education

I live in a place where parents are faced with the indignity of giving their kids to a children’s home so they can go to school, or keep their child with their family at the perilous cost of not gaining an education. I cannot fathom having to make that decision, but in Haiti and other majority world countries around the world…it is a reality.

Is education always the answer to breaking the cycle of poverty and injustice? No, there are too many factors in play for it to be as easy as one answer. However, it has been proven to give kids more options to break into the dreams of their future.

The GO Project Pathways program exists to train young Haitians in trades when their level of education is expensive or not on par with their age. Many of the kids who are 18 are at a 5th or 6th grade in school. When they are 18 and are not allowed to be in the home with the other kids, their grade level is not high enough for them to continue regular school. The Pathways program stands in that gap and says that the sustainable future of these kids matter. I know several of these young adults. I know their smiles. I know how they tease. I know they need encouragement. And I know that they are grateful for a place to belong and skills to have the opportunity to provide for themselves.

IMG_3764The Pathways program is very similar to Russia’s tech school system. Russia’s tech schools are government run, and have so many in regions that it is hard to keep track of what tech school teaches what, but Russia has the same problem as Haiti. Kids come into the orphanage at a much younger grade level than their age would put them, and when they are no longer allowed to be in the orphanage at age 16 they are not at a grade level to send them to go to college or university.

After 6 years of traveling to Kurlovo orphanage in the Vladimir region, there was one young lady that went on to university out of all the kids that passed through the orphanage. One. Many went on to tech school, some to extended family, and Russian statistics show many kids at age 16 are left on the streets to be prey to sex traffickers, prostitution, drugs and suicide. When Kurlovo closed and our community went through the painful process of praying and discerning what next there were a lot of questions up in the air. Every piece of who you are individually and as a community is thrown into long-term relationships with a group of kids, and when you are told it is finished long before you imagined it would be, there is a lot of logic in not wanting to do it again

But by the grace and orchestration of God, we were drawn as a community to be an even larger community with a group of kids in Velikoretskoye. There were many reasons we were drawn to this unique place in the middle of nowhere. Really, it is in the middle of nowhere, but many come to this destination because one of the Russian Orthodox icons of St. Nicholas was found on the river banks.

One of the biggest draws was that the orphanage director was also the school principal and was already sending kids to university or college instead of learning a trade at a tech school. Tech school is a great option for learning construction, mechanics, interior decorating, cooking, working in a business and tourist trades for hotels and trains. However, colleges and university provide education for professions that would pay more for your knowledge.

Clearly, his dedication was something we connected with and wanted to support him. After our first year traveling, he had a young lady go to medical college and a young man go to design college. There have been kids that have gone on to succeed at tech schools, and some of the guys who gained education in construction are making an incredible living as Georgyi told me when we were there in November.

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Nastya is one of the graduates that came back to visit while the team was at Velikoretskoye this year. She is at university to become a teacher. Her situation was one that Georgyi championed when she expressed the desire to go to university, but her grade level was not to her age. Ignoring Russian laws, he kept her at the orphanage beyond age 16 so she could graduate high school in order to continue her education in university.

Georgyi graduated seven kids out of the orphanage last year, and last September had all seven kids in college or university. *Collective cheer!* I talked about this a little in my massive post I put up a few days ago about the trip this year.

God has grown me to the point where I hate seeing things sent or donated somewhere they are not needed. The locals on the ground need to verbalize a need before I can make sense of sending a plethora of clothes, shoes, toiletries and a myriad of other things to their location. When you send things they don’t need, all it does it inundate them with things they don’t have space for and in some extreme cases will sell it for the money. Not the original intent.

This year, Georgyi has verbalized a need for tutors for all of the kids. Last year, we talked with him about help for the kids that were graduating and several of us within our community raised money for that need. In that spirit, Lindsay Evans and I asked our friends and family to forgo a ‘traditional’ Christmas gift for ourselves and instead give money toward tutors for the kids. What better gift that to know that the kids we know and love will succeed in higher education AND provide income for local tutors? This year, to get tutors for all of the kids, it is going to be a bit more than what a few people might be able to generate and will end up being about $4,200.

