Monday, September 29, 2008

Creation care

When Ben read my post about MCC's reforestion program, he was reminded of something he'd just read in The Cry for Suffering, the advocacy journal of Word Made Flesh, and asked if I would mind posting it.

Because we believe that God has created all and that which was created is good, we believe in loving stewardship of the physical world:

As images of Christ, we are co-creators with Him, taking care of that which has been given to us, being active in creating and forming instead of consuming and destroying. The world is connected, no matter how much we try to separate it. All that we have comes from the earth. And so we learn to see the connections between living and eating, eating and working, working and loving. Life is sacred, revealing its beauty, pointing us to Christ and His Kingdom that is growing around us and in us.

As followers of Christ, we enter into the world and see its beauty, wanting to conserve and create more of the beauty of the world for those who come after us. This stewardship might mean driving less. It might mean not using air conditioning or turning down the heat. It might mean buying less and having a smaller variety of foods. It might mean planting a garden or taking fewer showers. It might be political or economic involvement that struggles for conservation. Those things are not an end in themselves but are a testimony to our hope of redemption.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

I'm tropically ill

I started feeling sick last night. Nausea, fever and a headache. This morning my brain hurt, my eye sockets hurt and my knees hurt. This afternoon I went to get tested for malaria at the hospital. We walked several laps around the hospital before ending up in the lab for a blood test. The lab tech drew my blood and I blacked out. I always hate hypodermic needles, but blacking out was a new experience for me. I was leaning back in my chair so I wouldn't fall and I was fighting to stay conscious, coming in and out for about ten seconds, and then I threw up in the trashcan. I tested negative on the malaria test, but I'm really sick and since malaria doesn't always show up on tests, I've started a 3-day course of chloroquine anyway.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

peace, love and reforestation

MCC Haiti in brief: peace, love and reforestation... (also upholding and monitoring human rights, empowering the poor and marginalized, facilitating mutually transformative relationships, and so on)

While most of MCC's goals here are hard to measure, my visit to Desarmes and the MCC forestry program was exciting and demonstrative of one of the things MCC does in Haiti: Trees! MCC has helped set up and supports 23 community-run tree nurseries (pepinyè) throughout the Dezam area. The nurseries contract and sell trees to other organizations with forestry programs ie. IOM, and also sell trees at a minimal cost to community members. MCC provides technical and organizational training, some financial assistance and helps to find buyers for the trees, but the nurseries are otherwise run on their own. The goal is obviously that they be self-sustainable. Collectively this year, the pepinyè grew and sold 450,000 trees!

The program also supports privately-owned ti forè, or little forests, which has proven to be the fastest way to carry out reforestation. Individuals receive training (on soil conservation, sustainable harvesting, interplanting trees with corn and sorghum etc) from MCC, purchase tree seedlings and plant forests of their own. The ecological, social and economic (trees are scarce in Haiti and sustainable tree harvesting provides a major economic boost to the owner of a ti forè) impact of these ti forè is notable!

And finally, MCC Dezam has an environmental education program in 14 schools in the area. The MCC team trains teachers, who in turn teach their students about environmental appreciation and protection, the difference between trash and compost, and, with the cooperation of the community pepinyè, how to plant and care for tree seedlings.

I want to end this post with the lyrics to a fun little song that we learned in Dezam:

Piti piti na rive (little by little we'll arrive)
Piti piti si n mache (little by little if we walk)
Yon jou na rive (one day we will arrive)

Friday, September 26, 2008


I miss home. Not that I know where that is, exactly. For me "home" is a pretty abstract collection of places, experiences and people: 18 years growing up in sunnyhumidhot Cameroon, the mountains of North Carolina (where I almost felt like I did have a home), Ben's parents' basement and whole wheat waffles and our vegetable garden, my sister, my bicycle and our tent (4 months is, after all, almost as long as I've lived anywhere else since college), my parents' couch in Waxhaw, a beat-up 1990 Toyota Corolla plus bumper stickers (whose ownership has been transferred to Laura). Home is Ben, too. But he's working and traveling and I still haven't started my job. So far home is not Haiti.
My solution to this is: We need to find an apartment! I need to unpack my suitcases and start growing things on a windowsill and be able to hang out in my underwear. I need to learn my way around what will be our neighborhood: to meet neighbors and make friends and figure out how to get to the market. I need to feel like somehow I belong here. Because right now it would be easier to buy a ticket to North Carolina and my parents' couch than to spend another homeless jobless week in Port Au Prince.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Timkatec on NPR

