Writing this month’s blog seems a bit odd and a little fragmented. We usually try to write this first section from OUR (Darryl & Shelly) point of view and speak a bit more generally about our work in Haiti. But as I (Darryl) sit to write about our Kairos (moments) in the past month it is difficult because we are not currently together in Haiti. Shelly flew back to the U.S. in late April and I will join her in late May and then we’ll be on furlough together for the month of June. It will be a total of five weeks separated and this will be the longest period of time that we have been apart in our 32 years of marriage. It’s going OK and we are both grateful for a healthy marriage and the technology that exists which allows us to stay in touch. We message frequently and have been able to talk about every other day. We rely on decent Wi-fi connection which has been mostly good.
Shelly spent a few days with her parents and sister in the Des Moines, Iowa area before heading to our home in Holland, Michigan. In addition to the class she took she has been busy getting our house ready to become an Air BnB rental property. Sounds like fun huh? She is not alone as our sweet dog Numa is with her and she is a loyal and loving pet. She was able to see all three of our kids on the Mother’s Day weekend so that was special. And while I am living alone in our Haiti apartment, there are other American missionaries here that I interact with and have shared an occasional meal. However Liz Clarke and Micah Araund left on May 7 and are taking a two-week furlough so Irene’s Place, the house where our apartments are, is VERY quiet right now. I am filling my after work time by reading, working on my Creole, and continuing to teach myself to play the acoustic guitar.
Prayer Requests for this month
- For us as we continue to be apart for a couple more weeks and for sweet reunion on May 31 (which is Shelly’s birthday).
- For continued health and safety as we do our respective work. And safety in travel from and to Haiti for our furlough.
- For the community (Sylvain) in which we are located as there is a definite spiritual battle going on. Pray that we can continue to be a light in the darkness.
- For Haiti as there continues to be corruption at a variety of levels of leadership and lots of unrest among the people as they continue to struggle just to live. (The image above of Haiti is included to show you where we are living and serving)
- For rain. The rainy season is supposed to be here and while we have received some nice rains, more is needed. Haitians, especially in our area, rely on these rains to water their gardens that they need to provide food for their families.
WHAT THE FOODIE IS UP TO
I’ve been back in the States since April 23. My days have been filled with learning, reading, hiking, time with family and friends, and many house projects. I’ve assembled furniture, packed boxes, done a major “Tidying Up”, and have been working hard on becoming a dog whisperer to help our dog with her social skills. My first weekend back I attended “Cervical Revolution” – a PT class about the neck. It is crazy how this class (which has always been a challenge for me) seemed easier and comfortable because everything was in English and we all had a common passion/way of bringing shalom to chaos via healing.
Being in the States, foodie-wise there is a little less variety! But I did try horse last month. It was deep fat fried, basically tasting like a gamey fried beef kabob. I don’t think I need to try it again, but it was fun to join Micah in knocking that off her list of things to do! But I am quite certain that I won’t be joining her on her next food to taste goal!
I am realizing as I share with people what we are up to that I am becoming uncomfortable with calling what we are up to as an adventure. As I am getting to know people like Beatris, Evenie, Claudin, Darling, and Kaki calling our time with them an adventure seems to sensationalize their reality. Regardless of what we do or don’t do, this is where they live, and they don’t have the option of coming and going. Trying to label our time here as something different than adventure, looking for just the right word sent me to thesaurus.com. But for now, I think I will just say we are living in Haiti. This seems to recognize that we all share a divine thumbprint, and limits my ability to see myself as separate of others.
Part of the learning I’ve been doing includes reviewing some books. Brené Brown is an author who speaks challenging but life giving words in a very authentic way -one of the reasons I am drawn to her. Here’s a great example, she says, “I can confidently say that stories of pain and courage almost always include two things: praying and cussing. Sometimes at the exactly the same time.” I watched her documentary on Netflix and I’ve paraphrased one of her challenging statements; I don’t want to get to the end of our days in Haiti and ask, “what if I had really shown up” [instead of just playing house here]. Obviously, Haiti isn’t the only place of living in vulnerability and courage, everyone has the option of choosing in or out. Guess I just needed a sensory intense training center for a while. Wish I was sitting with you right now and could ask you, where are you being invited to vulnerability? Probably because it could take the bright light of exposure off of me for a bit! Wherever it is, go real and go in courage knowing that God wants the real you to show up, for the people placed around you may need to hear from Him through you.
