1 Year in Haiti – WOW What a year!!
Bonswa! I write tonight from my home in Titanyen, Haiti. As a beautiful electrical storm rolls in off of the mountains, I am enjoying the distant rumbles and peaceful night to write outside.
This blog is about 1 week overdue as last week marked the end of my first year living in Haiti. I have struggled in the writing of this post due to the difficulty in trying to summarize the mountain of amazing events that occurred over the last year. For those of you who have followed this blog regularly, many of those stories have been mentioned . . . but be assured, there are dozens more to be found in the 1000+ pages of my personal journals from the last year (not sure when those will be typed up and included in this blog as they are obviously always in progress). There are also a couple of publications I have begun discussing with experienced friends – maybe the next year will see the fruits of those discussions.
Before the end of the month we will be moving in 20 more families, and if everything remains on schedule we will have relocated everyone from the old camp within 8 to 10 months. The deaf families in the old camp are eager and anxious for their new homes – we are building as fast as we can. We are praying hard for these families that as they prepare to move they are excited and ready to settle in to their new homes – that they find peace amidst the anxiety that can come with a large, and that the deaf families already in Leveque will be waiting with open arms to help them settle in!
As I sit tonight to try to summarize or give any reflections on the last year, I am left with one overwhelming thought . . . “it has been quite a year . . .” We have A LOT of work ahead, but it is also remarkable to look at what has been accomplished in the last year. The community at Leveque threw a beautiful anniversary party for me on the day that marked the end of my first year here. I was brought into the garden of a deaf man with my eyes closed for the entire community to surprise me with their presence, their hugs and kisses, and their gifts. There was also a slideshow of pictures from the last year and several speeches and presentations from the deaf leaders who have become my family. I will summarize here the words of two people as they presented their gifts. First, JoJo is a man who was born without arms or legs. JoJo is an incredibly wise member of the community who is also an extremely talented artist. JoJo presented me with a painting of the community of Leveque and simply stated – “Mr. Kyle, all of your ideas are to help us with a new life here. Everyday we all know that Leveque is in your head and that Leveque is in your heart.” A beautiful painting and beautiful words that I will treasure forever.
Next up was William Saint Eloi, or “Pastor William” as we now call him. William simply stated, “1 year ago the deaf were suffering, we had many problems and did not know if there was a future anywhere for us. Then one day this tall white guy just kept showing up to our community. He just showed up again, and again, and again to learn our language and to talk with us. Then one day he started talking with us about the chance for a new life for the community, a place called Leveque. Many of us have moved here now, everyone else is very excited to move, and we are all so happy and so thankful that the community has hope. I want to say God Bless you.”
Much later in the celebration William did put on a yellow knit cap (for blonde hair) and covered himself in flour (to be white), and proceeded with a hilarious attempt at mimicking my journeys through Haiti and my mannerisms that have now become so familiar to the deaf. He had all of us roaring in laughter.
There are so many stories to share from this last year that shed light on what this work means for the community and for Haiti as a whole. Please allow me to briefly share a few of those stories as small examples of God’s work in Haiti.
A deaf man named Jean Guy Hyppolite moved to Leveque with the first group of families in February. Jean Guy has been unemployed for over 4 years and has also been separated from his son for more than three years. His son, Kevenley has been living with distant relatives several hours away and they have seen each other only a handful of times in the last 3 years. Last week I arrived in the community to find Jean Guy running up to my vehicle, excited to introduce me to his 10 year old son. Jean Guy has found employment in masonry in the community and has also cultivated a beautiful garden of corn, watermelons, beans, and plaintains. Due to his recent successes, and the opportunity for the children in the community to attend school as the school year starts in October, Jean Guy has been reunited with his son in Leveque. As the deaf community and other families find new levels of sustainability, this will continue to be the story for many families – so cool to be a part of.
Next we have Mr. Williams Sauveur. Williams is one of the greatest success stories in Leveque as he is 42 years old, was unemployed for many years, never spent a day in school and is just now starting to gain literacy. You all have seen Williams’ garden featured on this blog a few months ago and his efforts have not dwindled. Here is a man who 1 year ago was entirely dependent on food distributions and charity in order to eat and survive. Due to his work ethic and the sweat of his brow in Leveque, Williams continues to cultivate one of the most flourishing gardens, continues to be hired by construction bosses for many jobs (as he is widely considered to be the hardest worker around) and attends class 2 nights a week to gain literacy in French. Williams and several other older deaf people in the community are examples to me that we are providing the right levels of support for these families – by Haitian standards, a deaf man who is entirely illiterate is considered unemployable. Here he is today expanding his realm of businesses into chicken raising, saving money for a goat, and now supporting other members of the community out of his success. Incredible – I praise the Lord for Williams as he is a beautiful reminder of what this project means. When you provide the right opportunities for hard work, many people will still refuse to put in the work, that is the entitlement that we are always fighting in Haiti . . . but Williams is the example that the right support has been offered, and he will become a pillar of the community because of it.