In honor of a silly named day, ‘Giving Tuesday,’ (Shouldn’t it be ‘Giving Every Day’?!?!) I am putting up this post with links in it to support the future of kids in Haiti and Russia.

Go to ‘Change Their Story’ on the Children’s Hopechest page to support tutors at Velikoretskoye. You can do it a couple of different ways. Simply support our team, or if you want you could even become a team member and send folks to contribute on your page for the team. Here’s to ALL of the Velikoretskoye graduates going on to college or university from this point forward, friends!

Go to Global Orphan Project’s page to contribute to the Pathways program. If you have spent any time reading this blog, then you know how much I love getting to know some of these kids. Their smiles tell it all, friends. You couldn’t possibly make a better investment…

Do Christmas different and let it be about how we are impacting the future of kids told they are not worth anything, instead of the more socially accepted purchasing of things we don’t really need. I welcome and enthusiastically cheer on anyone willing to support the future of some pretty incredible Russians and Haitians.

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Sometimes I wake to screeching through my bathroom wall. Nope, not roosters, more human….it sounds like a plethora of teen girls, but in reality…I have lived next door to the Pathways boys for 6 months and when they argue over whose turn it is to use the shower it sounds like a teen girl-cat fight through the wall. It really does make me laugh, and gives me a great source of material to tease them about.

But don’t let arguments over showers sway you on your opinion of these young adults, because they are a phenomenal group of young people being empowered with skills to lead a life of sustainability in Haiti.

IMG_0136 (2)Global Orphan Project has an amazing discipleship journey that brings 18-21 year olds into a program to teach them life and trade skills called Pathways. One of the things I love most is the students are physically learning with their hands. Most schools for older kids in Haiti are all classroom work and teacher led, nothing is hands on learning. The Pathways instructors are physically out in the field instructing the students, the sewing teacher is sewing with the girls, the decorating teacher is working bows with the girls, the boys are physically working with chickens at the chicken farm…they are gaining experience in everything they are being taught.

The other thing I love is the students are being discipled by Haitians that are passionate about teaching others what they know and passing on their knowledge, which includes everything they know about Jesus, the Bible and how to lead others in the faith. When the Pathways students start praying, watch out because heaven and earth will move, friends. And their worship through song…love for their Savior flows from these young adults in mesmerizing ways.

On a recent Friday night, I passed one of the boys in the corridor and said, “Bon swa! How are you?” The response I got in Creole accompanied by a massive smile was, “Good! I wait for Sunday!” I stopped, thinking I translated it wrong in my head, and yelled after him in Creole, “Did you say you wait for Sunday? Today is Friday, tomorrow is Saturday.”

He responded, “Yes, but I am waiting for Sunday. I love Sunday. I love Pastor Claude. I love church.”

I know a LOT of teenagers who love church. I know a lot of teenagers that love Jesus, but I doubt any of them would tell me on a Friday night in the States that they are waiting for Sunday. But here in Haiti, this is the devotion these young adults have for their Savior and the love they have for communally worshipping through prayer, song and the Bible.

One of the girls I love to laugh with was walking with me last weekend, and as we both walked off to our separate rooms, she grabbed my hands and said, “I will pray that Jesus will bless your dreams tonight!” The spirit of joy and love for Jesus in this young woman is a constant source of inspiration for me. She is constantly making us laugh, and is a huge fan of inside jokes. I truly think it is a longing to be known by others that connects us to her, as well as fuels her love for Jesus.

For the last six months I’ve had the privilege of sharing a lot of the same space with the Pathways students, but last weekend the boys moved out into the new Pathways building that will give them space to grow. It is an exciting time, not only for the current students, but to see how God will continue to grow opportunities for so many more kids in villages that are not at a high enough grade level to continue their education into university when they have to leave the villages at age eighteen.

