Monday, April 16, 2012

Birthday Bug

She is her daddy’s Sweet Pea, her Gram and Momma’s Lady Bug, and her Grandma’s littlest Dolly. 

She is our girlie girl, with eyes for sparkly shoes, jeweled sunglasses and bright colored earrings. 

She is up for playing in the sandbox, as long as she can wear her party dress and a tiara. 

She loves Elmo, the Little People and all things Minnie Mouse.

She is anxious to start school, and loves riding her bike.

And she chose salad as her meal to celebrate her big day.

Tonight at the Y, she makes her big move.  No more babies and toddlers, it’s to the Kid’s Zone for her!

Evidently all your dreams come true when you turn 3!  Happy Birthday, Hailey!

2011-10-29 13.33.16

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

On Mission in Haiti–Catching a Vision

To be able to glimpse into the future envisioned by Mission of Hope, you have to start by understanding the vision, resolutions and principle tenets that they have adopted.  I am going to paraphrase it here for the purpose of context for my trip to Haiti, but if you would like to read more about MOH and their vision, you can see it here: Mission of Hope Haiti - Vision and Resolution

Their vision statement is relatively simple, “As an organization following Jesus Christ, we exist to bring life transformation to every man, woman, and child in Haiti.”  Mission of Hope was established in 1998 as a small mission, reaching into the surrounding community. What became most evident at the start was the need for better education for the children in Haiti.  In 2010, the literacy rate in Haiti was 45%.  This is a tragically low percentage especially if you consider the fact that Haiti has a relatively young population.  Sadly, only 50% of kids from rural villages, like those around Mission of Hope, will attend school.  With unemployment somewhere between 85 – 90%, and 80% of the population living in abject poverty, it is clear that educating a new generation is vital to the nation’s survival. 

Within a few days of starting the school at MOH, it became clear that nutrition was going to be key to success.  Children were coming into class with red tinged hair and bloated bellies, both indications of malnutrition.  They were having difficulty focusing in class, or would become ill, to the point of passing out.  So in order for Mission of Hope to provide good education, by necessity, they also needed to address nutrition.  Mission of Hope purchased a peanut grinder and hired a Haitian woman to churn out peanut butter that was put on bread for the children to have a good lunch.  Within days, children were able to focus more.  Over time, the bloated bellies and red hair subsided, and the overall health of the children was beginning to be restored. 

But bringing kids into a school and providing at least one good meal wasn’t going to be enough if they were sending these kids home everyday, back into homes that were breeding grounds for disease and infection.  Educating communities on personal hygiene, and providing basic medical care was also needed.  So the mission grew to include a clinic and a community program that now includes a mobile clinic and education.  The clinic at MOH was invaluable after the earthquake, and was the site of the first sterile operating rooms in Haiti after the quake.  The medical missions to Haiti following the earthquake was also the beginning of a fantastic relationship between Mission of Hope and Hill Country Bible Church Northwest. 

The earthquake happened just before 5pm local time, and the epicenter of the 7.0 magnitude quake was about 15 miles southwest of Port Au Prince.  Keeping in mind that this was the strongest earthquake in the region since 1770, and that almost all of the permanent structures in PAP are made of concrete and cinderblock, paired with the timing of the quake while most people in the city were at work, the amount of falling concrete debris must have been astonishing.  We aren’t talking about steel girded structures tested to withstand earthquakes like we would see in the US, these are structures designed to withstand the occasional hurricane and rainy season with high winds.  The government in Haiti estimated that 3 million people needed immediate medical attention after the quake.  They also estimated that 200,000 people died, though I have seen estimates far greater online from other sources. 

It’s not surprising that in the days and weeks following this tragedy, amputations were required to save the lives of many, many people.  Faced with losing a limb, or losing a life, the choice seems simple enough.  Here is where it is important to remember that this isn’t a wealthy nation, with a high availability of quality medical care, and long term disability support.  The disabled in this country are seen as being worse than useless.  Disabled people are a drain on the resources of their families and there are no sterile facilities to which they can be shipped off to be cared for by someone else.  It is likely that if you become disabled in Haiti, not only will you not be welcomed home by people eager to take care of you, but you are likely to become an easy target for crime.  Finding work as an able-bodied, young, strong individual is difficult, for a disabled person, it is almost impossible.  This is a very scary reality for many Haitians.  Following the earthquake, MOH was able to set up a Prosthetics Lab within their clinic.  They also have an extraordinary prosthetist that is leading this laboratory, Naoki Yao.  Naoki was practicing in the Dominican Republic when the earthquake struck and was eager to help where he could. 

