A letter from Cindy Corell in Haiti
When Maria Arroyo, World Mission’s area coordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean, told me I would spend my first year in-country listening, I didn’t believe her. Not only is this true, though, I’m glad it’s true. Listening is difficult. Stopping my inner dialogue and giving my attention—wholly—to someone else is an ongoing challenge. But it brings its own awesome rewards.
I’m still learning Kreyol, and when I meet with people in rural areas, I use a translator. So I listen twice—when the young market woman is describing her daily routines in her own language, the lilting, phonetic Haitian Creole, and then again when my interpreter explains what she’s saying. Slowly, very slowly, I’m beginning to understand.
It seems remarkable that it’s been almost a year since I arrived to work as a companionship facilitator with Joining Hands. Every day is still an adventure.
I can break it into segments.
For a few weeks after arriving here I stayed in Port-au-Prince looking for an apartment. After finding it, I moved to a small village in the southern mountains to stay with a family there. The Celestins quickly became my family. The next segment is ongoing—traveling around Haiti to meet with members of the 11 organizations that make up FONDAMA, our Joining Hands network here. This brings me to the next segment of my work here—introducing Americans to my colleagues and friends in rural Haiti. I’ve got to tell you, friends, this is the best of the best.
You might recall my call story, how I happened to find myself in this precious work. I am a journalist by trade, a storyteller by good fortune. While I still foolishly, anxiously attempted to ignore the job opening I’d heard about, God spoke to me. Softly, but very clearly, He spoke to me. When I said I couldn’t do this work, He said I could. When I said I had a job, He said I needed a different one. When I said I was a journalist, He said the Haitian people needed a storyteller.
So many stories, like the farmer who wore a look of desperation when he showed me how his last crop had died in the field. Sweet potatoes and beans died in the dusty ground because of the long drought. And then he told of how he would have no seeds for the coming planting season. No crops. No seeds. No future harvest.
The story a young market woman told me. When she was a child, her mother worked hard to send the boys in the family to school. This young woman looks many years older than she is because she works even harder. She wants to send her sons and her daughters to school.
And though I can write these stories and send the photographs of our brothers and sisters here, the reward is magnified when Presbyterians visit Haiti with me. My first group came in January. They represented the Presbytery of the James, and six people came. This wouldn’t be the kind of trip they were accustomed to. We wouldn’t build a school or volunteer in an orphanage. We would visit rural Haitians in their communities. And listen.
It was a full week. We started with a meeting of the FONDAMA, the network. The Presbyterians along with coordinators from organizations within FONDAMA introduced themselves and talked about shared goals and visions. One by one, they told their stories. And we listened. This group of Americans listened. The travelers went home to tell the stories they’d heard. It is a lot of work, and I am grateful for their efforts.
In February a group of travelers from the Presbytery of the Peaks and two members of Eastminster Presbyterian Church, East Lansing, Mich., visited FONDAMA. For this trip we went to the North. As in most blessings, the deeper you look, the more you feel. And though as a Joining Hands network we have yet to firmly establish a single issue on which we will focus, it seems evident that agrarian reform will be a top priority.
In Haiti, as in so many developing countries, it is difficult for landowners to obtain titles to their property. This, and the fact that it is common practice for the government to declare lands “state” property and take possession of it for other purposes, means that little is guaranteed here, even the land on which you’ve painstakingly built your family’s home. So when the Presbytery of the James/Eastminster group visited, we headed north to meet some people who have experienced this nightmare.
We met in someone’s yard in Trou du Nord, a community in the Northeast, not far from the Dominican Republic. Last summer the government of Haiti decided it would pay back a portion of its debt to Venezuela, which had provided fuel to Haiti, by growing and exporting various foods. The area near Trou du Nord was identified as a site on which to grow plantains. And the people who had made their lives on that land were told to leave.
About 30 men and women stood, one at a time, and told their stories.
They told of armed men coming to their homes and telling them to leave.
They told of awakening to hear heavy equipment breaking the fruit trees on their property.
They told of threatening noises outside their homes in the middle of the night.
Intimidation. Shots fired. The power of the armed over those who have little.
It was an emotional meeting. And all we could do was listen.
As FONDAMA gears up to determine and implement advocacy campaigns, we continue to listen and pray. I will keep you updated as we move forward.
On May 25 I will have been in Haiti for one year. Remarkable! In some ways it’s gone by in a flash, and in other ways when I count up all that I’ve been able to experience here, it seems I must have been here all my life. Being appointed a mission co-worker with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has been among the greatest of blessings in my life.
And to work in Haiti—well, that is beyond a blessing. The people of this tiny nation, its world-changing history, its surprising beauty amid all its challenges—all that takes my breath away on a regular basis.
And I invite you—no, implore you—to become involved in the work of Joining Hands across the globe. Learn more by logging onto http://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/joininghands. Ask your church or presbytery to continue visiting our networks to listen and learn how we can help fight poverty by determining those root causes and joining together.
Come visit us in Haiti and meet the remarkably strong men and women I meet here every day. Join us through your committed learning, your advocacy for justice and your financial support. Come be with us when you can, but for now, please keep all of us in your prayers.
With God’s blessings from Haiti,