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Call Her By Name

A Letter from Cindy Corell, serving in Haiti

April 2018

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I couldn’t say her name.

Ma-nee-ka. Meen-eeka. Ma-nee-kee-a.

Ma-na-ee-ka.

Her sister Dianerie repeated it, repeated it, repeated it. It had taken me forever to learn Dianerie’s name, but no matter how many times she told me, I could not pronounce her sister’s name.

Finally, sensing that I am a visual learner, Dianerie, 13, wrote Menaïka’s name on the little girl’s left arm, then had her pose for a photograph. (It’s pronounced Ma-na-ee-ka.)

Menaïka Dejean, 9, poses at the shoreline of Anse à Galets on the island of La Gonave, Haiti. Photo by Dianerie Dejean

This image has become one of the most powerful photographs I’ve seen. Maybe more powerful for me, because I have the good fortune of getting to know these girls.

After five years as a mission co-worker in Haiti, I know that the greatest gift is the people you meet. The people you come to love.

It’s all right there in the photo if you really look. A 9-year-old girl with scuffed, sandy knees, bare feet and determination in her eyes that belie her age.

She is Haiti. And she wants me to know her name.

Dianerie and Menaïka live with their mother and siblings in a community near the shoreline at Anse à Galets, the largest town on the island of La Gonave. It’s a remote place. The island is mostly arid and dusty. There are few jobs beyond buying and selling goods and agriculture.

Buying goods means a trip across the bay to the mainland and back. It can be a slow and difficult journey.

And because there are no fresh water sources on the island and periods of drought are common, agriculture is a tough business, too. Most people just make ends meet or they leave for the mainland or other countries.

On occasion, I travel to Anse à Galets to meet with members of farmer organizations there or accompany groups visiting partners in the Episcopal church. When I can, I try to meet with Dianerie and her family.

Menaïka, 9, and Dianerie Dejean, 13, are sisters who live with their family on the island of La Gonave, Haiti. Photo by Cindy Corell

I first met the girls in January 2017 while visiting the beach with a church group. I was taking photos of the younger children, when then-12-year-old Dianerie approached. She bore all the characteristics of a preteen, she didn’t want to smile and she wasn’t impressed with yet another American mission worker visiting the area.

So I handed her my Nikon. Try it, I asked her. See what happens.

What happened was that this once-sulky little girl showed an emerging talent as a photographer. I have many photos to prove that point. Now when I return to the island, I make a point to visit the beach and spend time with this family.

What would it matter, you might think, that a mission co-worker can connect with an individual in the country where she serves? Isn’t that what I’m supposed to be doing? I ask myself the same thing quite often. And then in moments like when Dianerie showed me the photo of Menaïka with her name written on her arm, it became clear.

Where it would be ordinary for a local person to tell a mission co-worker, “I am glad to be with you,” Dianerie was saying, “I want you to know my sister’s name.”

It’s that important. More than that I come back to see them. More than that I once was able to help get their little brother medical care when he was ill. More than that I always give Dianerie a bit of pay for taking photos for me.

More than anything, she wants me to call her little sister by name.

That is the challenge of Haiti to me. That is the love of Haiti to me.

And that is why I am here.

I thank each and every one of you for your prayerful and financial support for my ministry here in Haiti. I value my work here as a companionship facilitator with a network of grassroots farmer organizations.

But more than that, I value our friendships.

I invite you to continue supporting our work here with your prayers and your financial gifts, and I invite you to come be with us in Haiti. Come meet our sisters and brothers here.

Come be with me, and call them each by name.

Cindy Corell


Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

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