Below is a travel-journal update from Darenda Lease, who recently traveled to Haiti with her husband, Tim, and fellow BHCC members Rick & Pat Jacobs, to forward the project’s goals.
THERE IT WAS! There was the answer to my nagging question, “Can we possibly make a difference that really matters?”
Two things I was told to remember: “Tell your team to fill their water bottles before they board the airplane to Haiti, and go to the bathroom before you go to baggage claim in Haiti. You will not be able to do either of these for a while once you start the drive to Le Cayes.”
Getting to Haiti is relatively easy. Arriving in Haiti and going through customs was uneventful. Even getting past the many “red shirts,” those aggressive individuals permitted inside the airport to “help” with your luggage, although intimidating, was manageable. But the ride from Port Au Prince to Le Cayes was not so easy on the eyes or heart. The city was in shambles from the 2010 earthquake. Debris lined the streets and although much has been cleaned up in the past year, for the first time visitor it was a shocking sight. The number of people everywhere we went could become overwhelming. Each village or town we passed through was filled with people working very hard to make a few goud (Haitian currency). The streets were lined shoulder to shoulder with people selling mangos, charcoal, odds and ends from their home, pint size water bags, dried fruit, candy, beans, rice, dried spices, ANYTHING and everything they had. Haiti is hard on its people and Haiti has been hard for a long time for many reasons, from destruction of its infrastructure, hurricanes and most recently the earthquake. People there truly live day to day. I quickly began to wonder: do Haitians have hope, dreams, and goals? With so much need here, can we possibly make a difference that really matters?
Our schedule changed during our drive to the guesthouse. We called ahead for directions only to find out that we were not expected until the next day, but they could be ready for us much later that evening. Suddenly we had a full day to fill, and what a blessing it turned out to be.
We switched up the weeks’ plans and decided to visit the two sites Rick worked on last October. He installed a UV water treatment system at one site and an Ozone water treatment system at the other. It was perfect because we would see two different working systems, have the opportunity to get some questions out of the way, and be better prepared as we went about our week surveying sites for our own installations. After a few hours we turned off the main road to drive almost another hour on a bumpy narrow dirt road to get back into the first village. We were greeted with lots of smiles and waves from the kids at this site. It was home to one of the many Global Orphan Projects and since Rick and Ashley were there a few months ago, they were recognized. We climbed out of the truck with our follow-up surveys in hand to check out how the system was performing. We were all busy with our questions when we heard an “alleluia!” behind us. The pastor that runs this Global Orphan Project heard we were they and could not wait to tell us, “Our children have not been sick with diarrhea or stomach pains since the water system was installed last October!!” THERE IT WAS! There was the answer to my nagging question “Can we possibly make a difference that really matters?” I have no doubt that that was a direct answer from God through this Pastor. After a joyful conversation and completion of the survey, we said our goodbyes and set off for the second site. At both sites we arrived unannounced and found them impeccably clean, well maintained and, most importantly, successfully providing CLEAN PURE water to their local communities!
By now it is late afternoon. We had drained those water bottles we filled at 5:00 a.m. and had our fill of trail mix and dried fruit, so we put Ancy to the task of finding us a place to eat. He located a small local restaurant where we had (like every night during our stay) rice and beans, some fried meat and fried plantains. It was delicious and soon after we were settled into our guesthouse ready for a good night’s sleep. I think we were all asleep by 9:00 p.m.! I was awakened by the sound of a rooster crowing at 2:00 a.m. and 3:00 a.m. then 4:00. He could apparently tell the change of every hour but just couldn’t get which one represented true morning, so he just kept going until he got it right! But HEY, we were in Haiti and a new day was beginning! What joy would we find today?
The 7:30 breakfast bell rang and we delighted to find that we would be having breakfast and dinner with our host and hostess, Madame Franchette and Pastor Ignace Augustine, each day. They have started over 60 churches and schools providing jobs for many. They are from Haiti and have felt God’s calling to stay and make a difference, which they certainly have. Our hope is to install a water system at their school in Le Cayes in the near future. This would serve the community, their school and their orphanage which currently drinks water treated with Iodine tablets.
After breakfast we set off to find Torbeck, less than 30 minutes away. We were ready to get to work! To start the site surveys at the St. Paul Rectory and their school, to test the water and quickly move right to negotiating a covenant. We had lots to do (in our American get-it-done way)! We arrived close to 9:00 a.m. and were greeted by Father/Pere Alphonse, a few elders of the Parish and teachers from the community. Instead of going right to tasks at hand, we all sat down to yet another breakfast. Conversation was light as there was only ONE translator. We quickly learned to slow down, to pay attention to body language, and to look into someone’s eyes as they try to communicate simple sentences. We learned we could understand a little through jesters, pointing and smiling! It was time well spent and added much to begin the relationship building part of our mission. It was an initiation into the way we will be doing business in Haiti.
So the day goes like this: we drive to a site, we talk, Ancy translates, they answer, Ancy translates, we talk some more, Ancy translates. A large amount of our time that week was spent traveling to and from sites and in translating. Surely by the end of each day, Ancy had to be the truly exhausted one.
We spoke with four groups on this trip, did surveys on three sites, started initiating talks to sign covenants in the near future with two, and came home with one completed and signed covenant. That signed covenant was with Pere Alhponse of St. Paul Parish in Torbeck. The water treatment system will be installed at the site of the Rectory late November 2012! Construction on the building to house the water system started mid-April! This is incredibly exciting!
I have to share one story. Two young men from an area north of Port Au Prince were scheduled to talk to us. They traveled over eight hours to get to us. After a short time listening to their desperate story, it became clear that many things needed to happen before we could begin to help them. People in their village were scooping water from the river that runs near the village. It is the only source of water they have. This is the same river that is mentioned in all of the Cholera articles in the papers recently. It is contaminated with and now breeds Cholera. I cannot begin to explain the sadness in their eyes and our hearts. They had been so excited to be able to meet us so we could “save their people.” We will be staying in contact with them through a group in the US called Partners in Progress. We hope we find a way quickly to help this village.
We met wonderful people and saw everyday people working hard to earn a living one day at a time. We felt like we accomplished much on our trip, but this kind of story can haunt you. Ashley Broadhurst accompanied us on our trip. She has been to Haiti almost monthly for over a year and shared these words of encouragement and comfort. “Unlike many countries with pockets of poverty, Haiti is a country where one simply cannot get out of it. As I continue to tell teams, Haiti is hard, and you must allow yourself time to process… And one must not fall victim to being overwhelmed and thinking the work they are doing is in vain. If you can touch one life, if you can bring hope to just one person, if you can give love to one child, if you can give clean water to one community, then you have succeeded.” At the end of our trip she wrote, “Relationships have strengthened, optimism is seen on every corner and the work we are doing is increasing daily. God has certainly blessed our teams and their missions.”
Thank you Bower Hill! You have already succeeded in making a difference.
We ask for your continued blessing on this mission and continued prayers in our efforts to fundraise so we can install many water systems in the future. We are looking forward to the opportunity to share pictures and conversation soon in Adult Ed. Please come! I think we will make you proud!
Darenda Lease Haiti Travel Team