Rice and Beans – A Symbol of Hope for Haiti

Date Posted: 4/18/2011

Two things were distinctly visible from the air as our plane approached Port Au Prince, Haïti. One is the singular beauty of the western Caribbean island of Haïti (named Hispaniola by Christopher Columbus), with its unusual shape offering miles of seacoast and green scenery. There is a saying here: “Dèyè mòn gen mòn.” (Beyond the mountain…is another mountain.) Quoting from the United Methodist Women study book, Haïti, Challenges and Hope, the deeper meaning of this saying is this: “What you see is not always all there is; behind each challenge, there could be another one.” (page 119 in the UMW study book.)


Two, from the air one could see the destruction caused by the earthquake of January 12, 2010. Tent cities and broken buildings, white tents and blue tarps were punctuated with piles of crushed concrete. Most visible to our team from Mission Hearts was the brightly colored wooden houses that serve as temporary housing for the deaf village.


After the earthquake, over 300 deaf people or families with deaf members were sought out by, Friends of Deaf Haïti, and settled together in donated and makeshift tents and tarps.


Now, through the deaf leadership of this camp and donations of time and money from Mission Hearts (from Mission UMC, in Ft. Smith Arkansas), Healing Hands, Friends of Deaf Haïti, the Four Ten Bridge and the International Red Crescent/Red Cross, much needed medical help and food is being provided to the deaf community. The General Board of Global Ministries awarded a grant to purchase food for members of this unusual community who found themselves hungry and homeless but not hopeless. Rice and beans might not sound like much to the average North American reader, but it is life in Haïti.


Once our plane landed and we were driven to our lodgings, we got a close up look at the devastation of buildings and lives. It’s easy to comprehend the earthquake-damaged buildings, a little more difficult to comprehend the damaged lives of a people that were already a part of the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. Helpless and homeless, these proud people have risen to show that they are not without hope; that they have hope in their future.


Suffering more than the usual hardships of Haïti, this community has worked hard to keep their little village near the Port Au Prince airport crime free, clean and organized. Now in temporary wooden houses, they are also building a spirit of community that is awe-inspiring. Equipped now with latrines and showers and supplied with potable water, the people of this little community of brightly colored rows of houses seek to improve their lives and care for their children.


The Methodist Church of Haïti has set a priority on rebuilding lives by rebuilding schools so the children will not lose valuable education years. However, most children in the deaf community (even the hearing children) cannot afford to go to school. Jobs are few and deaf people have a doubly difficult time of finding work to feed their families and take care of their health. However, this community is doing whatever they can to make life better.


Over a year after the earthquake, they are no longer living in isolation but in a new kind of neighborhood, with a common goal of recovering from the devastation of the earthquake. Some NGO’s are helping with doctor visits and small stipends for the leaders who oversee the camp and its security.


Although conditions have improved since the earthquake, medical checkups that were administered found that many were still dehydrated. There is a need for medical assistance, training and leadership development. They also long for a church in which to worship with a form of communication that matches their language of signs. Haïtian Sign Language is a developing language, and like the spoken language of Kreyol, (Creole) it is becoming a blend of languages.


Some of the men were asked to help with build the building of temporary housing. A group came into the camp to add front porches to the houses, a vital necessity in this hot climate. Haïtian people do a lot of their living outside and while in this housing situation, washing clothes, cooking, and other activities happen outside. There are no trees in the deaf camp, so shade is a prime commodity.


As this community strives to overcome the upheaval in their lives, they really want to be of use. They want to help physically rebuild their community, but it is difficult to bridge the gap of being able to communicate with them while working on construction projects.


On our team were deaf persons serving as role models for the deaf in the community in Haïti. Time and time again when a profoundly hard of hearing (considered deaf in Haïti) woman was introduced, “This is the nurse,” mouths would drop open and eyes get wide with surprise. They never met a deaf nurse. They had a hard time believing it was even possible first of all for a deaf person to attain an education, let alone a deaf woman.


A two-day medical clinic was held and the team treated infections, dehydration, asthma, weakness and at least one broken foot that occurred three weeks prior to our arrival. Through the donation of medicines from several churches and team members, including First UMC, Huntsville TX, team members from Ontario, Canada, and Mission Hearts organization, the team was able to dispense basic pain relievers, apply topical antibiotic, and do eye wash and ear wash procedures. While the clinic was open, First Aid classes were offered.


On the second day at the deaf village, four women were trained to make paper bead jewelry. As they honed their skills, each pledged to teach another woman so they can begin to sell the jewelry and make money for food and other necessities. One of the four deaf women was appointed as leader in that project.


The camp was well organized. While in many places garbage still lines the streets, not so in the Deaf Camp. It was evident that leaders were in place, and were respected. Their latrine area was clean and neat, their houses painted bright colors (chosen by the occupants) and they took pride in their “village.”


We met Joseph Jean Paul, a man born with no legs or forearms. In addition to being a marvelous painter, he is working as an encourager to the people getting prosthetics from the St. Vincent’s workshop. Many people injured in the earthquake lost their hands, feet, legs, or arms, due to crush injuries. This man’s positive outlook and great spirit is a blessing to them as they learn to live with a prosthesis.


In addition to education for the deaf children at St. Vincent’s, children who are deaf, blind or both are taught how to cope with the life they now have in Haïti.


The team visited Nouvo College Bird, a school at the Methodist Church, and saw the classes in session, children playing soccer, and a group doing homework under the trees. The classrooms are open style cinder block buildings with tin roofs. Kindergarten and elementary children are taught here at the school.


Our hope is to be able to fund future mission teams that include US deaf participants who cannot afford to pay the costs to go on this mission, but are sorely needed as role models. Gifts to Advance #982652 will help the cause of Deaf, Deaf-blind and Hard of Hearing people, both in providing funds for US deaf team members, but also funding project such as Pazapa School. The UMC Deaf and Hard of Hearing Ministries Committee has set as a priority the work in Haïti with mission teams which include deaf members.


Mission Hearts is returning September 2 and people wanting to join this team are invited to contact Dee Mathes, Co-Director of Mission Hearts, Incorporated, hands@pinncom.com.


The hope and spirit of the people of Haïti and particularly the deaf community in Port Au Prince can serve as an inspiration to all of us. Reach out to each other in hope and follow Jesus’ command, “Feed My Sheep.” Even if it’s just rice and beans.