Friday, 31 October 2014

Adeline, a Camp Sodom Survivor

I was making my way through the narrow alleyways dodging the electrical wires that snaked their way through the concrete houses and house front stalls that cling to the sides of the mountains above Port-au-Prince. The kids were yelling “Good Morning” and waving as I passed, the adults eyeing me with perhaps just a little suspicion.

I was on my way to meet Adeline Eliazard and her three children, Nadine Andrice (17), Ernst Andrice (15) and Jerry Andrice (13). With the help of World Vision International Haiti and funds from World Vision Australia, she and her children have been living in a 2 room concrete bunker type house (maybe 40m2) in this densely packed community since December last year. But the four years before that had been very different and very difficult.

On the 12th day of January 2010 a 7.0 magnitude earthquake that lasted about 35 seconds destroyed her home and all that she possessed. And due to a lack of access of care, Adeline’s husband died on January 13, 2010. It was a devastating time for her and her young children.  In the days before the quake, Adeline, despite a heart condition that required treatment, was just making ends meet. She sold cooking oils and made enough to keep her children in school, feed them, and together with her husband’s income they were able to afford the rent.

Following the quake Adeline and her kids, with 69 other families, moved onto a plot of land (about 400m2) bordering a ravine at the bottom of the mountain. She salvaged all she could from her home, not much, and with NGO handouts, set her self up in a tent/shack – this was going to be home for the next 4 years.

Their community was named Camp Sodom; I can imagine it being a horrible place to live. The day I visited the camp site which was now empty, it was hot, 45C; no trees, no shade, the ground is rough gravel and dirt – it is hot, very hot. Sometime time later, in the first year, an NGO built a toilet block but there were no other facilities at this camp. During the 4 years, Adeline’s sister helped her with some rice and beans every fortnight or so, but she had no other source of income and she couldn’t afford the fees to send her kids to school – the choice was food or school.

Sometime in 2013, the owner of the land decided he wanted his land back so, to encourage families to move away, he had the toilet block demolished. For almost a year, Adeline now laughs as she tells me the story, “we did the toilet in plastic bags, but not everyone was so thoughtful”. The owner also employed more direct methods to encourage the people to move.

By the end of last year, Adeline was desperate and completely demoralized. She and her kids had lost so much weight that, as Adeline thinks back, “I looked like a stick. I prayed, God deliver us from this place, show me some hope, please God do something to help”.

That same month she saw some new faces in the camp. World Vision International Haiti, with the approval of the Mayor’s office had come to her camp to ‘transition’ people out, close the camp and return it to the owner. This was a government-sanctioned approach that all NGOs are using in Haiti that provides grants for families to find and rent an appropriate rental property for one year and to set themselves up in some kind of small business.

Adeline wasn’t quite sure what it meant, but for the first time in a long time she saw a glimmer of hope. “When I saw and heard Rolande and the World Vision team, I had hope that my children would be delivered and that we could get out of this place. It was the first time I had hope in a long time.”

Today, almost 12 months later, I am sitting with Adeline and her children in the curtained of front entry of her little concrete house on the mountain, looking down on the land that was her home for 4 years; she smiles lots, despite the tears in her eyes as she retells her story, she is happy and she laughs often.

She now has a small business making and selling peanut butter; she has enough income to enroll her children in the new year of school that starts next month and to buy food. Brand new, pressed uniforms hang wrapped in plastic on the wall waiting for the day that she never dared to imagine would come.

With her sisters help Adeline has managed to get medical help for her heart condition and she is doing ok. Her children are happy: Nadine Andrice is a beautiful young woman, shy at the moment with me in the room, but she has friends in the closely packed community; Ernst Andrice is also shy but he sits protectively close to his mum – he has a look of warning, ‘don’t mess with my Mum’ in his eyes; and Jerry Andrice swaggers into the room, braided long hair and a big confident eye-sparkling smile, he slaps my hand in a high five as he sits down next to me.

A little concerned about what happens after the one-year rent grant is exhausted; I ask Adeline where she will get rent money next year. “I don’t know”, she says, “At the moment I only have enough for food and school, and without a husband to help it is tough. But God will provide, I am praying that God will provide”.

When I was here in an earthquake recovery capacity (for The Salvation Army) 4 years ago, the city was a mess, there were about 1.5 million displaced people, today there are reportedly about 55,000 people still living under temporary shelter in camps. But the majority of camps have been closed and cleared. There are public spaces once again available to and used by the people. People are living back in the communities, some in better conditions than they had before the quake. The sides of the roads are lined with smallholder stalls selling fruit and paintings.

But this 5 years of unprecedented investment at best brings Haiti back to where it was before the quake –it is still the poorest country in the western hemisphere with about 77% of people living below the poverty line. The majority of Haiti’s people are still in need of help – perhaps we should join our voices and hope with Adeline’s prayer, “God provide for your people”.

Daryl Crowden

August 2014

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

I Only Bury Saints

Over 24 years of Salvation Army officership I conducted many funerals - I developed a reputation for “doing a good funeral” - and it always amazed me that every person I buried was a saint. You listen to the eulogies from family and friends and the person was always wonderful, an amazing influence, always happy, always engaged, always caring. They may have had a few quirks, a couple of idiosyncrasies, maybe a wonky choice in footy team selection, but that was always overshadowed by their commitment to family first, the good of all humanity (and the pets too) - and world peace.

And yet, in most cases I knew the person too. I knew that he was at times a grumpy old sod who had little good to say about anyone, I knew that she had little time for others - I knew that the person was just normal, like the rest of us. But at a funeral we paint a picture that perhaps exaggerates the best we saw in a person and we extol the virtue and value of a person as we believe they could have been. (Having said that I did bury some people who I suspect really were saints, great people and wonderful influencers.)

Now, in my new life, and at this time of the year my performance over the past year is being judged, and I have to spend time judging my team. We are rated and our performance (or value) is judged. I know this process is not intended to be nasty, I know there has to be some form of corporate and personal accountability and that the process is not intended to be a validation of our personal value - but we are all human - and from my experience if you judge my work, then you judge me. It is personal. It is about my value. It is about whether or not you value me.

It is important for us all personally, and to any organisation, that we are held to account for our development and performance plans but we need to do all we can to avoid the trap of allowing that management process to dictate to us our personal value. The problem is that, in our humanity, the two are inevitably and inextricably linked. 

As hard as it is, you and I must find ways to divorce our performance value from our personal value - because ‘we value people’ - above all. So, we all have to find ways to value the person and to make sure that we don’t leave it until the farewell or the funeral to tell and show another that they are valued. This valuing is not the sole jurisdiction of Human Resources or Pastoral Care or Leadership it is my responsibility and it is your responsibility.

As a Christian I inevitably turn to the Scriptures to remind me that I am valued: “do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows” (look at Matthew 10:31) and to the example of Jesus who always put the person before the process. But it’s not just a Christian principle to value one another - surely it’s about being humans together?

So, my personal performance challenge is to intentionally find ways to value you, to make sure I do all I can to remind you that ‘God don’t make no junk’ and that regardless of your work, your choice of footy club and your performance rating you are a valued member of the team and my circle of influence and influencers. Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to join with me in selecting ‘value people’ as the default setting in your everyday practice.