We will miss the abundance of life the students have brought to Jumecourt. The girls are still here at the moment, but as the boys moved out, they were visibly hopping, running, jumping to load their belongings. The energy was electric around here last Saturday as they moved.

IMG_0121 (2)A new first year joined us a night early, and we found out he was from a village one of the second year students was from. Yelling to him as he played basketball, ‘What village are you from?’ He responded by thrusting his arms into the air with his hands formed into fists while flexing his muscles, and then yelled back in English at the top of his lungs, ‘Biggarouse!!! I am from Big House!!!’

The pride and confidence in these students for not only where they come from, but that it means something to them is palpable. They own their place in this world, and it is amazing to see them embrace their story. Their story is a victorious one. They had some place to go when they had to leave the village, and within that place, they are embracing who God has created them to be.

That first weekend, we also got to see their confidence as they absolutely acted like ‘older’ kids when the first years arrived to join the second year Pathways students. Perhaps too much cockiness was in play, but it was great to see their confidence in the path of learning they are on, what they have learned over the last year and excitement for what they will be learning in their last year of their two years.

As one of our organization leaders says, you cannot care about orphan care without caring about orphan prevention.

Realistically, orphan care without emphasis on orphan prevention is only a business of moving money and bodies. Do some orphans get genuine care and love? Of course, but unfortunately emphasis on the monetary aspect has brought a lot of dishonesty within the ‘business’ of orphans. God calls us to defend the orphan, and care for the fatherless. A large part of that defense is providing jobs to keep poverty orphans with their families. God’s heart is not in the ‘business’ of orphans, but it is in preserving the dignity of the parent who is able to provide for their family.

Orphan care cannot outweigh orphan prevention, and God willing orphan prevention will make orphan care obsolete. The Pathway students are a piece of that orphan prevention. If the poverty orphan cycle stops with these educated, cross-trained young adults creating businesses and remaining employed as they have families of their own, then Haiti moves forward in reclaiming their employment independence from organizations and countries that unload their excesses here plaguing any efforts for sustainability. And that is a very exciting future to pour into with Haitians that we are honored to know, love and see grow into strong leaders in their communities.

Join me in praying for the second year students, new first year students, instructors, directors and all of those that support them from the States. As someone who deeply cares about these students, I know your prayers will be received with much gratitude and any glory given straight to our God we serve.

 

 

 

Watson

About two weeks ago I was holding a tiny guy at one of our partner’s villages. The team was laughing at me, because it had already become known that I’m not a ‘baby person,’ yet kept getting handed babies. This particular time, I’d been standing in a group of five Americans, and I was the one passed the baby. However, these few precious moments I cherished, because I knew I was holding someone special.

He’d had a rough start to life, more normal in Haiti than many would hope. He and his twin were abandoned, malnourished and admitted to the hospital soon after being left at the Pastor’s village. His twin didn’t make it out of the hospital, but he was a fighter. Many had fallen in love with this fella. What a heartbreaker, ladies! Many were inspired by his story, but then looked into his gorgeous eyes and were hooked. This small fella had defied the odds, with many people fighting for him, and when he came home from the hospital, a God victory was proclaimed for this little one.

As I held him, I noticed his hair was growing in better, he had more movement in his limbs when he had been very lethargic for several weeks, had finally started ‘talking’ and the mamas said he was eating a lot.

He was about seven months old when he passed away last Sunday.

They noticed he had started breathing very hard in church, and grabbed Pastor Kesnel after service was over. They tried taking him to two different hospitals who refused to see him. TWO! The first was full and the second had no doctors on duty, only nurses, so there was no one to diagnose him. Then at the third while they were filling out paperwork…he stopped breathing.

I want to believe that all kids given life have a chance, but in Haiti the odds are consistently stacked against them. It is a hard life for adults here…imagine new, fragile life and the infant mortality rate being high is not surprising. Knowledge of hygiene for newborns is minimal, and places for education on infant care are few. Yet this fella had a Pastor fighting for him, a home to be cared for in and an organization ready to pay any medical bills…yet he still lost his fight to live.

