International Unitarian Universalism

A Way Forward: Reflections on Haiti

By Nicole McConvery

UUSC was excited to partner with the Unitarian Universalist Association on a joint volunteer trip to Haiti, December 3–10. In the post below, trip-leader-in-training Nicole McConvery of the UUA reflects on lessons learned in Haiti. Cruising down the recently paved highway connecting the Central Plateau to Port-au-Prince, we drove through a land that's bursting with life and movement. As we cut through the mountains and golden light of dawn, catching breathtaking glimpses of vast lakes, rolling hills, and industriousness of all shapes and sizes bustling along dusty paths, I reflected on the preceding week that we had spent in Hinche: mornings hauling rocks side by side with Haitians; afternoons meeting with the resourceful and inspiring minds of the leaders of the Papaye Peasant Movement (MPP) who are changing lives and shaping the future of their country one tire garden, eco-village, and youth program at a time; and nights in fellowship and reflection with our brood of thoughtful and energizing trip participants. It almost felt like a dream even though it was probably one of the more "real" experiences I've ever had. And, like dreams, I've been finding it difficult to articulate what I experienced to everyone back at home; there's still much to process. But I'll try to unload a few of the things I've been contemplating since I returned to Boston last weekend. Haiti is the most densely populated country in the Western Hemisphere and reading that as a quick fact versus experiencing it firsthand are two very different things. With so many people concentrated around one urban center, you can see and feel the struggle for space and resources all around you. It was market day as we drove back from Hinche, and the roadside depots were overflowing with buyers and sellers who come together once a week to negotiate life's essentials; gaze upon this intimate slice of life from the true 99 percent and then contemplate the luxurious, gross absurdity of the stampede at Black Friday a few latitudinal degrees north. As we walked through the streets of Port-au-Prince, I kept imagining a hybrid of Los Angeles and New York City; the devastating earthquake that razed this island nation in 2010 could just as easily have struck any of our precariously unprepared coastal metropolises. I was reminded of and humbled by the fragility of life all around me here, home, and everywhere, inspired by the resumption of life in the wake of such massive loss. And I thought a lot about the constant waste of resources that abounds in my country, state, city, and home kitchen. Anytime I found myself lost in bewildered or guilt-stricken thought, a kind hand on my shoulder or a contagious laugh echoed in the cabin of our van and pulled me back; I remembered I was not alone in my experience. Probably the most significant lesson that was reiterated throughout every aspect of my time in Haiti was the absolute necessity of community — to survive, to process, to thrive — in this life. I compared the lightness of load bearing in the company of others with my arguably solitary day-to-day existence back home; I thought about the pervading sense of alienation that abounds in the first world, where neighbors are strangers and car culture is a description of interpersonal relations. It's not sustainable. And without the social net, the interdependent web of existence that can catch and carry us when we fall, there is no future. But in Haiti, I saw people pulling together, fashioning homes from refuse; I saw farmers and leaders at MPP planting gardens in chaos, laughing and hugging and living. In Haiti, I saw a way forward and richness of spirit that we can all learn from.