In November of 2014, 6 LKNB representatives were honored to be invited to visit Limonade, Haiti by Sonje Ayiti (Remember Haiti), a

LKNB President, Jamila Walida Simon getting to know Sonje Ayiti Director, Gabrielle Vincent
powerhouse, locally led, non-profit organization led by the remarkable and brilliant Gabrielle Vincent and Steve Mathieu.

Sonje Ayiti is a group of Haitian and international  humanitarians who collaborate to uplift the Haitian community through education, economic development, and health promotion.  We had been introduced to Sonje Ayiti through Jonathan Back, a long-time LKNB volunteer, and then oriented to their work by the Rev. Dick Daily, Sonje Ayiti’s International Director of Development, whose family has been ministering to Haiti for over 60 years.

This collaboration represents a departure for LKNB from our typical engagement.  Rather than serving in the disaster zone near Port-au-Prince, we were called to do our 2nd wave recovery work in northern Haiti, where thousands of people escaping the earthquake have migrated, swelling an already over-burdened infrastructure in the Cap Haitien area.

This was also our first chance to deliver the “4th R” of our service, revitalization of communities.  We visited several of Sonje Ayiti’s 27 programs, which all function on the philosophy of “koud-a-koud,” or shoulder-to-shoulder.  This principle became the inspiration behind our new Neighbor to Neighbor program.

We were impressed with the many ways Sonje Ayiti gives their neighbors access to greater opportunities for self-sufficiency.  We saw agricultural

We were welcomed with singing and dancing by the Virtuous Women of RAFAVAL
projects, a chicken processing plant, an outdoor cafĂ©, goats being raised and sold by members of the community, and a cooperative business of women, called RAFAVAL, who produce delicious Haitian chocolate out of locally sourced cacao.   We’d love to support RAFAVAL’s chocolate to be sold here in the U.S., but this is beyond our scope.  If anyone has expertise in the area of international trade, please get in contact with us so we can support the work of our amazing sisters at RAFAVAL.

Finally, we visited the Cima School in a small, rural town near Limonade.  The residents of Cima are vibrant and resilient, and in the past 5 years they have taken in many children and families orphaned by the earthquake.  The living conditions are rustic and the life expectancy is lower than average in Cima.  Sonje Ayiti has helped them create their first school, which started out in a UNICEF tent.  Later, Sonje Ayiti was able to build a three-classroom, open air school, with blackboards, benches for the children, and a solid metal roof.

We were so moved by the palpable importance of the school to members of the community.  Some teachers walk 8 miles to and from school every day, for much less than what teachers are paid in the U.S.  We learned that the teachers had nowhere to sit or place their personal and professional items during the day, so we designed a project to build the teachers chairs, desks, and shelving units for each classroom.

Gabrielle Vincent at one of the new desks she helped build with LKNB crew leaders
We delivered the new classroom furniture to the teachers on the last full day of our visit, a day which tragically brought a tropical storm that led to dozens of deaths in the community due to massive flooding.  This event would have dominated the news if it happened in the U.S., but it barely registered in the international community.  It brought home the thin line between life and death that many Haitians walk every day, and the vital importance of the expression we learned from Steve Mathieu, which translates in English as, “Today was difficult, but tomorrow it will be better.”

One of our intentions for our trip was to learn from Sonje Ayiti if there was a project we could support from a distance, according to their most pressing needs.  We were so excited to learn that they wanted us to collaborate on a project to build a new, modern school in Cima, that would fulfill many of the needs of students and their families, such as a nutrient-rich meal every day, clean, safe water to drink, electricity, and modern sanitation facilities, in addition to spacious and fully-enclosed classrooms.  Their enrollment is at approximately 150 students now, but the current school cannot accommodate that many.  This year, there was no space for the 4th graders, so they had to return to learning in a tent.

Two devoted Cima students who can learn and thrive in a modern school, with our support
We are honored to assist the building of the new Cima School, and would like to see it completed in 2016.  Working with Sonje Ayiti leaders based in both Limondae and in Cincinnati, OH, we are trying to raise the last $50,000 that it will take to finish the school.  

To learn more about the powerful programs led by Sonje Ayiti, please visit their gorgeous and informative website.