Immersed in True Life
In the United States there are 1,429,801 tax-exempt organizations, including 966,599 public charities, 96,584 private foundations, and 366,618 other types of nonprofit organizations (source:http://nccs.urban.org/statistics/quickfacts.cfm). When you multiply those numbers by people and dollars, the product would suggest that we have a solution for any problem.
But this isn’t simple math. The reality is that many nonprofits do many good things in service of our world, but they also contribute to our isolation from real people. So when asked what HTF builds, we are proud to answer, “relationships”. A major part of HTF is what we call immersion trips, where people come with us to Haiti to visit our partners, to see the work that they do, to ask questions about Haiti and about themselves. On these trips people quickly realize that the problems facing Haiti are way beyond their grasp. But by the end of a week we join hands with people who we thought lived two worlds away and call them Sister. Call them Brother. Call them Mama. And this is how a little change goes a long way.
The images below provide an example of the kinds of things you might help build during an immersion trip with HTF.
Games-a very efficient way to build relationships that last!
Building Hope through sharing a meal.
We all speak the language of music.
Building the future through education.
Games, again-it’s true!
Proximity sometimes means you make forced best friends.
You learn a lot about people when you walk with them. The journey is easier with a friend.
Sometimes you make one friend and they introduce you to the neighborhood.
A new house is a great occasion for inviting friends and family.
Porch sittin’. Sharing time and receiving the gift of the best coffee in the world!
If you’d like to learn more about immersion trips or how you can join our relationship-building crew, take a look at htflive.org.
Alex Henning from Sheridan Lutheran Church in Lincoln, Nebraska completed his second internship this summer with HTF. This time he had the unique opportunity and privilege to spend more time learning about Fonkoze’s CLM program and visiting HTF-sponsored women in CLM. His original blog post can be found here: http://sheridanlutheran.org/2014/07/chemen-lavi-miyo-a-pathway-to-a-better-life-by-alex-henning/.
This summer I had the opportunity to do another internship with the Haitian Timoun Foundation (HTF). I was able to spend a month with a few of our different partners, in particular Chemen Lavi Miyo (CLM) and Wings of Hope, in addition to doing the summer camp in Jacmel. My first week was spent at CLM in the city of Mirebalais in the Central Plateau of Haiti. CLM is a program of Fonkoze, a microfinance institution in Haiti, where they work with the poorest women in Haiti who live on less than $1 a day. The women go through an 18 month program in which a woman will get a small house that is sturdy, a water filter, small bathroom, and the opportunity for two different enterprises where they can earn some income. These enterprises usually consist of raising goats, pigs and/or chickens. The program will also teach the women to write their own names; many of the women don’t know how to write their own name and will use their fingerprint to sign documents for CLM. They also want the women to have their children enrolled in school by the time they graduate the program.
The goal of this program is to get these women out of ultra-poverty and to a better life for them and their family that is self-sustaining. While talking with Steven, a regional director of CLM, I was told that Fonkoze set CLM up because they found that certain people who they would give loans to wouldn’t pay them back. It wasn’t that these people didn’t want to pay the loans back but that they didn’t have the means to pay back the loans. They found that most of these were women who were considered the ultra-poor.
Throughout my week at CLM I was able to go out with 2 different case managers one of which was Manu who works with women sponsored by HTF. While with Manu, we went on a motorcycle to a very rural area of the Central Plateau. Here we had to do a little “off roading” to get to some of the women. These women were genuinely happy to see someone from HTF, who sponsors them, on Manu’s weekly visit with them. Where these women live is a very difficult place to take a lot of people from HTF, so it was a great experience to go out to some very rural areas in Haiti where there are HTF sponsored women.
One of the days I also had the opportunity to sit in on some training for the women of CLM on the different enterprises that they have. At this training session I was able to sit in on a class about how to take care of their goats. It was wonderful to see the excitement that these women had in these classes even though it took up most of their days. The other major thing that I was able to do with CLM was to go out with Wilson who was in the final stage of the decision process on whether or not a woman would be accepted into the next CLM 18 month class. While I was with him we went out to many different women throughout the Central Plateau which included a lot of hiking up and down the hills of the Central Plateau to interview the women so that CLM could determine whether or not these women would be accepted.
Being able to stay with our partner CLM for a week was very eye opening for me. The ability to see hope in the women that are in the program is something that will never leave me. It was great to be able to work with the case managers. You could see that each one of them genuinely care about each of the women that they work with and they put in way more work than I ever expected going into this internship. These case managers will find these women who become part of the program, not the other way around. I had high expectations for CLM based on everything that I’ve heard about them and the one day I spent with them when I was 16. But having the opportunity to see what they do on a daily basis was amazing and they exceeded all of my expectations. CLM is truly a great program in Haiti.
