Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Return on Investment

As I spend time processing, adjusting and reflecting on the past 9 months, I wanted to share a post I was asked to write.

Monday, June 24, 2013


On June 10,  we welcomed a wonderful organization called “Gerye Jwa” or Joy Warriors to our campus. Gerye Jwa, based in Port-au-Prince, is an organization committed to, “helping kids cope with the impact of trauma, violence, poverty and disease through the power of play.” An extension of the Life is good Playmakers in the United States, Gerye Jwa introduced us to the universal ways to, “inspire love, joy and creativity,” to our kids.

Studies have shown the positive and transforming impact of play in the lives of children. Our teachers, caregivers and community leaders attended the orientation where they learned more about exuding joyfulness and harnessing the power of play. Our team had challenging and insightful questions about discipline, family disparities and cultural dynamics. We were able to have some fun and play games of our own as we learned to loosen up! Here we are being team "players".

To learn more about Life is Good and Gerye Jwa click here!



Friday, May 31, 2013


Each morning starts off about the same. I wake up listening for the sound of the water pump or looking for the illuminated light on my extension cord. Both of these things indicate one thing, power. Most days I hear the pump and see the light. I know I can start my day and go on, business as usual, usually.

Last Thursday night, during a strong storm, the power went off in flashy dramatic fashion. And stayed off. And didn’t turn on for one week. Something about the power being off makes me feel, well, powerless. I can’t do work on my laptop, correspond via email, talk to my loved ones, exercise with music, turn on a light, or pump up my air mattress. The lack of these small, seemingly mundane things undoes me.

I woke up that Friday to dark silence. No hum from the pump, no light from the power strip. Somehow my computer battery was also completely dead. I tried to start my day off ignoring this small inconvenience. But then Saturday came. I needed power and was losing patience. I huffed, I puffed, and I rolled my eyes. I mentally willed the power to come on. The rain that caused the short circuited power supply did the same to my patience. I had none. I asked everyone, from a six year old to a 65 year old, when they thought the power would return. When they replied, “I don’t know,” I reverted to being a 5 year old and retorted, “I know you don’t know but what do you think?” The answers varied from a few days to a month. Clearly they weren’t trying to tell me what I wanted to hear.

Monday slowly rolled around and I surrendered. The 24 hour day seemed to double. I simultaneously felt like time was dragging but going by too fast. I organized my room, itemized my receipts and realized that my attitude was reflecting a complete lack of creativity. There was, after all, a whole “outside” that did have plenty of light for 14 hours. There was a garden project to work on, math assessments to conduct and translation questionnaires to be copied. Did I really need electricity to guide my day? Not only that but surely, with 36 kids running around, it wouldn’t be too hard to fill my time.

 Later, I returned to my room and sat quietly. Suddenly there was nothing to distract me… from me. There they were; my thoughts, my fears, my failures, my future and my faith. It didn’t matter if I wanted to watch how animals eat for a mental break, look on pinterest for inspiration or email my family. I had to be still. I was forced to connect with the mess swirling in my mind, confront my lack of trust in Him and address my fears face on. Maybe it was only in this complete disconnection that I could connect with the One that really matters. I realized that I lacked so much discipline in making quiet time with God. Maybe this was His gentle reminder. Maybe it’s only in admitting that we are powerless that we can make room for our God who is all Powerful.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Build Change

I’m happy to announce that as of April 30, 2013 “Reformed Blocs” is now certified through Build Change. The blocks tested prior to training could only handle 2.68 Mpa. After completion of the Build Change training our blocks tested at 10.21 Mpa. This high rating means that our blocks can withstand more pressure and meet standards put forth by Haiti's Ministry of Public Works Transport and Communication.

We are thankful to our friends Marie and Tae who made the initial connection, our hard working employees, the amazing Build Change team and supporters who made it possible. We are praying that this is just the start of a responsible and prosperous business!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Back to the "Real World"

“Welcome back to the real world” is a term I hear often when traveling back stateside. It admittedly always irks me. I have just returned from an amazing trip to England to visit Greg.

As I clean up my flooded room and bend down to see mosquito larvae cavorting, things seem pretty real. I think about this as I try to mentally will the power to come on so I can inflate my air mattress.

