Tuesday, February 28, 2017

February 28, 2017

"At the core of Farmer's longevity and success is his ability to see the problem for its stark reality.  Instead of always expecting to win--a trait he says is common to the American idea--Farmer advocates that a better approach when dealing with situations like Haiti is to be prepared for what he calls the "long defeat" an acceptance that we will lose but we will do it anyway, if in the process we will relieve someone's suffering."
This quote was sent to me by a friend, unfortunately she no longer remembers where she read it. But that does not take away from the significance of the quote and its impact it had on me. I have been in Haiti for 17 years now, and from time to time the question what has been accomplished begs for an answer. It is then when I read the quote, and it lifts my spirit and encourages me to continue.This is especially true when natural disasters hit, where we have no control. To pick up the pieces and to continue living means we do consider life a gift not to be abandoned so easily. we work through the pain and loss and come out on the other side.

 Hibiscus after the hurricane.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Impact of Poverty

One of the difficulties we experience with our students at the University of the Nouvelle Grand'Anse (UNOGA)
is their difficulty in dealing with "if" statements. This was pointed out o us by a professor who aught mathematics at the university. This could point toward a difficulty in looking in to the future and working with possible out comes and open-ended questions. Conditional statements such as "if" statements, are inherently future-orineted.
Th answer to a question about what a student wanted to do after graduation was usually: "Get a job."  According to the professor, when questioned further, most could not be more specific.
We can speculate that this is a phenomenon associated with poverty. When poverty has been the norm for an entire community for multiple generations and people are necessarily focused on obtaining their next meal, there maybe little time or incentive to dream about or plan for the future.
These observations can have serious implications for the future of the students as well as for the university itself. Graduates without dreams and a vision for the future may become employed by an NGO and make a good salary, but will never see the possibilities for future businesses and the impact  a solid, sustainable business can ultimately have on Haiti.
Students who cannot look into the future cannot create a viable business plan. It takes people with dreams and drive, fire in their belly, to inspire others and convince them that what looks impossible is possible.
Not all is lost. Problem-solving skills, planning and creativity can be taught. UNOGA is preparing for that.
Thanks to Bob Boeke for these very astute observations based on his teaching experience at UNOGA.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

This is a land
so vibrant and alive
that laughter will come bursting through
as imperious as the sun
and the spirit will survive
resilient as the soil.
- Dennis Brutus 1978 ”Love; the Struggle”

This poem so aptly describes Haiti. We are in a new year now, we have commemorated the 4th anniversary of the earthquake, and the strength and courage described in the lines above shines through at every turn There has been much improvement in 2013, but so much more remains to be done. Already in this the first month of the new year we have experienced a shortage of gasoline, almost 2 weeks without electricity, and because of the latter no water, and now no cooking gas. And yet, life goes on, and amazingly it is not lacking in laughter. The beauty of people visible at every step. While tragedy is always right around the corner, so is laughter, and an unfathomable faith that carries one though no matter what. 

This young man was under the rubble of his fallen down house in Port au Prince after the earthquake, now is in his last year of management study at the University of the Nouvelle Grand'Anse. A survivor in so many ways, who can despite it all laugh today.
Nou se wozo; menm si nou pliye, nou pa’p kase / We are like reeds, though we may bend, we will never break.”

Sunday, December 22, 2013


Before I came to Haiti, I only knew pointsettas growing in a pot. Here in Haiti they get over 6 feet tall and they always bloom in December. No wonder we adopted them as Christmas flowers. While I am enjoying myself in cold and wintry Chicago, I think about why I am in Haiti. And I come to appreciate this great gift contained in crossing over to other people's lives, communities and culture. Jwaye Nwel tout moun!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Mental Health in Haiti

The Haitian concept of life is essentially religious. Haitians tend to see the world as a vast spiritual arena. For them life is precious. They celebrate life and preserve it.

Here there is no room for a purely naturalistic or physical notion of illness. So doing psychology here is quite different than in the States. The challenge is to come to an integration that makes sense and takes into account the local belief systems.
It is important not to consider the traditional world view as pathological. As mental health practitioners we have to understand the Haitian belief system and be willing to explore individual thoughts, behaviors, and emotions concerning it.
In Haitian belief systems the religious or spiritual is always highlighted. However it is possible and essential to integrate our understanding of mental health with the original belief system in order that there is consonance between some aspect of the religious world view and the help being offered.

I am just beginning to understand this as we have opened our mental health clinic here in Jeremie. Lots of discernment as to how we can best serve the needs here, and not imposing an American view of psychology that feels very alien to people here.

Friday, July 19, 2013

"Good things don't get lost." Barbara Kingsolver

For all the years I have been in Haiti, I have been wanting to visit the Citadel. I heard so much a bout it, and was finally able to make it up North to Cap Haitian and Milot to fulfill this dream of mine.
Haiti is such a small country and yet there are so many things to see and discover. I could not help but be impressed, especially by the sheer size of this endeavor. An enormous clever design by an incredibly talented architect who was subsequently killed once the Citadel was finished, so that he could not reveal the plans of this structure. 20,000 people died during the 14 years that the Citadel was under construction. And yet it was completed, overseeing all of the country from every side.
The fear of another invasion to break the road to independence and freedom we very real, but it never materialized which so often happens with our fears. If only the walls could talk.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Beautiful view from the Benedictine Monastery north of Port au Prince.

Whenever things get too chaotic, which they often will, I retreat to the Benedictine Monastery, the only monastic community in Haiti. The hospitality of the monks, the periods of silence, and the natural, stark beauty of the mountains calms me, and at the same time affirms the reason why I am in Haiti which is first and foremost because I am in love with the country and its people. And when you are in love, you see beauty where others do not see it.

Progress is not measured by huge leaps, but rather in infinitesimal small steps. We have built now over 45 houses, which when measured against the need that exists seems like a drop in the ocean. But for the woman who receives that house it is the ocean.