Camp of Happiness
Nephtaly Pierre Louis is a HELP student who has participated in HTF’s Fet Bondye Bo Lanme summer camp for the last two years. He currently has an internship writing for Voices of Youth, a UNICEF project that serves as a platform for youth to learn and share about social issues. For his first assignment, Nephtaly wrote the following piece about HTF’s summer camp. The original post is in French and can be found here: http://www.voicesofyouth.org/en/posts/un-camp-de-joie-pour-les-enfants-de-jacmel—2.
Last week I was in Jacmel, a beautiful coastal town in the south-east of Haiti. It is known for its beautiful beaches, such as “Ti Mouillage”, with powerful waves and an attractive carnival with parades of the most beautiful crafted masks of the country. However, at the background of this beauty, as it is often the case in Haiti, different aspects of poverty can be found. In fact, I was not there as tourist. I was committed as a volunteer in a summer camp organized for about 400 needy children in the area. During four days they could come have fun and learn new things.
This was my second time in this camp and during all my stay there I met people who asked me why I came back. I had to explain to them every time how my first experience had a positive impact in my life. I knew by asking this question that a doubt existed in their thoughts about my goodwill. I had also to explain them that I was a volunteer and the only profit that I will draw from this week was purely spiritual.
HTF (Haitian Timoun foundation), the organizer of this camp is a foreign NGO created by several congregations of the Lutheran Church in the United States. Three years ago, I would never have imagined myself so close to an organization like this. My point of view on foreigners in Haiti has always been bad, especially after 2004 because of the establishment of the MINUSTAH (United Nations Mission for Stabilization in Haiti) that Haitians ironically nicknamed “TOURISTAH”. This military deployment on our territory remains the symbol of the domination of the international community on our society and our political lives. My opinion became more radical after the earthquake of January 12th 2010 that devastated our country. Haitians have only heard about the huge sums of money that were promised to help them and which have never reached them in any form. They’ve seen for the first time in their country NGOs coming to exploit this situation and leave after.
HTF, on the other hand, has been committed for a long time to Haiti in its mission to foster hope and sustainability with dignity in Haiti. It works exclusively for this reason in partnership with programs run by Haitians. This camp was born from this vision after the earthquake of 2010. During this year of terror, it was necessary to provide to the children a way to overcome the trauma from the earthquake, especially in Jacmel where HTF partners are the most represented. The first edition was a success and since that the summer camp has become a major event for many children in this area over the past four years. In addition there are no decent and affordable means of entertainment available during vacation in Haiti. So this week was also a respite for many parents.
I applied for this camp for the first time because I like volunteering and also I wanted to improve my English as a translator. According to the poster, there would be about fifty young American children and adults who would also come to participate in camp with young Haitians to build relationships. With my mind still limited, I did not expect to get anything more from the experience. However, I was totally impressed by everything in this camp; the reunion of young Haitians with young Americans they had met in previous times, hugs, smiles … I understood from the first day that love and friendship can go beyond language barriers and many others. I realized that young Americans are not so different from young Haitians, and they also have a lot to learn from us.
For this year, when I heard that the organizers wanted me to be a part of this adventure again, I was excited to relive all the great moments from my first experience. I was amazed by the simple fact that the children remembered my name when I arrived. Last year I was in charge with two other American friends of the section of games once again I did not want to miss their cry of joy during each party. By rotations by group, they took part in daily activities in the different stations including Science, Language, History, Games, and Arts and Crafts. An entertaining program integrated a daily theme to teach them to use their heads, hands and hearts to make sustainable initiatives. The last day was special. A group of participants (Haitian and American) marched through the streets of Jacmel carrying seedlings to a place called “Demontrey.” These hundreds of fruit trees planted is a message that the children have sent to the Jacmelians in order to protect their environment. I’m sure they are aware now of the deforestation ravaging our country especially in making charcoal (first fuel resource Haiti). In a week they will return with their parents for a meeting with the organizers to receive improved stoves. They will also be able to meet the makers of these stoves who will do a presentation about how to use these stoves.
Definitely, I was once again fascinated by the involvement of our friends from six different states of the United States during all activities of the camp. Despite the hot sun and the risk of dehydration and diseases they were always present to support and work with the Haitian kids. Their interests have made these young people aware that there are people in Nebraska, Colorado, Georgia, Texas, Arizona, and Ohio who believe in them and they are not abandoned. Once they return to their country I hope they continue to be special ambassadors of Haiti. I am particularly grateful for many of them, who after their first experience have come back with their parents, families and friends. Finally because their harmony with these children they have made this summer camp the best ever held in the region.
What is the mission?
