Headshave for Haiti

"let the oppressed go free and break every yoke"

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Reflections on Reconciliation and Peace in Colombia by Adraina Garces

Years after the Lifeline expedition to Haiti the work of reconciliation continues in other nations affected by slavery and the consequent issues between black and white people groups. Joseph Zintzeme continues to carry the standard, finding new ways to bring healing and life to those under the yoke of history. …

called to reconcile

Reflecting on Reconciliation and Peace with Joseph Zintseme

By Adraina Garces, Cultural Enterpriser, Colombia

Objective: to share the experiences over the processes of reconciliation and peace, as well as social justice and restitution that have been witnessed in other countries with the aim of applying those observations to a Colombian context.

Cali, Feb 2017

To speak about reconciliation in these times is an invitation to reencounter our saviour and teacher, Jesus Christ, because it is only when we embrace God as our Celstial Father that we can be renewed in our feelings and thoughts. To surpass the dark history we have lived, whatever the history, and we take a step towards love and fraternity.

Reconciliation frees, allowing one to submerge themselves in the waters of joy, to have new dreams, it restores the fallen gates; put to arrive to this it is necessary to first look at oneself in the mirror…

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Open for Business!

Great to see some good news from northern Haiti a year on from our visit…

Rehoboth Ministries

10644432_747742048594933_2854747544756302349_oPresident Michel Martelly gave an impassioned speech last Thursday after flying in on the first American Airlines flight to Cap-Haitian as he reiterated what had been accomplished so far in Haiti during his presidency. After having been bankrupted by greedy dictators for decades, suffering through a crippling embargo, facing a cholera epidemic and succumbing to a monumental earthquake that took the lives of an estimated 220,000 people, one had to wonder if Haiti would ever find its way again.

Columbus called Haiti the Pearl of the Antilles. It was once the richest French colony in the world. Cap-Haitian, the old colonial capital and second largest city in the nation was known as the Paris of the New World. Even Pauline Bonaparte (Napoleon’s sister) was one of its inhabitants. Today, Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere, rating as a fourth world country. Perhaps Columbus would barely recognize Hispaniola…

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Twelve baskets full OR Where the money went

IMGP2871It is hard to see how we could have gone to Haiti with anything other than an apology for the terrible legacy that white people have left the Africans of the diaspora. I don’t believe there is any other entry point than that of humility and recognition of the wrongs of the past – admitting what “our people” did and not pointing the finger at what “your people” did in return. Reconciliation and healing do not happen any other way. So even if it seems ‘too little, too late’ or a foolish and dangerous undertaking, at least it was better than doing nothing. We may have made a difference to a few individuals and planted some seeds of hope for the future but of course it remains to be seen what grows.

I don’t think I could have gone to explore Haiti simply as a tourist, enjoying the Caribbean sun and ignoring the plight of the population. We did enjoy the beauty of the island and the mountains and we did stay on after our 2 extraordinary weeks of travelling to take a shortFile0148 holiday, which was wonderful and gave us a chance to recover and to invest in the local economy, albeit the southern mulatto economy. There are some lovely hotels in Haiti, in secure compounds – of course, everything has to be in a locked and guarded compound to separate the rich and the poor who are likely to try and take what the rich have. We had breath-taking views of the  idyllic Caribbean Sea: tourism is obviously an area that could bring wealth into the country, as it does in the Dominican Republic, if there was sufficient infrastructure in place… I don’t know if that can ever happen, but there has to be hope and vision and possibility.

How to give and who to give to?

All we did in this entire venture was bring our 5 loaves and 2 fish to feed a multitude. For me that was giving up my hair to raise the money – the £7000/$12000 I collected – and going to set foot on the land with aWe are together message of solidarity. Being able to tell the Haitians we met that our words were backed up with a sacrificial action to help them was actually quite helpful: Martin was always taking my hat off and saying, “Look, my wife shaved her head to raise money for you!” It became an even more weighty responsibility, an even more precious charge, as we travelled around and saw the huge need. How could we sow this small amount of seed to make any difference at all? There are innumerable charities working there – mostly American and many Christian, but we were looking for relational connections – we wanted to support and encourage the Haitians working for their own people and country.