Listen to an interview with Father Joseph Simon that was featured on NPR this morning. Father Simon runs one of our partner organizations, Timkatec, that ministers to street kids in Port Au Prince through an orphanage, school and skills training facility.

MCC Peacemaking Dialogue

*Please keep this opportunity for dialogue in your thoughts and prayers.

September 23, 2008

AKRON, Pa. – Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is co-sponsoring a dialogue with international political and religious leaders that is intended to build peace and understanding between societies that are often divided by animosity.

The dialogue is scheduled to take place on Sept. 25 in New York and will include Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and political and religious leaders from Christian, Jewish and Muslim traditions, in addition to leaders from other faiths.

The theme of the dialogue is "Has not one God created us? The significance of religious contributions to peace."

MCC is co-sponsoring this dialogue out of a commitment to follow Jesus Christ's way of peace, according to Arli Klassen, MCC's executive director.

"As Christians, we take Jesus' Sermon on the Mount very seriously and say 'Love your enemies and do good to those who persecute you,'" Klassen said. "Right now the U.S. and Iran are defining each other as enemies and so, as Christians, we are trying to promote dialogue, understanding and bridge-building, rather than leading to war."

The dialogue is co-sponsored by American Friends Service Committee, MCC, Quaker United Nations Office, Religions for Peace and World Council of Churches in consultation with the Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations.

This event will be MCC's fourth encounter with the Iranian president since 2006. Previous meetings have focused on barriers to peace between Iran and the West, including mutual suspicion and hostile rhetoric.

"Many persons around the world have interpreted your public rhetoric as a threat to destroy the state of Israel," said Ron Flaming, MCC's director of international programs, in a September 2007 meeting with President Ahmadinejad.

"This does not match what some of us have heard you say privately, where you stated that there is not a military solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict," Flaming said. "If it is not your intention to destroy Israel, for the sake of understanding, for the sake of peace, for the sake of a bridge, we urge you to clearly and publicly say so."

MCC is facing some public criticism for co-sponsoring the Sept. 25 dialogue out of a misconception that it is meant to honor President Ahmadinejad. The dialogue is intended to be a respectful conversation about the need for religious involvement in peacemaking, and it is not intended to honor the president or any other individual, Klassen said.

"It doesn't mean that we agree or support everything or anything that the person does, but it does mean that we recognize their humanity, and that God has created us all, and that we need to find ways to live together," Klassen said.

MCC is an 88-year-old relief, development and peace-building agency of Mennonite and Brethren in Christ churches in the United States and Canada. These denominations are part of the historic peace church tradition that emphasizes nonviolent conflict resolution as an integral part of Christian faith.

More information about the dialogue will be posted at after the event.

For Questions & Answers, go to

Monday, September 22, 2008

Marie Therese Jean Paul

This is a sample of my work this week for Fonkoze. My profiles of program participants are for fund raising in the US. This particular Fonkoze program works with the poorest of the rural poor in Haiti, with the goal of improving the quality of life for 150 families. The program will be expanded to 1,000 families in 2009.

9/19/2008, Boucan Carre, Haiti

My name is Marie Therese Jean Paul and I am 51 years old. My husband and I are separated. I have five children and three grandchildren. Three of my children and two grandchildren live with me. The grandchildren's mother left them when their father died.

I began the Chemen Lavi Miyò (CLM) program in May 2007. Before I was in CLM, the wind blew off my roof. Fonkoze gave me tin for my roof, and also gave me cement to make the walls of my house stronger. My life was not good before I started the CLM program. In order to eat, I used to go to my neighbors and help them with whatever they were doing so that they would give me food. Now I'm growing my own vegetables and can cook my own food. I couldn't afford cement, but now I have cement walls and a roof. I have a child in school now, which is only possible because of the program.

