An Experience I Wasn’t Expecting

 
Matt White Blog

by Matt White

 

“Jesus Christ and education are the only things that will change this nation.” – Hugues Bastien

Haiti is a true dichotomy within itself. Once known as one of the wealthiest regions in the world (around 1780), Haiti now has over 60 percent unemployment. From what I gathered on our trip, those who are employed tend to be in politics or involved in some level of corrupt business, which continues to destabilize the country, in general.

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Pride, Joy, and Love in the Middle of Poverty

However, even with all the political unrest and corruption taking place in the country, we entered Ouanaminthe (about 5 hours east of the capital of Port-au-Prince) near the Dominican Republic border. While I saw poverty like I’ve never experienced, there was also pride, joy, and love emanating from even the deepest areas of poverty.

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As we were driving through the streets of Ouanaminthe one afternoon, with several of us standing in the back of a Toyota Tundra, the children would scream out with joy, “blan…blan…blan” (pronounced “blon”), which means “white” in Haitian Creole. They would wave and laugh and run to their gates to get a closer look.

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And this happened all week. We ran camps and worked on service projects Monday through Wednesday while the kids were out of school for the Haitian Carnival holiday. And, on Thursday, it was back to school for the students of Institution Univers (IU), COCINA’s 2,400-student K-13 grade school, which was founded in 1996.

 

Feeding of the 5,000 (or 2,400 in this case)

Each day IU serves lunch to the entire student population, and for some it may be their only meal that day. I wanted to see this process for myself – how in the world can you feed 2,400 kids every single day?!? Several things stood out to me as I observed:

  1. There was a process – everyone was respectful and followed the system.
  2. There was NO waste – as I walked around, nearly every drop of food was cleaned off each tray.
  3. Even with the need for food, the excitement of a “blan” in the room was quite a distraction!

I started taking pictures of some of the children, which started out as a calm request for a “foto.” They love getting their picture taken; and they really LOVE “seeing” their faces on the phone screen. And, suddenly, I was mobbed by children all around me trying to get in the photos – smiles on every one of their faces!

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An Experience I Wasn’t Expecting

One of the boys – I think he was about 11 or 12 – took a liking to me and said, “Come,” and waved at me to go with him. I was hesitant at first; I wasn’t sure where he was taking me, but he continued and I finally caved. He held my hand as we walked outside to the massive open “soccer field” (all dirt with goals on either end), and he led me across the expansive field (8-10 others following, giggling, touching) to a shaded area where many of the students gathered for what I assume was recess.

He held my hand the whole way, and led me right up to a short brick wall circling one of the large shade trees. He wiped off an area of the brick and motioned for me to sit. I sat, and he grabbed a stick and drew a tic-tac-toe grid in the sand, marked a circle in the middle square, and handed the stick to me. He just wanted to play a game with me!

That small game of tic-tac-toe led to drawing pictures in the sand, now with 15-20 students gathered all around. I would sketch out something and then hand the stick to one of the kids. He or she would draw a car or boat or something and then hand the stick back to me.

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Over the next 10-15 minutes, the crowd must have grown to about 30 or more; and then they noticed my tattoos! They were enthralled. They touched. They rubbed. Some read the words. Some asked what they said. One even took my arm and touched it to his in an effort to “stamp” his arm with my tattoo. The boy who brought me to this place – I hate that I didn’t get his name – asked if I had a pen. I pulled one out of my backpack. He pointed to his hand, as if requesting I give him a tattoo. Once again, I caved – how could I not?!?

I drew a little spider web on his hand, and others asked for the same. So, I inked up a few Haitian kids, and then the original boy came back to show me his own tattoo. He had written, “Do. Love. Walk.” on his arm just like mine! I was nearly brought to tears. This young boy had found me in the cafeteria, walked with me hand-in-hand across the field, cleaned off a spot for me to sit, traded tic-tac-toe and drawings in the sand, and now had mirrored my tattoo on his own arm. It was the sweetest, most humbling thing I’ve ever experienced.

 

 

What Haiti Did to Me

I realize that was the long version of that story, but it made such an impact on me, I had to share. There were so many other situations like that, but to circle back to the “dichotomy” mentioned at the beginning…and Hugues Bastien’s quote: “Jesus Christ and education are the only things that will change this nation.”

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Hugues has a love and hope for Haiti and its people. After hearing about the corruption in both business and politics, it’s hard to see any hope for the country. But, when I come back to Hugues’s quote, I am encouraged instead. It’s not going to happen over night, but what COCINA is doing – focusing on the children, showing them Jesus, educating them, and addressing their overall well being – is exactly what needs to be done…raising up a new generation who loves Jesus, who knows right from wrong, who wants to make a difference, who has the education and drive to do so.

Institution Univers (the school) is only a piece of the COCINA puzzle. There’s a medical clinic, a bakery and storefront to sell the baked goods, a college placement program, a technical school, a chicken farm, and a connection to an industrial park that currently provides more than 10,000 jobs in the northeastern region of Haiti.

Change in Haiti will have to come from the bottom up, because it’s not happening from the top down. COCINA is doing its part and will continue to do more – certainly the more funding they have, the more programs they can offer.

For me, the thing that stood out the most was the trash. I’m not sure if there’s a sanitation system or program in Haiti, possibly in the larger cities? But, in Ouanaminthe and Cap Haitian (on the northern coast), and the places in between, there did not seem to be any. In Cap Haitian – a port city – there had been some recent flooding, which drove all the trash from miles up the mountains and in the city streets all down to the river and into the bay. Tons of trash scattered all over the waterline, where I’m told just weeks before was blue water and sandy beaches.

 

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I’m not sure what it is yet, but the way I feel I can get involved is somehow related to the trash situation. I honestly don’t know anything about anything when it comes to such things, but that’s the story of most of the characters in the Bible, isn’t it?

 

Matt White traveled to Ouanaminthe in early February with a team from Christ Community Chapel in Hudson, Ohio.

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