Processing:  Little by little

During our last few days in Haiti my roommate said that she felt like she was in some kind of suspended state, like when you’re waiting for a webpage to load and just watching that annoying circle go around and around.  There’s never much time to think or process while we are there and actually in it.  But we know that the emotions, the changes in our perspective, the shades of grey that start to cover over what was once black and white are all there, just waiting to download.  I have been home for about a week now, and the download is still trickling in, little by little, in between the busyness of family life.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get to sit in a decompression chamber for 24 hours after my trip, which would have been really helpful.  I was just thrown right back into life and work and parenting and all that craziness.

This daily meditation popped into my inbox the other day from Richard Rohr, who is a Franciscan monk and one of my favorite teachers right now.  It seemed fitting for me, pondering the issues of social justice within the larger framework of my faith:

Francis of Assisi taught us the importance of living close to the poor, the marginalized, the outcasts in society. The outer poverty, injustice, and absurdity around us mirror our own inner poverty, injustice, and absurdity. The poor man or woman outside is an invitation to the poor man or woman inside. As you nurture compassion and sympathy for the brokenness of things, encounter the visible icon of the painful mystery in “the little ones,” build bridges between the inner and outer, learn to move between action and contemplation, then you’ll find compassion and sympathy for the brokenness within yourself.

Each time I was recovering from cancer, I had to sit with my own broken absurdity as I’ve done with others at the jail or hospital or sick bed. The suffering person’s poverty is visible and extraverted; mine is invisible and interior, but just as real. I think that’s why Jesus said we have to recognize Christ in the least of our brothers and sisters. It was for our redemption, our liberation, our healing—not just to “help” others and put a check on our spiritual resume.

I can’t hate the person on welfare when I realize I’m on God’s welfare. It all becomes one truth; the inner and the outer reflect one another. As compassion and sympathy flow out of us to any marginalized person for whatever reason, wounds are bandaged—both theirs and ours.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Near Occasions of Grace (Orbis Books: 1993), 108-110.

In Haiti, it’s not hard to find brokenness.  There is greed, there is violence, there is darkness, there is homelessness, hunger, sickness, and pain.  Not so different from my own country.  As privileged as we are, we don’t get to escape the human condition.  It is a different flavor, but it is the same brew.  As Mama T said, “Calcutta is everywhere, if only we have eyes to see”.

I don’t pretend to understand all of the social, economic, and cultural nuances at play in Haiti.  I have so much to learn.  But mostly I am learning more about my own self.  Every time I see something that looks broken, regardless of whether I stand in the dusty streets of Port-au-Prince or on my own green lawn which is slowly being overtaken by crabgrass, I am learning to look inward first–to hold up the mirror.  I’m not good at it yet.  I would rather turn the mirror the other way and spout my opinion about what others (be it government, society, institutions, or individuals) need to change, than to stare hard at what is looking at me right in the face.

The processing is going to take a while.  It’s almost too much to do all at once, like staring directly into the sun.  I take one piece out at a time and turn it over a few times, carry it around in my pocket, then look at it again later.  Each time I see something new.  Or something really old, but in a new way.

Photo credit: Amanda Ellison

I haven’t been able to answer very well when people ask me, “how was your trip?”.  It was a lot of things, but it’s not easy to sum up in a few neat sentences.  I’m just going to carry it around in my pocket for a bit longer and let it all percolate, little by little.

7/6/17: Here, there and everywhere for our last full day

Today was our last full day in country before we set out on our journey home.  Our medical clinic is done for this trip and was an excellent learning experience for all of us, and seemed to be well-received by the communities we were serving.  Our team members from Alabama consisted of 2 nurse practitioners, one RN, several firefighters with EMT and disaster response experience, a nursing student, and many non-medical people who helped support the medical clinic in various ways throughout the week.  Our ladies team was mentioned in my post yesterday.


