Take care with tender shoots

In advocacy, as in mission, accompanying and being present is a big part of the effort. Visiting a small community in Haiti with local colleagues, I saw this in action. It was beautiful.

“He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.”

— Isaiah 53:2 (NIV)

Tumors restricted my father’s capacity to take a deep breath. He could walk only about 10 feet before stopping. Taking a deep breath took too much work. My father who had worked hard every day of his life – building up the family farm he loved so much and watching his kids grow up – struggled.

The cancer didn’t stop him, of course. It only slowed him. Every morning that summer, he walked into the back yard of my parents’ small house to check on his tomato garden.

The grass had grown tall that August. When my brother David brought his lawn tractor over to mow it, Dad had a strict warning for him:
“Watch out for that little tree. Don’t cut it down.”

David later said he could barely see the tiny sapling for the grass. He carefully mowed around it, and he continued to watch out for it in the months that followed, after Dad died and before Mom moved in with another brother.

Twenty-six years later, if you drive past, you will see the tall maple tree looming over the small brick house.

Dad taught us always to look out for the tender shoot.

Fabienne Jean, Yvette Michaud and I visited with members of a women’s organization in Thomazeau on Wednesday. Stepping out of the Landcruiser, I saw a handful of students in beige school uniforms heading back to class. They waved shyly, expectantly, paying little attention to Fabienne, our network coordinator, and Yvette, a coordinator with another Haitian farmer organization.

I’m the blan, the foreigner.

The students went on their way, but one little girl remained. She wasn’t wearing a uniform, signaling that she doesn’t attend school. Her family might not have the money. She might not be able to learn as quickly as the others. She motioned to me that she was hungry, then she smiled.

Her name is Esthelande. She’s 10 years old. She walked with me to the meeting, holding my hand, speaking quietly. She waited for me when the meeting was done.

I introduced Esthelande to Fabienne and Yvette, and immediately Yvette greeted her, asked her questions. She realized she knows Esthelande’s mother, and she instructed the girl to tell her mother that she needed to be in school. That if she needed help, to ask.

Like my father, Yvette looks out for the tender shoots.

Driving home to Port-au-Prince, the three of us along with our driver, Louko, talked about the crops in the field.

Thomazeau is located on flat land alongside Goat Mountain, between Port-au-Prince and the border with the Dominican Republic. Like the rest of Haiti, the crops are subject to severe weather. Years of drought followed in cycles by heavy rains.

We passed fields of just-planted beans. The tiny plants are a few inches tall, in healthy looking soil now. Soft rains between sunny days will promote a solid bean crop, but that hasn’t been the case recently.

These tender shoots are at the mercy of a changing climate.

Fabienne is the coordinator of our advocacy network here. Fondasyon Ayiti Men Ansanm translates as the Haiti Foundation with Hands Together. It is an initiative of the Presbyterian Hunger Program. Eleven grassroots organizations make up the network, and an executive committee governs it. Though FONDAMA was chartered in 2009, we’ve only begun the true work of advocacy campaigns in the past year, learning together the root causes of Haiti’s poverty (threatened land tenure, climate change and food imports are among them) and working with others to make positive changes.

It is challenging work. And in many ways, FONDAMA is a tender shoot.

I believe in tender shoots. I believe that we all are fragile and are made to look out for one another.

People often asked me what hope I find in Haiti.

My answer, always, is the people of Haiti I am humbled to accompany.

When I watched Yvette, who I had only until that moment seen in a board room, embrace 10-year-old Estherlande and encourage her, my heart filled with that same hope.

I pray for steady rains interspersed with sunny days so the tiny bean sprout will burst into goodness.

I pray for Estherlande to find encouragement and a healthy future.

I pray for the growth and continued partnerships of FONDAMA.

But I know that tender shoots, when recognized and care for, can grow tall and healthy.

My father taught me that a long time ago.