Thursday, September 16, 2010
Hold on There Junior
Junior met me in my yard when I got home from Port-Au-Prince yesterday. I knew it was not to get paid for the catch of the day because I pay them once a week now for that. He was there just to see me. To make sure I had a safe trip home...AND to ask for a favor. Junior knows I am going to the U.S. for 4 days next week to speak at a meeting in Texas and he wanted me to buy something for him. He wants me to buy him a portable DVD player to give to his kids for Christmas. Now last year Junior could not pay for his kids to go to school. He did not know where his next meal would come from if the fishing was bad. He lives in a tiny little shack with no electricity and no running water. He has 2 rooms and a little outside hut for the kitchen. His net worth in U.S. dollars would probably be about $100 because he owns a wooden dugout canoe that could be sold if necessary. Now he is asking me to buy a DVD player for him. But he is not asking me to buy it with my money, he has the money to buy it through the fishing program.
Now I know what you are thinking. I should councel Junior on how foolish a financial decision it would be to buy a DVD player before he has next years rent saved up for his house- we are setting aside money every week to cover that but he has not reached his full amount. Or maybe after he has 3 months worth of income saved to help in times when the fish are not there. Those are legitimate arguments but you have to understand where Junior is coming from.
Three months ago Junior would never have dreamed he could afford a DVD player. Everyone here wants a portable DVD player. The people that have one usually had it sent down from a very loving relative in the states to a family member that is still here. It is known by everyone in the neighborhood as they gather around the little screen to watch 50 cent bootleg copies of old movies. Now all of a sudden Junior has paid for all of his kids to go to school this year. The first year he could put them ALL in school in one year. He has money for them to eat plenty every single day. For the last 2 months they have not had to miss a single meal. He has a plan to pay for his rent without having to beg for additional time. In Junior's mind he is loaded. People in town have commented on how Junior has actually bought all of his kids shoes for school already.
The fishing program that we have started has given hope to a group of people that had very little hope at all. Seasonal peasant fisherman. Illiterate. Uneducated. No one in the group has an identification card which is necessary to get a legitimate job or buy land or anything else. Many of them have never had a birth certificate. They have just always caught fish to live with the same techniques that have been used for 200 years. They are from the zone around the river that floods. They live on the land that no one else wants because it is too dangerous to live there. They go out fishing and if they aren't successful, they go home and feed their kids the remaining bait. These are not "men of promise".
But now. Now they have an income. They have security. They have a future. They have hope. I have never seen the reality of the transforming power of hope like I have seen in this group of fisherman. I praise God he chose me to do this job. Everyone of the fisherman in our group will see all of their kids go to school this year for the first time ever. Every one of them has a financial plan to pay for their rent on their house. Some are putting roofs on their houses that have leaked for years. Some are buying pots for their wives to be able to cook easier. All of them are beginning to believe that they themselves are a viable part of the community. There are still a couple that are just still trying to figure out how to get every last dime possible out of me before this ride is over. I understand that and do not question it. I believe that if the roles were reversed, my skeptical mind would probably have me in that category too. But for most of the group, they truly believe that their hard work and determination is paying off. God is blessing them. And they are already starting to give back.
There is a school in their zone. It is ran by a fisherman as the headmaster. A smart guy that is educated beyond his peers in the industry. The school needs a lot of work. Many of the benches are in pieces. The preschool section was flooded by the river and the silt has not been dug out and cleaned. The tin roof leaks and is about to fall in. The teachers are the ones that the other schools would not hire because they do not have degrees. It is the school that the fisherman try to send one or two of their kids to every other year or so but not something to be proud of.
The school is lacking a maren- a "God Father". Someone to back the school and support it. Usually that job is the job of a "blanc". A white person. A missionary or a visiting pastor. Someone the school finds to financially back them. This school in the fishing zone of Calalun, does not have a maren and it shows. I talked to our group about being the maren for the school. Not me- THEM! We are going to take one haitian dollar (12 cents) and put it into an account for every pound of fish that I buy from them. The money will be used to put orphaned and fatherless kids from their zone into school. It will also be for the repairs and improvements. I want to help them make this school the model for all of Montrouis. We are going to stucko the building and paint it bright colors. We are going to build benches and make them the size the kids need. We are going to feed the kids in school- fish along with rice and beans. And it will all be done with money that the fisherman earn and put aside to give back.
After I proposed the school plan that I thought was really good of me to model for them how they should give back. They asked me for a favor. They have not had any government electricity in their zone for 6 months. The main transformer went out and the government power company does not replace them. They want me to price a new transformer when I go to Port Au Prince and then they want to raise the money to buy one. Any money they can't get from their poverty stricken neighbors, they are going to put in themselves to buy the new transformer to bring electricity back to their neighborhood.
We are still a long ways away from having the fishing ministry able to be sustained. I can't buy all of their fish they catch. I have set a weekly limit of how much I will buy from each fisherman but if they all catch that limit I am over may head financially. But, we are seeing new ministries call every week to order fish for their programs and we are starting to have people from the U.S. want to send money to buy fish to give to our schools and the widows and other people in Montrouis that we support. We are starting a website soon www.fish2feedhaiti.tv that will be used to help people get to know the fishermen personally and see the fishing season of Oct-Jan unfold and see how each fisherman does for the season. I can tell you that I will personally fund the program until my retirement plan is drained if necessary because I have never seen one of my dollars change a life like they are in these guys. We are helping women sell rice and beans to these guys now that they have money. We are helping women open little stores to cater to the increased money flowing into the economy of Montrouis. We are working on getting other micro-business owners to tap into the system and start catering to the needs of the fishing industry here. We see this as a platform for teaching business principles, financial principles, and life lessons to many of the people we have had trouble reaching in our area.
When Junior was leaving last night he hugged me, and although he is not a Christian yet, he told me that he truly believed God picked me up from the U.S. and put me in Montrouis to change his life. What more could a lowly missionary ask for?