Monday, April 13, 2015

The Untouchables.



While scrolling through facebook for the millionth time the other day (I really need to get that under control), I saw this image that was a collage of 6 images by a Cuban artist names Erik Ravelo.  (See full size images on his website).

The purpose of these images are to raise awareness about child protection from the varied attacks children face around the world.  From top (L-R) abuse of children by priests, sex tourism, the war in the middle east.  Bottom (L-R) organ trafficking, gun violence in schools, and the fast food/obesity epidemic.

These images really touched me. According to Ravelo's website, the message of these pics is that "the right to childhood should be untouchable." Now, I get that they all have their own political statement. But I am not writing today about these specific political statements.  I think the point that was so poignant to me was the fact that there are innocent people (including children) being crucified at the expense of every cause.

And this got me to thinking, "What kinds of children are being crucified similarly where I live (in Haiti), and at the hands of whom?"  And I started scanning my brain for the images that could be the subject of similar photos.

First, I thought about the media.  (That's an easy target.)  I pictured a poor, swollen-bellied, malnourished child hanging with his arms spread on the back of a journalist or a photographer with a big telephoto lens. I thought about the way that Haiti is portrayed in the media, often robbing the dignity of her children.

Next I thought of the UN.  There are an array of different images.  A sexually molested child on the back of a UN soldier.  A child dead from cholera on the back of a UN soldier.  A light-skinned baby with a single mom as the result of UN soldiers impregnating young women and girls.

I thought about pictures of slavery, and restavek, and big NGOs, and the abuse of lower class Haitians by upper class Haitians.  But the images that couldn't leave my mind were the ones where children were on the backs of missionaries.  Hear me out here.  I am a missionary.  I am not saying that all missionaries are abusing or taking advantage of children. I am not even saying that MOST missionaries abuse children, because most of them don't.  (In the same way all priests do not molest children and all tourists do not rape children, etc.). But, you guys, some, albeit a small percentage, do. And getting a front row seat to view the trauma is a tough place to live.

The images I see in my head are of all different types of missionaries; the ones with business suits that breeze in and out in first class seats, those with safari gear to tackle the cement jungle of Port Au Prince, the short-term matchy-matchy t-shirt crews, the long term missionaries in their ripped pants and faded, stretched out t-shirts from years of hand washing and line drying, the nuns in their habits, the Mennonites in their bonnets, the Mormons in their sacred underwear, the hippies going to live in a tent or a house made from garbage, the first-world rejects looking to re-create themselves in a new place, the fresh-out-of-Bible-college kid who majored in missions, the bleeding hearts on a journey to find social justice.

In their arms they hold the tools of their trade: hand sanitizer and bug spray, Camelbacks, Nalgene bottles, Bibles, free rice, vaccines, medical supplies, cash, religious tracts, Evangicubes, used shoes, new shoes, used clothes, new clothes, art supplies, Christmas presents, school supplies, soccer balls, candy, and giant green army duffels stuffed with all the former.  (And goodness knows what else.) Oh! And don't forget the camera.  They all have a camera.

My point is this-- it is tough to know what the actual photos of these abusive missionaries will look like.  It could be any variation of all of the above.

And the children hanging on their backs could also present in any number of ways. It could be a child who has lost her family because a missionary built and orphanage needed orphans to fill it.  So her mom, in the desire to ensure she had food and clothes and school, abandoned her.  It could be a former street boy who lives in an orphanage and is being sexually abused by the missionary in charge, and is threatened to be kicked out onto the street if he tells. It could be the negligence of a missionary who supports a church/school/orphanage/etc. where the children are being abused by staff members.  It could be a child beaten by his father because a short-term team member gave him a $20 bill.  This enraged his father who works more than a week hauling buckets of cement for 12 hours a day to make the same amount of money.