Whether in Port-au-Prince, New York or London here’s the thing…


I live in the real world, and so do you. And it’s big and it’s broken and it’s beautiful and it’s definitely real. And is this not the whole problem? That as connected as we are we still can feel so many “worlds away” from people down the hall, down the street or around the globe?

Right now in this real world there are countless people starving, 132 million orphans and people dying from preventable diseases. Closer to home, in our real world, there are broken families,  prisoners to various addictions, there is disease and heartache. That’s all real. That’s all happening. Right now. Really.

And I get it. We have our families, our careers, our 401(k)’s, our own plans and our own problems. We can’t all get up and move. But we don’t have to.  We can help in this real world. Right where we are. Right now. Really.

You have time or money, talents or passions. Whether it is politics, ponies, puppies or people, you can help. There is something that you’re passionate about. There are things I know you really care about in this real world. So let’s all get involved. Just serve.

 I also realize you’re one person. I am one person. I feel my human, one person limits daily. How much change, how much good can come from one person?

Well, maybe you just help one other person, or animal or piece of legislation. But isn’t one worth it? I know we want more. I want more. I want to help all the kids. The whole community. I am not stopping at one but I’m learning that one is enough. One is better than none.

God has got the whole world in His hands. And it’s a big one but it’s starting to feel smaller. We are called to love and serve.  Take a look at a globe. It is round. So whether it’s around the corner, around the country or around a continent, we are all neighbors.
I know people can be mean and cause hurt and heartache. I’ve been on both sides of that coin. But what if I, If we, could all just “suck it up” and let love out? I fail at this constantly. My sinful self wants the sweet satisfaction of a well-timed slam or snide remark.  But when I humble myself and love, just love, those around me are happier and I am too. Maybe if I, if we, could just be kinder, more loving and pick our passion then the unreal things that are happening around our world; the genocides, corruption and famines wouldn’t be so real.

Here are some great resources to find your match. Choose one cause, pick one day, find one hour and start there!
Isn't though?

Monday, April 22, 2013


I am guilty as charged. I have tried to lighten, brighten, darker and tighten. I have pulled, poked and prodded. I have been convinced that I was too short and that I should have, and still might, grow an additional 3 inches. I have tried to,"define my style” which on any given day could be described as ‘what’s on Target clearance’, casual or sweatpants/t-shirt. I have, at least twice, tried to drink some awful mixture of celery, lemon juice and pepper spice to detox and cleanse. Such is the pursuit of “beauty.”

It is ironic then that those things and my focus on them can look very ugly.

Working around kids and in a community where $80 facials aren’t an option makes vanity, well, less vain. When you’re worried about your livelihood, stray hairs don’t matter. When nutritious meals can be hard to come by, the numbers on a scale are obsolete. When you tell the girls here they are beautiful you better be careful how hard you are on yourself. And these girls are beautiful. Each and every one of them. Before you roll your eyes and imagine me singing kumbaya around a camp fire, let me explain. Their smiles. Megawatt smiles light up powerless days and their laughs spread across dark nights. Their hair, especially when undone is so fantastically curly you can’t help but smile. Their souls. I know they are young but already, they have such beautiful souls.

I tell them often that they are beautiful and many times, they shake their head and say, “no, I’m not.” I am flabbergasted. They obviously don't see what I see. And don't we do that too? I can deflect a well timed compliment through silence, objection or denial, like a pro. When did our definition of beauty become so basic and unimaginative? When did I turn my focus to avoiding “fine lines and wrinkles” instead of striving to have a good heart and soul? It just seems so important sometimes, this whole beauty thing.

Really though, if we were all, “fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14) , “in the image of God (Genesis 1:27),” who am I to say He got it wrong? While this dashes my dreams of being 5"8 like the rest of the lovely women in my family, it also means that I can work on accepting my appearance; strengths and weaknesses. It means I can focus on taking care of the body I have instead of trying to create a new one. And maybe, most importantly, I can model a healthy body image to the young and growing girls here. To get to the heart of the matter, beauty is more than skin deep.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


Please join me in offering your prayers and support for the Gray's and their loved ones!


