So how was Haiti?
I got back from Haiti a week ago. I’ve been asked by pretty much everybody how it was, but I’m still trying to get my head around it all.
I guess the shortest answer I can give is that I’m grateful. So grateful for the chance to have gotten to visit. So grateful for the simple things I take for granted like electricity and education. So grateful to be part of this planet.
My visit was a work trip- and I’m still in awe that rural villages in places like Haiti serve as my second office. I was working with my friend Lei to produce a video series for Plant With Purpose.
We would be meeting with a number of people who have been impacted by the organization’s program, hearing their stories, and retelling them through video.
We got what we came for, and then some. We left with somewhere around 15 hours of footage, all to produce nine minutes worth of content. Creatively, the trip was a success.
But for both of us, it was also something bigger.
For Lei, it was a chance to connect with his Haitian roots, his dad being from the island.
As for me... the weeks prior to the trip had their fair share of letdown. I found myself discouraged, waiting for things I thought would’ve happened by now. I found it harder to celebrate the successes of others, because as much as I hate to admit it, jealousy was creeping in. Jealousy came alongside a big sense of worry that I’d be stuck in this space forever.
Anyways, that’s where things were roughly before Haiti.
I met Lei at the Atlanta airport and we boarded our flight to Port Au Prince together. We spent seemingly forever at our Fort Lauderdale airport before finally arriving at Haiti- a first for the both of us.
The first thing I noticed was a United Nations plane parked next to our JetBlue aircraft. Haiti has had no shortage of relief efforts, just a shortage of effective ones. There may be no other country that has been so overpromised and underdelivered.
This wasn’t my trip to a Plant With Purpose program, and it definitely wasn’t my first trip to a poor country, but I still had the feeling Haiti would be different. Over the past year I’ve heard people express unflattering opinions about the country. I’ve heard people describe a real sense of frustration among Haitians and disbelief that things could ever improve. I’ve read how the charitable sector and international intervention may have done more harm than good.
And yet, I knew there was more I needed to see with my own eyes.
The next day, we met our Haitian partners and our translator. We hopped in a truck and made our way from Port Au Prince to Fonds Verrettes, spending most of three hours on a very bumpy road. I hit my head, like a lot, and its lump made very good friends with the window beside me.
We spent so much of the next few days interviewing one participant after another.
We met Nael who used to live off 33 cents a day. He would have to work from 7 AM to 7 PM just for that. Now he employs 13 people.
We met Gernita who said she used to have no purpose. Now she runs a snack shop out of her house that she is constantly remodeling.
We met Dieula who lost so many loved ones during the big earthquake. She now plants and gives away trees in their honor.
We met Raymond who lost his brother in an accident and developed a drinking problem. He now runs (very musical) demonstrations to his whole community on how to make a natural insecticide.
We met Messoyiel, who used to struggle to feed his kids but now wishes everyone could see the change he’s seen. “I think I had a dream about you guys,” he told us. “I dreamt I was visited by some strangers. No doubt God brought you here.”
Lei and I worked long days, basically around the clock. We’d be straight up exhausted at the end of each day of filming and we’d need as much recharging as the dozens of battery packs for the cameras and drones we brought.
Of course, we were staying at a lodge powered with a generator that sometimes took up to an hour to get started.
I was often the first one awake, and I would use that time to sneak onto the walking trail behind the lodge. We were staying in Foret des Pins, literally Pine Forest, and that’s exactly what it was.
The wooded area was green, lush, and cool. It was one of the only parts of Haiti that looked like a forest. It could’ve been Oregon, but with more aloe plants. For the most part, Haiti is dry and eroded. It has one of the most severe deforestation problems I’ve ever seen. This forest was a beautiful exception.
I would wander for just a bit, then a bit more. I felt like praying.
I felt God nudge me to approach this video project like a treasure hunter. Every person we interviewed had something that they could teach the world. Each person had something to teach me. I just had to uncover it.
I recalled Nael and how while he was working those twelve hour days for almost nothing, Plant With Purpose must’ve been laying out the groundwork for coming to Fonds Verrettes. I learned that so much progress happens behind the scenes.
I recalled how Gernita overcame poverty. One marginal step at a time. I learned that the changes we really need don’t happen overnight, but that things can get better bit by bit.
I recalled Raymond sharing about his drinking problem. I wondered what my Plant With Purpose teammates who were around then were doing at the same time. Maybe at his lowest low, others were already in motion, praying, planning, fundraising. I learned to hold on because God sends helpers.
I recalled Dieula’s welcoming hug and kisses on the cheek. I learned that love and warmth are resilient through every storm.
I recalled Messoyiel’s strong statements about how his life changed because of God. I learned that belief is important.
I then looked at the bunches of trees that were surrounding me. The light leaked through then in the most sacred of ways.
I remembered the passage: Look at the birds. They do not sow seeds or store food. But your Heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you even more valuable?
I started paying deeper attention. One single aloe plant. It became yet another teacher. It was just a small, single plant, and yet it was thriving. It found what it needed to live well.
Later that day, Lei and I debriefed our trip a little bit.
“I am gonna appreciate things so much more after this,” he told me. “It’s crazy. The people that we met might not have very much by our standards. But they’re so, so happy.”
“Yeah, and they’ve seen how things were and how they’ve changed.”
“Yeah. I feel like I only get more and more aware of how small I really am in the big picture.”
“Like how ‘our’ world is just the smallest fraction of the world?”
“Yeah. Like we spend so much of our time worried about the most meaningless things.”
“So true. These people we’ve met, though, I’d say they’re thriving.”
I wondered if Nael, Dieula, and the others often felt a bit like the aloe plant. Small. A ground-level actor where the whole forest is a stage. But thriving at the same time. Loved, seen, and taken care of by God who put a process in place.
My Haitian friends knew waiting and letdown and disappointment better than anyone. But they also know what’s on the other side.
I realized we all weren’t so different. Me and Gernita. The aloe plant. Small but seen.
I’m taking care of you, Philippe, I was reminded.
When we left Nael’s farm, he thanked me harder than I’ve ever been thanked for anything before. Being associated with Plant With Purpose means being associated with his life transformation.
“Thank you so much for visiting me! I am praying for you! I have been praying for you! I have prayed for the car and the boat and the plane and the helicopter that brought you over here.”
There were a few modes of transport that were added in there, but I got the message loud and clear. I wondered what life would be like if I understood gratitude half as well as this man.
That night in the pine forest, I felt a surge of it. Gratitude. I was surrounded by giants with pine needles underneath a blanket of bright stars.
And that night, disappointment couldn’t have been more distant.