But there's are some other equally frightening images that come to mind-- the images of missionary kids hanging on the backs of their mothers and fathers.  It's a boy that wants his dad's attention, but does not get it because the dad is always too busy serving others.  It's a little girl who is behind grade level on her school work because her mom is too busy serving the poor (or surfing facebook) to get homeschool done every day she should. It's the kids that can't return to their home culture and feel comfortable, because their parents never taught them about their birth culture.  It's missionary kids with a mouth-full of cavities and rotten teeth because their missionary moms were too always too tired to take the 1 minute it would take to brush their teeth.  It's the missionary kids abused on the mission field because their missionary parents did not realize the risky situations their children were being put into.  Or missionary kids who only 40 years later could forgive their parents for sending them away to boarding school so that they could be on the mission field unencumbered.  It's the missionary kids who raise themselves and tiptoe around their parents because they know how exhausted the parents always are from "serving the Lord" and they just don't want to upset them.  It's the missionary kids whose parents never do devotions with them in spite of being out spreading the gospel all day long to anyone who will open the doors they knock on.

These things on this list are all real-life things that have been either observed in my own house, observed in other missionary households, or told to me by other missionary kids.  I think that all missionaries should heed the message these scenarios tell.

But this cautionary tale is not just for missionaries.  I encourage you to think through what your life looks like, whether you live in the bush of Africa or in the suburban Bible belt of North Carolina. What is it that your life is marked by?  What roles do you identify with?  It could be your occupation, your political views, your religion, something you do for entertainment, or some cause you support. It's essentially the same question I asked myself about children in Haiti. "What kinds of children are being crucified similarly where I live, and at the hands of whom?"  And as your mind scrolls through examples, take note. 

This kind of self-introspection is difficult.  But to paraphrase a pastor I heard long ago teaching on parenting, "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose the souls of his children?"  Let's think on that together.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Mangine Family- March 2015 Recap.

Hi friends!

Springtime is nice in Haiti.  Lots of sunshine, but the temps are not blistering quite yet. Our springtime rainy season has started, which means driving rain nearly each evening.  While it makes lots of mud, it also keeps the temps quite nice. As a matter of fact, last night I was cold while laying in bed.  That pretty much never happens. I will take it!

In March, we saw many things happen.  Read on!

Nick and I received a tax-return this year and decided to invest in solar power for our home.  We purchased and installed 3 panels with the hope that we will be able to decrease the amount of time we have to run our generator.  So far it's working!  We're hopeful that these 3 panels can decrease our fuel bill for our generator by at least $200/month.

Many thanks for the solar project goes to Travis from F1 Engineering and his team who installed the solar panels for us.

We've made a new friend in our neighborhood.  She is a 20 year-old new mom, named Mika.  I stopped by her house a few weeks ago to check on her after she had her baby and found she was burning with a 104 fever.  The baby also had a fever.  We sent them to the hospital and they did nothing except send the baby home with Tylenol and vitamins. So the next day we consulted our friends at Olive Tree Projects, a local maternity clinic, and they were able to help.  Mika stayed at their clinic for 2 days and was treated for an infection.  The baby, Bebito, seemed to have trouble regulating his temperature, but that self-corrected.

Since her illness, Mika has become a good friend. She stops by a few times a week just to visit.  It's really nice to see her and Bebito so healthy.

Our kids are all doing well.  No one has been sick recently other than a few sniffles here and there.  They have been enjoying spring break this past week.  I love this picture from the other day.  We've always just sung a prayer song at the beginning of a meal, but our kids are outgrowing that a bit, and so it was so cute when Schneider volunteered to pray to bless the food.  When he got flustered mid-prayer (after he'd already prayed for people in the hospital and in prison), Prisca jumped in and whispered phrases into his ear for him to continue.  It was a tender moment.

Even though the kids are growing up, they still have moments that remind us they are still children.  The other day I printed off some coloring pages to color with the little kids, and all the teenage girls wanted to color as well!  So I had to print off more.  This is Sanndi's creation.

Jerry is doing well in his foster family.  There have been bumps in the road.  But he's doing well.  We went to the beach last weekend and ate lunch there. (Thanks to Nick's parents who treated us!) Jerry saved half his meal so he could bring it home to his younger foster brother, Melkisadek. That was endearing.



