Dèyè mòn gen mon (Beyond mountains there are mountains)

As I type these words I’m sitting at the table in my house. Yes, a house that has gas, electric and running water – a house that, even while on “quarantine”, has a refrigerator full of food. But, even though I live in the “Good ol’ USA”, a country of abundance, my heart feels heavy. It feels heavy for those around the world.

Let me start by saying, I genuinely consider it an honor to serve the “unloved”, “unseen”, oppressed and broken-hearted. To play a role in God’s mission is beautiful and Holy. However, I’m not ashamed to admit that being an international non-profit leader is hard. It isn’t always glorious. In fact, most days it leaves me feeling annoyed, exhausted and lonely. But, not for the reasons you may think.

Yes, fundraising is never-ending (and, yes that feels defeating at times). There are also constant annoyances like unexpected expenses such as vehicle repairs/maintenance (which is expensive, by the way!), being told that we are out of supplies after they are gone and extremely unorganized paperwork (major collision in cultures). I’m pretty sure most people would agree these are “legitimate” annoyances that may leave someone feeling weary. But, no, those aren’t the reasons why so many non-profit leaders feel weary.

Haitians have a proverb“Dèyè mòn gen mon” — which translates into “Beyond mountains there are mountains”. In Haiti it often feels that after you overcome one great obstacle you merely gain a clear view of the next one.

The Haitian people constantly face obstacle upon obstacle. Unemployment is sky-high. According to World Bank, it is estimated that  six million Haitians live below the poverty line of $2.41 a day. Haiti faces a looming pandemic with an almost non-existent public healthcare system.

The people face a dilemma of how to feed themselves and their families while avoiding COVID-19. The population of 11.3 million has access to 64 ventilators and somewhere between 30 and 123 ICU beds, some malfunctioning. Experts warn that an estimated up to 800,000 Haitians may die from the Coronavirus.

Haiti does not have a good healthcare on a ‘good day’. It certainly doesn’t have a healthcare system in place to effectively fight the virus. There is no mass treatment accessible by the masses. The only option is quarantine. However, quarantine is not a realistic option because the Haitian population is too high and they need to have human contact to survive daily life. Unfortunately, family and neighbors are most likely unable to help others due to them being in the same situation.

Unfortunately the “poorest of the poor” are estimated to be most affected by the virus. Even though the statistics may be slightly different in other countries, the dilemma is similar. Non-profit leaders are having to strategically plan how they can best serve their community with limited resources. It is hard and emotionally draining.

I speak to our Haitian program director, Michelet, almost daily. Myself, along with Michelet and the Board of Directors are assessing how we can continue to support our staff to better serve their community. Below are a few ways we specifically feel called to take action.

1. Education. Our healthcare providers have been thoroughly educating the community on hand washing, preventing sickness and the signs/symptoms of COVID-19.

2. Distribute supplies. Thanks to generous donors our staff were able to distribute over 700 bars of soap and small bags of Clorox in the community. We are hoping to continue doing this throughout the community if the financial resources are available.

3. Discontinue gatherings. On March 19, 2020 the Haitian government declared a state of emergency and ordered social distancing/quarantine. The ports, airports and borders are now closed. Schools, universities, churches and industrial parks are now closed. We are abiding by the order and have closed our kindergarten and primary school. We have also discontinued our group prenatal and postpartum clinics that were being held at the church. Our midwives will continue providing midwifery care through small group clinics (less than 10 people, keeping distance of 6 feet away if possible) and home visits.

4. Distribute food. Normally when school is in session the children are a provided a hot meal daily. Many parents depend on their child receiving this meal daily at school. With school being closed and unemployment rates being higher right now due to the pandemic, it is important that the food is distributed. We are still working on the logistics but we plan for the families to still receive food. It will most likely be a distribution of rice, beans and oil to the families instead of a cooked meal.

5. Continue to pay our staff. Yes, we have teachers that are not teaching due to school being closed. Yes, we have cooks who are not cooking due to school being closed. However, more than ever, it is essential we continue to pay our staff. They need to be able to provide for their families. Unfortunately due to the circumstances they are unable to work, but not because they don’t have a desire.

As a non-profit leader sometimes the responsibility of having others depend on you is an incredibly heavy burden. And yes, sometimes I worry if the virus will affect our organization’s finances. I occasionally stop and think, “what if donors stop their recurring monthly donation?”. But, I mostly don’t worry because I have peace that it is going to be okay”.

I have peace because I stand firm in my belief that God will provide. I believe He has chosen me “for such a time as this” and has chosen me to do this important work. I can say those words with confidence because of His provision.

Time and time again, He has provided Breath of Life Haiti’s every need. The “small things” and the BIG things. Whether it be money to cover our staff salaries, medications for our midwifery care program or soap and Clorox for the community during an epidemic…He always provides our needs through you. Thank you for your obedience. Thank you for your passion and love for the people of Haiti.

About Ashley Stills

Ashley is the founder and director of Breath of Life Haiti. Breath of Life Haiti is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization with a mission to empower the people of Haiti through education; while fighting maternal and infant mortality by providing midwifery care and sharing the love of Christ.