Team members from Calvary Baptist Church in Alabama

Given the size of this group, we split up today and went in different directions.  I went with the ladies team, and we travelled all around with the primary goal of visiting some very special children.  Some of the ladies on our team have sponsored children in the area, and one of the most exciting things on this trip for them was to go and see those children!

We headed out first to Corail, which is one of the largest post-earthquake communities outside of Port-au-Prince.  The roads heading into Corail are much more passable by motorcycle than they are by the Post-Apocalyptic School Bus, so the ride was terrifying interesting.  One of our IMF employees calls Corail home, and he told us that when it rains, the roads flood and he has to get off his moto, roll up his pants, and take off his shoes to walk home through the flooded streets.

We met the little girl and her mother at the school she attends.  The school coordinator was so welcoming to our group and spoke excellent English.  We were told she previously worked at the palace as an officer.  She works with 5 dedicated teachers, and together they educate 80 children from preschool up to 2nd grade.  Here is a picture of one of the classrooms:


Classroom in Corail

One of the very fun things we have been able to do (yesterday and today) is to go and visit some places that are committed to empowering the Haitian people through education, job training, and job creation.

Let me introduce you to Jolina.  Doesn’t her smile make you want to smile?


Jolina, director of sales at Deux Mains designs

Jolina is the director of sales at Deux Mains Designs, which is the for-profit enterprise of REBUILD globally, a non-profit organization in Haiti that exists to break the cycle of poverty by offering job training, education, and dignified living wages for its workers.  It was founded shortly after the earthquake of 2010.  Jolina was their first employee!  She spoke to us while we were there about what it has meant to her to have a job that not only allows her to provide for her family, but has also allowed her to buy property and start her own business on the side.  She is a phenomenal, strong woman.

All of the items at Deux Mains are completely drool-worthy.  They use recycled tires to make the most beautiful shoes, sandals and bags.  All of the materials–from the tires to the glue to the thread–are sourced in Haiti, and the workers are paid a fair living wage with opportunities for education and promotion to help lift them out of the cycle of poverty.  REBUILD also works with refugees at the Haiti-Dominican border offering job training and income opportunities.  You can shop online for their products if you like them.  They have a warehouse that ships out of Miami, but rest assured that all of their items are ethically and lovingly handmade in Haiti.  I can attest that their flip-flops are both super comfortable and beautiful, and since I bought them on my trip last year they have become one of my favorite summer wardrobe staples.  They run true to size.  Our group of women collectively spent about $1000 at Deux Mains, and Jolina started dancing!  She told us that the money we spent would pay for approximately 3 weeks of salaries for their employees!

We also had the opportunity to visit Papillon, another socially conscious business created to stimulate the Haitian economy by providing job training, employment and support for Haitians.



From left:  Sarah, Amanda, Jane, me, Debbie, Marth, Makayla, Denise, Heidi, Riley, and Janet

One of their goals in doing this is to specifically provide employment and educational opportunities for Haitian parents so that they can support their children and not have to abandon them to orphanages because of extreme poverty. I did not get to visit Papillon on my last trip, and I loved it!  They have beautiful, hand-crafted jewelry, t-shirts, bags, home decor, pottery, and much more, all made on-site.  We were given a tour, and we got to see where all the magic happened.


Pottery room


They make beautiful necklaces and bracelets form beads that are crafted from strips of cereal boxes, then rolled and varnished.


Someone please tell my husband he can’t get mad at me for shopping.  I supported the Haitian economy a lot while I was here.  I was just doing my part to make the world a better place!

Our final stop today was back to the village of Chambon to visit another one of our ladies’ sponsored children.  He was waiting for us on the side of the road with his mom, where we make the turn off the main highway onto the rocky road leading to the village.  He sprinted to the bus and excitedly ran toward us, waving and smiling, as Martha launched herself down the stairs of the PASB to embrace him.  It was so precious to get to witness this interaction.  This is the second time Martha has been able to come visit him and his mom.  They climbed in the bus and we drove down the the river, where we played and splashed with the kids of the village for awhile.