Speaking of Nick's parents, they just left after visiting for 8 days.  It's always fun to have the grandparents here.  Nick's dad, Ken, helped us with some projects around the house.

And Grandma did lots of activities with the kids.  She brought a book on paper airplanes and the kids each made a different one and then they had flying contests.  She also came with plenty of fabric and helped the girls learn more about sewing.  Each girl made a hand-sewn bag while she was here.

We also had fun doing some typical touristy stuff, like strolling on the mosaic waterfront, and giving them a tour of historic downtown Jacmel.

Jacmel has made much progress recently.  They are trying to encourage tourism and have made some big changes.  There is a new playground for the kids along the waterfront.  It was like pulling teeth to get Schneider to leave.  And there were probably at least 30 other kids also playing along with him on the small play structure. There was a steady stream of kids coming down the slide.  It was such a happy scene.


Another big change in Jacmel is that the old iron market, where the open air street market has been located since 1895 has been evacuated and moved into the new market area that has been under construction since early 2011.  The old market is being restored in the hopes of building a tourist market in that spot.  I loved this picture I snapped of the empty market earlier this past week.  The cathedral in the background is circa 1859.


 As you can see, the kids did not want them to leave!  This was them yesterday morning trying to prevent Grandpa from making his flight.

Each month we are here brings new joys and new challenges. At the end of this month we will be celebrating 6 years of life in Haiti.  Nick and I love the work we do, but constantly struggle with the feeling that we're always letting someone down.  Haiti is a tough place to live and work, but it is worth it.  I have several things that have been on my mind for which I would love your prayers.  Please allow me to quickly share them.
  • Our grown children Fritzie and Yves have ventured out on their own a bit this past month.  Please pray for God's guidance and protection upon them.  Please pray for maturity and integrity.  Please pray for Nick and I as we walk through the appropriate balance between caring for them and letting them care for themselves.
  • Please pray for paperwork surrounding Schneider's adoption.  We are currently going down a path which MAY permit him to travel with us even before his adoption is complete.  Please pray that this would be successful.  We are really struggling with the idea of taking a long furlough if it means leaving our baby behind.
  • Nick is trying to find some contract work in programming to help supplement our income.  Money has been very tight.  Please pray for the right doors to open for that to happen.
  • Finally, please pray for a spiritual renewal for Nick and I. I feel like we're stuck in a pattern of getting by rather than pressing in spiritually.  And I think that makes a difference.
Thank you for your faithful partnership with us.  We appreciate the sacrifices you make so that our family can thrive. We are always looking for new partners to come alongside of us.  If you know anyone who might be interested in hearing more about what we do and why we do it, please send them our way and we can bring them up to speed.

I hope you have a great Easter weekend and that you're surrounded with people you love.

With a grateful heart,

Gwenn, for the entire Mangine Many

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Life plans.

I had this thought in my head that once my kids started to get older, things would start getting easier. In some ways, that's true.  I don't have to deal with diapers anymore, except for our few bed-wetters, and they can handle their own diapers these days.  Even Schneider almost always bathes himself.  (But I still try to get in there to do a good scrub down once or twice a week.)  The kids know their morning routine and get going independently.  There are older kids always wanting to earn a couple gourdes by picking up random jobs and extra chores.  In many ways, things are easier.

But as the majority of our kids enter the teen years (and beyond for a few of them), the kinds of busy that Nick and I find ourselves is changing.  Instead of wiping butts and getting kids dressed, we are really thinking about the future.  Nick likes to say that we are not raising children, we are raising adults.  It has weighed heavy on us the responsibility that Nick and I have to our kids in their growing up years.  This means working to keep communication lines open, to present our kids with life lessons in relevant ways, and dealing with a ridiculous level of hormones.

