Rebecca Shetler Fast has been serving as MCC Representative for Haiti since October 2015, along with her husband Paul. Both Rebecca and Paul graduated from Goshen College and attended College Mennonite Church while living in Goshen, Indiana. Paul recently led an MCC Great Lakes Learning Tour to visit MCC Haiti's programs and partners, called Soil to Table. They are currently working from the MCC Great Lakes office in Goshen awaiting the birth of their second child.
On October 2, 2016, the MCC staff in Haiti gathered together for a last meeting before Hurricane Matthew hit. Hurricane Matthew was predicated to be a category 4/5 Hurricane, the biggest storm to hit Haiti in over 50 years, and no one knew quite how bad it would be. A few windows had already broken in the office and the rain and wind were starting to pick up outside as we met that morning. Each staff member gave an update; a staff members’ roof had been ripped off the previous night, another staff member had organized her neighbors to dig trenches around the most vulnerable houses in the neighborhood, and another MCC staff member was relocating her whole family into the MCC office, as their home was already getting water inside. It was a nerve-racking time of waiting as we sat together, prepared and prayed. At the end of the meeting, someone began slowly singing a soulful Creole hymn, and one by one, people added their voices:
God’s mercy is never ending.
God’s compassion will never end.
It renews every morning.
Every morning, every morning.
As I look back on the last seven months since Hurricane Matthew, the spirit of this song comes back to me often. For me, the story of Haiti through this Hurricane is one of stormy nights, and the ever renewing resilience, solidarity, faith and hope that each morning brings.
Resilience & Solidarity
While many news reports following Hurricane Matthew showed crowds of desperate people waiting for help to arrive, this is only one small piece of the story. The bigger story, in communities across Haiti, was of people picking themselves up, neighbors helping neighbors, and the slow and determined process of rebuilding. With the rain still falling, our MCC evaluation team headed high into remote mountain villages that had been devastated by the Hurricane, expecting to see hopelessness. What we saw instead were teenagers gathered in groups pounding out damaged tin roofs that had been ripped from their houses, neighbors mixing fresh mud to re-plaster damaged earth and rock walls, children repairing fencing and helping their parents clean out their homes. We met neighborhood groups clearing the road after a mudslide, so that motorcycles could take injured people to the hospital, and much needed supplies could make it back to the community. Amidst this destruction and loss there was no doubt that these communities needed help after the Hurricane: help replanting destroyed gardens, and treating family members sick with cholera, help repairing damaged schools and digging new latrines, help replacing lost livestock and starting to rebuild lost income, help feeding their families while gardens regrew. But these were not helpless people and broken communities, they were resilient and strong.
Faith & Hope
I’m frequently humbled by the faith and energy for change I encounter in the communities we work with. One important focus area in the hurricane response was helping people to rebuild their subsistence gardens. In these projects, we replaced the simple agricultural tools (hoes, picks, rakes) that were lost in the storm, or in many cases, that the family had never been able to afford. A few weeks ago I received a text message from Pastor Previl (pictured above), a community leader who was involved in one of these garden projects high up in the mountains of the Artibonite. He was writing to say that, thanks to God, the project was going very well, and that all 450 participating families had gotten their gardens planted in time for the rains. This alone was wonderful news. He went on to write that the community had met and decided that God had given them these garden tools for more than just rebuilding their own gardens, and that they could do more good with them. Over two weekends the community organized over 400 people per day to bring their new tools and to help build a road out of the community. This was a community that had previously required a 4 hour hike, part of which required scaling a waterfall, (pictured below) to reach.
Pastor Previl wanted me to know that the next time we visited the community, we could visit on a motorcycle, or maybe even a car. The significance of having a road to the community meant that now sick people could get to the hospital in time to receive lifesaving treatment, that children from the community might now be able to attend secondary school, that market produce might not have to be carried out in small quantities by foot. He ended his text, like he did most of our conversations, by saying how blessed the community had been, and asking that God continue to remember them and bless the people who had made this work possible.
In the months after Hurricane Matthew in Haiti, in spite of the incredible hardship and suffering for so many, hope is a palpable presence every day. It is present as MCC’s staff and partners sing of their faith in God’s mercy and compassion, that in spite of hard and even devastating days, their faith is renewed each morning. Hope is present in the remote communities that began rebuilding their houses, together, immediately after the storm. And hope is present in the large and small projects across Haiti that are helping communities rebuild after the storm.