Here we are, closing out our second month of living here, and while time completely runs together it also seems to be escaping us.
Our family is doing well, although very busy. Back home in Roseville, I would say I would end each day with about a 50-60% reserve of energy. My days didn’t knock the wind out of me, and I had enough consistent recharging time. Here, every day takes every single thing I’ve got. I have never been so perpetually tired in my life. I’m sure it’s a mixture of the heat, several bouts of sickness, the demands of our jobs here, the emotional toil of witnessing so much heartbreak every single day, and last but certainly not least-raising our children amongst it all. I do not want to complain, and yes we are set in a beautiful area along the Caribbean Sea, but oftentimes it is difficult to enjoy when we are so exhausted.
One thing that I wasn’t really prepared for is being pulled on by nearly everyone who comes into contact with us. Here, there is no shame or hesitation in blatantly asking a white person for something from the moment they see you. It still catches me off guard because in my mind it seems so rude. Then I think, what if I were in their situation? Would I do the same? Probably.
Our first two weeks here, I gave nearly all of our cash away. Hungry, skinny children were coming up asking me for any snacks I had in my purse. Moms asked me for money to help them finish the roof on their house because all they had shielding them from the scorching sun and the nighttime rain was a tattered blanket. One man has been working on finishing his home for the last 11 years. 11 years! And we could simply go to the ATM and his house would be done in a week. (I say “simply” like it’s simple, but securing a driver and finding an ATM that works here is often challenging). Obviously, I realized if we kept giving our money away though, we would not be able to stay here and serve, so as gut wrenching as it was, I had to pull back. I had to start saying no, and I had to start ignoring people who constantly hounded me, yelling at me and calling me selfish. It still breaks me down. But what else can we do? Yes we want to bless people. Yes we want to lighten their burdens-and we are-but that cannot be the solution to getting these people out of poverty. I’m not saying we know what the solution is, but simply handing them money has been done over and over again, and has proven to be overall ineffective. So for us, it’s keeping that big picture in mind, while still being sensitive to the needs and open to give when and where we are led.
There is one worker where we live (there are dozens), but he is one out of only a handful of people who have never asked us for something. He comes to work, does his job, and has never slipped me a note or pulled me aside to ask for money. I waited. I thought it would only be a matter of time before he approached Tass or myself. I also noticed he was extremely attentive with our girls-going and getting ice on his own volition anytime they fell or got hurt, remembering their favorite drinks, or knowing that I always prefer ice water to anything else. Little things like that are small but showed me that he cares about doing a good job. Where we live, the workers make about $4 a day, which is more than most places in Haiti. Last week, I went up to him with a generous tip and I explained that this was precisely because he has never asked us for anything and because he does excellent work. I will never forget his face.
The first month here, I realized in addition to all the other things on our plate, one of my main purposes for being here is to encourage and uplift the Haitian staff-to honor them, to bless them, to spend time with them and get to know about their families and their lives. I set out to know them each by name (that is definitely challenging!) and to continually be speaking value and life into them. They have already become family to me. We all live amongst each other so maybe that was inevitable, but I know if some crazy mob group entered our area, they would all have our backs.
January and early February were pretty volatile times for Haiti with large protests every day, people being burned alive in the streets, cops whipping and beating teenagers, and so many other horrific things; but for now, things have died down. General elections have been postponed once again, and parliament has elected an interim President to oversee the new (hopefully fair) elections, scheduled for April 24. Last week, I did happen to meet the interim President. Our family was out in Petionville for a little getaway since it was finally somewhat safe for us to venture out. Tass had just taken the kids back to the room and I was finishing up the dinner bill at the bar. The President, along with his many bodyguards and press, exited one of the private rooms in the restaurant as he was on his way out. His guards were rushing him to the elevator but for some reason he stopped to speak with me. He asked me what I was doing in his country and then thanked me for coming and serving here. I do find it odd that we ended up meeting this way, instead of at a more likely family gathering (he is the cousin of the family that we live with). Nevertheless, I am grateful to have met him and I know that it is no accident he was elected to lead the country at this time, for however long that may be.
We’ve got a few key people working hard on getting the electricity extended out here. It stops short just a few miles away because of some back door political deal the former President made that financially benefited him. Now that he is out of office, hopefully the deal he struck with the gas vendors is negated (everything out here is run on generators) and the people of Carries can have access to electricity that will literally change every aspect of their lives. Nothing is fast in Haiti though, so once again, patience is required.
As our supporters, we want and hope to share as much as we can with you in this journey, but please know there as aspects that we cannot due to safety. For whatever reason, the family we have come to serve and partner with at Mission of Grace, at this time has been promoted and given favor in the political realm. It is not just one person, but several family members and Haitian politics can be very, very dangerous. There is law here, but it is so rarely obeyed, especially by those in power. If a decision in parliament is made that a group doesn’t like, someone may be hired to kill whoever made it. It sounds overly dramatic but it is just the reality of where we live. So please be in prayer for this family, and us, as decisions of integrity are being made for this country’s future in hopes of moving it forward.