Friday, March 22, 2013


Last week, I had the privilege of joining a medical team as they traveled with Haiti Endowment Fund to Hinche. I had such an amazing time with the team and founders of HEF. They shared their story and wisdom from serving in Haiti for over 25 years. Check out their great work here!

Build Change
Our block making business is on a roll! 2 weeks ago we had our first training with Build Change. We have partnered with Build Change to ensure that our employees are properly trained and have received the most up-to-date building codes and standards as put forth by the MTPTC. Build Change recognized that the 2010 earthquake was so devastating because of poorly built buildings. They work in seismic active areas by, “designing earthquake-resistant housing and training local builders, homeowners, engineers and government officials to build them.”

Build Change engineers worked hands-on with our men to teach proper cement to sand ratios, mixing techniques and curing times. During the first training Build Change took 3 “control” blocks, made prior, to test the compressive strength. The desired mega pascal for a block is 10.  Initial tests usually reveal a compressive strength of approximately 4 to 6 MPa. Build Change will train our employees to output blocks of at least 8 MPa.

The last training will connect our trained block makers to business opportunities by people who have pledged that they will employ those certified through Build Change. Build Change holds a marketing and awareness open house where our block makers are encouraged to invite area contractors and construction workers. We are so thankful that Reformation Hope, the 501©3 in Georgia that supports the ministry here, has committed to purchasing the better made blocks for the construction of their medical clinic.

We look forward to completing the Build Change training and receiving our official Certification of Quality!


Saturday, March 2, 2013

One of those Days

It’s one of “those” days. I wake up to find that it’s day two of the power being off. I can’t turn my laptop on. I step outside forgetting my sunglasses. The glare of the sun is unforgiving, the wind is on hiatus and even in the shade it is hot. No refrigeration means my water is not cold. Things at work aren’t adding up and I’m feeling down. I just need a little peace and quiet but the shrill screams from the kids show their insistence on being loud. For dramatic effect, I’m also out of toilet paper.

I arrive early to the sauna like school room. Everyone else is late. And yes, I’m grumbling and I briefly acknowledge that this likely means I’m ungrateful but the pity of party of one seems too inviting to turn away now. I half-heartedly teach articles and adjectives, glancing at my small clock whose minutes don’t seem to want to move. I return to my dark room and glance at the calendar. It is month four and I am well aware that many of my efforts have fallen short because everything seems to be taking too long. I hurriedly try to find patience. I see it everywhere though, obvious evidence of my shortcomings. Things that need to improve, should improve and most importantly CAN improve. Sometimes the easy to find can be hard to fix. The obvious can have a hidden root system.

 And just like everywhere else in this big wide world, people here can be so hard to please. Myself e(x)specially included. Why do politics always have to play a part? And this is not new. It’s everywhere. From the playground to the pentagon. And how can I pat myself on the back? How can I settle for “sufficient” or “subpar”? I can’t.  I wanted to help. To be in it. To be a part of what God is doing here. A catalyst for community, or at least campus, change.

Oh, but it’s more than that. I have things I’m trying to do here you know? I have a resume to write. I have a facebook for fanfare and a blog for bragging. Give me some content God!  My good intentioned heart gets bullied by my pride and the battle is on. Where’s that line I dance on? The line my clumsy, crass self crosses all too often. Between being ambitious and being blindly aggressive. Between self-aware and self-absorbed. Between my glory and His glory. Independence can be an idol. I need Christ and he’s reminding me. I do need Him but sometimes I just don’t want everyone else to know that.

On “one of those days”, days like today, what do I really want? And for who?

Then a tiny reminder, a seed of hope quite literally. We planted a few Moringa Seeds last month. I waited and watered and watched in vain. I believe I actually got frustrated with the seed. I gave up but was saving the soil for something else to plant.  And I emptied the makeshift planter and there it was. The sprouting of a Moringa tree. A tiny plant that paid no mind to my expectations for germination. It didn’t need my water or my watch. It was going to sprout all along, in its own good time. I forget that so often. I’m a part of the plan. This isn’t my show. I am in the orchestra, not the conductor. And things will move and grow and go but the timing is not up to me.

