Haiti was a standby in headlines for a while, but our media have shorter attention spans than the average toddler so places like Haiti fall off the “front page” when editors decide the public is tired of hearing about government non-action, and being confronted with grinding poverty in Haiti, of a sort no American, no matter how poor, has ever seen.
We get tired of depressing news too, but Haiti never quite falls off our radar, because through Harvest International, a mission organization based in Florida, we sponsor a child at the Garden of Joy school in the mountains of Haiti.
We actually began to sponsor this child while at our former church. I was part of a “women’s circle” that met. As I prayed and focused on the Bible, it became very clear that our Women’s Circle was completely detached from anyone in need of ministry, or in need of hearing the Gospel. Really our function was that of a social club, raising money for the liberal church policy makers in NY. It didn’t sit well with me.
By coincidence, the Garner children’s piano teacher, Sally Wright, has a special relationship with the Garden of Joy school – she has actually been there! Visiting Haiti was a life transforming event for Sally and she urged me to have our church host the school’s director, Ann Farquharson, when she came back to the states the summer of 2009 on furlough.
Intrigued, I set up a meeting and invited the women to come. Since there was no food involved, only six women showed up. I was excruciatingly embarrassed for our small but wealthy urban church. Ann, however, didn’t blink an eye at our pathetic attendance, but passionately won us over. An effervescent woman with boundless energy, Ann spoke with brutal honesty about the conditions, the corrupt politics and the difficulties of doing anything in Haiti. By the grace of God, her mountain top school was surviving, even thriving, and when we, as comparatively rich and spoiled Americans, saw how much could be done with a relatively small commitment, our circle decided to sponsor a student – Louise.
Three short months later, I received an urgent email from Sally to pray. Haiti had been hit with a powerful earthquake, the epicenter 16 miles west of Port-au-Prince. Garden of Joy School is in the mountains just above the capital city. Stunned to actually know people affected by the tragedy, we prayed, and prayed, and prayed.
We prayed for the school, we prayed for the energetic Ann, and we prayed for our Louise and her family. As reports of the destruction began to come in from Port-au-Prince we found ourselves joyfully amazed to learn that the relative poverty of the Garden of Joy families in the mountains saved them. Children and parents alike were mostly all outside, working in gardens, doing chores. Their homes are so tiny, that they rarely stay in them. Many of their homes were not of concrete, which were most damaged by the shaking.
We had just begun to feel relieved that repair work was going well, and school was starting back up when we got word six months later that Cholera was sweeping through the island nation. UN peace keeping soldiers were experiencing an outbreak of cholera when they arrived in Haiti, and their poor sanitary set up resulted in the Contamination of the Artibonite River. Again, it seemed that the blessed little mountain top school was spared the worst.
Louise is just a little younger than #1 Son. I would occasionally compare how much we were spending on crew, on food, on entertainment, on hobbies, on clothes with the relative pittance, $25 a month, we were sending to keep Louise in school, with supplies, a uniform, and a nutrient dense meal every day, and the little bit extra we sent for Christmas. After a while our women’s circle drifted apart, and we were sponsoring Louise as a family. We were still amazed at how much $25 could do in Haiti.
We have never spoken to Louise. We received one letter from her, written in lovely cursive on notebook paper, thanking us for sponsoring her, but that was before the earthquake. During the worst of the aftermath, communication even by email was difficult. Postal system? Not an option. The cost of mail to Haiti runs between $45 and $80 depending on the size of the flat envelope. The most practical way to communicate with Haiti is to send a flat envelope to Harvest International in Florida, and wait for them to gather up enough items and money for it to make sense financially to send a package to Haiti.
Simple things like mail delivery, regular electricity and clean water are hurdles in this country that lies so close to America’s borders. Haiti’s political history has been so fraught with corruption and deceit that what seems easy here in America is quite difficult there. American interests have served to line the pockets of political people and their friends, but have done little to improve the lives of the Haitian people. To date, less than half of the aid promised to Haiti in the throes of America’s post-earthquake-emotion-laden “send them a check” generosity from January of 2010 have come through. Haiti is, for the average American, forgotten.
Then there are people like Ann Farquharson, the Garden of Joy staff Yolette, Dorcas and Nadage, and Cassie Shipley at Harvest International, who simply roll up their sleeves, pray, pray a lot, and get to work so that a small gift of $25 a month, goes so far as to give a child a healthy meal every day, fabric to make a uniform, school supplies and the exponential blessing of a Christian education.
To our delight, we have been informed that Louise just graduated from the Garden of Joy School in Haiti! The Garners are sending off a graduation card and emailing a financial gift, like the ones my son received from some of our loving relatives when he graduated. I can’t help but wonder what will happen to Louise. She will remain in our prayers, and maybe someday we will go to Haiti with Sally and look her up!
In the meantime, we have been introduced via an adorable card to Anise, a twelve year old student at the school, and we will begin sponsoring her now. She says, “I live with my Mom, Dad and siblings. My parents are gardeners. We are a Christian family. Please pray for me, my education and my future.” GraceNotes is older now, and is excited to be sponsoring another girl her age. “Like a sister!” she said. We have already planned to put together a package now, for Anise’s summertime birthday, hoping that perhaps she’ll somehow receive it close to the actual date.
There are about twenty children at the Garden of Joy school who have lost their sponsors. Sometimes this is because their sponsor is elderly and passes away. Sometimes it’s because the church or “women’s group” decides to do something different with their money. Sometimes it’s because with this economy, even $25 seems like too much for some people. I urge you though, to look up Harvest International. I suggest that you study the young faces on the pages put together by Ann Farquharson for the Garden of Joy school. I urge you to search your budget for $25 a month to invest in a young life in Haiti.
As I was putting together this post, I reviewed some of the newsletters we’ve received from Garden of Joy. This bit here brings tears to my eyes:
“We thank God for you. You are prayed for regularly at the student’s weekly chapel. Many of these families meet me on the street to say they are praying for the sponsor family. ”
They are praying for my family.
I don’t know anyone else who is praying, specifically, for my family. This spoiled American Christian finds herself humbled and very, very grateful to be remembered in prayer by the children and families at the Garden of Joy school in Haiti!
If Haiti fell off your radar, you’re not alone. Here are some links to explore about Haiti.