|Vilaj Lajwa means "Village of Joy" in Creole. I named the village in memory of my mom, Joye Mueller. I told her that I wanted to help build a village, and we discussed her joining me on a mission trip. She got sick before we could make it happen, but she was with me in spirit.|
As we prepared for our trip to Haiti, I told our Food for the Poor representative that I wanted to meet all twenty-three families that had received homes. I think she thought I was a little crazy, but I thought it was important. I wanted to gather their stories, so I could share them with you—to let you see for yourself the impact you are having in the lives of the poorest of the poor.
We arrived in Haiti on Monday, June 13th. After dropping our bags at the hotel in Cap Haitien, we headed over to the town of Phaeton to see the Village of Joy (the Village of Joy is like a subdivision within the town of Phaeton). That afternoon, we planned to meet with eight of the twenty-three families. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was anxious to get started.
It’s hard to describe what the experience was like for me. I was so focused on gathering stories that I’m not sure I was really soaking everything in. I think I was all business. What could I learn about each family that I could share with supporters? For example: How many people live in the home? What are their relationships? Do their children go to school? How do they support themselves? What was it like for them before they received their home? How have things changed since they received their home?
With my laser focus on collecting stories, we got through our discussions with all eight families before I got my first hint that something might be up. At the eighth house, my sister, Tricia, pulled me aside and told me to stand by a sign someone made for our visit. On the sign, someone had written the words, “I love you Paula Mueller.” I was surprised. I didn’t expect anyone to know my name. Sure, they knew they’d be meeting someone who was helping them, but I didn’t expect them to know my name. Someone had to go out of their way to find out my name, to get help translating what they wanted to say into English, and then to make the sign.
I asked who made the sign, and I was taken to a little stand across the road. On the front of the stand, the owner had written another message, “Welcome Paula.” The woman who runs the stand—her little shop—could barely contain her excitement. She greeted me with hugs and introduced me to her children.
It was an unexpected gesture of appreciation and a foreshadowing of what would come when we returned Tuesday morning for the inauguration ceremony. Yet, at that time, I didn’t suspect that anything was up. I left that evening with a great sense of satisfaction for having accomplished “my mission” for the day. I had collected what I needed to write the stories of the first eight families.