By Megan Maxwell
After church one afternoon, sweat bubbled on her brow as Bristol Wells tried to keep up with a Haitian man who was speedily hiking up the side of a mountain. His name was Michel and his 70 years of age did not stop him from being the fastest and most energetic of the group. They came up to a small river and Michel naturally skipped across the surface from stone to stone with the ease of doing it thousands of times before. The lay of the land was familiar to him but completely foreign to Bristol. Her church shoes had no grip and when she attempted to hop from stone to stone the same way Michel did, her feet slipped and landed in sludge. Michael had nearly made his way to the top but when he turned around and saw Bristol struggling, he ran full force towards her. He didn’t run up and ask if she was okay, instead he dropped to his knees and immediately began washing the muck off of her feet. “That is when I knew this place was different,” Bristol said. “This is a perfect example of the character in the village of Marmont and out of all the places in Haiti that we visited, this one felt like home.” The Marmont community didn’t come to them asking what they could receive, instead they welcomed them in as part of the community. Bristol and a few others from her family and church knew they felt a call to help Haiti, but people like Michel are why they chose to set roots in Marmont.
As a child, Bristol always had a wild and adventurous spirit. While most young girls wanted to dress up in something sparkly, she wanted to be a NASCAR pit crew chief and spent her time dirt biking with her father. All of her rough play came to a screeching halt when she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer at the age of eleven. “There is something about being told that you may not live to see your 18th birthday that makes you grow up a little faster than normal,” she said with a reminiscent smile. When she was diagnosed her father passed out cold. When he came back to his senses he looked at his daughter and said, “You aren’t mine.” Eleven-year-old Bristol was slightly concerned when she heard him say that “…but he meant that I belonged to God and not him.” After an operation and some painful radiation, her cancer went into remission. Bristol’s whole perspective shifted and she began to see that there was a purpose for her life and a reason for her survival. “I stopped asking ‘why me’ when I realized I had been chosen to be used for the greater good. I would do it over and over again if one person could come to Christ through it.” She knew she was alive for a reason and was thankful to be alive to discover it.
Bristol remembers having a strong desire to go to Haiti from a young age. She told her mother that she wanted to go shortly after battling cancer, and she in turn would laugh it off like Bristol was crazy. Why would she want to risk her life when she just got it back? After seven years of praying, Bristol was on her first flight to Haiti…on her 18th birthday no less!
“Everything that could have gone wrong on our first trip to Haiti, went wrong…or so we thought,” Bristol smiled. Every plan the group had for that trip was disrupted. “It felt like a super natural force did not want us to be there,” Bristol said. “Which was confirmation that we were in the right place.” When they arrived in Haiti the person who was supposed to pick the group up was nowhere to be found. “We were the only Americans in that hectic and hot airport. Everyone except us spoke Creole and we began to wonder what the heck we had gotten ourselves into,” she said. Angry eyes watched every move they made and panic began to set in their stomachs as the sun continued to drop. A few minutes later a young Haitian man approached the group. In broken English he told them that if they rode with him in his van he would take them to a place to sleep. The group looked at each other with wide eyes and thought, ‘This is crazy! There is no way we are getting in a vehicle with an absolute stranger in one of the most dangerous countries on this planet.’ Then they turned back to the man in desperation and said, “Okay!” That man was their only hope and he ended up staying with the group for 2 days until they safely found the people that they were supposed to be with in the first place.
Another day on that same trip the group had to ride up a mountain in a van. They were in an unpopulated area with no people in sight. Suddenly, the back tire lost traction and the van began to slide off the side of the mountain. “It was terrifying. I remember thinking, ‘we are going to die,’ but all of a sudden countless people ran to the van from out of the woods and they held it up long enough for all of us to get out. I think they were Haitian angels!” She laughed. “They came out of NO WHERE.”
When they finally settled in Marmont, they decided that they were going to surrender their plans and just be fully there with open minds and hearts. They were no longer going to try to force things to happen but instead they took time to listen to the people of Marmont. They allowed the village leaders to share their dreams and for the majority of them, dreaming was a luxury that they were experiencing for the first time.“The last thing we wanted to do was ‘Americanize’ the way they do things,” Bristol said. “Just because we do things differently doesn’t mean that is the right way for them.” The Americans and the Haitians sat under a mango tree with a translator and dreamed together about what the village of Marmont could become. The leaders talked about bettering their community and their change inspiring the villages around them to do the same. This was the birth of Love Haiti Partnership (LHP) and if you fast-forward five years to now, they are doing just that.