We currently have so many projects underway that it would fill a novel and continually keeps our heads spinning. It’s a good thing though. It is a good thing to have so much to do and so many teams coming to help push these projects forward. Our elderly home is very close to being done and once completed, some twenty-odd very lucky individuals will have some of the best end of life care in this country. The construction on the new school is making great progress (even for Haiti’s time table), and we have also adopted a “little orphanage.” For the last year or so, a kind man had been taking in orphans off the street and putting them in a small, but filthy home. About 13 kids were crammed into a tiny space with no beds and not much to eat. He was doing what he could and I pray he is blessed abundantly for it. Once we found out about them, we had the next team who were scheduled to come, go and build them bunk beds and bring them supplies. It is not really a part of “Mission of Grace” per say, but just an extension of how we desire to help in the community.
The single moms' house is going well, although two of the young moms weren’t getting along so one was moved to the orphanage with her baby. There’s drama in every culture. I do love sitting with them though and talking to them. Yes, our lives are very different but we're all trying to raise our kids and give them the best that we can offer them. My desire is to figure out what each one is gifted in or what they enjoy doing. Do they like to do hair? Do they enjoy cooking? Are they gifted in organizational skills? Writing? I want to help them discover their natural abilities and then put them in that area within the mission and our community. If they enjoy cooking and have only cooked for 2, perhaps they can learn to cook for 50 by working in our community soup kitchen. Once they gain the experience, they can apply for a job within their expertise. Does anybody want to work? Not really. But it is a necessary part of life, so while we desire to help them and bless them, I do not want this arrangement to be a crutch for them. I want to empower them and give them hope for their lives.
I have also started teaching piano and English with the older kids in the orphanage. Many of them have such a natural gift for music and I love drawing that out of them.
Again, we thank you all for your support and encouragement as we keep walking out this wonderfully challenging journey. Despite the daily difficulties and frustrations, we are still so glad we came. As always, if anyone is interested in visiting, we would be so happy to have you.
‘Til next time,
Sheena & family
I can’t believe we have already been here a month. There is a weird dichotomy in that in the moment time seems to pass slowly, but looking back you wonder how it moved so quickly.
We are still trying to settle in to a routine, something that I don’t know if we will every truly achieve. Every day brings with it something new and unexpected. The need to be flexible is almost an understatement as you can’t really count on anything. This is not to say that people are unreliable, because they are. However, the needs and situations of the the day change so much as the day progresses, that whatever you planned does not often come to fruition. And so we roll with waves, take each day as it comes, and apply many more metaphors to daily life in Haiti.
We have experienced a lot in this first month. From a large team, to a small team, to a week with no teams here at all. We were involved in completing a large project, installing the solar system in our new elderly home, and small repair and painting projects. There are some days where we have spent hours at the orphanage, and other days where the prospect of being bombarded by 70 kids is simply too overwhelming.
Trying to accomplish anything online is nearly an exercise in futility. The slow connection speed is torturous enough in itself, but more often than not as soon as we get in to any kind of a work flow the power goes out taking the wifi with it. As a result, I have been working on updating Mission of Grace’s website for nearly 3 weeks and have not made much progress. However, I am determined to improve our ability to access the internet, and so hopefully before too long this will no longer be an ongoing frustration.
The girls have really turned a corner. Twice last week they chose to stay at the orphanage without us for a couple hours. This is huge for a couple of reasons. One they feel more secure and connected with the kids here, and two we had a couple of kid free hours! They still miss home, as we all do, but this is stating to feel like home too. Homeschooling is still a bit of a challenge. Both the girls are great students, but establishing the discipline of sitting down to do the work everyday has been hard. We have all wanted to give up on school more than once.
The other great challenge has been the language barrier. Sheena has picked up Creole very well, and so she has been able to communicate much better than the rest of us. This has been a factor for the girls as it’s hard to make friends when you can’t really talk to each other. Hopefully this is a wall that will quickly be broken down the more time we spend here.
Many of you may have heard or read of the unrest in Haiti over the past few weeks. This is all centered around the presidential runoff election, which has been postponed twice now. Ongoing protests have at times turned violent in other parts of the country. Where we are is very calm and quiet. In fact we would not even be aware of any issues if we did not read about them online. You can all be rest assured that we are safe and secure within our walled compound, guarded by armed security.
Thank you for continuing to follow us on this journey. If you are on instagram we invite you to follow @sheenasouza as well as @missionofgrace. That will help provide some visual insight into what our life is like on a daily basis. We are being stretched and grown in many ways, and we know that when we look back on this experience, despite the hardships, we will all be better people and have a greater understanding of who God is, and how He wants to work in our lives.