These thoughts have helped us start to identify "life plans" for each of our kids.  We have been and are in the process of thinking through a set of goals and plans for our individual kids.  What does that mean?  Well, it means that we recognize that each of our children is unique.  They have a unique story, unique gifts, and a unique set of circumstances that brought them to the point where they are now.  The combination of all of these attributes presents certain realities,  For example, we know that a few of our children will not have the capacity to finish high school.  It's not that they are unintelligent, life has just not afforded them the opportunity for this to be an option.  We know that for some of our kids, their childhood years were marked by trauma and a lack of opportunity for basic education.  They have come up with obstacles that were outside of their control, and that changed the trajectory of their life, too.  As these kids have aged, we've come to realize that success (for some of our kids) can mean something different than finishing school.  

Culturally, this plays out in the statistics.  In Haiti, only about 67% of children attend primary school.  Only about 20% attend high school.  And only about 1% receive a university education.  So, obviously, this has spilled over into the unemployment rate (at least 40%) and the poverty rate (about 80%). (source: CIA World Factbook)

So when we think about 12 children entrusted to our care who will eventually be adults, we understand that this is an uphill battle.  Now, please don't get me wrong.  I realize that my 3 American kids, and Schneider soon, too, will have a whole other set of opportunities because they are (or will be) Americans.  This means that they will be able to enjoy the privilege of a (pretty much guaranteed) minimum wage job should they live in the States when they are past the age of 16.  I recognize the inequity in this.  It's not something any of us can change, so just for the sake of argument, let's just say that we have 8 individuals to prepare here in Haiti when we're talking of the future.

Of those 8, there are probably 3 who are unlikely to finish high school.  Perhaps 4.  (But the 4th is not due to ability but advanced age and the possibility that he will not wish to continue his education.) \ Of those 4, 2 of them are going to be fine.  They are naturally go-getters, they are hard workers, they can follow instructions.  I would feel confident recommending them to anyone as an employee.  The other 2-- not so much.  I honestly do not know what to do with 2 of them. I am not sure where life will lead them.  Orphaned at a young age and forced to live on the streets has caused in them a fracture that 5+ years of consistency, provision, and love has hardly begun to touch.

And so we've found ourselves in this moment with one of our older boys, where we have needed to see more effort and responsibility on his part.  We've provided him with the skills and opportunities he has needed to begin to be self-sufficient.  Not willing to just drop a kid when they turn 18 which is the norm for "orphan"ages around here, we've fought for this kid for years.   Believe me when I tell you this is a huge problem in Haiti-- What do we do with the 300,000 kids who have been in orphanages when they become adults?   How do they enter society when all they have ever had has been given to them at regular intervals?  We see this struggle every day.  Nick currently has an on-going dialog with 5 kids from an orphanage we used to work with who regularly ask him for money, letters for visas to try to go to the States, jobs, etc., because they do not know what they are supposed to do now that they are grown.  Orphanages in Haiti are failing kids in so many ways.  But that is a story for another day.

All of this is to say, that this week Nick and I had to make a hard call with one of our older boys (legally an adult) this week who needs to learn the value of work.  I could go through an extensive list of the gentle, educational ways we've tried to do this.  But that would be pointless, because so far, all of them have failed.  So, my desire to rattle off what we've done up until this point would just be image management.  This week we sent him out into the countryside for a period of (at least) 6 weeks.  We know that the life he will be living there with some family friends will not be easy.  Participation in hard work and contributing to the needs of the family will be necessary.  Honestly, I do not know how he will do. But we feel very strongly that this young man needs to accept more responsibility if he wishes to continue receiving financial support from us.  (Side note 1: THIS IS HARD!)  (Side note 2:  I know that parents in the States are going through the same thing with their kids, too. Or their 30-year-olds.)

Will you please pray for our son?  Would you pray that he will grow to see work not as a punishment but as a part of life where he can find satisfaction? Please pray that he would understand that we still love him and are committed to him, and that it is out of love we're pushing him in this area.  And pray that he would learn the lessons he needs to learn quickly and completely, so that he does not have to repeat them.  Finally, PLEASE pray that he doesn't do anything stupid.  I have all these "what-if" fears.  Thank you!

