What an amazing day. Downright amazing.
First, lets begin with the drive to UMCOR. UMCOR's offices are only about 7 miles from the Guest House but it takes approximately 35-40 minutes to get there. On the way there, there are many sites. You pass much construction damage. Homes, hospitals, schools, etc. There was also a hill that you pass that has houses upon houses stacked up almost on top of one another on a hill - most of them destroyed. Even sadder, you see many living within the rubble, "staying in their home" with no roof over their heads. Passing by the rubble I wondered how it must be for locals who pass by these places. Is it painful? Do they remember friends, family, neighbors, their old hairdresser, their cook, their pastor? I remember that for a long while after my friend, George, died during my sophomore year of high school it was difficult to pass by the creek that killed him and the high school he attended. Is it the same for the folks of this city? Even stranger is that in the midst of the sadness, the city bustles with energy, excitement, and movement. Vendors have their items for sale right next to the street, children walk to school, and men whiz past on motorcycles. Although they must be grieving tremendously... life continues on.
Once I arrived at UMCOR, though, I was quickly introduced to Samuel who is the head of UMCOR Haiti. He is a pretty awesome guy. Very direct, yet funny, and extremely knowledgeable/intelligent. He's very busy, though, so I did not get to spend much time with him today. I did get to read over some of the materials that UMCOR has put together in terms of mapping out their strategy for recovery. Each NGO in Haiti recognizes there is no way they can do everything so each one tries to find some sort of niche to take care of some need. UMCOR decided their focus would be on education/rebuilding schools and building 1,300 transitional shelters for folks that will have a high tolerance for hurricanes and earthquakes. Apparently, Haitian government has declared that no permanent standing buildings should be built at this time until the government can map out guidelines to build by and most of the clean up has occurred, etc. However, the current shelters people are living in are not sufficient so UMCOR aims to get high quality transitional housing up for folks who need it. Also related to this is bringing water into the communities, educating the folks of the community on building techniques, and paying folks who work on the homes. Recognizing that some folks may be disabled or otherwise unable to do heavy lifting or other construction work things like child care are included in the umbrella of "working on the homes." Pretty neat, eh? I was impressed. :)
However, shortly after I arrived, President Paul, (also called Pastor Paul if I refer to him later) who is the President of the Methodist Church of Haiti (MCH)came home after traveling to Antigua. His home is next door to UMCOR and Samuel wanted to meet with President Paul briefly and introduce some of his newest worker, including myself. So Hal, Samuel, myself, and the new UMCOR architect - Alexandra - went to meet President Paul. President Paul suggested that myself and Samuel attend a planning meeting to be held in his office later that afternoon. Samuel could not attend at that time, though, so he sent Alexandra in his place. Around 2 p.m. - while it was pouring down rain outside - we journeyed to President Paul's office.
The first thing to be said about this meeting was that it was kind of amazing. We looked over a proposed meeting agenda for a 3 day roundtable conference that MCH is hosting. We were told to give our input about if something was left out or should be changed. One man immediately spoke up and said, "We need to educate the people of Haiti not just in literacy - which is important - but also give them some sort of good citizenship education. Haiti will never get better if we do not teach people what good governance is unless we change the attitudes of local government and the local people." We all nodded, that is a great idea. Haiti is somewhat notorious for crime, bribery, and corrupt government. If MCH can begin educating it's various communities on what it means to be in community with one another and what good, effective leadership is... Haiti might begin to get somewhere!
After that, the man added, "Also we need to give the people of Haiti economic training and teach them how to use their money effectively once they get it." President Paul immediately perked up and said, "Yes, thank you for saying that. I had not really thought about it but it makes sense. We teach people about poor people, but we do not teach them any theology on wealth. How will the people know what to do with money once they receive it? Good stewardship definitely needs to be a focus." I thought that was BRILLIANT. It totally makes sense. If you have a limited income how do you know how to "spend wisely" if you have never been educated in budgeting and all that jazz? Very interesting. Definitely gave me something to ponder - a theology for wealth. Hmmm...
Also, there were some very important people in this meeting - at least, for the Methodist church. On top of myself, Mike, Alexandra, and President Paul being there, there was also a few district superintendents present (they have the same job as Oblami, Donette's husband, but just in different circuits), and the President and Vice President of the Methodist Church of Great Britain. Fantastic. I felt kind of like a big deal. :)
I have to say, at this point... I'm kind of in love with the Haitian people. They're just so gosh-darn friendly and you become their friend fairly quickly. While I was in one of the UMCOR vehicles today, pulling away from the guest house, Jammes saw me inside and waved excitedly. I smiled and waved back saying to myself, "Indeed, a friendship was born." Also, Eric, who is the head of the drivers of the Guest House and a jack-of-all-trades sort of guy saw me in the vehicle as well and waved, happy to see me again even though I had just met him last night. On top of that, tonight, while I was sitting in my room, two boys came by my door and said "Bonswa! Kouman ou ye?" (Which, if you remember, is "Hello! How are you?") It didn't quite register right away so I said, "huh?" and one of the boys switched to English. "How are you?" "Oh, bien! ... You?" "Bien. Do you speak Creole?" "Very little." "Oh, you speak good English. Goodbye!"
It was just so sweet. And charming. And lovable.
Yes, it is hot. Yes, it rains and the roads flood. Yes, there are mosquitoes everywhere and lizards and roosters that crow at all times of the day and night. But, yet, it's still good. The people make up for it, the work makes up for it, and even if I left tomorrow I would have learned many lessons. However, I get to stick around for longer than tomorrow and I'm sure I will come back to Kansas City a much wiser woman. I am excited to see what God might teach me during my time here.
I hope you all are well. You are constantly in my thoughts and prayers. Au revior!
Also, I uploaded 6 new photos from my drive to UMCOR today if you want to see them here. I will probably take more tomorrow as I will most-likely be headed there again!