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Haiti Partnership: Mission Beyond Doing, Fixing, and Filling

Bill Knix

Bill Nix of the Presbytery of the James speaks with members of a farmers organization in rural Seguin, Haiti, in mid-January during a trip to visit with FONDAMA members. Photo courtesy of Cindy Corell.

By Cindy Corell, Companionship Facilitator, Haiti

It would be a challenge for all of us. For me, the delegation from the Presbytery of the James would be the first group visiting the Joining Hands network in Haiti. For the delegation, it would be a “mission trip” unlike any they’d heard of or participated in.

We wouldn’t visit a school or church or health clinic where they would explore a single partnership. We wouldn’t set out to build or paint anything. We wouldn’t settle in a community where we could spend days building relationships.

The delegation was traveling to Haiti from central Virginia to learn more about Fondasyon Men a Men a Ayiti (FONDAMA -“Foundation Hands in Hands Haiti”). I’d been the on-the-ground Joining Hands companionship facilitator here less than eight months when they were to arrive, so the only way I could tackle this challenge was to do as I do. And that is to travel Haiti and meet the people most impacted by the obstacles of the country — and the ones who hold the power to make needed changes.

First and foremost, I would need to articulate the philosophy behind Joining Hands — the goal, at least, if not the methodology of empowering civil society to identify the root causes of poverty, prioritizing the urgent issues and developing a campaign to combat them. This would be difficult enough to explain if FONDAMA already had identified the top issue and settled on a campaign. But FONDAMA is early in this process.

In a very real way, the Presbytery of the James delegation, and next month’s visit by a group from the Presbytery of the Peaks, are able to learn as we go. It’s a unique front-row seat to our work, but explaining it and understanding how it works is challenging.


Members of the Presbytery of the James delegation pose with members of the executive committee of FONDAMA. Photo by Lucson Celestin.

As American mission teams, we come stocked with a toolbox of ideas and ways to help. We want to “do” something. When presented a problem, we want to “fix” it. When discovering a deficit, we want to “fill” it. As Presbyterian mission teams, we earnestly desire to learn new ways of doing things, but we acknowledge it isn’t easy.

The night the group of six people arrived, we spent several hours talking about Joining Hands and what sets it apart from other models of mission. Team leader the Rev. Elizabeth McGuire, associate pastor of Salisbury Presbyterian Church, Midlothian, making her third trip to Haiti, had prepared the group well. And Bill Nix of Fredericksburg Presbyterian Church was making his second trip to Haiti meeting Haitian grassroots organizations.   Both are committed to the Haiti partnership.

In the hills overlooking the sea at Marigot, in southeast Haiti, the group heard Moril Jeudy, coordinator of MOPEDES (Peasant Mobilization for Economic and Social Development), a member organization of FONDAMA, tell how the organizations’ eight schools survive with little money. The teachers aren’t paid. Enrollment drops dramatically when there is no food for volunteer cooks to prepare in the rustic canteen. Paying for school supplies is a constant struggle.

They look at the school, into the faces of the children and teachers and think -“So how can we fix this?” I could see the question on their faces. I recognize it, because it’s the same way I feel. But for now, we resist. For now, we listen and learn and wait.

It went on — we heard from a teacher at Sequin whose face showed the fatigue and pain of dealing with struggle after struggle high in the mountains above Marigot.

No water. Extreme erosion. No schools. No decent roads to carry produce or critically ill people. No healthcare close by. The problems are plentiful, but hope seems in short supply.

And all these issues weighed heavily on us.

I explained again to each of these groups with whom we met: we cannot fix your problems — not alone. But we can hear you and we will be praying for you. And we thank you for sharing your precious time and stories with us – they are imprinted in our hearts. For now, we will continue to learn and meet and, together, as allies of FONDAMA, we will work to support efforts to tackle systems of poverty and injustice in Haiti.

No. We will not solve problems overnight, but rather we will support FONDAMA’s efforts to find long-term solutions.

For now, we visit and we listen.

And even though we still struggle with not being able to plug holes and feed children overnight, members of this delegation and I continue the work. Slowly and surely.

It’s not over on this end. I will continue these conversations in Virginia.

We will talk about how advocacy can work. We will talk about finding other resources to study. They will keep me and all our people here in their prayers, and we keep them in ours. We will explore the possibility of partnerships within the greater goals.

In Haiti, we are just beginning. And it is with great hope and many prayers, we will continue.

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