The longer I live the more I learn that we're all just doing the best we can.  Thanks for all the ways you come alongside of us so that together we can raise adults who will have a net-positive impact on their community.  Indeed it does take a village.


Monday, March 2, 2015

On a Moto: Episode 28, Meta Moto

Meanwhile, in Haiti...

PS- this is my new fave.


Photo credit: Christina Victoria Cadet

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Thinking about restavek- a repost of 3 posts all in one.

A few weeks ago Nick went to a meeting about foster care in Haiti, which, of course, always brings up the issue of restavek.  Some people consider restavek child slavery.  Nick and I don't always think that's the case.  It's sort of a continuum that has foster care on one side and slavery on the other.  And each individual case is somewhere on that spectrum.  You can read more on restavek either by googling it, or checking out the website of Jean R Cadet Restavek Organization.  Because Cadet actually grew up as a restavek, I trust his voice.  His book Restavec: From Haitian Slave Child to Middle-Class American, is heart-breaking, and a story all of us who live in Haiti have heard all to often.

Anyway, I have some thoughts swirling around in my head about restavek that I want to write about, but I want to give you a short(ish) narrative of our experience about a precious little girl who entered into our lives for a very short time about 4 years ago.  Below is the text from three posts I wrote around that time.  But if you want more on the story, I suggest you check out this post from Nick, where he summarized the story over 8 posts.  I don't know why this story (amongst the hundreds of stories we've experienced) has stuck with us so, but it has.  So read on.  It will be good background for tomorrow's post. 

***

Monday, March 21, 2011

Restavek

I always wonder if I should share things like this. I've gone back and forth as to whether or not to tell you about this-- but I decided to. I try to be very honest and discuss things that are happening in our lives. This is something happening that's pretty raw...

We have stepped into a situation with a little girl 10 year old girl. She's the textbook definition of arestavek. She's been horribly mistreated. She doesn't get to go to school while the biological children in the family do. She has to clean and cook and do the laundry. When she doesn't do her work well, she's beaten. By definition, (a person who is the property of and wholly subject toanother), she is a slave. And she's beaten like a slave. She has a fresh wound from being whipped on her face (just Friday-- three days ago) that's still pretty swollen and causes her a lot of throbbing pain.



She also has dozens of less fresh wounds and scars all over her body. Her back and arms and butt and legs are strewn with scars from being whipped. She has a place under her arm that's nearly healed but still a bit scabbed over where her "owner" burned her with electrical lines for not doing her work well.

We found out about her through some friends who live downtown. She came to their house on Friday and said she needed help. The friend, knowing I have an orphanage, called us.

We took her to the police station Saturday and they contacted the judge who gave our orphanage temporary custody until we can stand before him (tomorrow). She's gotten cleaned up and looks much better. 90% of the time she's super spunky and tough (even to the point of being a bit mean at times). But then she breaks into these puddles of tears and seems to have a lot of anxiety. She gets very jumpy and nervous when people yell or when a loud noise is made. This morning she woke up with "pain under her heart" and was nearly hyperventilating.

Would you pray that we can get all of the preliminary paperwork figured out today so that we're prepared tomorrow to stand before the judge? Would you pray for peace to reign in her heart? Would you pray for her wounds (both physical and emotional) to begin to heal? Would you pray that SOMEHOW we can find the birth family today? (The neighbors have given us some good leads.) Would you pray that the judge would not allow this family to occupy her anymore?

Children don't have a lot of rights in Haiti. I can't change that. But I can do for one child what I wish I could do for all of them. I am begging God for the favor to stand up for this sweet, broken girl and use my voice to change the trajectory of her life... please pray with me.


***

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Update on the restavek post from two days ago.

We're starting to get a good feel for how this case is going to go in the Haitian justice system. That's the good news and the bad news.