My heart is heavy, and I am deeply saddened. I was just holding this tiny, featherweight bundle, in what right now feels like yesterday, and this tiny one had a name.

His name was Watson.

It shouldn’t, but something changes when the oppressed have a name and a face. This I have known for over a decade, but never before have I known one to lose their life way too early. This reality of pain and loss is painful for all involved, but very much the norm in Haiti. They know every aspect of pain and loss in this country. However, thankfully, God has protected the Pastor’s kids that Global Orphan Project supports in astounding ways. Death is not a norm for the villages we partner with here.

Yet it invaded our lives this week.

But the One we serve knows.

God knows Watson’s name. God knows his struggle. God knows his circumstance. God holds him tighter than anyone. God still claims victory over this little life, and that is what we celebrate through Watson’s short life.

I believe that God’s heart is for these. Those that have no voice. Those who cannot defend themselves. Those who are told they are not worth the time. Those who are invisible to the world. Those whose unfortunate circumstance brings death so much sooner than we would like.

Stop doing wrong; learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow. [Isaiah 1:16-17]

The fight for life in Haiti continues, it will never end until God’s Kingdom is restored. But we continue to fight here, as well as many others all around the world.

I am honored to be walking alongside inspiring Kingdom fighters like Pastor and Madame Kesnel, and all of their staff and kids, who are feeling this loss so deeply right now. I am blessed to be a part of an organization of people who care about them, love them and pour into the relationship we have with them.

And I am thankful for the small person who pierced my ‘baby bubble,’ etched his name on my heart, and will continue to push me to fight for the kids who have no one to champion them or give them a voice.

God proclaims victory, but we have the responsibility to believe it and force the fight forward.

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good, right & true

What is good, right and true? Not much in this physical world, right?

There is sin, and in sin is brokenness and in brokenness is hurt, and in hurt is where we peel back the layers of ourselves and bare all before God. But who wants to take the surrender and pain that bareness brings?

However, it is definitely not good, right or true that orphans exist in our world.

It is not good, right or true that parents feel their only choice is to give up their children simply because they cannot afford food, clothing or education…or a combination of all three.

It is not good, right or true that Haitians earn on average $4 a day. Do the math, even IF they worked every day of the year, which they won’t, it is less than $1,500 a year…on AVERAGE.

There are a lot of reasons that Global Orphan Project is an excellent fit for me. Just one of them is their intentional work in orphan prevention.

I say intentional, because orphan care is messy and orphan prevention is even messier. When you are dealing with broken people in a broken world living in a broken system with no long-term outlook…it is just messy.

GO Project partners with businesses in Haiti that are intentionally creating jobs, and hiring parents in order to keep families together. A steady job, some with health insurance, is a huge step in keeping families together in Haiti.

The key is helping these businesses create profit by getting the word out regarding what they are doing. If they are not selling, or do not have orders to make…there is not a need for more workers, or even the employed ones. Check out GOEX.org for who we work with, because there are some amazing people running these businesses. We want to see them succeed, and they are inspiring in their ability to be stubborn against what people say can and cannot be done in Haiti.

Even better? Not only is GO Exchange able to partner with those that we are inspired by, but all of the profit from GO Exchange goes back into orphan care…creating a great visual of what sustainability could look like for Haiti and a multitude of other places.

It is not always about throwing money at a situation. Money helps in the right context, but when you are looking at things on a global scale…so many avenues get corrupted and money being brought in without an effort for sustainability within that country is key.

It breaks my heart when governments are apathetic to not just the rights of their workers, but keeping those workers employed. The reality is that believers have an opportunity to make more of an effort to stand in that gap to not only create jobs with dignity, good pay and working conditions, but also support those creating jobs to ensure those being employed are consistently employed.

It is good, right and true to care about the sin in our world on a personal, local and global level, because things are not right in this world. The heart of God is for all things to be set right and restored in our world. The real question is are we supporting those who are making that effort in risky, inspiring and sometimes persecuted environments?