With the 1,500 gourds (almost $40) that Fonkoze gave me when I started CLM, I was able to lease a piece of land on which to grow rice. I bought seeds and paid people to help me plant the field. All of my money is invested in my crops, so when I need money for food, I harvest okra to sell. After I make some money from my fields, I'll start up my small commerce again. I'll work in the fields early in the morning, then go to the market to buy sugar in bulk. I resell the sugar to people who have small shops.

I currently spend all of my time in the field. I spend one week in the rice field, pulling weeds and cleaning up the field. Then I spend the next week in my sweet potato field doing the same thing. On an average day I start working at three o'clock in the morning. Around noon I return home and make something to eat. I sleep in the afternoon and work around the house or in my garden. When I'm working I eat one meal, but if I'm not working in the field, I'll make soup in the morning and eat vegetables and rice later in the day.

The sweet potatoes that I planted this month will be ready to harvest in December. I'm not going to harvest them until March because I can sell them then for a higher price. Someone gave me the sweet potato vines. They were growing on the other side of the river, so I wrapped them up and carried them back here on my head.

My rice plants were on leased land next to the river, but the flood from Hurricane Hanna washed them away. I not only lost the plants and my investment in the land, but also still had to feed the people who helped me plant the rice. I need more rice, so I plan to help people in their fields in exchange for plants. When the flood water recedes, I'll replant the leased land next to the river with okra.

I couldn't have afforded to buy any animals before I began the CLM program, but Fonkoze gave me three goats. I've been breeding them and now I have eight. I also had chickens, but people would steal them so I don't keep chickens anymore. I have two pigs and with whatever money is left over after I harvest my rice and sweet potatoes, I plan to buy a cow.

Because of Chemen Lavi Miyò, I am becoming self-sufficient. I am proud to be able to provide for myself and my family.

-transcribed by Ben Depp

sketchy river crossing!

This is the point at which we drove through the river to get back to Port Au Prince on Sunday. To quote Bryan because this is simply so well put: "Haiti: where the impossible is possible, I guess. Who needs bridges to cross rivers?"

Disclaimer: obviously because we were in our truck, the vehicle pictured here is not MCC's...

Port Slideshow

What we've seen and done in Port Au Prince. Not pictured: house-hunting and chasing down our Haitian driver's licenses.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

MCC's response to the storms

There is currently a team from our office distributing food, medicine and other supplies to flood victims in Gonaives. Last week MCC posted a press release detailing what we hope is a preliminary response to the disaster here. You can also view a photo gallery from the MCC website that includes a few of the photos Ben took last week.

Please continue to pray for the people that were affected by these storms. Even here in the Dezam area many have lost their gardens to flooding, entire villages are cut off from access to markets and still it continues to rain daily. Just yesterday Jean-Remy, who manages the reforestation project, received word that one of his fields flooded. For people who grow cash crops on leased land, a flooded field can mean the loss of more than a year's income.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

On the road

As of Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively, I am in Desarmes to visit MCC's reforestion project and Ben is working in Mirebalais and Boucan Carre. The plan was for both of us to accompany Bryan and Sharon as they move to Desarmes, then spend a week here learning about the program. But when we went to visit FONKOZE, the organization that Ben will be working for as photographer and field reporter, they requested that he start work immediately. They are trying to raise funds for a new project and are making preparations for the Haiti Solidarity Conference in Miami at the beginning of next month.

Desarmes (Dezam in Kreyol) is in the rice-producing Artibonite Valley. To get here an MCC staff member drove us to Mori, where the bridge we needed to cross was destroyed by the recent hurricane(s). The bridge is on Route National 1 which, as its name suggests, is Haiti's main north-south highway. Buses are lined up on both sides of the river, where passengers and livestock disembark and cargo is ferried across the broken bridge in wheelbarrows and on motorcycles. It's total chaos. It took two trips, three wheelbarrows and a motorcycle taxi to get all of us, our luggage and supplies for Dezam across the river.

