Thursday our group got to go to the Mass Graves, Grace Village, on Elder Visits, and Flueri Restaurant. Over the years these places have really developed and every year that we come back we see significant advances. One of my favorite aspects of Healing Haiti is how they are able to pivot as an organization. They start or work to start a new program, see that it is not working perfectly and change that program to something even better. There are several examples from the past few days.
We began our travels by stopping at the Mass Graves. The Mass graves were a necessity after the 7.0 magnitude earth quake in 2010 that claimed over 200,000 lives. After several days, the cemetery in the city was full and there were too many bodies that the government did not know what to do with them. They brought those bodies out to Titanyen, an area about 1 hour outside of the city, to a hilly and somewhat deserted area. Once people started to hear about the Mass Graves, they began to bring their own loved ones out there as a final resting place. In the first few years it was simply enclosed by walls, but each year it seems that they develop and improve it. It is truly a beautiful place of peace. Our host, Valerie, was able to tell a little bit of the history and the importance of this day in the life of Haitians.
After a short time we traveled a little further to Grace Village. Grave Village was the dream and vision of Jeff and Alyn Gacek and has simply improved each year. It started out as an orphanage with rooms for boys and girls and a feeding center. A school was added shortly. Then a clinic for the people of Titanyen. Now the orphanage has pivoted so that permanent orphans are in home pods with house moms (and dads when available) and brothers and sisters. They have chores, and try to live as much as a family as possible. The dorm rooms are still used for housing, but now when the government needs to find temporary placement for orphans they request that Grace Village take them in. These children are called stop and go children, because they probably will not be permanent residents of Grace Village. There are also transition children that live in these dorms. These are young men and women that have grown too old to be orphans and are transitioning to life on their own. Some of them are in college, some of them are in technical school or in some way getting ready to live life outside the orphanage. The school has also grown beyond what it once was. Now students that live outside of Grace Village also attend the school. Each student pays tuition that covers their education, their uniform, a meal every day, and their books. Students can be sponsored through Healing Haiti. Healing Haiti knows that without education there is no good future for their own children and for the children of Titanyen. The school has one of the first technology labs that is building knowledge in the tech fields as well.
Finally, Healing Haiti has opened Flueri Restaurant and Bakery. The goal is to teach people to become bakers, give them skills, sell bread to people who will sell in the market, and at the same time sell to businesses. We were given a tour by Peterson, a Haitian that was educated in the U.S. in business. He is the second in command at the bakery and restaurant. He told us that they used to go through 5-6 sacks of flour a week and they now go through about 10 a day. Their business is booming. They have also opened a restaurant in connection to the bakery. They are teaching the transition students skills to help them succeed in the real world. The goal of Healing Haiti is to eliminate orphanages in Haiti by becoming job creators and eliminating the need for orphanages. The fact is that in Haiti, like in many developing countries, there is a significant percentage of orphans that actually have parents. The reality is that these parents simply cannot afford to raise their children, so they bring them to orphanages where they believe they will have better lives. Healing Haiti would like to eliminate the need for parents to feel like they need to give away their children for a better life.
Prior to visiting Fleuri Bakery and Restaurant we visited some of the elders in the community. We went into the homes of elders that are sponsored by Healing Haiti. As soon as we arrived, we got to work washing their feet, painting their nails, and giving hand and neck massages while Rocky and Izzy played the guitar and we all sang. We also brought them meals and gift bags filled with towels, soap, and snacks. This was the first time many of us have ever washed someones feet even though Jesus instructs his disciples (and us) in John 13:14-15 to "wash each others feet". It was an emotional and beautiful moment being able to serve them and see the joy in their eyes. It was easy to love on the them because they reminded us of our grandparents and how they are some of the greatest blessings in our lives. We ended our visit with a group prayer for each of their special prayer requests.
Then it was back to the guesthouse for a traditional "Haitian food" meal consisting of chicken drumsticks, meatballs, plantains, okra, beans, cucumbers, and of course rice and beans with a traditional potato and gravy sauce.
Another special time of our trips is our reflection time at the end of each day. We start with a devotion and end up sitting around for hours visiting, crying, and discussing the highs and lows of each day.
Friday morning we woke up at a quarter to six to head to Church on the Rock. It was a very eye-opening experience getting to observe a display of such great faith. It was apparent to see the Holy
Spirit living within the attendants including our team. The pastor prayed for Israel, for the U.S, and even for our whole group by name.
We then went back to City Soleil and played with the kids at Stop 17, which is where Hope Church is located. It was very exciting recognizing familiar faces that we saw the previous Wednesday on a water truck stop. We spent our time swinging children around, playing soccer (futbol), and getting fresh new updos from the little girls. Playing with the kids is amazing, but also remembering the situation that they are in is difficult. When we took out bubbles it started out very calm, but the moment other kids see the bubbles they try to take them away. It is a simple reminder that if you have little even a little bottle of bubbles is something desirable.
Lance, Nancy, Lauren, and Bailey were able to meet their sponsored child at Hope School and it was very heartwarming for them. Then we were given the opportunity to serve the children lunch at Hope School. The summer program at Hope Church feeds each of the kids a meal a day- maybe their only meal for the day.
We then headed to Fleuri Restaurant near Grace Village for pizza and fun.