The first time I met the Wilson family of Degand, Haiti I was in a kind of rapture. We’d just seen the new Goat Breeding Center that Heifer International had built to help the town support its school, and met some gorgeous people living on small farms in this town overlooking the infinite blue sea. Madame Wilson’s daughter Cynthia dragged me by the hand to see their new goats, given by Heifer, who were all happily pregnant, and I took this photo of a family that seemed to have a good future ahead.
Elliasain and her husband have five children: Robinson, 23; Cynthia, 12; Davidson, 11; Makinley, 3; and Andrener, 1. In the terrible earthquake of January 12, 2010 (that Haitians called bagay la “that thing!”), their big stone house collapsed, trapping Makinley inside and crushing all their earthly goods: beds, clothes, dishes, cookware. Miraculously, when they were able to pull the heavy stones away, baby Makinley was without a scratch – just scared to pieces.
Despite that joy, the Wilsons’ loss was immense: also crushed were their pigs, goats and chickens – which is money in the bank to rural farm families – and their cistern, in this town where the nearest water is 4 kilometers away. Luckily, Heifer built a new cistern almost next door for four families, including the Wilsons.
But surrounded by banana, mango, coconut, cherry, avocado and jackfruit trees, the Wilson family often does not have enough to eat because the trees haven’t produced much fruit after the four hurricanes of 2008 and the quake of 2010.
The first day I met Elliasain, her eyes were bright and she was buoyed by her husband’s enthusiasm, the goats, and her children. The day I went back, she seemed exhausted, hungry and dull-eyed. I cursed myself for having left my protein bars in the hotel, and wondered how she could possibly breast-feed little Andrener, being so clearly hungry herself. And I thought how exhausting it must be to have to work so hard to merely survive.
Then I thought about all the women across Haiti, trying to make a life for themselves and their children. If only they were able to practice birth control (80% of Haitians are Catholic – like me — so yeah, thanks, Pope Benedict, for the holy ban on contraceptives in this country the size of Vermont that has more than 10 times Vermont’s population.) If only the homeless families were given the materials to rebuild and once again live in a proper home. If only women in Haiti weren’t so overworked and undereducated (most girls receive only two years’ schooling), perhaps they’d have a chance to secure a better future for themselves and their families.
I showed him the photos I’d taken of his wife and children and he was so excited, proud and happy, I could see he was anything but beaten. He had Heifer goats that were having babies. He had wood to build a new house, and his village had the Heifer Goat Breeding Center to support a school. He was standing tall.
And that made me remember this beautiful sign at the house painted with clouds that expresses the fierce independence, sense of community and astonishing spirit of the Haitian people, especially its women.
The people of Haiti will survive. And if we serve, they may even thrive.