In just a few weeks youth and adults from across the US will join efforts with youth and adults from across Haiti to host our 5th annual sumer camp, Fet Bondye Bo Lanme, in Jacmel. This year will be Megan Haarberg’s 3rd year participating. As you will see in her reflection below, many people often travel to Haiti with a mission or purpose and return with the realization that they are the ones transformed.
This morning, my alarm blared before the sun was even up demanding that I get ready for work. I grabbed tight at my blankets, not wanting to step out into my room that was left icy cold from the air conditioner the night before. Two years ago, I would have spent the entire morning whining about this situation. Two years ago, I would have been upset that my shower is too hot, my room is too cold, and I had to get up too early. What’s funny is that these things we complain about on a day-to-day basis are such blessings. Imagine waking up with no bed, no air conditioning, no job or education, and no shower. What’s even funnier is that people I know who lack these things wake up with a smile on their face every morning, thanking God for another day. People I know here in America curse these things and complain their way through the day. I was one of them.
In 2012, I agreed to go on a mission trip to Haiti. While I was excited, I felt more anxious and terrified than anything. I went into this trip with some good, and some shallow, intentions. I wanted to make the lives of children in Haiti better. I also wanted to tell people that I did. However, I had no idea that these couple of weeks spent in a completely different world would change mine. In the end, these children made my life better and all I wanted to tell people was how great they were.
Haiti is an incredible, beautiful place, which can sometimes be hard to explain to people who have never been. Most people who have no experience with Haiti don’t have very positive stereotypes of the country. They assume it is a filthy, hopeless, depressing country. However, the brothers and sisters I have made in Haiti exude life, joy, hope, and love. I have never known a group of people that inspired me more than the St. Joe’s family, with their stories of rising above, and the incredible group at Wings of Hope.
Spending a week at the VBS camp is something I think about every day. As this will be my third time in Haiti, I often catch myself wondering, “What can we do to make it better this year?” What’s most exciting is that every year, it does improve immensely. We are then blessed with the most exciting, entertaining, and inspiring group of children I have ever been fortunate enough to know. These children don’t complain that they didn’t get their favorite color of something or get angry that their food isn’t prepared right- they carry their water bottles and projects with pride. They eat with gratitude. Some children even sneak food into their pockets to share with their families at the end of the day. If that doesn’t put things into perspective, I don’t know what will.
While the camp is incredible, so is Wings of Hope and the Central Plateau. Talk about people with incredible spirits. If you have ever had the pleasure of singing a song with Steve at Wings of Hope, or allowing Josephine to braid your hair, then you know what true, genuine happiness is. A happiness that will resonate within you for the rest of your life, as it did for me. Perhaps you will see poverty at the Central Plateau beyond what you could have ever imagined, and listen to the stories of strength by those who live there. Suddenly, mundane issues back home become irrelevant.
In Haiti, there are no cell phones. You don’t get to play on a computer. You don’t sit in front of a TV and center your focus on celebrity gossip or the latest episode of The Bachelor. You become present. You enter a world where all you have to get you through is the people around you, and a bond forms that I have never experienced in another place. Sharing a couple weeks in Haiti with someone is like sharing your soul with them. The people I have met in Haiti, those who live there and those I traveled with, are easily the most incredible group of people I have ever had the pleasure to spend time with.
At the end of the exhausting, hot, humid days, I would ask myself, “Am I even making a difference?” I finally got my answer last year after an exceptionally long camp day when my group arrived back at the Temporary Shelter for the night. Some children who lived nearby and were members of our group in the camp came running up to greet us, asking us to sing the camp songs. We broke out into renditions of “blessed be,” “sa se yon jou,” and more. Finally, it was time that we had to go inside. As we got ready to go to bed and dark just began to fall, we heard little voices singing at the top of their lungs outside. As my friend Danielle and I stepped out onto the balcony, we saw a little six year old girl from our small group trying to teach other children around her the camp songs with incredible enthusiasm. When we stepped out on the balcony, she jumped for joy and asked us to sing along. So for the next long while, we went through every word and hand motion until our voices were nothing but a rasp. That night, I realized that the camp really did hold a special place in the hearts of these children, along with mine.
Returning to America is never easy after a Haiti trip. Many people assume that I would be excited to get back to a soft bed, a shower, and flushing toilets. But often times I dream of being back on a concrete rooftop, staring up at the endless stars to the sound of roosters and donkeys. I dream of singing camp songs in the blaring heat with children of an entirely different world than mine. I dream of the smiles on their faces, children and adults of Haiti, that I have yet to experience anywhere else. I dream of being surrounded by my giant group of brothers and sisters, spending two weeks of nothing but sweat, exhaustion, inspiration, and unconditional love.