From a traveler to the field: Deanne Lentz, Forest Hill Church
I was skeptical when I signed up to go to Haiti on a “cultural immersion” trip — to immerse oneself in the culture of Haiti and to observe the work and vision of Haiti Outreach. What would I see that would give me new insights into Haiti? How immersed can we be as foreigners who don’t speak the language? I had been to Haiti on two other trips and I was familiar with the appalling poverty and the lack of roads, electricity, and infrastructure. But I also knew firsthand the incredible beauty of Haiti, the rugged mountains, the dignity and pride of its people, and the resilience of their spirit. If this was not a tourist trip, nor a work trip, what really is an “immersion” trip?
The main reason I was going to Haiti was to see a well. At an unforgettable fundraiser event in September 2014 at a Cleveland restaurant, Forest Hill Church raised $15,000 to sponsor a well. I was determined to visit “our” well in Gabo, learn about the community and be able to report back to our donors and members.
During our week in Haiti, I was pleased at how “immersed” we were in the local culture — we went to the markets, spent hours and hours traveling the roads and paths standing on the back of a Chevy pickup truck, worshiped at the Pentecostal church, toured the town, drank beer at the local watering hole, slurped up delicious pumpkin soup, played with the children at the orphanage, kicked the soccer ball with the local kids and toured the town school.
But believe it or not, the highlight of our trip was “well committee meetings”! We witnessed three different communities at various stages of the well process — in the beginning stage of acquiring a well, conducting their census and collaboratively determining the rules and management practices. Another community, finished with the preliminary work and the digging of the well, was hosting the all-important Inauguration Ceremony — a community-wide event where the keys of the well are passed along to all the players and the keys end up with the well guard – symbolizing the community now has authority and responsibility to manage the well. And the third community meeting we observed was Gabo – the community of “our” funded well – who had their Inauguration Ceremony back in Dec. 2014 but discussed with us the ups and downs of this past year managing their well.
At each meeting we observed members of the community – men and women, young and old – come together to take responsibility and act to improve the quality of their lives. They were empowered to make decisions to manage the well and ensure its longevity to sustain their health and community well-being. We heard (through the translator) members say – “We do not want handouts. We know we have to do this ourselves”. And when we asked how the process of obtaining and managing the well has translated into other parts of their lives, they responded “We know how to talk to one another to resolve our disputes”; “Having the well has increased the number of households with latrines”; “We are taking the skills and principles of responsibility, authority and transparency and going to our local officials to request a school”.
OMG! We were elated to see remote Haitian communities with clean water but more importantly we saw they had something far more valuable — power. Because they did what they had not known — they organized, acted for themselves, used their own resources and improved their lives — and now will use those skills to advance other areas of their lives. The power of empowerment knows no end. Haiti Outreach is not just in the well business – they are in the empowerment business.
Our $15,000 was WELL spent! WELL done Haiti Outreach. WELL done Gabo.