In the lab with Naoki is a Haitian apprentice, David.  Like every other facet of the vision at MOH, a principle resolution is for indigenous mobilization.  In other words, how can we create a job that a Haitian can do, or how can we create a ministry that can be led by a Haitian?  It is difficult to imagine another circumstance that would allow a man like David the opportunity to learn under a leader of his profession like Naoki.  The benefit that a prosthetic leg offers a man, woman or child is immeasurable.  Imagine being a man with a family who has lost a leg.  Not only are you dealing with the physical loss of a limb, you are also dealing with the emotional toll of not being able to support your family, the financial reality of your circumstance, the fear of a grim future, on and on.  Now imagine what happens when that man is fitted for a prosthetic leg; this man has not only regained mobility, but his soul is put at ease, his burden is lifted and his family now has a future he can be proud to work towards.

Mission of Hope has also expanded its vision to include orphan care.  It is hard for me to fathom, but there are currently 400,000 Haitian children who are living without parents today.  MOH established the Village of Hope which provides a family environment, spiritual guidance, education, and healthcare for 60 children ranging in age from infants to young adult.  While it is so encouraging to see the smiling faces playing on the playground or eating in Maggie’s Kitchen at MOH, it is equally daunting to consider how much greater the need is.  The kids who call Village of Hope home have bright eyes, warm hearts and big dreams. 

After the earthquake, the Haitians were blessed with many NGOs that came into Haiti to help provide temporary housing while the nation rebuilds.  Two years later, the blue tarps are beginning to fade and are becoming tattered.  Many people are still clinging to what they have, but the move to build affordable and permanent housing has been difficult.  Mission of Hope launched the MOH 500, a drive to fund and build 500 permanent homes by the end of 2012.  Calling on the resolution to be an indigenous movement, Haitian labor is being used to build these homes, and the families that are placed in these homes are investing into their communities.  In exchange for their investment, in 5 years they will receive the title to their properties.  And it isn’t just a house with 4 walls, but land for a garden and an assortment of fruit trees like mango and plantains.  The goal is to provide families with healthy food, as well provide a revenue stream by growing crops that can be sold in the market. 

I would like to invite you to check out the Mission of Hope website, Mission of Hope website.  There is a ton of really great information on what they are currently involved in, and what they have in the plans for the future.  Their work in creating micro-businesses with women through 3 Chords, future expansion onto a land provided by the government of Haiti that will be used for Pastoral Retreat and Conference Center, trade schools and agriculture education and an expansion of their nutrition program through One Haiti is awe inspiring.  Make sure you check out the vision videos as well, Mission of Hope Videos

In my next blog entry I will dive more into the projects we worked on, and the tours we went on.  Still lots of information to process through and share.  Here is a link to a photo album I have on Facebook,  and you don’t need a Facebook account to see the album. 2012 Haiti Mission Trip Photo Album

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Haiti Mission Trip – Travel and Arrival at Mission of Hope

I had the chance to join 7 other men from my church on a mission trip Haiti.  Our church has a fantastic relationship with Mission of Hope, an organization that has been doing some amazing work in Haiti for many, many years.  Since the earthquake in January of 2010, the vision for Mission of Hope has expanded greatly, and the answer from the executive team down to the hard working volunteers on the ground has been enormous.  Teams of students from high school and the college level, along with professionals with a heart for missions have joined the locals in villages around Mission of Hope to provide for the educational, clinical, nutritional, and spiritual needs of the people.

I experienced so much in the time I spent in Haiti.  It’s too much to try to convey in a single blog post, so I will start with our travel day and arrival at MOH.  Over the next several days, as I get back into my routine at work, I will post more about the things I saw, the projects we took part in, and the takeaways I came home with. 

We left Austin very early on Saturday morning.  Our travel plans had us flying American Airlines from Austin to Dallas to Fort Lauderdale to Port Au Prince.  Brenda insisted on driving me to the airport, even though it meant getting the girls up for a 5AM drive to the airport.  One more chance to kiss and hug my girls, even that early, made for a great sendoff for me.  When I traveled for business in my previous jobs, I would have avoided a flight plan like the one we had like the plague.  Stopovers in Dallas and Fort Lauderdale can be a recipe for disaster, depending on the weather.  Our flights were problem-free and we had ample time between legs. 

Unlike any trip I ever had when I traveled for work though, we got insanely lucky when it came to which gates we arrived and departed from.  When we got to DFW, our next flight departed at almost adjacent to the gate we arrived at, and we had a good 45 minutes to get there, plenty of time for a stop at Starbucks!  When we arrived in Fort Lauderdale, we departed for PAP from the same gate we arrived in.  What?  No marathon sprint across 3 terminals, racing up escalators and praying for favor at the tram stops?  This was unheard of! 

