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.
|Part of the crowd that gathered around to hear what we had to say. The man speaking is a community leader. He said he asked God to give me 200 more years. I told Kate, "I hope those are 200 healthy years!"|
When we reached our destination, we foreigners were escorted to seats behind two rectangular tables set up in front of four or five rows of folding chairs. The villagers took their seats or stood in the “audience.” At that point, I knew without a doubt that they expected to hear from me. I don’t enjoy public speaking, though I can usually keep my voice from shaking and completely giving away my nervousness. “Just speak from your heart,” I reminded myself.
|I'm addressing the crowd. Lesley translated for me.|
I took a deep breath, as I felt a strong breeze blow against my face. If not for the beige baseball hat I chose to wear that day, I would have been eating my hair. “God is good!” I told the villagers, when it was my turn to speak. “Thank you for the warm welcome.” I stopped to allow Lesley, one of Food for the Poor’s project managers, to translate for the crowd.
“I’m very happy to be back to see the progress that has been made since my last visit,” I told the crowd, pausing again for Lesley to do his part.
“I got to meet many of you when I was here in June. I look forward to meeting many more of you today.” [pause]
“I want to tell you why I named this project the Village of Joy.” [pause]
“I named it the Village of Joy for two reasons.” [pause]
“First, the Bible says that God will turn their weeping into joy. I hope that this village brings you great joy.” [pause]
“Second, my mom’s name is Joye. She died almost four years ago.” I could feel tears begin to well up in my eyes. “This is in memory of her,” I said, choking on the words. I took my seat and brushed away a tear. “That will have to be good enough,” I thought to myself.
|Kate translates what Lesley is telling the crowd for me and Amber.|
After Lesley translated my last statement, the crowd erupted in applause. Lesley seized the moment as an educational opportunity. “You see how much this project means to Madan Paula? It is personal for her. It comes from her heart. You can honor her mother's memory by taking care of your homes—your community. This is how you can say ‘thank you.’ Keep your houses clean. Keep your toilets clean. Does everyone know how to use and maintain their toilets?" He asked.
"Wi," the crowd shouted in unison.
These things might sound silly to us, but, the people living in the Village of Joy have never had anything of value. They have never had a toilet. They have to be taught how to flush them by pouring a bucket of water in the bowl. They have to be taught how to clean them.
I was happy that Lesley emphasized the importance of taking care of what they have—not just their house (and toilet) but also their community. Haiti is a filthy country. Trash litters the side of almost every road—and many beaches—throughout the country. Often times, people who come from nothing don't know how to care for things. Mindsets and ways of living don't automatically change just because someone receives something. Education helps. Encouragement also helps. Food for the Poor is working to help villagers develop a sense of pride in their communities, so they will choose to take care of them. This is how norms change—one family, one community at a time. Thank you for helping us make this change a reality!
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