With a Little Help From Friends
United Methodist Women is exploring ways to partner with Haiti’s Methodist women to expand their ability to respond to the needs of women, children and youth and increase opportunities for them to network with Methodist women in the Caribbean and the world.
These are the primary reasons I traveled with Serna Samuel, United Methodist Women regional missionary and Dorothy Goldsmith, president of the Methodist Church in the Caribbean and the Americas Women (MCCAW), to the Methodist Guest House in Port-au-Petionville in Haiti, Mar. 14-19. We met with Women’s League of Haiti, which is a district of the MCCAW, to talk about building relationships and to look at possibilities for the three organizations to work together to strengthen the Haitian women’s organization.
In many ways, women in the Methodist Church in Haiti feel isolated — and they are. Haiti is a hard place. There are so many basic things that need to be done that require a functional government. For example, while driving through the country to visit United Methodist Women-supported mission projects, we saw so many poorly constructed houses, shacks really, built in the mountainside. In Haiti, people often use trees for firewood for cooking, leaving much of the mountainside barren. With no trees to hold the land in place, mountainside homes can be easily swept away in mudslides when major rain storms and floods occur — which has happened on more than one occasion. However, when I asked our guides about zoning laws to prevent such tragedies, they said zoning laws were not enforced. Government is the agency that creates and enforces such regulations, and the current government in Haiti just doesn’t have the capacity to do enforcement or other basic things we expect government to do.
One of the main things we can do is help the Haitian women build their leadership. Right now a caretaker team administers the organization, but at its Assembly in October members will elect an executive leadership team that will include a president, a secretary and a treasurer. The event will include leadership training. It will also include opportunities for post-traumatic counseling and intervention.
Mission Giving is helping the women in Haiti prepare for their Assembly and begin to develop needed programs. The Haitian women are very interested in microcredit programs. United Methodist Committee on Relief has a microcredit program in Haiti, and United Methodist Women is exploring ways to enable the Haitian women to get training on that kind of financial service through that program.
Mission Giving is also helping Haitian Methodist women attend the World Federation of Methodist and Uniting Church Women Assembly in Johannesburg, South Africa, Aug. 10-16. This is an opportunity for them to connect with and learn from other Methodist women around the world, many of whom are in mission in countries that until very recently were impoverished and unindustrialized but are now in various stages of development. It will be the first time in awhile Haitian women will be able to meet with sisters in other countries. The August 2010 Methodist Church in the Caribbean and the Americas Women’s Assembly in the Bahamas should have been very easy for them to attend, but the Haitian women couldn’t get travel visas. Haiti is so economically depressed that neighboring countries feared the women would not return home after the event but rather use the opportunity to immigrate.
Mission program site visits
Our small team also visited mission project sites — some supported by Mission Giving — around the country, including:
- An orphanage in Petionville that’s supported by the Methodist Church in Haiti and home to about 35 children ages 2-18. Aging out is an issue in the United States when orphans or children in long-term foster care turn 18 and officially become adults who have no money, family or government support. It’s an even greater problem in Haiti.
- Haitian Artisans for Peace, International (HAPI), a United Methodist Women-supported fair-trade artisan cooperative focused on spirituality and creativity that markets members’ artwork globally. HAPI’s mostly women membership uses earnings to increase family income and pay for children’s education and health care.
- Mission Giving-supported leadership development programs for girls and young women ages 8-30 at the YWCA. The programs include workshops on health and financial literacy. The YWCA also provided trauma counseling and intervention as well as other activities to boost young women’s independence, self-esteem and leadership skills.
The young women at the YWCA were a glimpse of what the future holds for Haiti and Methodist women in that country. The young women we met were not shy but hopeful, spontaneous and eager to engage. They shared how being in the program has expanded their aspirations to include teaching and other occupations; whereas, they once believed work as housemaids was their only realistic option. Methodist women in Haiti can help these young women achieve the new visions they have for themselves, and United Methodist Women in the United States can help.
Betty Gittens is executive secretary for international ministries for the Women’s Division, United Methodist Women’s national policymaking body.