As of now Love Haiti Partnership, with the help of the leaders of Marmont, built a new building that doubles as a school and a church. They currently have about 100 students in grades Kindergarten through Third and their goal is to add a grade every year. Bristol said, “Several people in my church sponsor children in the village. It is amazing to see the physical, mental and spiritual growth that takes place. When you visit, it is the most beautiful thing to be able to see and touch the change you have been praying for in a child before you ever met them.” The color of their hair changes due to proper nutrition and their smiles change due to the value that is placed in their lives. They have already come far but their dreams have much farther to go.
Love Haiti Partnership has certain goals they want to reach in different phases. Every day the women who feed the 100 children in the school go on an unsafe trek to town and purchase food that they then cook in an outdoor make shift kitchen under a few plastic tarps. This process is labor intensive and these women are incredibly tough but LHP wishes to find ways to ease some of the mental and physical stress that comes from this immense responsibility. Love Haiti Partnership has the connections to have food delivered in bulk but there is no kitchen much less a place to store any extra food away from people and animals. For phase one they want to build the first level of what will be a three-story structure to be a kitchen and pantry to cover those needs.
Phase two, will be the second story of that three story structure designated to be a studio sized living quarters for a man named Jude. He is a middle-aged single man who has dedicated his whole life to be the principle of the school during the week and the pastor of the church (in the same building) on the weekends. He currently lives and sleeps on the floor of that building. For this phase they will be honoring his sacrifice by building him a place to live.
The third and final phase of that three-story building will be beds for visiting groups. As of right now, visitors have to stay in a heavily guarded hotel that is located far away from the school. Groups spend precious time traveling back and forth instead of being productive in the village they came to help.
In Haiti, the government is corrupt and the economy makes it nearly impossible to survive, much less thrive. Being able to give these children an education is an honor but it is useless if we do not equip them with practical trades that can help them support their families. “Something we have really been praying about is having a trade school for them. We are currently doing our research for what trades will work best there but we know that we want to include carpentry and farming,” Bristol said.
If you go to Google Earth and look at an aerial view of Haiti you will notice that it shares the same island as the Dominican Republic (DR). On the DR side, the vegetation is lush and it looks something like a tropical paradise. On the Haitian side it looks like waste and ruin. It has the potential to be much more than their government has busted it down to be. Bristol and the rest of the Love Haiti Partnership are planning to gather a group of experts to help come up with creative ways for their village to become more self-sustainable.
The crops that are grown in and near Marmont are nearly all corn and sorghum, which are not dense in nutrition. The diets of the locals lack diversity and if they want to have different food they must have means to travel and money to purchase. “Their land has so much potential. My dream and prayer is to incorporate new crops for them to grow, eat and sell,” Bristol said. They could come up with new ways to irrigate, contour farm and whatever else their minds dream up. With a little help, the right products, ingenuity and training this dream is no longer so far fetch. On one of the nights of that trip the church had a revival worship night. There is no electricity or running water so they were singing and dancing in the dark for hours. “These people have nothing but they are some of the richest people I know. These people don’t stop praising and they have nothing,” Bristol said and in that moment she soaked in the realization that every day of her life was a gift that she wanted to live by giving it to others the same way the Haitians do. What would happen if we who have much had the same appreciative and generous attitude? How many people could be empowered and dreams come to be? All night long they sang and danced under the brilliant stars that twinkled through the trees. They thanked God for what he had already done for them and for the hope they now had in their dreams of becoming more.
How you can help!
A bustling, educated and self-sustainable community swirled around in all of their minds that afternoon under the mango tree. The first steps have been made but there is a long way to go. Love Haiti Partnership is made up of 100% volunteers and donations. If you would like to volunteer, donate or give in your own unique way go to their website https://www.lovehaitipartnership.com/
Or email firstname.lastname@example.org
List of needs:
- Prayer – Rooting for them!
- Connections – Do you know of anyone who would like to volunteer to help with any of these projects?
- Donations – money to go towards these projects