A Nest in Haiti - Haiti - March 2017

There is a Haitian proverb that says “Beyond the mountain is another mountain.” And it’s true, there seems to be no end in sight for the problems that plague Haiti. Spending just a few days in this beautiful country made me hopeful despite the tremendous amount of work that needs to be done to ensure wellness and opportunity for the Haitians. But my hopefulness has more to do with the strength of Haitians than what outsiders can do on this island.

I have watched what I feel like has been my whole life, as money and services have been reported to pour into Haiti. With 11 million people and a committed 13 billion dollars of international aid for the earthquake, it makes you wonder what is really happening on this beautiful island. Most reports claim that there are around 10,000 non-governmental organizations in Haiti. Haitians themselves refer to their homeland as the Republic of NGOs. I saw very few Haitians on my flight or in the airport. What I saw were church groups with matching t-shirts really enthusiastic about the good they were doing.  

I wonder, like most people do, about Haiti and aid. How could all this reported aid and all these people be flooding into Haiti and yet the majority of the population still be living in poverty?  I have seen, like you probably have, the countless articles and documentaries asking the same question. What I gather from the conversations I have had on the ground and from investigative reporting by Vice and Frontline is that there has been an insensitive amount of waste. There has been corruption both in Haiti and within some NGOs. There has also been well intentioned but naive spending that did little to nothing to help. There has also been a tremendous amount of money spent to rebuild Haiti though organizations that are not on the ground and/or who have little experience in Haiti. What has settled my mixed feeling is that I know Hummingbirds’ partnership with Aid Still Required doesn't fall into any of these categories.  

 The Hummingbirds Oadenn Community Center

The Hummingbirds Oadenn Community Center

When my sister Jessica and I arrived and saw the Oadenn Community Center sponsored by Hummingbirds, we of course loved seeing our logo and name on the building we leased, but our hearts were really tickled when the center opened and the kids were WAITING to come inside. Upon entering they eagerly picked out their favorite books; I’ve never seen so many kids so excited to read.  

 Community center wall/entrance

Community center wall/entrance

The center, like most homes in Haiti, doesn’t have running water. I was so impressed as three young boys slid a large, heavy metal slab from a dangerous (by American standards) hole in the ground. The boys worked together to pull out water to wash the fruit for their weekend snack.  

One of the many beautiful aspects of Oadenn is how participatory the parents are. The parents want to be a part of the center and lend their time to volunteer whenever needed. Jessica and I worked with some of the moms and cut up the fruit for the kids. I was amazed at how the women balanced huge loads of fruit or buckets of water on their heads. It reminded me of how many of our conveniences I take for granted.  

On Saturday about 100 kids, ages 1 to 18, showed up for yoga. They were packed in the various rooms of the center and all quietly, without rough-housing or snickering, did an hour of yoga. I can’t image getting my 11 year old son and just a handful of his friends to remain that focused and that peaceful for that long. The three community leaders who have dedicated their lives to bringing self-love and support to their community command so much respect with love and peace.  

 Kids at community center

Kids at community center

My favorite moments were those surrounded by children. These kids couldn’t speak the language of my homeland, but they spoke the language of my heart. They wanted to be loved and to shine their love on my sister and I. They wanted to cuddle, take selfies on our phones and show us their homemade toys.

We all know that the best things in life are not actually things but moments.  And as I move through life my quest has been for happiness, peace and fulfillment, which some would say is finding God. It was there, in Haiti, in this humble dwelling without electricity, or running water, that I found the spirit of God. If you have spent more than a few minutes with me listening to music or watching a movie then you know I am a big ol’, sensitive cry baby. I am easily moved to tears from joy - which can be especially embarrassing because I do it all the time. And it happened a bunch in Haiti too, just being embraced by a mother, thanked by a father or loved on by one of the kids made my heart swell with so much gratitude for being included in their world, where the petty stuff doesn’t matter and the focus is really just love.  

What I gathered from conversations with aid workers and Haitians is that a lot of people come to Haiti to help. There are stories of walls that get painted every six months because the volunteers need something to do. What I saw and felt in Haiti has stayed with me and shifted my soul for the better. I am eager to return with Noah Grace, who just turned 13, because I want her to bare witness to the beauty and courage of a country that has been ridiculed, beaten down by racism and natural disaster and still springs up with eternal hope and grace. I saw parents who love their children and communities who come together to take care of each other and fight for a brighter day. I was embraced with hugs that smelled like sunshine and baby powder. Although I didn’t understand a lick of their Haitian Creole and they understood very little of my English, that didn’t stop me from feeling welcomed. The mothers wanted to see pictures of my children, and their faces lit up as they told me how beautiful my family is. I saw joy on the faces of children whose dirt floors, lack of electricity or running water and money didn’t stop them from looking their Sunday best. Haiti may need support in building their infrastructure, but Haitians have the fortitude to handle whatever is thrown their way.  

 Jennifer riding bikes with the kids in Haiti

Jennifer riding bikes with the kids in Haiti

Jennifer Johnson