The message of reconciliation has to go beyond the tit-for-tat mentality of reparations: ultimately it is always about being able to soften our hearts to one another and forgive the wrongs that have been done. Yes, of course it is important that is backed up by practical help given by those who areExchanging hats responsible for Haiti’s condition, but as ordinary citizens of our various countries we were not in a position to distribute millions – nor make sure the Haitian government spends the cash that has been donated for the benefit of their population. We can canvas and petition as activists, but our role was not primarily political: we wanted to bring a personal touch. Reconciliation is about being enabled to see things from a different perspective and work together for solutions. To give the Haitians all the money we have would not solve this key issue – in fact greed is the underlying problem that led to this state of affairs in the beginning, and no man is immune from the damage that can do… Not that we wealthy whites have the right to say that to the poor… how dare we?

The distribution of my sponsorship money

What happened to the cash you so generously donated?! Actually it has taken all this time to get it distributed – we have had no end of trouble trying to transfer funds to Haiti as if the banking system itself is biased against them! Everything financial seems to be in the hands of the Americans, but my attempt to use Western Union’s online system ended up with a 6 week delay, for some reason, which must have been incredibly discouraging for the young man who was turned away by their local agent 7 times!

Photo of poster

“Money raised will be used to cover team expenses (NOT our own) and to make donations to Haiti Hospital and any other needs we encounter there.”

This was my commitment from the beginning and we sought to honour it. Joseph ZintzemeBack in October as the planning got underway and initial donations came in, I was able to give  an initial £2000 to Joseph, our African team leader, who is a missionary in the US, first of all to enable Pastor Maula to buy fuel to travel round and set up our itinerary and accommodation and thenMaula makes way! the ‘gift aid’ portion of our collection was allocated to Joseph himself to pay for his travel and associated costs, like making the team tee-shirts and leaflets. He would not take any of the “sacred seed” but the UK government was allowed to subsidise him!

Team expenses

Although we were constantly short of money for team food and accommodation during our trip – especially after the pickpocketing in theJacques Vigoreaux crowd at Cap Haitien – I was careful to guard the headshave money to give to the poor.  It was in the same charity account in the UK, but £5000 was tightly ring-fenced! However, we were able to raise the further funds we needed when the 2 Frenchmen shaved their heads on the first day and other team members found those who would sponsor them for that. This paid for the 3 Haitians who had joined us – Jonel, Kedler and Shmeed – because they obviously couldn’t afford to contribute their share to the journey. There were also several others, eg the slave descendants from Columbia, Team buswho could only afford a partial contribution so looking back it is miraculous that we were able to pay for the bus and all our other expenses atTeam breakfast all! There were daily visits to banks and ATM machines, whenever there were any in the vicinity, those with cards and accounts drawing out what they could. I know and I had known from the start without the money I had raised it is unlikely this expedition would have happened at all.

Haiti Hospital

I had promised to give a large donation to Haiti Hospital in the north, Haiti Hospital Appealnear Cap Haitien. You may notice, if you have read through all the posts, we never got there! It was far too difficult to travel and we couldn’t have separated from the team: our schedule was too full. Martin and I thought about going north again at the end of the trip, but we were too tired to attempt the gruelling journey or even pay for a plane flight.  So on returning home we made contact with them and apologised – they understood perfectly! – and sent £2000 toward their amazing work with mothers, children and rehabilitation. Haiti Hospital Appeal is a home-grown UK charity that is always worth supporting – and some day we may even manage to visit it!

