngest child

Emilienne with her youngest child