As I have written many times on this site, the deaf leaders have continued to grow as servant leaders of their community. They have also continued to grow in their own advocacy and desire to seek opportunities for themselves. This year the deaf leaders formed ASD’H (Association Sourds D’Ayiti) which is now a legal organization in Haiti that is being run by the deaf Haitians. We are working hard to support this organization as they begin the initial stages of seeking government and other support on their own. The leaders have a lot of work ahead in learning how to write their own grant proposals and project plans, but I remain happy to support them in however many drafts it takes for them to take ownership of a plan and submit a worthwhile proposal.
Clean water is flowing and it is affordable – some kinks to still work out with the water committee and definitely some future expansions of the project for more volume, but overall it is working. Enough said there.
Lights in the community – solar lights for the community and increased communication ability for the deaf families. Also done for the community with 15 more solar lights for community gathering points fully funded and on the way!!
Micro-Enterprise and jobs – 8 women creating beautiful paper bead jewelry, 2 general stores, many families taking produce to market, 2 women starting this week in the Three Cords program at Mission of Hope, 12 households employed in stages of construction (1 Deaf masonry boss contractor, 1 deaf carpentry boss contractor), a movie theater built by the deaf, charging station run by a deaf woman, several families with at least one family member working outside of the community – usually Port au Prince. We have much work to do in this area and I see jobs and micro-enterprise as one of the biggest challenges facing us in the next year.
Education programs are up and running and going well within the community. The school year for Haiti starts again in October and it will be a great start to a day to see off all of these kids for their first day of school!!! Adult education programs in sign language, literacy, and English are currently being run almost every day of the week. Education remains the top priority of the community and all of our programs will be expanding drastically over the next year. On a side note – a school for the community is at the top of our list of funding needs this fall. If anyone is interested in helping to fund that, please be in touch!! We need $200,000.
In agriculture we have many great gardens underway – the deaf community has been especially interested in learning more. We have a new group of seminars rolling out this fall starting september 3 to teach any member of the community about the most efficient use of home garden space and care of a home garden.
We are relocating families for the next 8 – 10 months. Please keep those families in your prayers as they wait for their homes and as they settle in to their new lives in Leveque. Please also be praying that unity in the community continues to grow – that the hearing and deaf families can truly come together as a community.
Finally, one of the highlights of the year – with Vacation Bible school that provided wonderful learning and fellowship opportunities for 150 children in the community, all of the children wrapped up the week by singing “How Great is Our God” in sign language. The community that several months ago argued about allowing deaf people to live in the community is now learning sign language – it is common to now see people walking about the community practicing signs or songs – I can only write it once in a post, but that deserves a resounding BOO-YEAH and AMEN!!!!
Well – there are many more stories to share, but those will have to be spread out over the next year. Yes . . . based on all indications, I will be living here for a bit yet. This has been an incredible year, a year filled with some of the darkest, most heartbreaking, and challenging times of my life, but also filled with some of my all time favorite moments and experiences. It is truly unique in life to have a chance to live and walk alongside people much different from ourselves. Like William described, “one day there was just this tall skinny white guy who kept showing up everyday.” I count it the honor of my life that so many of the deaf now call me brother, and that if the deaf are asked what they think about our work together, many have responded in saying: “Man, Kyle loves Haiti, he loves the deaf, he is always working so hard to support the deaf – we think he is a little bit crazy, but we always say God bless him.” And there we are – what a year it has been.
“Lord I thank you today for the challenge that life in Haiti has been. I also praise you for the opportunity to walk alongside such wonderful people. Father God, as we move forward together I ask that you keep us focused on Your vision, on Your will for the community. Lord, that you give us strength in the face of adversity. Lord, that you give us courage to always stand for what is right against so many who would try to undermine Your project, Lord that you would give us peace, to bless when we are persecuted, and to truly show Your love to all we come in contact with – regardless of the reactions to us. God, we thank you today to look back on a year in this work, to everything that You have done, to all of the hearts that you have changed and are working on changing, for allowing us to be a part of a truly great social reform in Haiti. God, challenges and trials are a blessing, please help us to always retain that perspective. God, even in the best and most joyous of times, lift our heads so that we may look to You in Thanksgiving and praise. AMEN”
Thank you all for your support, your encouragement and your prayers over this last year. It is truly a joy to write this blog to share all of this with you on an almost weekly basis.
Cheers to a heck of a year – and cheers to the hope for the future.
grace and peace,