Give My Mom A House!

  Anne Rose, her husband, and 3 of her 4 children. Her oldest daughter was at school when we visited.

Anne Rose Serafin Sireus is married with four children, two girls ages 6 and 14 and two boys ages 5 and 12.

Anne Rose’s husband, a working man with a great deal of common sense, is a fisherman. He spoke eloquently about the challenges faced by those who fish for a living in the area. His biggest complaint is that the government does not protect the mangrove swamps, so they are being destroyed. Many fishermen fish with nets that catch large numbers of small fish. They should set the small ones free. If they did that, those small fish would serve as bait to attract larger fish. Instead, because there are no laws against eating the small fish, fishermen keep whatever they catch, leaving less “bait” to attract larger fish to the area. Desperate to feed their families, fishermen keep smaller and smaller fish and the decline continues.

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Teacher Pay in Haiti

Guilane Antoine was excited to see us. While I wanted to get to know her and her family, she didn’t care much about that. She wanted to make sure we saw their current living conditions. As a result, she didn’t engage in conversation, hoping that we would ask for a tour afterward. She took the bull by the horns and insisted we see her home first. “Come in. Come in,” she told Kate in Creole the moment we arrived at her house. Then she quickly disappeared through the front door, looking back and gesturing for us to follow. “Oh,” Kate responded, raising her eyebrows in surprise. “She wants us to see her house first.”

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From the Heart

On March 8th, my niece, Amber, and I visited the Village of Joy to check progress and meet with ten families that had received new houses since my visit last June. After I returned home, I wrote a post that described the welcome we received when we arrived (See “I’m Engaged!" for the full story). In this post, I want to share what I said to the villagers when they asked me to address them.

  Heading for our more formal welcome. Time to figure out what to say!

I hadn’t given any thought to what I might say before we arrived. I simply had not expected the same type of welcome our group received last June, when we inaugurated the village. I expected to speak one-on-one to individual families. I did not expect to address a large crowd—at least, not at first. As the crowd marched us down a dusty road through the village, shouting their thanks, it became clear that they had a more formal welcome in mind.

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No Longer Ashamed

  Meeting Abina Etienne on the porch of her new home.

Abina Etienne’s housing situation was similar to most of her neighbors living in the Village of Joy. Her family had lived in a house made from mud and sticks. It’s not difficult to understand why. She and her husband have seven children—three boys and four girls ranging in age from nine to twenty. Abina stays home with their children. Her husband makes and sells charcoal. He barely makes enough to feed and clothe his large family and pay school fees for his five school-aged children. A safe, dry house—even a small one the size of a typical two-car garage in the U.S.—is a luxury item for a family like theirs.

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Promise Kept!

  Meeting the Almark family in front of their old home in June, 2016.

Last June, I met 24 families—23 families that had received new home plus one family, the Almark family, that was still waiting. After celebrating with the lucky 23, I found it difficult to talk to the Almark family. I wanted to meet them because I wanted to see firsthand the conditions that most families live in. I just didn’t know what to say to encourage them. At the time, the family of nine was living in a small, three room structure built from mud and sticks. The mud had washed away in places, exposing the sticks and allowing the sun to shine through and critters to gain entry. The roof leaked badly when it rained. I promised the family, "Keep praying. God will provide."

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I'm Engaged!

On Wednesday, March 8th, I got engaged, and I didn't even know it. I'd like to share how the proposal went down. Wednesday, was our day to meet with families living in the Village of Joy. In particular, we expected to meet ten families that had received new homes since my visit last June. We also expected to talk with five additional families that are next in line to receive new homes. Since we inaugurated the village in June, I expected a more subdued welcome this time.

  Amber and me posing with the sign for the Village of Joy. It was a little banged up because it fell over when Hurricane Matthew blew through last October.

For the most part, the day began as I expected. We left our hotel in Cap Haitien, Haiti at 8:30am. After an hour drive, our group arrived at the Village of Joy. We stopped for a few pictures at the sign that announces the village. I wanted a picture of my niece, Amber, in front of the sign that bears her grandma's name. Then, we drove the rest of the way to our destination. To my surprise, the villagers greeted our group in a manner similar to what we experienced in June.

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No Work?

  Meeting the Pierre family.

Rosina Pierre is married and has two children, a son (9) and a daughter (8). For the Pierre’s, a new house means the world to them. "Thank you for this beautiful house," Rosina’s husband told us. "Each day when I go to sleep, I pray to say ‘thank you’ and to think of those who do not have a house such as this."

To support the family, her husband said he works a small agricultural plot nearby. He also told us, “I have nothing to do, no work.” It is not clear if we got the whole story, but it is clear that finding work to support the family is a big challenge for most of the families we met. Providing a home lifts a big burden off of the parents’ shoulders. However, housing alone doesn’t lift a family out of extreme poverty.

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  Meeting the Cilema family.

Haiti and the the Dominican Republic (DR) share the island of Hispaniola. Since the DR is wealthier than Haiti, many desperate Haitians attempt to find jobs in the DR, despite resentment and racial tensions between the countries. Many migrants are sent back to Haiti. However, some are able to stay and work doing a variety of jobs such as cutting sugar cane, cleaning homes, or babysitting.

Francoise Cilema’s husband and brother are two of the lucky ones. They found work in the DR and have managed to avoid the mass deportations facing so many other Haitians. They are able to send money back home to support their families. Francoise’s three children (boys 4, 13, and 18) benefit from their father’s sacrifice, which also pays for them to attend school. However, there is a downside; they only get to see their father every six or seven months.

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Two Jobs

  Posing with the Aunilus family. Despite working two jobs, Mr. Aunilus could not provide his family with decent housing.

Jasmine Aunilus is married and has three children—a girl (6) and two boys (10 and 11). Jasmine’s husband has two jobs. He is an agricultural technician, who works a small agriculture plot about 1km away. He is also a veterinarian. This surprised us, but we were not surprised to hear that veterinary work is intermittent at best. Even when he receives a call, people often cannot afford to pay him much for his services.

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Making Ends Meet

  Phaeton is in the northeast corner of Haiti, near the border with the Dominican Republic.

The Village of Joy is part of the town of Phaeton, Haiti. Phaeton is an old factory town. For many years, a nearby plantation grew sisal, which was made into products at the factory in Phaeton and shipped by rail to Fort Liberté, Haiti. The plantation and factory shut down in the 1980’s. Since then, economic conditions in the region have deteriorated.

In an attempt to find work, many Haitians cross into the Dominican Republic. Unfortunately, Haitians and their neighbors in the Dominican Republic do not get along well. There are many reasons for their animosity. For example, in 1937, the Dominican Republic’s dictator instigated a massacre that killed tens of thousands of Haitians. More recently, in 2013, the Constitutional Court of the Dominican Republic retroactively revoked the citizenship of anyone of Haitian descent. Last year, the government began mass deportations of Haitians living in the country.

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