10 Years Since My First Trip to Haiti

The World Then and Now: 10 Years Since My First Trip to Haiti

Mesi anpil, chay pa lou. Many hands lighten the load. It has been ten years since my first trip to Haiti this week.

With the world in grief, loss, fear, and uncertainty, so many of us are finding our way each day. People are feeling sad, angry, and helpless; we are concerned for our friends & global communities, and so many of us are looking for pathways to make sense of the world today.

These pathways vary for different people. For some, taking time to feel the loss, sorrow, and sadness helps people move to a new space. I have one friend who yells at the top of her lungs in her car. Other people need outlets of creativity to give voice to their expressions. My dear friend, Mary, writes poetry to understand her changing world. Physical activity/exercise supports by helping us access blocked feelings, acting as a moving meditation with endorphins as an added benefit. Being in nature can connect us to the present moment, reminding us how we return to balance. Hiking has been a practice for me for many years. In the mornings, hiking through the lands where the Hohokam people lived, I saw the buttes where their homes were. I remind myself they had family, health, and agriculture(work) challenges. They lived, and now life continues, which makes me feel a part of the human family across time. So many pathways lead us to the place where we can see differently.

In business and leadership circles, a place that we can see differently often leads to a common piece of advice: “Control What You Can Control”. As a response to dealing with loss and uncertainty, humans like to feel in control. This journey is often not as linear as we would like. I wanted to share my experience the last 10 years I’ve spent with the Haitian communities because the world is in grief. Grief originally brought me to Haiti.

10 years ago, I experienced a loss. One that hurt, rocked my world, and ended a few dreams I held for many years. I had a miscarriage at over 5 months pregnant. I had experienced a few miscarriages before, not to negate those losses, but never arrived at the grief, sadness, and darkness that I experienced with this one. I could not get through the grief, no matter how many stages there were. Sadly, I turned to existing in the world without being present. I returned to work to not feel it, I went through the motions of everyday life and I went to therapy. Healing is a slow journey, and this was watching sedimentary rocks form.

I was working in San Francisco, walking through crowed streets, I saw a flyer on door about a yoga service trip in Haiti. I had taught yoga a year before in Nairobi, so this trip was interesting. I enrolled another yoga teacher/ friend to go with me and scheduled our trip to Haiti in Oct 2013.

Haiti is a conundrum. It is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. I’d like to share with you the details of the projects and our results with the nonprofit that I’ve been a part of over these years, but these days large parts of the country are controlled by rival gangs. They continue to target kidnappings using social media for intel. and vigilante killings have become widespread. The current solution to mitigating the violence is the UN-mandated intervention that Kenya has launched.

What I can share with you are the lessons of Empathy, Commitment, Resilience, and Hope that I’ve learned over the past decade. The first time I met with the founder of organization, Marlaine, in Jacmel, I listened to the story of how their first center began over 25 years ago with her daughter. Vanessa shared with her mom that she should help the children on the streets and bring some of them home to join their family. This family has now grown to include 127 children and young adults across central and southeast Haiti.

During our first introduction, I asked Marlaine how she create the culture of care, learning and growth with 100+ children including many young ones and a focus on musical arts. Marlaine instills a practice of empathy by pairing new children with those a few years older to mentor and be connected in helping them adjust to their new home. These mentors know the fear and apprehension adjusting to a new life and have immediate empathy. Though there is an amazing staff, this relationship builds bonds, supports growth, and instills a sense of family.

Many organizations concentrate only on orphan care, but Marlaine had the commitment to helping families and communities solve the hard root problems that caused so many children to live in orphanages. She led the creation of a school in Marbial, which is high in the mountains. Today this school educates more than 450 children that do not have to leave home to receive an education which was not the case. We have 325 move students further down the mountain. We started agriculture programs to reeducate communities to grow their own vegetable rather than cutting trees down to make charcoal for money. We have had programs across education, healthcare, economic development, and agriculture. This is an enduring commitment that we may not see all the projects flourish in our lifetime.

The resilience of the Haitian community is astounding. The country has had 20 constitutions, went from one of the richest to poorest countries, and was the first country to abolish slavery. 2021 brought a season of devastation for Haiti, with a presidential assassination in early July, a major earthquake in mid-August that killed more than 2,000 people in which our organization was involved in the recovery, and then, a few days later, the impact of tropical storm Grace. The continued violence and instability are pushing even the strongest leaders to reconsider the path forward. USCIS has created humanitarian visa programs which have allowed for some our young adults to come to the US. Their resilience to adapt to the US is outstanding: learn English, apply for work, learn to drive/get licenses, integrate into a new culture, and learn as much as they can. One of my best days this year was seeing our young adults in Dallas this spring. I am not sure if I cried or laughed more.

And hope. While I have sat with Founders and Leaders and said “Hope is not a people strategy”, it is the result of my time with my Haitian family. 10 years ago, I could not escape my sadness and uncertainty. The writer, Alexander Chalmers, said “the three grand essentials of happiness are: something to do, someone to love and something to hope for. Marlaine gave me plenty to do when I was in Haiti and here in the states. I have so much love for my Haitian family its hard to explain unless you spend time with us, and I have hope for our young adults and children that they will share their gifts and change the world, especially the future of Haiti. I found hope again.
Even during the bleakest times, a flyer on a door can change your life.

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