Independence Soup

January 1st is Independence Day in Haiti. Throughout the island the people share in a feast and the soup they eat is a deliberate celebration of Joumoufreedom: it is apparently what the French slave-owners used to eat at new year and the slaves who made it were not allowed to have any. See this link. In his preparatory travels around the island, Joseph had met a lady who was planning to gather communities across Haiti to a feast on 1st January 2014, and although we would all be at home by then we felt it would be appropriate to make a contribution as an act of reconciliation and to promote unity around the table between the different groups who would be there. I sent $1000 of ‘hair’ towards this, which was gratefully received 🙂


Seeds sown in Gonaives 

Pastor Maula and his wife Elda run the church, school and orphanage we visited in Gonaives – see Independence City. As we travelled with this man A new generationand he served us in so many ways it was not difficult to realise he was going to be a reliable and worthwhile recipient of a good proportion of my precious headshave money: it is exactly these native Haitians who are working so hard for their people that we most wanted to sow into. We know their vision to build an orphanage – and more than that to network with others across Haiti who want to see change brought to their nation through investing in the children – is the most effective way of spreading hope. It is a privilege to have sent them $3000 towards this work.


It was wonderful to find an equivalent person to connect with in the place we felt most drawn to on our travels – the small town of Mole-Saint-DSCN0230Nicolas on the NW tip of Hispaniola.  Pastor Wisler Portillus is also a member of the city council and has been working with 2 other pastors to improve the lot of his townspeople since 1979. He and his wife run a church and radio station and try to help as many of their local families as possible. We have had a lot of communication with him since coming home and sent $1000 of the headshave money to help the hungry children we encountered in that lovely place.

Investing in young people

Meeting the localsIt became very clear to us in Haiti that any investment in a young life is not wasted – not just in a country like that, but anywhere in theSchoolboy world! As well as the many children and youths we met in the towns and villages we were living in close proximity for 2 weeks with 3 prime candidates on our team, whose lives had been changed by our visit and who had to go back to managing without us when we came home: Jonel, Kedler and Shmeed.

It is so hard to know how much money to give when everyone is in need: I had to feel my way and it took a while to decide what was the wisest course Kedler, Doggy, Sergeof action. We felt so attached to Kedler in particular and Martin warned me about a ‘holiday romance’! It was important to come home and cool off and pray before doing anything. But it was obvious Kedler’s main need was to have his own computer. At 27 years oldKedler he had become stymied in his development and education through lack of money – unemployed, living with and dependent on his mother, yet a very gifted and intelligent young man with leadership qualities who was keen to continue spreading the message of Lifeline among his countrymen. Kedler eventually received $1000 of the money and has been in constant communication by email and facebook since then, telling of his adventures, sending photos and news in a mixture of French and Google-translated English. We love Kedler.

Jonel is younger – 23 years old – and has had the benefit of having trained for a year with Youth With a Mission. He speaks reasonable English and Jonel & LovensheSpanish and has some US sponsors for a mission he calls ‘YouthinChrist Minstry’ based in a village outside Saint-Marc. He is also in regular contact via facebook and really impressed us when he took a 3 year old malnourished boy who had no-one to care for him into his home as his adopted son. So Lovenshe got $300 and we are continuing to support Jonel as he educates and feeds another 88 children every week in his ‘youth club’. Well done, Jonel!

Finally, Shmeed, who had worked with Kristian from YWAM making a resting!film about our expedition – watch this space!?! – was in need of some fees to pay his way on hisShmeed course and in danger of having it terminated if he didn’t find sponsorship. When you have a specific need like that which will make the difference to a young man’s future it is obvious to help if you can. My last $500 went to Shmeed.

I am gratified to have been able to give my hair and your money to such varied and appropriate people and projects: to me it feels like collecting 12 baskets full of leftovers from the tiny portion of loaves and fishes 🙂 Not that my sense of satisfaction means much when faced with the magnitude of the problems there. But at least seed has been sown that otherwise would not have been and now we have some specific places and people to focus on and invest in as we look for a harvest in Haiti.



Saint-Marc sans chaînes, mais Jacmel dans la joup

HaitiWe left our delightful base in Gonaives on Tuesday 26th November to drive all the way to Jacmel: this was a long journey to do in one day (I heard some locals express doubt that we could actually do it!) It took us all the way from the northwest region to the south coast and inIMGP2828 addition we had a scheduled stop in Saint Marc, half way between Gonaives and Port au Prince, to do our 6th walk. Maybe this is why I lump the march in Saint-Marc and the 7th one in Jacmel together in my mind – they were at least superficially similar enough after all the previous places that had been so individual that they could almost be on different islands!