“God is God. He knows what He is doing. When you can’t trace His hand, trust His heart.” – M. Lucado


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Bruised Bananas Don’t Kill You (and other small discoveries)

I’m learning a thing or two here. Mainly that I have some “princess-like” tendencies, especially when it comes to food. If you ask my parents they might admit that I had more than a few oddities as a child. After spending hours at the creek, running around barefoot with my “pet ducks” (no, seriously, I had pet ducks and huge bangs-shout out to KT), I would sit at our dinner table and discard the part of the French fry that my hands touched…germs.

Well, in Haiti I have adopted the 20 second rule…with the Mississippi. I’ve had kids “share” their food with me by stuffing it in my mouth before I knew what I was chewing. I have cleaned up “messes” (imagination please). I’d like to think that my immune system is being strengthened by the minute but realize it is grace that has helped me stay healthy so far.
With no Trader Joe’s around the corner, I’ve tried to focus on what epicurean assets we DO have here in Haiti. Dozens of different varieties of bananas, okra, eggplant, coconut and carrots are all available. As night falls, the power goes out and “free time” is plentiful, I turn to the internet. Thank God (literally) for google and pinterest. Throughout the day I will get distracted by little questions or discoveries and make a mental note, “I’ll have to google that.” And pinterest, o boy pinterest, “I ‘pin’, God laughs. Aside from having my dream home and other future life events pinned on some secret board, I find amazing tips, tricks and ideas. Pinterest is my social media match made in cyberspace heaven. So, here are some small discoveries.

Bruised Bananas Don’t Kill You

With the heat here, bruised bananas are a sure bet. I have a banana almost everyday for breakfast and, for awhile, I use to painstakingly eat around the bruised or brown part. That is unless the whole banana was browned and bruised. With my Trader Joe’s banana standards I would cringe at the thought of eating one, until I did. Sure the sweetness takes some getting used to but they aren’t all that bad. In fact, research shows that as the chlorophyll breaks down, browning the banana, powerful beneficial antioxidants called NCC’s are released. So don’t discard those brown bananas. Make some banana bread or freeze for a smoothie!

But Moldy Bread Might
It has happened more than once. The power isn’t on and I sleepily prepare my morning meal in my dark room. Bread, peanut butter and a banana. I’m eating and chewing, and something isn’t quite right. After further investigation I see the remaining crust is greenish blue. A bread bruise. Mold. With the humidity and lack of consistent refrigeration, it happens. Turns out, in some cases, depending on what type of mold it is, you could indeed get poisoned. Steer clear of moldy bread and feed it to the birds instead.

Mighty Moringa
L.A. friends and health food nuts, I may have something here. The Moringa Tree. GC attended a conference where he learned more about this useful, drought resistant tree. Known as the Benzolive in Haiti, Moringa Trees are quite common and have incredible health benefits.  The leaves contain over 45 antioxidants, 90 nutrients and essential amino acids. The kids and I recently planted a few here on campus and are excited to see how we can incorporate them into our daily diets. We have also started drying the leaves to be made into a powder for rice!

Crazy for Coconuts
There’s something about a coconut that just make me feel like I’m on vacation. Luckily they are everywhere here. And, with a quick pinterest search, I found all the great things I could do with them. We attempted our first batch of coconut oil…FAIL. We tried again, little progress. Third times the charm. First we hand grate the coconut meat then strain out the milk. The grated meat can be used in other recipes, the water is delicious and hydrating and the milk can be used to make pudding or coconut oil. We will see what happens.  I love the taste of both the coconut and the water.  Did you know that coconuts (in moderation) are also beneficial for a number or aliments? In my quick search of coconut claims I found that across the board, it is agreed that coconuts pack a punch.

According to Livestrong, “Coconut and coconut oil contain lauric acid, a medium chain fatty acid. The body converts lauric acid into monolaurin, which is a monoglyceride that has antibacterial, antiviral and antiprotozoal properties.”
So basically, coconuts just might counteract all the “20 seconds rules”, the blind “sharing” , moldy bread mishaps and walking barefoot. Time will tell.