Living in Haiti has challenged me, many times creating more questions than answers. In full disclosure, I’d like to share some of the tension-filled questions I am currently working through, with one of the main ones being how far does love go? And when does the logic part of “Love & Logic” apply. Interactions with the boy I mentioned last month who we gave a walker to, provide a great example of the daily mental and emotional battle all of us at MH4H struggle with, because everyone knows the saying, “you can give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day, but teach a man to fish, and he can eat for lifetime. And while wholeheartedly we believe that giving tools/skills increases dignity and quality of life, well sometimes in Haiti, it feels like there aren’t even any ponds to teach a man to fish from. Or the fishing poles get used for a fence. Or maybe the man can’t stand the taste of fish. Do we tell him he has to eat fish because we think he should? You get the idea. This boy has been given 2 PET carts, 2 walkers and multiple hours of coaching/therapy. All the equipment has fallen apart or gone missing. We were trying to give him the tools he needed to have independent mobility – the long-term solution (the fishing skill). But the equipment hasn’t held up, or it wasn’t cared for in a way that would allow it to hold up. Is that lack of knowledge on the family’s part. Is that where we failed? We didn’t teach how to use or care for the equipment adequately? Or is the terrain of Haiti too hard on the types of equipment we gave him? Are there other more durable equipment options? If so, that requires more effort and resources on our part. Or, by giving things have we created an expectation that there is more equipment available? At what point do we have the family invest some sweat equity or finances into the equipment – would that insure that the equipment was cared for? Unfortunately that American thought process comes up short – what kind of work could this handicapped boy do that honors his dignity and allows for that sweat equity? His mother already works and cares for the family. And for the financial piece – let’s just say there isn’t a financial piece. So…do we continue to give him equipment, functionally handing him fish as needed. Or do we let Love & Logic dictate that 4 pieces of equipment broken, means bummer, we tried to teach you to fish, but you don’t do it right. Or, and this is probably the most true – it isn’t either love or logic. What is the third way that will provide for skill acquisition, improved quality of life, and dignity? I share this story not to shame this boy or this family, but to reveal our struggle as we learn to be openhearted.
Regardless of geographic location, if we are listening and choosing to be vulnerable, this same struggle of how far does love go will keep all of us seeking God’s love, Jesus’ example of love, and the Holy Spirit’s leading.
Seeking the divine, to bring life giving nourishment,
It is hard to believe that I have been working for Many Hands for Haiti for 10 months already. In some ways the time has gone by fast and in other ways, each day and each week seems to pass slowly. Both are good I guess. It is all in the attitude or state of mind. Last month the writing was real and raw as we shared with you that things were hard and this missionary stuff is not for the faint of heart. And while this month has not been all that much different, I can honestly say that I am at peace and am feeling encouraged and motivated to stay the course and keep on keepin’ on. I know that many of you are praying for us and sending some random What’s App or Facebook Messenger notes. Please know that these have really lifted my spirits and brought encouragement. So thank you so much for remembering us, praying for us, and reaching out to us when you can.
I want and need to share something that happened just last week that brought me great joy and that to me was a watershed moment, a Kairos moment if you will, that I believe is as breakthrough moment for our ministry. Our mission is summed up in the word transformation. We add in Christ to that as our Christian faith is foundational to all that we do in Haiti. While we do a fair amount of relief work (and some of this is definitely necessary) our primary focus is on development and creating long-term sustainability for the Haitians that we live among and work with. One of our specific, strategic long-term goals is that the parents of our current preschoolers will pay the tuition for their children when they start first grade. For preschool they have paid very little. Only 600 gourdes ($8.00 USD/year) as many of the students have sponsors. So this is the amount that they have grown accustomed to over the past three years. A couple of weeks ago we met with the parents of our PS3 class to share with them what the tuition costs and enrollment process was going to be for the 2019-20 school year for their first graders. That amount, 12,000 gourdes ($150.00 USD). This was a big shock to them and they immediately began to complain and comment that it was “way too much” and that there was “no way that they would ever be able to afford this amount.” They asked why we couldn’t just keep the individual student sponsors. They even made a counter offer of 5,000 gourdes as they thought that would be a fair price to pay. (It should be noted here that we checked with all of the local schools and this is right in line with what all quality schools are charging their parents for school) We proceeded to tell them that we knew this was a big jump from what they had been paying for preschool. We then shared with them two ways by which they could greatly reduce their tuition to an affordable rate. The first was by them participating in a weekly service schedule where they serve at the