I have just completed my first of many visits to the Village of Merci de Dieu in Haiti, a project of Mercy International. The Village consists of 63 homes, a church, a clinic, a large gathering area, and a lot of hope and love. I know that written words cannot possibly describe my experience adequately, but I feel compelled to write a few down anyway. There are way too many thoughts and experiences to list, so I’ll attempt a “short” summary.
As a reminder to us all, in January of 2010, a devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit Haiti, killing at least 225,000 people and displacing nearly 2 Million. Far too little has been done to aid in recovery and rebuilding since then. Mercy International is one of several organizations committed to help. It was through Mercy International that I had the opportunity to be a part of this life changing experience.
Several of us met at the airport in Miami to fly to Port-au-Prince together. The drive from the airport to the village did not exactly go as planned. Heavy rains and garbage clogged streets and turned a normal one hour drive into about five hours of mostly stopped, stop and go traffic jam. The streets were lined with severely damaged buildings, mostly dark, as there was still no electricity available; piles of trash that they simply lit on fire when the piles got too large or someone was just in the mood to burn something; and lots of people walking, trying to get somewhere, or nowhere, but wherever they were going, I’m sure that little promise awaited.
When we finally arrived at the Village around 1 A.M., we were warmly greeted and some of the women of the Village had prepared a meal and were waiting for us. We finally retired to our bunk house, anxious for the next day, but looking forward to a few hours of sleep. Actually, we were hoping for a little more than we got.
The Village Church wakes early, as dozens of villagers gather at the church each weekday morning at 4:00 AM!! Sometime around 5:00 they are in full voice and are quite proud and enthusiastic in their singing, it is very loud. The language in Haiti is primarily a Creole French, so of course I couldn’t understand a word they were singing. That’s not exactly true, “Hallelujah” sounds the same and means the same, probably in every language. It was also easy to recognize the sound of joy, hope, and faith. I miss waking up to that sound now that I’m back in the states.
Over 200 beautiful, smiling children live in the Village. Everywhere we went, several young children wanted to hold our hands or ride on our shoulders. The more we walked through the Village, the more kids started following our little group. It was like the Pied Piper. Anytime that we sat down, there were 3 or 4 kids sitting on our laps, or hanging on us. They loved looking at all the pictures on our iPhones. These kids have so little, yet always seem to remain positive, always smiling. Sometimes, a drink of water that doesn’t smell, or a little extra to eat, really is all it takes to make their day. We were blessed to have the opportunity to provide a little extra love and attention for the kids, it really seemed to make a big difference.
One of our projects for this trip was to build bunk beds for some of the Village families that don’t have enough places for everyone to sleep. Have you ever had to sleep on a cement floor? One might ask, were you sober. Imagine only having a slab of concrete to lay your tired warn out body on night after night. These families are grateful for a floor, four walls, and a solid roof, not to mention running water. A bed… well, that is just a bonus. Some of the boys in the Village helped us with our bed building, taking great pride in the chance to help. I had a couple pairs of leather work gloves that I used throughout the day and when we were done I gave them to a few of the young men to keep as their own. One of the boys wore them around the rest of the day, even though we were done working. He was so happy and proud to have them.
Many of the Village families lived in tent cities following the earthquake (hundreds of thousands more still do), for two or three years, or longer. Imagine living in a tent smaller than some of our walk-in closets, and being in that tent for three years. A tent that you had to leave when the sun came up and couldn’t return until the sun went down. As the sun rises, so does the temperature inside the tents, reaching 120 degrees or higher. When it rains? Well….
How does one survive living in those conditions? For some it involves taking whatever you can steal from whomever you can. Fortunately, for many, it involves prayer and faith in our Lord. Merci de Dieu is an answer to many of those prayers. All of the sixty-three homes, have 2 small bedrooms, running water, and a flushing toilet, and have been built to provide a respectful and loving alternative for some very fortunate, and grateful families. One family that we got to visit with, an educated man with a wife and three young children, had a good job and nice house until the earthquake. They shared with us that they lost everything, but the clothes on their backs and lived in a tent city for 2 ½ years. Somehow they maintained their faith, strength, and self-respect. When we met him, he was dressed in a long sleeve dress shirt and dress slacks (I understand this is his daily routine), while we were all soaked with sweat. It seems to me that no matter what obstacles or hardships have been forced upon him, he refuses to let those determine how he sees himself, and present himself. Now residents of Merci de Dieu, he found that many of the other adult residents still could not read or write. Unasked, and unknown to the management of the Village, he took it upon himself to teach them for free. He is now working with seventeen adults, teaching them to read and write. He does a lot to help the Village and typically refuses payment, stating that the Village has done so much to help his family so he wants to give back. I understand that soon, he will begin serving as the teacher in a new Village school. Currently, many of the kids proudly put on their school uniforms and walk 3 or 4 miles to school every day. They are proud that they are going to school. There are many other heartwarming stories involving other residents. It’s really hard to try to keep this writing short!!
One of our group members leads the Threads of Blessing program in Haiti. This involves helping the women (and one man so far) of the Village learn needle work to create beautiful works of art that are sold stateside and can be framed or made into pillows. All the money goes back to the women who created the art piece. We had the opportunity to attend the meeting when they received envelopes containing their money. For several ladies, the envelopes contained well over $100. This is just the beginning. They were so excited and proud, and do all for the Glory of God. They are also learning a skill that may become a sustainable source of income. Considering that unemployment in Haiti is approximately 85%, and the average monthly income is under $100, the sales of these needle work pieces can make a huge difference.
We packed our bags with used clothing and new toys to give to the kids (primarily the little ones) and passed them out Saturday afternoon. They were thrilled, and it was a really rewarding experience for all of us. Another thing that we noticed, is that whatever clothing they have that is nice, they wear all the time. Their appearance is very important to them.
We were reminded that it does not take a lot of “stuff” to be happy. These people have so little, yet remain positive and certainly seem happy. They are certainly thankful that their lives are so much better than when they had to survive in a tent. When I compare their attitudes to, what seems to me, the attitude of many (I know, not all) of the poor in the US, I see very little similarities. Even when I compare their attitude to the attitudes of many of us who don’t have to live in poverty, I see little or no comparison. I think that Faith plays a big part in their attitude. I think that there is recognition (consciously or not), that they have been blessed, and the Lord has provided most of what they NEED in order to survive and be happy. There is little time or reason to worry about things that they might WANT and don’t yet have. I think that many of us, including our children and grandchildren, could learn from this. There is a common and recurring them throughout the Village… Faith, Hope, Love, and Appreciation. Those aren’t the first four words I choose to describe the community that I live in, how about you?
This was my first mission trip to anywhere, but it will not be my last. I look forward to returning to Merci de Dieu, and doing more to help, both while I’m there as well as when I’m not. There is always a great need for sponsorship of families or children. I hope that if you have read this, you will also consider helping some of these beautiful people.