Similar – but different

Alternatively, maybe I just connect them subjectively because Saint-Marc was the onlyIMGP2824 place we walked that we didn’t also stay overnight – though we did enjoy some lunchtime hospitality at the Youth with a Mission (YWAM) base there, courtesy of our team film-maker, Kristian’s, white American family. But then we boarded our bus again and went straight on, over the incredible southern mountains – though we couldn’t see them on the way as it was dark! – to another kind host family in Jacmel.I felt that there were other similarities between the 2 cities, though – a more prosperous Centre of Saint-Marcfeeling, cleaner streets and better buildings, apparently thriving businesses, building and trading going on – the city centres certainly seemed less down-at-heel than the places we had been to in the north. Perhaps we were sensing the north/south divide between the poor, mainly black, north and the prosperous mulattoOld Jacmel building population in the south and a transition from former to latter as we neared the conurbations around the capital city. Or maybe it was simply that we were well over half way through our expedition, on the ‘downhill slope’ of our trip now and the end was in sight after the difficult beginning with the cultural clashes of the initial weekend, exhausting terrain and having so much to get used to.

At that point, of course, we still thought we would have a big finale in Port au Prince on the last day, so there was some nervous anticipation about that. But in fact Jacmel ended up being our last march in chains and the fortnight ended with a gentle wind-up in our hotel, safely locked away from the anti-American demonstrations that threatened to make the city unsafe for white people – see Write Out  from 8th January for more about that. 8th January? yes, it has really taken me that long to process and document this life-changing trip beginning to end! And I’m planning another photo gallery next and finally the information about where the headshave money has been given before I am done. Phew!

IMGP2781Whatever the similarities – whether real or perceived – there was one big difference between these 2 places for me, as my French title suggests: in Saint-Marc, for the only time apart from Port de Paix, I was not walking in the chains but alongside the coffle, supportingIn the yoke those who needed water administering and giving out leaflets – which meant I could see more and take more photos (good) but also had the challenge of speaking to people (more challenging). In contrast, the following day in Jacmel I was not only back in the procession, but for the first time in all the years of Lifeline 2 women, Fiona and I, shouldered the yoke (joup). Both these experiences took me even further out of my comfort zones than before! Here are some comments from my journal about those days:


This march had a strange and rather intimidating start with us trying to find a space to crushedlay the chain in the dirt next to a parked lorry and being pressed hard by the crowd. It was very hot. There were a number of men closely alongside on motorbikes who were either being threatening or escorting us! Meanwhile I was running along onescort the opposite side of the road giving out leaflets to the onlookers: “Explication! Partege!” (explanation – share) and stopping to take some photographs where I could. I remember many frowns, eagerness, urgency and sweat, having problems getting back across the road and being left quite a way behind. I had to run to catch up, which apparently was a terrible sight to behold – a wobbly, old white woman with a red face! 