Saturday, February 2, 2013

Sick Season

I wake up too late because I went to bed too late. It’s Wednesday. The past week has been “sick week”.  I feel like I’ve been through a drive-thru; 2 flus, 1 cold, 2 fevers and malaria coming right up. I walk by the boy’s room on my way to make hot water. LK is there, crunched over a top bunk, one hand holding his head, the other his stomach. I look at his face and sense tears he won’t let fall. I head back to my room to grab my thermometer.  As I open the door I hear gagging, coughing, someone getting sick, behind my back window. I grab some pepto forgetting the thermometer. I wind around to the back window and find KB getting sick. Her stomach is unforgivingly denying all prior efforts of eating.  Pepto is pointless. I have her drink some water and then head back to my room to grab the thermometer…again.  I’m stopped in the process by two community members who would like refills on their HCTZ meds. Problem is they saw a doctor last week and he gave them a 3 month supply with instructions not to refill prior. So often I am the “no-mam” here and it’s no fun.  I arrive in my room but can’t remember what I needed. The thermometer, right.  I grab it and go back to LK. As I feel his warm forehead I know I am just waiting on the frantic beeps from the thermometer that a 99.5+ read gives. Beep,beep,beep,beep,beep! No pauses in between. He has a fever. The bell rings for the kids to go to recess and I watch as he cringers at each octave of shrill laughter. I let him relax in my dark, quieter room as I do some work.  JN comes home early from school. Her face registers no emotion. She looks miserable. I head upstairs to take her temperature. The frantic beeps again. A very high fever. No way. Ibprofuen and water, STAT. She sleeps.

 I realize I’m late for teaching English and head to the school.  I finish teaching and realize I’m late for visiting hours. I hurriedly head to the hospital to see little NN who has malaria. With a short conversation and long eye-roll from the guard, I’m let in. I walk past the skin and bones of a man likely dying from AIDS. I enter the pediatric room. Two tiny babies coo, a little boy screams and a mother cries over the blank stare body of her little boy. NN sits up and a little smile slips through. I insist we walk outside. I lie and say she needs fresh air, truth is, I do.  I give an awful manicure with unsteady hands as the guard walks over. I’ve overstayed my welcome and he tells me so. I quickly finish painting the last of her tiny fingernails and then leave.

As we head back I know there is one more stop I need to make. I get back to my room and grab some gloves and ointment. CT, an older man that helps out around the campus, is not “well”. The children tell me in hushed vague whispers that there is something wrong with him and he’s “crazy”.  He lives just across the street. I knock on the large steel gate. His wife comes and lets me in. He’s doing well today. Beyond my confusion there is compassion as he shows me deep, self-inflicted gashes on his wrists that must exposure only the tip of deep wounds that lie within. We chat briefly as I apply ointment. He thanks me and I leave.

I eat my dinner with a heavy, hoping but happy heart, thankful that I was useful today. Hoping that I was useful today. I head back to my room, exhausted. I hop on my computer which luckily has some battery left amid a powerless night. But my day is not done. G, a man who lives here for months at a time building houses in impossible heat without complaint, has been bitten by a dog. He needs a rabies shot. “Where do you get a rabies shot in Haiti?” I think aloud and then go to my mo. Google. The US Embassy website has a list of hospitals and doctors. I call three. No answer. I email 5 with 4 return to sender responses. Awesome. He leaves to try some of the hospitals. Little one enters my room crying. The ants are at it again. They’ve infested her bed and she can’t sleep.  She lays on my floor. After she’s asleep for awhile, with a clean sheet, I carry her up to her room. G returns without success.

I go to bed too late and I wake up too late.

G is making arrangements to fly to Miami for a rabies vaccine. I lookup flight times. I call the Embassy. They offer no options aside from the list from the night before.  I rack my brain for ideas. I remember that an extremely helpful, hardworking doctor in NY had given me the name and email of a health care provider here.  I search my emails and scroll down in a chain. Yes, a phone number. I skype quickly. She suggests trying Medishare, gives directions and wishes me luck! G packs his bags, we hop in the truck and talk about arrangements while he’s gone. I tell him about our one last option. We are on the way to the airport. Our turn to the “terminal” is coming up. He asks if we should keep going and try Medishare. I pray. He keeps going. We arrive outside medishare and I watch G enter the gate. After a short time I see smiles and laughter. Success! They have it! After he receives a painful poke we’re on our way back to the campus. The gates open to amused faces confused why G didn’t leave. I eat dinner. Enjoy the windy night and sleep like a baby thankful that our God is the God who provides.

