Bob and Denise Snyder are members of St Gregory parish in Smithville TN. This year they are celebrating their 20th year commitment as lay members of the Salvatorian family.
The seeds for The Haiti Project were really planted in the mid 1990s when Denise, with Bob’s help, led a youth group on an annual World Vision 30 hour famine over a period of several years.
The 30 Hour Famine is youth centered overnight activity where the youth, and adults leaders, fast from Friday noon to Saturday at 5:00 pm. Activities range from sessions on third world conditions to volunteer work projects. The main thrust is to experience sacrifice and empathizing with the true poor of the third world.
In the late 90s their children were graduating from high school and they were no longer participating in the 30 Hour Famine. At this time they became aware that St. Gregory took up a monthly collection for a “twin” church in Haiti.
When they became aware of the twin parish, they asked their priest at the time, Fr. Jim Bretl, about it. His response was “I don’t know, let’s go find out. Denise responded, “I don’t know where Haiti is.” And Fr. Jim told her, “You better look at a map”.
Their first trip to Haiti took place in the fall of 2000. They discovered that:
When you see some things, you cannot un-see them.
When they returned to the states they started raising money for children to go school. This program is still active and it is only $90 a year to sponsor a child in school.
Next they started collecting during lent to buy food for the children to eat lunch.
Soon they found their selves in the middle of most aspects of the community, from medical missions to water projects, to helping build church buildings, school buildings, clinics, houses and an agriculture center.
They now, 16 years later, would like to share something they have learned.
Poverty is defined by both lack of resources and a lack of choices. The poorest of the poor have few choices with few resources. They are faced with making a choice like, “Do I spend the only five gourdes I have on clean water, or do I buy a piece of bread, and drink from the polluted river?”
With little if any education, how does someone know how to make a good choice, such as, “When I sell my vegetables in the market, do I buy more food, or do I buy my child a “treat” such as a Tampico?” (Tampico is a sugary fruit-flavored drink with little or no nutritional value.)
Sustainable change begins with people. It begins by asking, “What problems do you want to solve?” – Not “what do you need?”
They have found that people need to be asked what they do have; because the first step out of poverty is for people to value what they have. And only people themselves can change the way they view their resources. The only control a person has is over himself/herself, and the resources he/she does have.
If you do not value what little you have, it will be taken away from you.
If you do not value your water, it will become polluted.
If you do not value your trees and cut them down, you will lose your soil. If you do not value your opportunities for education, you will spiral down in ignorance, destroying future generations as well.
But, even if you have little, if you use it wisely, it will grow and you will have more.
Small seeds grow into big trees.
Their work in Haiti has evolved. For years they worked from the top down. They depended on a few “point” men. Their understanding of life in Haiti was filtered through just a few people. That changed three-and-a-half years ago when they were offered the opportunity to live in Haiti for three months at a time.
Their relationship with most people had been defined by being approached by strangers with, “give me my dolla” (give me a dollar), or “Mwen grangou” (I am hungry). To these people they were the faceless “blan” (white person/foreigner).
They now have chosen to refuse to be diminished to that identity, as well as refuse to accept the people they meet in the well-established stereotype as helpless victims.
Shortly after their perspective shifted, they began putting these principles into action by inviting peasant farmers to a monthly meeting.
From the beginning the focus of the meetings was, “What problem do you want to solve?” It took a year of meetings before the group, which numbered between 12 and 20, understood that they could do something about the problems they were discussing and take ownership.
Now, instead of “rescuing” people, the Bob and Denise are partnering with people to find solutions.
They are doing this by facilitating adult education workshops. Bob and Denise are not experts in education, but one thing Haiti has is selfless volunteers that are looking for opportunities to use their gifts and talents. Bob and Denise are collaborating with these volunteers to lead these workshops, and develop local Haitians into leadership positions.
To date they have held four workshops, three agricultural workshops, introducing new crops, such as vanilla, to how to increase food production in small areas, and they have held one for women focusing on nutrition. Each of these workshops directly impacted between 150 and 200 people. When people left the workshops, they shared the information with their friends, family and neighbors.