“We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our capabilities.”
— Monseñor Oscar Romero
My experience in Haiti is unforgettable, and one that will always stay present in my heart. If I could describe my experience in three words it would be life-giving, heartbreaking and transformative.
When I first arrived in Port Au Prince I was shocked and heartbroken to see the devastation of the January 2010 earthquake, and thousands of people living in camping tents. Seven months later, people are still left without homes, and families of six living in a tent during hurricane season. I ask myself how one could possibly survive under these living conditions; no home, at times no food on the table, psychological, physical, emotional trauma from the earthquake and death of loved ones. Yet, the beauty that exists in the spirit of the people, culture, and the magnificent landscape overshadows the negativity that we see through media.
Haiti has a unique history of being the most prosperous island and slave colony in the Caribbean, but after the French and U.S. came to extract the natural resources from the land; it stripped the island from its riches. Haiti was the only slave colony able to free itself in a rebellion uprising of the slaves to free themselves from the French. After Haiti was freed it remained a repressed and poor country due to its corrupt leaders throughout its history. Yet, Haiti’s ubiquitous presence in the Caribbean and young resilient population will be the glimpse of hope that will allow the country to return to its lost narrative as the “Pearl of the Caribbean.”
Haiti means “mountainous land” it is truly a magnificent enterprise made from God’s hands. The land has mountains beyond mountains full of beautiful green sceneries. But within these mountains lies a poverty that limits human potential and creates a continuous cycle of suffering. I had the privilege to stay for 11 days and to build loving human relationships with the Haitian community of Cazale.
Cazale is located two hours away from Port Au Prince, high up in the mountains. There are approximately 20,000 people living in this rural village. In the middle of this community sits a beautiful river that flows through the center of the village, and one that sustains life for the community. This river provides clean water for the community to bathe, drink, wash and recreation.
My experience in Haiti was life-giving in every way possible from the moment I landed in Port Au Prince to my final goodbyes in the community of Cazale.
When I first arrived Fr. Anibal Zilli, a Claretian priest, and Faustine, a native Haitian, greeted me. They opened their arms to our group and made us feel at home. I’ve never experienced such a strong and passionate spirituality such as the Haitians demonstrated in witnessing their prayers, mass and sense of gratefulness in all things. I was also deeply touched by the young adults in Cazale because they worked together to transform their communities. They formed biblical groups to empower youth in the lens of social justice to instill a sense of hope. The young adults in Cazale exemplified strong leadership roles, positive thinking, and individuals who are trying to make a positive change in their communities.
I will share a personal story that touched my heart deeply. During my 11 days in Cazale, each morning I would go on family visits to meet the larger community. We visited many homes that were destroyed by the earthquake, and families that were living in tents some only upheld by some poles. In July the weather is extremely hot and humid that during the day it gets too hot in these tents that families can’t go in them until sunset. We visited a woman in the community who began rebuilding her home, but did not have the money to complete it. It is only halfway built. Her family will remain living in a tattered tent until the home is finished. This woman taught me the meaning of simplicity and the power of a smile that carried her through these undignified conditions.
I had the opportunity to step into a sacred land; a land where I experienced unconditional love. I no longer returned home the same. I was transformed within, in a way that I made a choice to pursue a vocation as a peace practitioner. It was an experience that allowed me to witness the beauty of the Haitian culture and to be present to the people in Cazale.
God placed me in Cazale for a reason, and the memories will always remind me about the beauty of human relationships. The seeds that were planted within me and with the people in the community, have blossomed into a relationship that has reaped countless blessings.
— Jeanette Gonzalez ‘11 (MA, Pastoral Care & Counseling), 2012 candidate for Kroc School of Peace Studies’ MA in peace and justice studies program.