We said our goodbyes and headed back for the night.  We spent some time after dinner organizing all of the leftover medical supplies to be placed into storage for future trips.

Tomorrow we travel again.  I need to be pressure-washed and soaked.  Can’t wait to see my crew!




Haiti, take 2!

Today is the day!  I set out for Port-au-Prince early this morning, waking my bleary-eyed family at 3:15 am so they could take me to the airport.  I felt bad about dragging the kids out of their beds for a hot second, until I remembered all of the times they have woken me up in the middle of the night and I realized–PAYBACK TIME, BABY!

This trip has been about a year in the making in terms of planning, although most of the details have just started coming together in the last 2 months.  I am working with the International Mission Foundation, and this will be the first of hopefully many trips to work on a community development project in Chambon, which is a rural village about 1.5 hours east of Port-au-Prince.  The long-term goal is to help them establish a free-standing medical clinic to be staffed by a Haitian doctor.  In the short-term, we will be doing some mobile medical clinics, needs assessment, as well as identifying and training some local lay people to become community health workers (CHW’s).

We have very recently started an exciting collaboration with Community Health Initiative (CHI) Haiti.  This is a really solid organization that has been doing similar work in Arcahaie, Haiti.  They have graciously agreed to allow us to partner with them and learn their model, with the hope that we can replicate it in Chambon.  We are so grateful for their experience, resources, and influence.  Several of their experienced staff members will meet us in Port-au-Prince on Monday and help us with the mobile clinic next week.

In the past week I have been frantically packing and pondering all the details, in addition to trying to keep the kids amused and supervised on their first week of summer vacation.  I did fit in another really great “field trip” to Intervol, where I was able to pick up a motherlode of medical supplies.  Our pharmacy order arrived last week, just in the nick of time.  A little too close for comfort for me, but that’s how it goes sometimes.


Got my supplies on!

The kids helped me pack.  They are actually at an age where it was genuinely useful to have them helping!



So here is what I like to do when I am stressed about something big.  I like to choose something minute to obsess over.  It works for me, I think.  So last night I started fretting about the liquid restrictions for carry-on baggage.  Can I tell you, I just hate airports and all of their RULES.  It’s all so confusing.  I am the worst at airports.  I always make a fool of myself at security and I was totally determined not to do it again.  I had to text my friend Keri for a liquid consult.  I feel so befuddled by it all.  I get that shampoo and conditioner and body wash are liquids.  But what about face creams?  Because those aren’t really liquids.  Technically I would call them semi-solids.  So do they get pulled out for security check or not?  Also I have this ointment, which is really just a little thicker than a cream, so is that allowed?  Actually, it’s more the consistency of peanut butter.  And last time I went to Haiti, peanut butter was OK with the TSA state-side, but going back from Haiti to the USA the peanut butter got confiscated because it was considered a liquid.  What?  HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO KNOW WHAT TO DO?  

Airports are hard for me.

Anyhoo, I met up with some of the team at the connection in Atlanta:

We have a really big team this time, compared to the small team I was on last year.  There are 12 from a church in Alabama (most with some kind of medical/nursing/EMT training), in addition to me and another woman from North Carolina.  We also have a group of ladies from New Brunswick (Oh, Canada!) who met us down here around dinner time and will help us with the administrative and logistical parts of the medical clinic.

That’s it for tonight!  For those of you who are following, I will try to post a little something every day!

Going back to Haiti in 2017!

Hello friends, both near and far!  I am so excited to give you some updates about some things up ahead for me in 2017.  Those of you who have been following my blog likely remember my trip to Haiti last year.  I am very excited to let you know that I will be going back again this year!  And I need your help!

After my trip last year, I was given the opportunity to join the Advisory Board of Directors for the International Mission Foundation.  IMF currently partners with ministries in five countries, including Haiti, to provide support and resources to various ministries already active in those countries.  Though the Foundation itself is relatively new, the people involved with IMF have worked for years building partnerships and alliances with various ministries in each of the countries.

