Haiti is Strong
The international press diffuses a single narrative of Haiti - one of political instability, malnutrition, disease and devastation. "The poorest country in the Western hemisphere" - this is how Haiti is too often described, ignoring the many layers that comprise Haitian culture and customs that make Haiti one of the most fascinating, yet least understood countries in the region.
In early November, a group of North Americans, including staff from MCC's North American offices, visited Haiti to engage with MCC Haiti partners and communities on a 1-week learning tour centered around the theme 'Soil to Table.' During this time, the group encountered Haiti as it is, not as the sensationalist press so often describes it. What follows are trip participants' reflections that challenge the stereotypes and offer a different perspective on Haiti.
In the short seven days we visited Haiti, I was floored by the strength I saw in the Haitians we met. Not just their physical strength, but the strength of their hope, faith and community.
Haiti has a long, arduous history of colonization, slavery, resource extraction, indemnity to France and natural disasters. There are plenty of reasons for Haitians to lack hope and strength. But that is not what I saw or felt during my visit.
I saw a people filled with hope and determination to keep working towards making Haiti a sustainable country. MCC is working alongside farmers in rural communities near Desarmes to improve their gardening techniques so they always have something they can eat. MCC seed banks ensure that there will be viable seeds to plant in the future, growing hope, season by season.
In Kabay, the community came together to learn new gardening techniques. An example garden was planted to show the community how companion planting through agro-forestry works. The garden grew and after their first harvest, the community shared a meal. Sharing work and food around a table are all signs of a strong community.
Haiti’s mountains used to be covered with trees, now, reforestation, agro-forestry and micro-forestry are bringing life back to the deforested mountainsides in the Artibonite Valley. MCC staff accompany communities in the planting and distribution of thousands and thousands of trees each year. Slowly, entire mountain sides are becoming lush with trees. Slowly, birds are returning. Slowly, hope grows with each tree, with each chirping bird.
Education builds strength as it opens doors for children to shape Haiti’s future. MCC supports several primary and vocational schools in Port-au-Prince, teaching young children the basics of reading, writing, arithmetic and computer skills. Vocational classes in the culinary arts, welding, plumbing, informatics, sewing and cosmetology strengthen the students' potential for employment.
MCC supports after-school programs in the rural communities outside of Desarmes. The Kids Club we visited not only teaches children about nutrition and caring for the earth, but also grows their leadership skills. On the day we visited, the lesson was the creation story from Genesis. Carielle and Jeffinda, two of the older girls in the Kids Club, lead the group of children through the lesson. They read the bible story of how God created our world and everything in it. The take-away from the lesson was that God created everything to work together and that it was our job to care for the earth so that all of creation will continue working together. I had never considered the creation story to be a creation care story, and was inspired by what Carielle and Jeffinda taught us that day.
Community builds the strength of the individuals. When resources are scarce and infrastructure is lacking, support and encouragement from community builds resiliency. For the vulnerable people who live life in the margins, this give and take is essential. The community I witnessed was beautiful, joyful and strong.
Over and over it was clear that Haitians believe God will provide. Their faith is strong and we saw and heard it everywhere we went. Faith that God will protect, even as a hurricane batters the land. Faith that God will provide food, even when the odds are stacked against you. We attended Assemble de Gras Mennonite Church for Sunday worship and were inspired by the loud, authentic and passionate worship service we experienced.
The strength of the Haitians we met inspires me to find ways, no matter how small, to strengthen my hope, faith and community.
Tina Schrag is the Communications Coordinator & Administrative Assistant with Mennonite Central Committee Central States.