Then we reached the central plaza, a beautiful new park, empty of people, with a locked IMGP2784gate! But the workmen were willing to let us in and we found very welcome shade in the central gazebo/bandstand. A crowd followed – there motorbikes were NOT allowed! – and they gathered at the foot of the steps so Joseph had a natural stage complete with acoustics and an attentive audience. Those in the coffle all knelt down and it was a particularlyIMGP2787 meaningful exchange: a retired senator stepped forward to speak for some time, asking where the Spanish representatives were (we didn’t have any, only Columbians) and giving the crowd a history lesson. He then graciously spoke forgiveness and released the white people from the yoke and chains: the crowd surged forward in response, smiling and hugging the team. 
Meanwhile I just lay down in the shade behind the coffle, truly spent and grateful for the IMGP2793shelter and security of the covered area! Martin was talking to groups of people around the back and he called me to join them, so we missed what was happening, but around the back of the gazebo friends were being made. As the crowd dispersed we had to waitIMGP2816 for such a long time while the team went to the bank again – they had to go every day to get enough cash to pay our way. Patience is one of the things we’ve really have to develop on this team, through long meetings and debriefs and translating and waiting to travel and eat… In San Marc I was so very hot, tired and dehydrated – at the end of my tether physically. It was a profound relief when our bus took us to the YWAM base for Coke and chocolate  and rest – but we left behind some very thirsty children :-/
Throughout our trip Fiona had felt especially burdened by the statistics of children from 8-15 years old who were transported to Haiti in the latter years of the slave trade. Children were easier to fit into ships, easier to intimidate and less likely to rebel en route and would give many years of service :-/Jacmel was the primary place in Haiti where children had been landed. As women on the team we had been seeking to identify with the pain of the slave women – hence my headshave. Here was a new level of pain, that of mothers whose children were torn from their arms, and we wanted to do something more to honour their memory and mourn for the young lives that were ruined:
I remember the faces of the team and their sadness as they put the yoke on us and the terrible things white men did to the weak and vulnerable hit home once again. The yoke IMGP2868really did rub my neck and it took all my concentration to keep carefully in step with Fiona so as not to jar and hurt ourselves. Once in the square after all the explanations and translations we knelt down to make our apology and we ended up down on the hard ground for a long time until the man who took on the spokesman’s role got to the point where he was willing and realised we were waiting for him to set us free. It was also very difficult because there were quite a lot of TV people and reporters that accompanied us in Jacmel and they were so focussed on pressing in to listen to what was being said that they nearly stepped on us down on the ground! There is nothing you can do in that position other than try to shift the weight off the pain in your knees. Then we had to wait some more while the local man tried to work out how to undo the yoke… all very humiliating and it makes you realise just a little of whatIMGP2873 people have gone through all those years ago. 
Trying to speak to strangers after all that is even harder and more vulnerable – all you want to do is go and hide somewhere! I hate not having the language, not knowing whether to smile or look sorry, the heat, the chaos, the waiting. In the park in Jacmel there were many schoolchildren and vendors who came past after the event and one very angry girl who probably missed everything we said was shouting that she would never forgive white people for what they had done!


Independence city


The top picture shows the devastation caused by hurricanes in both 2004 and 2008

As my clip from Wikipedia notes, Gonaives has it’s own particular claim to fame in Haitian history: it is known as Haiti’s ‘City of Independence’. It was here that Jean-Jacques Dessalines declared the former Saint-Domingue, independent from France on January 1, 1804 by reading the Act of Independence on the Place d’Armes of the town. This is where we would end our afternoon walk and address the crowd, in the grand paved square in front of the great mural of the revolutionary generals.

But first we were to experience the welcome and hospitality of the people who make up the community to whom our host is the pastor. Arriving at the Jean-Marie building – a school, church and orphanage rolled into one – and clambering out of our tap-taps we were welcomed into a clean and colourful hall, full of well-dressed families and beautiful children in bright matching tee-shirts all sitting in disciplined rows. These people were gentle, affectionate and respectful – and the 24 small children sitting together on the left were clearly those that had been taken in by Maula and his wife when they had been turned out onto the streets when their old orphanage suddenly closed down. You cannot help falling in love with the beautiful Haitian children!

This was a joyful morning as we were introduced to the church, stood up to share our stories and give greetings and watched the groups of young people performing their dances.

The message we brought to the church – and especially the children and young people – is that they are the future of their country, the hope of Haiti. Education is clearly highly prized and these are ambitious and confident young people. Those who can pay go to school from the age of 3! Maula runs a school for some of those who cannot pay. But after secondary education, without sponsorship or outside help there is nowhere else to go. We met several wannabe doctors, but they can’t get to university. One of the saddest things we encountered was the many men in their 20’s and 30’s with no jobs or energy after being knocked right back again: no wonder they are angry!  The young men on our team were in the same position, really, spending their time as they could trying to do what came to hand, but living off their mothers’ market produce in family huts. There is no lack of ability in Haiti, but a lot of disillusionment and hopelessness.