school one day each week (either before school or after school for about an hour) doing simple chores such as helping to serve and/or clean up meals and general cleaning. Doing this faithfully each week would reduce their tuition 2,000 gourdes for each semester. They are doing a similar program at the preschool but don’t necessarily like it and let us know as much. We anticipated this reaction and stated to them that this program is totally optional for them and if they choose not to participate, they would need to pay the full 12,000 gourdes. The second way that we have provided an opportunity for them to afford this is through our Husbandry Economic (goat) Project. Each of our preschool families have received from us two pregnant goats over the past couple of years. We provide free monthly goat health checks and free “stud” service to these families. We will buy up to three goats in a given year up to nine goats total with the following procedure: When they want to sell us a goat, and we determine it is big enough, we give them cash for ½ of the current market value of that goat (approx. $26.50USD). We keep the other half and then match that amount and record that amount ($53.00 USD) into an ESA (Education Savings Account). In other words, they get 1.5 times the value of the goat when they sell it to us but only get half the cash in their pocket. (It should be noted here that this exact process has been explained to our parents on multiple occasions over the past year). I don’t think that these parent fully comprehended what this all meant UNTIL last week. We explained to the parents that if they have sold us just one goat they have 4,250 gourdes in their ESA. We explained that if they used their ESA money from one goat and participate in the service program, the 12,000 gourdes is now only 3,750 gourdes that they will need to come up with for their child’s tuition. The parents were still not convinced that they could do this and it was obvious to me that they believed less in themselves than we did in them, and we told them as much. Part of this was the fact that of the 20 PS3 families, only a few had sold us a goat yet. We then explained to them that because their child was in our PS3 class that they currently had a reserved spot in the class, BUT…they needed to complete the enrollment form (which we handed out) by May 31 indicating that they indeed wanted to enroll their child and accepting the tuition rate as explained. They made it clear on that day that none of them were probably going to enroll and that we really needed to lower the tuition amount so that they could afford it.
Even though nothing surprised us (Liz Clarke and me) about how they responded and reacted, we both realized that it was very, very possible that none of them would enroll their child in our first grade. This is a big deal because this is the first class and we are in the middle of constructing a brand new school building. Yikes! We know full well that whatever this set of parents decides will play a major role in the following years. We shared what had transpired with our fellow team members as well as with MH4H leadership back in Iowa. We also informed them that our desire was to stick with the original tuition rate and not to bend to the pressure of their complaining, nor the very real possibility that we would not have a first grade next year. In other words, we drew our development line in the sand and were prepared to face whatever the outcome was. This is what we have been preparing for over the past four years and now we were going to see if what we were hoping for would become reality.
We took some proactive steps of having some of our Haitian managers meet individually with all 20 PS3 families to make sure that they understood the process, the opportunities, the programs. We wanted to make sure they understood the vast benefits for them and their children if they we going to school right here in their community (there are currently no other schools in Sylvain). We also wanted to answer any question that they had. This proved to be really good as these parents began to fully understand that THEY could do this for their child and that THEY could provide a quality education for their child and not rely on an American sponsor. (I want to point out here that what they will pay does NOT cover the total cost of education for these students and while we don’t want or need individual sponsorships we are soliciting whole class sponsors. If interested in helping please clink on this donate link and choose your gift amount. Be sure on the Apply my gift to: drop down menu you choose Classroom Sponsor. Thanks so much!)
I am extremely excited to share with you all that in the past week we have purchased several goats from these same PS3 families and are hearing that all of the 20 parents will be turning in the enrollment form indicating that they do intend to send their child to the Sylvain Christian Fundamental School of Light as first graders for the 2019-20 school year. (I have 9 forms already turned in as of this writing)
Yes!!!!! Success! Not just for Many Hands for Haiti but even more so for these parents. They CAN do this and in doing so, they are gaining dignity as parents and as a people/community. All of this falls under our Power to the Parents initiatives and it is so exciting witnessing this transformation of parental power to these parents. I realize that it is still only May and that the next school year does not begin until September 2 and a lot can happen and change between now and then but for now…I’m doing a happy dance and celebrating what I believe is a major breakthrough in our development goals with our local community. Bless God!
Experiencing the highs and lows and staying the course,
UNTIL NEXT MONTH… when we will introduce you to a new addition to the family.