April 5 - Pre-Haiti Dinner Meeting at Miriam's

April 5, 2013 – Planning for this mission trip has been underway for months at Tansley United Church, but Larry and I were away and have not been to any previous meetings. The Outreach team, under the energetic leadership of Janice Martin set up the contacts with Empower Global, through Cal Shultz. Larry and I had always planned to be part of the effort, but only decided to actually travel with the team about 6 weeks ago.  We need to catch up on the expectations and information that have been shared within the group. Kathy still does not have the go-ahead from her boss to take the time off, but has gotten all the necessary shots and so on [Update: Hurray – Cathy will be coming]. Her son Zachery has decided to go even if she can’t. That means there will be 8 or 9 of us: Cal, Steve, Jim, Miriam, Leon, Zack, Larry and I, and hopefully Kathy. This evening is our chance to learn what we can about what to expect, what to bring with us, and generally how to prepare ourselves for the experience. Cal and Marci have been to Haiti many times, so can offer us lots of advice and guidance. But first, we enjoyed a bountiful and delicious potluck dinner. We are United Church folk after all, and must have food!
We will be working under the umbrella of Empower Global, which is a recognized charity in Canada, and the Canadian Government supports its operation. Our main task on this trip will be to find some aspect of the work there we can adopt as a Tansley project into the future. Of course, any work we can do on this trip, we will. One need is construction at the Empower compound. Empower is offering training to Haitians, based on a successful African program that combines various skills such as gardening, agriculture, hygiene and general life skills. They work in groups of 5 on small garden plots. There are also medical clinics, both fixed and mobile, which we’ll see some of.
First, we reviewed a bit of history. Haitians are rightfully proud that Haiti was the first independent black republic, breaking free of France in 1804. However, the country got no support from other countries, lacked infrastructure and governance systems, and eventually the Spanish-dominated Dominican Republic seceded. That part of the island is much more prosperous.
We were told that Voodoo is a very real and powerful force in Haiti. We will be staying very near a voodoo centre, so need to be aware of some aspects of the religion. It has a great effect on the attitudes of people practicing the religion, making them feel helpless in the face of the forces that guide their lives and determine their fate. In contrast, the Christians recognize their ability to work on bettering their own situation. We should not take random photos – especially not of any voodoo-related buildings or rituals. We need permission to take anyone’s picture. Relationships are the most important thing to Haitians, with the result that they are very agreeable to anything (even if they have serious reservations about an idea). Cal told us that makes it a bit difficult to find out what they really think of something, and also could lead to disappointment if they cannot fulfill a commitment they make just to be agreeable.
We discussed appropriate clothing, and shared ideas about things we might be able to take to leave behind or to share with the Haitians we will meet. We also shared information about staying healthy while we’re there. Haitian children, particularly, like to be hugged and to hold hands. Cal told us we’d be touched a lot and to be prepared for that. 

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