“Ayiti Pap Plyie”
“Haiti Will Not Forget”
The middle of the road and the week has gone by quickly as the “A Team” set off to travel to side known as “Less Than Nothing”. As the tap tap set off to this country oriented side of the Haitian side of the island there was time to take in scenes from the bay as well as the numerous mountain ridge lines that make up the natural borders of this once beautiful countryside. We knew that today we’d visit an orphanage, Grace Village, a bakery, four Elders from the village and potentially the Haitian earthquake memorial. The trip was about an hour and thirty minutes outside of our headquarters in Port Au Prince and would take us through to the middle of this mission. Although from the outset it seemed like a fairly benign day, much would soon become far more complicated with terms like “grace, hope, family, trauma, death, and relationship” getting thrown around.
“Do this in remembrance of me” said our Lord Jesus Christ. “When you fed me, gave me water, clothed the naked, visited orphans, took care of widows - when you did this to the least of these you did this to me”, He stated in passages during His life. One could easily convince him/herself that by coming from the United States to Haiti that the least of these are in Haiti. We can assume quickly that because we have malls and orphanages are masked by foster care that we are in a much better place than they who live here. Surely we are here to validate their efforts and tell them how to do things better and maybe, shed some of Christ’s love on someone. I’m gracefully humbled to report that this is not the myth we lived today.
When we arrived at Grace Village we were given a powerful tour from Kiki, a 25 y/o missionary who will spend another two years of her life serving under the Haitian leadership of an orphanage serving children from about three to about 19 through educational programs that lead to learning a trade. Although we were exposed to “misbehaving children” we were also exposed to the fact that many of these kids came from places where families harbored within them generations of trauma that was not forgotten when families were taught how to deal with difficult behaviors. As a social worker myself, in our own country, we would simply label a child and discard them. Not in Haiti. We looked on to a mini farm ran by a wise farmer who has been refining the process towards one day creating a sustainable farm. Albeit, this may turn into other efforts, the process of trying is one that is not in vain and will not go into the night quietly as the school will not abandon it’s efforts to continue to try something.We traveled through a clinic serving the families that use the orphanage to provide education in a safe environment, to which, it’s but one small part of the overall effort to promote employment so that families do not have to give their kids up, but provide for them a home with loving parents and hardworking people in their community.
To show off a little bit, we visited “Fleri” which is the social enterprise of Grace Village within which some of the first graduates submitted resumes, interviewed and were employed which culminated in the truest graduation - when they served their families within the very restaurant - the fruits of their labor. Haiti knows that employment will reduce the orphan situation. Haiti has not forgotten it’s orphans.
As we left the bakery knowing that we’ll return after hearing the mouth watering menu items, we traveled into the village names, “TiTian”, or, “less than nothing” where we were honored to enter into the homes of four of not just Haiti’s Elders, but our Elders as Children of God. I personally tried washing the feet of one of two sisters who was too embarrassed at how dirty her feet were to let me wash her feet. “Mademoiselle, couple”. “Please, misses” I said looking into her wrinkled face and sage, dark eyes. I had forgotten who I was, but knew that I was washing the feet of my Lord. I took one foot, Tim took another, someone else got started on her sister. Someone else put lotion on her. Her prayer at the end of the experience was for her children and grand children, that they may be able to find employment so that they can provide for themselves. Her grandchildren listened on as they surrounded the group huddled in prayer. There was not enough time to sit at their feet, in fact, I think I could have spent all day sitting on the ground and asking to hear their stories. “Teacher, tell me again so that I don’t forget.” Alas, it was time to go.
The trip back required of us a stop at the Haitian Earthquake memorial. Brene, our driver brought us into the shrine. I removed my hat along with a few others who realized we were stepping onto sacred ground. Over 300,000 people died in the earthquake on January 12, 2010. “We, in Haiti, have not experienced anything like this since 1942, so none of us were ready for this. We were not educated to not hide in buildings. . . and right before me, a whole building disappeared. I lost my uncle, some friends, and a girlfriend who was living in a basement. Her family paid some people to have her found, but her body was never found.” The sentiment across the group was noticeably pensive, thoughtful and for some, tear jerking. This was a mass grave where the Haitian people were asked to wrap the bodies of the dead in linens as they found them and place them in the street so that the government trucks can come by and pick them up to bring them to this place, and burn them. Six angel statues face out into the mountains where the fallen were cremated. There was no more running water in the moat around the original memorial as resources were no longer available, but the words, “Ayiti Pap Pliye”, Haiti will not forget” reminded us as we left, that memory is timeless and emotion accompanies it’s strength.
I’m not certain that I was the giver of grace, hope or any more love than that which I received today. I can’t speak for the whole group, but speaking for myself, I will not forget what I learned. I rode in the front with my wife and Brene and we spoke for the next hour or so about our countries. With hearty laughter amongst the three of us, Brene said, “I think Haiti is winning!”. I think you’re right Brene.