So far, I've been getting to know the MCC team in Dezam, visiting the pepinye (tree nurseries) and ti fore (little forests) in the surrounding area and enjoying the much slower pace of life in the countryside.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Hurricane damage

Yesterday I went to Gonaives, the city most affected by the recent hurricanes. It's incredible how much water is still flooding the city. It's been six days since the last hurricane but rivers are running through the center of the town. People are drying out their belongings on their rooftops and cleaning up. In many places where there isn't water, there is mud. Somebody told me yesterday that it took three years for the mud to dry out after Hurricane Jean in 2004.

I went with three other people. We drove a truck for two hours until we came to a bridge partially falling down due to flood damage. Then we rode in the back of a pickup truck taxi for an hour. After that, we paid a taxi to take us to Gonaives, and this leg of the trip took two hours. We rode in Toyota minivan identical to my old one but with 4-wheel drive. Because of the flooding the normal road is now a lake and there is a new road that is still under construction. Our driver was awesome. The new road had puddles fifty feet long and some were two feet deep. At one point, we hit something really big under water and the spare tire fell off. When we were almost to the city, we came to a puddle that was probably a quarter of a mile long and waist deep. A tall dump truck ferried us across with others that could afford to ride. Everybody else was wading across.

We spent an hour and half in Gonaives and only saw a small part of the tragedy that has occurred there. The headline on BBC right now says "One million homeless in Haiti" the report also says 550 died.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

20 of our favorite things

So, the deal on our amazing apartment fell through - the landlord decided that we should sign a two year lease and pay in full, up front. That, in addition to our foiled plans for the week has left us feeling pretty bummed out about Haiti. Someone helpfully suggested that we make a list of the things we LIKE so far about being here and we thought we should share what we came up with:
  1. that people greet each another with a kiss on the cheek
  2. avocados
  3. the murals and advertisements painted on walls all over Port-au-Prince
  4. tap-taps (we promise to post pictures soon)
  5. water trucks that play a synthesized version of the Titanic theme song from speakers mounted on the roof. Also with horns that sound like fake police sirens.
  6. the French bakery up the street
  7. Haitian hot chocolate - made with dark, bitter, locally produced chocolate, cinnamon, cloves, star anise, nutmeg and lemon peel
  8. mountains
  9. beaches
  10. honking the horn. Maybe it's a function of having learned to drive in Cameroon, but I LOVE being able to honk the truck horn with no restraint as I squeeze between two vehicles on a road clearly not designed for multiple lanes
  11. KPL
  12. shopping in crowded street markets
  13. mayi moule (so much like grits!)
  14. the MCC library (read: hundreds of books that we can check out for free)
  15. riding a dirt bike in the city
  16. that Kreyol is written completely phonetically
  17. the tree on the road in Petionville with faces carved into its trunk
  18. Wyclef Jean's song "President" from the Welcome to Haiti: Creole 101 album
  19. oil drums recycled into metal sculptures
  20. spicy peanut butter

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

When the possible proves impossible

In a previous post, Ben mentioned this comment made by our Kreyol teacher: Haiti is a place where the possible is impossible, but the impossible is possible. We're thinking about that as our simple plans for the week become unfeasible.

We were supposed to leave Port Au Prince on Saturday to spend a final week of orientation visiting MCC's reforestation project in Desarmes. This changed when Hanna washed out several major bridges between here and the Artibonite valley. It's not possible to travel there overland (which, incidently, is making it difficult for the UN and other relief NGOs to access the severely flooded area in and around Gonaives).

We thought that instead we'd spend the week moving into our apartment, or maybe even start work. As it turns out, my office is moving and not ready for me to start work for at least another week. Ben's boss is attending a conference in the States. And negotiations for our apartment were complicated when the landlord - who lives in Miami - decided to rent out the aparment below ours, and so has no place to move his oversized furniture. A few solutions have been presented, including - and I'm still not clear on how this would solve the furniture issue - sharing our bathroom with the person that would live in the shed that the landord intended to build on our terrace. What?! Needless to say, negotiations are still in process...

