Haiti... A Journey of Contrasts

My first trip to Haiti last May was a journey of stark contrasts; the best I could do was breathe deeply, and bring my heart and mind fully to the work at hand. I am noticing the contrasts again today. We've raised over $8300 for my volunteer projects in Haiti (as of January 28).  I am in awe that we're $3000 over my original fundraising goal and that support has continued to flow. And, as I read about Haiti tonight, I realise the enormity and scale of transformation that is needed. In the same breath, I am present with my gratitude and my sorrow.

Tonight, Haiti seems a world away, and yet, more present in my heart than ever. My belly is full from dinner and I'm sitting in my parents' living room reading Toronto Star articles on Haiti. I'm breathing deeply again, as if my breath travels directly between me and the Earth, and I can feel "the inner rain" stirring, the tears that come from something bigger than me. Ryan Sawatzky, who is 33 years old and has been funding a public school in Port-au-Prince, says "focus on the things you can fix."

After talking and emailing with my hosts in Port-au-Prince and Limbe, I've decided to postpone my trip until February, after the Haitian elections are good and done. However, with the way the elections have been unfolding, it's not clear as to what the timing will be.

I find it a bit exasperating at moments to read about what is happening in Haiti - the cholera epidemic, the fires and violent protests after the first round of election results - and to wait. I've decided to wait: partly for safety; partly for wanting to be as effective as possible with my time, resources and the money we've raised (I don't want to go and spend days hiding indoors waiting for the fires to stop); and partly because my emergency medical insurance won't cover me in this period while the Canadian government has a travel advisory to "avoid all travel" there due to the protests.

I'm conscious of this decision to wait, and it doesn't make things any easier to accept. I'm with my family; I'm warm, full, comfortable and safe. There are millions of people in Haiti sleeping in tents that are getting worn out, who don't have access clean water or adequate sanitation, who don't have enough food or a hope for education or livelihood. I don't have a magic solution that will fix everything when I get there. However, I have skills to share, skills that I believe can help people grow more local food, design small sustainable businesses, address conflict with respect and understanding, and begin to heal after trauma. I hope and pray that I can make a meaningful and lasting contribution towards the long-term well-being and sustainability of the Haitian people and land.

This intention is present with me as I begin to plan the trainings I will be giving in Port-au-Prince. I will have less than three weeks with the AMURT team to share some key elements of ecological design from permaculture and Nonviolent Communication. My aim is for this group to be able to teach others about these tools. (If you teach permaculture or NVC and you were working with this timeframe, what essentials would you teach? How would you teach others to teach these essentials, being mindful of differences in language, culture and education?)

So, even as I'm home waiting, my work has already begun. I am humbled by this task and determined to give it everything that's in me.

Wishing you Love, Peace, Well-Being, Joy and Gratitude in this winter holiday season and for the new year.

May you be well xoxoxo


UPDATE 1/28/2011:  The Haitian elections continue to go on longer than expected (the presidential inauguration was originally scheduled around February 7) and yesterday I read that it's possible that the final round of elections will only happen around March 20.  The Canadian travel advisory is back to "avoid all non-essential travel".  I thought last night about trying to squeeze my trip in before the final elections, and on reflection, the timing seems a bit dicey.  I really don't want to go and have to cut my work and trip short.

Part of me wants to go NOW, as I'm impatient to take action and help out NOW.  To support immediate action, some of the funds we've raised have already been (and will be) donated to organisations who have been and will continue to work on the ground in Haiti.  So far, $1500 has been donated to Helping Hands Noramise.  These funds will support: the installation of a garden and chicken coop at a school in Limbe to be maintained by students and parents for the students' lunches; the purchase and installation of permanent water filtration systems for villagers in the North; and a small salary for the two Haitian caretakers at the house and office in Limbe where the director and volunteers stay.

Another part of me is also conscious that I want to make the most of the time and money that so many people have given, to have the greatest possible impact with finite resources.  For this reason, for my own work in Haiti, I'm hoping and waiting for the best conditions possible.  So at the moment, I'm still waiting and breathing and preparing.  


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