Today was a wildly emotional and ridiculously stressful adventure as we stood before the police and then the justice of the peace along with Marie-Marthe's birthparents to try to figure out next steps for her. The good news there is that the parents (who were not the people abusing her) want to take her back and not terminate parental rights. Now, after knowing that it was these parents' neglect that lead her into the situation, some of you are probably scratching your heads and thinking, "Wait? That's a good thing?" It's hard to look at this situation from a North American mind and not insert your North American values. Don't get me wrong, I know we're talking about human rights issues, but the fact is, the parents weren't the ones abusing her. And while we look at the situation and say, "They must have known," or, "They should have known," that's not really an issue here. The birthparents put their daughter into the hands of her abusers with the hope of a better life for her. Unfortunately, that hope was misplaced and the story has become the textbook example of restavek (child slave.)

There's a lot to the story. Lots of weird twists and turns and angry/sad people. (I took my anger out on the gum I was chewing... I don't think there's ever been a piece of gum ever chewed harder.) I ALMOST cried a tear, but alas, 'twas not to be today. Marie-Marthe on the other hand cried a river of tears.

Here's where we ended up.

The judge granted us 2 more days with Marie-Marthe. After those two days, we will reconvene at the court house where the abuser has been summonsed. During the hearing, our case will be presented that the abuser should be punished. She will have her thing to say. And then that's it. It will be over. The judge will hand down his judgment on whether the abuser deserves punishment. And after the trial, he's already decided that Marie-Marthe will be leaving with her parents. They've invited us to come over to their house to see it and so they can say thank you to us. (I feel gross food coming on...)

So that's settled and that's a good thing. But it's our hope and our prayer that her abuser will be brought to justice and Marie-Marthe won't ever have to see her again. I have no confidence that this will actually happen this way.

But I still can hope.


***

Thursday, March 24, 2011

We didn't lie to the Nazis

Nick was listening to this message a while ago from Crossroads Church in Cincinnati. The pastor (maybe Brian Wells?) was talking about how Christians so often spend so much time arguing over stupid moral dilemmas. He used the example of this online forum where Christians were actually debating whether it was a sin to hide Jews during the Holocaust. Because yeah, lying is a sin. So if the Nazis come to the door and you're hiding Jews, is it a sin to lie to them? Because we really shouldn't lie. And his point was, we're talking about human lives. If the Nazis come to the door, LIE TO THE NAZIS. Always lie to the Nazis.

Nick and I are rule-followers. We like to obey the rules. So in the case of Marie Marthe, we did everything "by the book" (like we always do.) We didn't pay anyone off (nor have we ever done that contrary to what "anonymous sources" suggest.) When this little girl was brought to us we followed all the rules. We went to the police station and filed a police report. We got permission from the judge to have her in our home. We contacted Haitian Social Services and an organization in Jacmel working on the restavek problem. We took pictures as the judge recommended. We went to court on behalf of Marie Marthe--twice.

But we didn't lie to the Nazis. We didn't do anything unethical. We didn't just hide her away. We didn't pay off the parents, the judge or the abuser to just let us have her. We didn't fight for her to be taken from her parents (because we, as a family and as an organization, ALWAYS try to keep kids with their parents if possible.) We fought clean.

And in the end, this girl that has these marks--

--(amongst dozens of others on nearly all places on her body) went back into the hands of her parents who (BEFORE EVEN LEAVING THE COURTHOUSE) put her back into the hands of her abuser.

I get that we have to follow the laws of this country. I get that we're not only talking about Marie-Marthe's future but the future of our 11 children and the organization we represent.

But I cannot shake this thought-- Why didn't I lie to the Nazis?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

On a Moto: Episode 27, Naptime

Ever been on a long trip and feel like you could use a few zzzzzz's but it's too hot inside your car for a nap?  Perhaps you should consider traveling by moto.



Photo credit- Rhyan Buettner with Espwa Berlancia

On a Moto: Episode 26, Portable classroom.

If only the chairs could have been positioned better, then you could have just found space for 8 more passengers on each moto and it could be a school bus, too!