We're still at the MCC guesthouse in Port Au Prince. We're taking two hours of Kreyol everyday, doing our own grocery shopping and cooking, dealing with the crashed hard drive on our laptop, getting accustomed to hearing gunshots at night and learning our way around the city. We've gotten cell phones and opened bank accounts. Tomorrow we apply for our residence permits.

Haitians like to tell a joke about hurricanes that goes something like this: When hurricanes come, they see Haiti, say, "Oh I've already been here" and turn around to leave. But unfortunately, the devastated state of the Haitian coast did not deter Hurricane Ike. Sunday was just another rainy day here in Port. But Ike hit hard in the same area that was affected by Hanna. Here's a fairly sensational description of Ike, as per the Associated Press:

"In flooded Haiti, Ike made an already grim situation abysmal.

At least 58 people died as Ike's winds and rain swept the impoverished Caribbean nation Sunday. Officials also found three more bodies from a previous storm, raising Haiti's death toll from four tropical storms in less than a month to 319...

Haiti's coastal town of Cabaret was particularly hard hit — 21 victims were stacked in a mud-caked pile in a funeral home there, including two pregnant women, one with a dead girl still in her arms."

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

A shameless plug for mail

Several people have written recently to ask about our mailing address here. MCC has a courier service from Fort Lauderdale and it seems to be fairly reliable. In fact, we've already received two letters. So, write to us!

Ben and Alexis Depp
MCC Haiti, c/o Lynx Air
PO Box 407139
Ft Lauderdale, FL 33340

Ben's first impressions of Haiti

Thursday, September 4, 2008

More on the weather

Pray that it stops raining in Haiti. We are getting acquainted with the National Hurricane Center's website these days: Port Au Prince doesn't get much fall out from storms, but parts of the country are being devastated by floods. Relief efforts are complicated by the fact that it's still raining. To make matters worse, category four hurricane Ike is forecasted for Saturday.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Hurricanes with a death toll/ Reducing poverty through the church

Today I (Ben) drove an MCC truck to the Baptist Mission above Port-Au-Prince with a few other people. It was nice to get a chance to drive. When we left the city it was raining lightly, but as we gained altitude the wind increased. There were trees down on the road. And at one point, we came to a telephone poll that had fallen across the road. A group of guys with machetes would move it when passing vehicles gave them money, then drag it back across the road. I scraped under and drove over a lot of down power lines. At one fallen tree we had to wait half an hour while guys cut it up with axes and machetes.

Hurricane Hanna is currently pounding Haiti. The city of Gonaives, a few hours north, is flooding and it’s very likely that a lot of people are dying right now. Gonaives is in a flood prone area, where 2,800 people died from flooding after hurricane Jeanne in 2004. Relief organizations are on their way out there now but it’s still raining. There are also two more hurricanes heading this way, Ike and Josephine.

We are in Port-Au-Prince now studying Creole a few hours a day. Our teacher is really good and passes on cultural insights when he thinks of them. One thing he said recently was,“Haiti is a place where the impossible is possible and the possible is impossible”.

We visited one of MCC's partner organizations today that is working through the church to reach the UN’s millennium development goals. Here in Haiti they are raising awareness about what the church's role should be in eliminating poverty and promoting social justice and environmental stewardship... It's very impressive, I think Jesus would dig it. The “Micah Challenge is a global Christian campaign. Our aims are to deepen our engagement with impoverished and marginalized communities; and to challenge international leaders, and leaders of rich and poor countries, to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, and so halve absolute global poverty by 2015.”

Monday, September 1, 2008

Kore Pwodiksyon Lokal

One of our fellow MCCers made this TV commercial as a means of advocating local consumption. MCC initially paid for the commercial to run on national television, but the station has taken ownership of the ad and now airs it regularly for free.
Kore Pwodiksyon Lokal (Support Local Production) is one of our awesome Haitian partner organizations, shares an office with MCC and works closely with members of our team.


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