I did have a price to pay on this journey though, I missed Grace’s first T-ball game.  She was very understanding, and my brother-in-law was kind enough to record it for me.  Thanks, Bryan!  She hit the ball well, and ran the bases pretty well, except for almost missing home plate.  Something for us to work on for our next game.  We grabbed some lunch at a Cuban food stand in the airport before boarding our plane for Port Au Prince.  Jeff, one of our team members who had made this trip before, made an observation that I should have heeded after he returned to our seats aboard the plane from the restroom.  “Better go now, that’s the nicest bathroom we will see for the next week.”

Flying in low over the coast, you get a taste of what will overwhelm you once on the ground.  The shoreline is littered with trash and debris.  Tons of Styrofoam continues to wash ashore and most of the beaches are filled with broken bottles, torn fishing nets and half-sunken boats.  Another sign of the size of this airport, the largest in Haiti, was when we landed, taxied to the end of the runway and made a U-turn to taxi to the gate.  We were taken by bus from the terminal gate to a warehouse that now serves as the baggage claim area.  Much of the airport is still in visible ruin.  It’s clear that while the people of Haiti are busy trying to rebuild, resources are scarce and priority is function over beauty.  Clearing customs in Haiti is a unique experience, to say the least. 

Once all of our team had secured our luggage, we gathered together for what can be a pretty intimidating and chaotic walk from the terminals to the busses waiting in the parking lot.  Dozens of valets in red shirt begin vying for your business as soon as you clear the door, wanting to help you with you bags along the short walk.  They are everywhere and will quite literally try to take your bags from your hand.  The going rate for this service is 1 US dollar.  It’s a small price to pay, but it somehow feels more like a ransom than a tip for service rendered.  The currency exchange in Haiti is about 8 to 1, Haitian to US.  The average working Haitian will labor all day for approximately 5 US dollars.

In the parking lot, we were greeted by Bobby, the driver from Mission of Hope.  He helped us clear the valets away from our team, get our luggage loaded into a truck and then get our team into a separate van.  Several of the people on our team had made this trip before.  Some have made several trips over the last couple of years and they began to notice immediately the marked improvements along the way.  This trip was a first for only 3 of the 8 guys on our team.  Gone from the airport grounds, just within the last several weeks was a large tent city.  In it’s place was broken concrete parking lots, sidewalks and steady stream of trash.  Previously, it was a sea of blue tarp tents and shanties, homes to people who had lost all else. 

The roads in Port Au Prince are drivable, but full of potholes.  Lanes are a mere suggestion as you follow the taillights of the vehicle in front of you.  The public transportation of choice by most of the locals are the tap-taps, converted mini-trucks or flatbeds that carry passengers along fixed routes.  Rides are about 75 cents one-way.  Many people from the surrounding villages rely on these to get into the city or to markets.  Vehicles in Haiti are generally pushed to their limits, mechanically and in their capacity.  A dozen or more people will cram into the converted beds of a small truck, including standing on the bumpers or sitting on top of the makeshift covers over the bed.  Broken down vehicles is a common scene in Haiti, and we saw several as we drove through town.  Suspension and good tires are luxuries in this country, so too are alignments.  One thing that I was surprised to see few of were bicycles.  I am not sure I ever saw a single bike anywhere on the entire trip.  But a motorcycle or scooter may be used to carry a family of 4, plus whatever they picked up from the market.

It takes us about an hour to navigate our way to Mission of Hope, which sits in the village of Titanyen.  We arrive at MOH just before dinner time.  Before we departed Austin, as as team, we divvied up a list of supplies that we were responsible for bringing.  Each team that goes to MOH, based on the size of their team brings all sorts of food items, work gear and necessities.  These supplies are combined with the items everyone else has brought to provide the meals that all of us enjoyed.  It is not a stretch to say that MOH literally runs on carbs.  Because of their relative ease to pack and travel with, and the short burst of energy they provide, it is a logical choice.  This being said, I don’t think I want to see another Pringle or Rice Krispie Treat for awhile. 

I look forward to sharing more about our trip and some pictures as well.  If you are at all interested in learning more about how you can help in Haiti, or if you think you would like to look into taking a team down to Mission of Hope, I am happy to connect you to the right people.  Everyone I met, from the volunteers, to the staff to villagers and kids in the orphanage were wonderful people. 

voodoo team closeup