(Some of you might be asking why I use abbreviations. When the kids are older, they will have a life and likely a facebook account of their own. I like to offer them privacy and anonymity whenever possible!)

Saturday, January 12, 2013

I'm Back

God is in control. I sheepishly prayed for snow in Indiana and got a blizzard. I prayed that I would have a good time with my family and Greg. We had an AMAZING time. I prayed that God would give me courage as I spoke publicly about little details of my life I like to keep private. Microphone propped, I spoke. I prayed for simple social interaction with friends. God gave me a group of amazing, supportive loved ones who made it hard to leave an L.A. that I once loathed. Friends that gave me their time. Friends that opened their hearts, wallets and homes. He is in control. I stressed and fretted and repacked three times for a bag that hovered between 48 and 53 pounds, over-ish the weight limit. I got checked in curb-side with no scale in sight. He was in control. It was time to get back to Haiti. And I kept getting asked the same question. “Are you ready to go back?”

Yes. No. Maybe so.

I walked through the L.A. airport, knowing I was about to depart material abundance. I entered the Duty Free shop to unapologetically spray the fancy $90 bottle of “Miss Cherie” perfume all over. I reach my gate with time to spare and used the last of the Starbucks card my dad gave me. I buy a drink that costs a day’s wage in Haiti. I get the skinny version with whipped cream. An oxymoron I know. I return to my gate to see that first class is boarding. I wait just a minute or two until my fancy, “priority access” status is announced. In comfy linen and trusty TOMS I sashay in among the business suits and fancy heels I still haven’t learned to walk in. As I take my window seat, I get a huge whiff of overdone perfume.  I realize it’s me. Awesome. I try to drift to sleep as we push away from the gate. I open my eyes to see we haven’t moved. Our captain comes on.

“Folks, seems that there is a problem with the left engine starting so we’re going to get towed back to our gate and have the mechanics take a look.”
There are times when ignorance is bliss.

 About 30 minutes later the captain announces that the engine problem “seems” to be fixed. My loved ones know I have a problem with hanging on words. Is that a yes fixed or no fixed? I hang on those words as I forget what it is I know, what I need to believe. My mind once so convinced that God was in control now freaks out in window seat 9A. We start to take off. My mind races. I remember the Dateline special that talks about how the most dangerous part of a flight is the first and last three minutes. I count to 60 three times. What happens when one engine fails? Is it like a row-boat with one rower, would we just spin in circles? Could I land a plane?  I’ve flown a little one for 30 minutes with a co-pilot. Miraculously, my worried mind slows to sleep. I wake up as we land in Miami. He IS in control.

The Miami to Port au Prince flight is a blur, just 1 hour 39 minutes to feel worlds away. I am back.  With the 3 year anniversary of the earthquake just days away, I am impressed and encouraged as I walk into the new Port-au-Prince terminal. It’s beautiful and just so…western. I wait and wait for my last bag to come out on the conveyer belt. It doesn’t. I visit the friendly staff at the lost baggage desk. I find out that my bag has gone MIA in MIA. I give an over detailed description of the red and gray Osprey backpack. I pass through customs to the still new waiting area. I wait until I see Jean Paul and then exit the impressive new terminal. I am back. I enter a room, my room. A thick layer of dust has settled over everything. As class dismisses an abundance of little voices call out my name and I get hugs and hellos. I’m exhausted. Dinner comes. Beans, rice and fried chicken. I am back. I get a wave of homesickness. I miss my family and Greg and friends and English and options. I take a cold shower and smell the wave off Miss Cherie sliding off. I feel refreshed but wrecked.  On this hot night the wind is so forgiving. I look up to a star filled sky. Amidst fears, and hopes and facing undoubted frustration I am back. And here too, He is in control.