I am on the medical advisory board committee, and one of our goals this year is to set up a school-based primary health care program for the children in Chambon.  IMF has a long relationship with this community and has worked with them in the past on other community development projects.

Over the course of time, the community of Chambon has expressed an interest in having medical services more accessible to their village.  It is a very rural community, without easy access to a health care facility.  Our goal would be to help this village develop a community-based health program.

For the first phase of the program, we are going to start with the children enrolled in the Valley of Hope School.  Many of these children receive educational sponsorship through IMF, and we hope to have more sponsored in 2017.  (If you are interested in sponsoring one of the children, you can learn more here.)  Our team will set up shop for a few days at the school and offer well-child checks, preventative health teaching, and treatment of simple health problems (like minor infections, anemia, de-worming medication, etc.).  If we identify any complicated health problems or chronic illnesses, we hope to help families get referred or make connections locally for ongoing care.


Valley of Hope School

There are several underlying principles that are guiding us as we undertake this project.  First, we believe that the community of Chambon is its own expert on its needs and local culture.  As such, we think it is very important to co-create a sustainable project with them, rather than administer health services to them.  We believe it is vital that the community be involved with each step of the process.  It is easy at the outset to think that we have so much we can teach them and do for them.  But we really want to approach this carefully, knowing that we also have much to learn from our Haitian friends.  Second, we are committed to handing this project back over to the community.  We are starting with the children, but we hope to expand the program in the future to include adults.  We hope to make some good connections with some Haitian health care providers who can partner with us to take care of the needs of this community in a culturally sensitive manner.  This community has expressed a desire to eventually have a free-standing health care facility of its own.  This is a big dream that fills my mind with lots of questions about logistics!  But we will take it one step at a time, with God at the wheel.

So, how can you help??  If you are interested, there are so many ways you can get involved!

  1. Travel with us!  We especially need pediatric nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and physicians.   Since this phase of the program involves working with children, pediatric or family medicine experience is required.  If you are interested, or know someone else who would be interested, please let me know!  Our trip will take place July 1-7, 2017.
  2. Sponsor a child at the Valley of Hope School.  A sponsorship of $47/month covers the cost of educating a child, including tuition, uniform, shoes, school supplies, teacher training/salary, and a daily meal.
  3. Stay tuned!  We are in the process of applying for some grants that will hopefully help us to collect the medical supplies and medications we hope to take with us.  There will definitely be opportunities as the trip gets closer to donate either supplies or money to put toward supplies.
  4. Last but not least, pray for us, and for Chambon.  There is a lot of work to do, and July will be here before we know it!





The Starfish Story

“Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.
One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so, he walked faster to catch up.

As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.

He came closer still and called out “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”

The young man paused, looked up, and replied, “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”

“I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” asked the somewhat startled wise man.

To this, the young man replied, “The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.”

Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, “But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!”

At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said,

“It made a difference for that one.” 

― adapted from the original story by Loren Eiseley

We have been home from Haiti for a week now.  Our team has not stopped thinking about all the little “starfish” that we met on our trip.  Here are some of their sweet faces:


Our team has been thinking, brainstorming, and starting to make some plans for these little ones about how we can create a model of care to provide some basic health screening, monitoring of growth and development, preventive health care, and treatment of simple health problems.  You may recall that most of the children in the orphanages sponsored by Heartline are not able to be adopted, so they potentially will be in their current situation until they age out.  We see this as a huge opportunity to provide them with some basic preventative health care.  We approach this humbly, knowing that our knowledge of of how things “work” in Haiti is limited by our inexperience.  I am so grateful for all the smart, passionate women on our team who share this goal with me.

I will share more about how we hope to implement this plan once our team irons out the details a little more.  For now, keep praying for us to have wisdom in our planning!