Keeping Promises in Haiti

Writer Barbara Wysocki reflects on her recent visit to Haiti, and the promises being made to help its recovery.

I stand at my kitchen sink remembering Haiti. How I hugged my friend Jane Wynne goodbye in November. We stood in her mountainside garden, a haven of peace though it’s just a half-hour from Port-au-Prince. We were sorry to part after four days of walking through her terraced beds of bamboo, bird-of-paradise and bougainvillea.  We’d spent time dancing, singing, drinking lemongrass tea and talking about her work as a conservation educator.      

On January 12, the land Jane’s worked so hard to protect was decimated by a 7.0 earthquake. After more than a week of worry, I finally know she’s alive and I’m grateful that most of her family and friends are safe. She’s trying to help them, and the strangers who’ve walked more than 13 miles uphill to her town of Kenscoff. They’ve come for food, water and shelter, though Jane has little to give.  

Like the generous Haitians I’ve known in the decade I’ve traveled with Haitian Ministries, Jane always has open arms. A 60-ish woman with salt-and-pepper hair, a gentle voice and infectious mirth, her unfailing determination to save Haiti’s erosion-scoured hills is matched by her willingness to help others.

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Back in November, Jane invited me to join seven eager young professionals who’d driven two and a half hours for an ecology workshop at her conservation site, Wynne Farm. In a country where clean water and proper sanitation are always a challenge, these bright-eyed, good-humored men and women were seriously committed to improving their hometown, Leogane. Maybe you’ve heard of it: this small city was the earthquake’s epicenter.

Sitting on narrow, wooden benches that day, they took copious notes, asked dozens of questions and dug right in when Jane showed them how to build a compost heap using black plastic bags and create fuel with compacted sawdust. They were enthusiastic about making art paper from donated document shreds, and twisting supple shoots into bamboo bracelets.    

At the end of each workshop Jane encourages everyone to walk a leaf maze carrying a globe. In the center each person makes an ecology promise. They vowed to plant a bamboo grove, teach children to pick up paper and use technology to learn more. I stood back until they handed me the globe. I promised to compost, but I got turned around in the maze until the group’s young writer, Ruth Telfort, stepped over and led me out.

News reports say Leogane is 80 percent destroyed. I can’t reach Ruth or her friends. If they’re alive, I’m sure that like Jane, they’re trying to help their neighbors. But what happens when lives and promises are buried? Will the world reaching out to Haiti now keep its promises?           

I dump my coffee grounds and a banana peel in my compost bucket. In the face of Haiti’s enormous losses my efforts are meager, but promise-keeping comforts me while I wait for word from Leogane, and the day I’ll hug Jane again. 

Photo: Above, Haitian Ministries; Below, Barbara Wysocki