Gonaives, the city of Toussaint Louverture and of the Declaration of Independence has been a hotbed of revolution in the past. We prayed to plant seeds of a new revolution among this rising generation, mustard seeds of faith and hope and a vision of young leaders growing up to lead their nation out of the cycles of poverty and corruption. Big prayers!

In stark contrast to the colourful morning of celebration, our afternoon walk took us once more through the hot dusty streets, where we encountered beggars, refuse and thirst in the scorching sun. When it came to my turn, I knelt on the steps of the Independence monument to address the crowd and afterwards the team had many good conversations with the local people. There was one white face in front of us – a tourist from Germany – so at least I was able to go and explain our purpose to him! I found the times of talking and explaining very hard and was grateful for those team members who were more confident in French and sign language. This was another reason I gave myself to my role in the chains and the identification with the historic slaves – but more about that in the next post.

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Gone to Gonaives

FarmingWe travelled from Mole-Saint-Nicolas back to Gonaives on Saturday 23rd November. This area of the western coast is low-lying and has suffered many floods and there was some evidence of barren hillsides caused by deforestation as the trees have been cut down to use in the commonly-used charcoal burners. Although so much of the island seems very fertile and farming is widespread the problem of loss of topsoil was becoming more apparent as we headed south toward the urban centres and the mountains appeared gaunt rather than covered in trees and vegetation.

Gonaives is the home-town of our host, Pastor Maula. He had found us some wonderful Garden refugeaccommodation in a compound that was like an oasis in a desert – and we would be enjoying a day of rest there on the Monday. The owner was a local woman who had trained in agriculture in Canada and with her architect husband come home to help her people by developing this hotel and garden. They had lost it all twice through the severe floods and were in the process of waiting for finance to rebuild once again! This lady was an inspiration, showing what Haitian people can achieve if they are educated and resourced. LambigShe also had a call from her daughter in Paris soon after we arrived, saying she’d seen white people in chains in Cap Haitien on the internet and it must surely be a spoof or a joke? She was able to respond that these same people were now under her roof! It was another place of refreshment for us with a peaceful atmosphere, a pool and good local food. They sold hand-made Haitian jewellery – another great encouragement to see what people are capable of to improve their lot: we all bought many Christmas presents there as an investment in the economy!

Lovely bedroonOnce again this was such a contrast to life on the streets outside in the dust and heat: it is hard to be happily enjoying such comforts, knowing others are hungry and poor not far away. However, that is true of our Western lives all the time and being in places like this actually made it bearable for those of us who are not used to such a lifestyle. Also we were aware we were being looked-after and shown some of the more prosperous side of Haitian life, which is also part of the island’s story. Although we would never get into the centre of Port au Prince in the end we saw tourist magazines about nightclubs and restaurants there – President Martelly himself was previously a famous Haitien musician in what is a very lively Hotelmusic scene – and as we were soon to discover the south of the island, dominated by the mulatto population has a lot more obvious wealth and successful businesses.  All this discovery and the adjustments we were having to make was like a journey of conscience going on at the same time as our physical journey! When you are faced with the poverty on a daily basis there has to be some way of finding a response in order to cope with the feelings raised – unless you simply become hardened to it. The message seemed to be that we might not be able to do everything, but we can all do something. This dilemma is beautifully put in an ancient quotation from the Talmud (Jewish writings) which a friend showed me on return home:

“Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly NOW. Love mercy NOW. Walk humbly NOW. You are not obligated to complete the work but neither are you free to abandon it.”

Our reconciliation walk was our way of doing something – and meeting real Haitien people that I could later give my head-shave money to, knowing they would use it wisely – and so we woke up on Sunday morning anticipating a rather different day with even more personal human contact as not only was a walk planned for the afternoon, but in the morning we were the guests of honour at Pastor Maula’s church. As in many African cultures, Sunday is a very special day in Haiti and we were expected to dress the part for this occasion, so the shorts and tee-shirts were put away in favour of shirts, ties and dresses! On the way to the service we passed this group parading and celebrating the Lord’s Day in their very finest clothes: I cannot imagine how they manage to be so well-turned out all the time with such basic accommodation and laundry facilities!

Sunday best

Sunday best