Rice and Beans
By Rev. Wineva Hankamer*
July 19, 2011—Two things were distinctly visible from the sky as the airplane in which I traveled, along with a volunteer team from the organization Mission Hearts, approached Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
One was the beauty of the western third of the island of Hispaniola, where Haiti resides, with its unusual shape and miles of seacoast and green scenery. The other was the destruction caused by the earthquake of January 12, 2010.
Our team was easily able to spot the brightly colored wooden houses that serve as temporary shelter for residents of the “deaf village,” our destination. Mission Hearts, which arose from an outreach program of Mission United Methodist Church in Ft. Smith, Arkansas, assists deaf and disabled communities around the world in times of disaster.
After the earthquake in Haiti, some 400 deaf individuals, and families with deaf members, gathered dazed and displaced near the presidential palace, the roof of which still perches perilously at an angle. They were sought out by Friends of Deaf Haiti, a group of hearing-impaired Haitians who live in the United States.
The deaf settled together, at first in donated and makeshift tents. The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) made two grants to Mission Hearts to cover the cost of food, especially rice and beans, a staple, for this singular community. That might not sound like much to the average North American reader, but it is life in Haiti.
Now, through the deaf leadership of this settlement and donations of time and money from Mission Hearts, Healing Hands, Friends of Deaf Haiti, the 410 Bridge, and the International Red Cross / Red Crescent, the community is getting much-needed medical help and food.
Over the course of the past 18 months since the earthquake, the deaf community has worked hard to keep their little village near the Port-au-Prince airport crime-free, clean, and organized.
Their tents eventually gave way to the brightly colored rows of temporary wooden houses we spied from the airplane, and the settlement has been equipped with latrines, showers, and potable water.
Determined to improve their lives and care for their children, residents of the deaf village are building a community feeling that inspires awe. They do whatever they can to make life better. They no longer live in isolation but in a new kind of neighborhood, with the common goal of recovery from the earthquake.
Our team included deaf role models for the deaf community in Haiti. Whenever we introduced our nurse, a profoundly hard-of-hearing woman who would be considered deaf in Haiti, mouths dropped and eyes widened with surprise. The deaf in Haiti had a hard time believing that a deaf person could attain an education, especially a deaf woman.
We held a medical clinic for two days in the deaf camp, during which we saw a lot of infections, dehydration, asthma, weakness, and a broken foot. Through the generous donation of medicines from churches, including First UMC, Huntsville TX, and team members, we provided antibiotics and eye and ear washes, as well as a class in first aid.
Our group also trained four women to make paper bead jewelry. As they hone their skills, each one pledged to teach another woman, so they can begin to sell this jewelry and make money for food and other necessities. One of the four deaf women was appointed as leader in that project.
The hope and spirit of the people of Haiti and particularly the deaf community in Port-au-Prince can serve as an inspiration to all of us. We can reach out to each other in hope. We can follow Jesus’ command, “Feed My Sheep”—even if it’s just with rice and beans.
*Rev. Wineva Hankamer is a deacon in full connection in the Texas Annual Conference, chairperson of Texas Partners in Mission, and a former consultant of the United Methodist Church Deaf and Hard of Hearing Committee.