Keeping Promises in Haiti

Writer Barbara Wysocki reflects on her recent visit to Haiti, and the promises being made to help its recovery.

Jane_Wynne_at_Wynne_Farm.jpgI stand at my kitchen sink remembering Haiti. How I hugged my friend Jane Wynne goodbye in November. We stood in her mountainside garden, a haven of peace though it’s just a half-hour from Port-au-Prince. We were sorry to part after four days of walking through her terraced beds of bamboo, bird-of-paradise and bougainvillea.  We’d spent time dancing, singing, drinking lemongrass tea and talking about her work as a conservation educator.      

On January 12, the land Jane’s worked so hard to protect was decimated by a 7.0 earthquake. After more than a week of worry, I finally know she’s alive and I’m grateful that most of her family and friends are safe. She’s trying to help them, and the strangers who’ve walked more than 13 miles uphill to her town of Kenscoff. They’ve come for food, water and shelter, though Jane has little to give.  

Like the generous Haitians I’ve known in the decade I’ve traveled with Haitian Ministries, Jane always has open arms. A 60-ish woman with salt-and-pepper hair, a gentle voice and infectious mirth, her unfailing determination to save Haiti’s erosion-scoured hills is matched by her willingness to help others.

Haitian Students in MazeBack in November, Jane invited me to join seven eager young professionals who’d driven two and a half hours for an ecology workshop at her conservation site, Wynne Farm. In a country where clean water and proper sanitation are always a challenge, these bright-eyed, good-humored men and women were seriously committed to improving their hometown, Leogane. Maybe you’ve heard of it: this small city was the earthquake’s epicenter.

Sitting on narrow, wooden benches that day, they took copious notes, asked dozens of questions and dug right in when Jane showed them how to build a compost heap using black plastic bags and create fuel with compacted sawdust. They were enthusiastic about making art paper from donated document shreds, and twisting supple shoots into bamboo bracelets.    

At the end of each workshop Jane encourages everyone to walk a leaf maze carrying a globe. In the center each person makes an ecology promise. They vowed to plant a bamboo grove, teach children to pick up paper and use technology to learn more. I stood back until they handed me the globe. I promised to compost, but I got turned around in the maze until the group’s young writer, Ruth Telfort, stepped over and led me out.

News reports say Leogane is 80 percent destroyed. I can’t reach Ruth or her friends. If they’re alive, I’m sure that like Jane, they’re trying to help their neighbors. But what happens when lives and promises are buried? Will the world reaching out to Haiti now keep its promises?           

I dump my coffee grounds and a banana peel in my compost bucket. In the face of Haiti’s enormous losses my efforts are meager, but promise-keeping comforts me while I wait for word from Leogane, and the day I’ll hug Jane again. 

Photo: Above, Haitian Ministries; Below, Barbara Wysocki



  1. Ruth Telfort
    September 2, 2011, 6:54 pm

    Hi Barbara,
    I am glad to read your article. I want to tell you that my friends and me are alive. I had a leg injury in the earthquake but after all, I am fine. We keep praying for Haiti.

  2. Chantel
    April 16, 2010, 3:59 pm

    Hi Barbara
    It’s heart-warming to hear about all the goodwill and generosity of some people when others are in desperate need of help.
    I only hope and pray that the world does not forget about Haiti with the passage time.
    resume help

  3. Barbara Charland
    January 31, 2010, 2:25 pm

    Love the story Barb. I was fortunate enough to meet Jane a couple of times on my visits to Haiti. Although I was in Haiti with you in November I was not able to experience Jane and her farm but had my own experience of sister parish in the mountain.
    My experiences over the last 10 years of travel and connection with Haiti and the people have shown me how they were trying, with education to better life for themselves. They are not lazy but resilient and faithful. They give praise and glory. There is a huge faith, love and trust. These are all qualities we can learn from.
    Keep the stories going as other people need to hear about Haiti and I am anxious to return to see friends that I have not heard about yet. My love, thoughts and prayers are with them.
    Thanks Barb.

  4. Somchai Yhai
    January 31, 2010, 12:53 am

    This is the interesting personal story. Personally I have donated some money to save Haiti from this disaster. Thank you Barbara for the great post.

  5. Ann Cochran
    January 30, 2010, 9:27 pm

    It’s the personal stories like this one that make the tragedy that much more heartbreaking. I believe the world will not abandon Haiti anytime soon. It may end up a better place, at a grotesque cost of lifves lost.

  6. Irene S. Levine, PhD
    January 29, 2010, 7:21 pm

    Lovely post; thanks for sharing!

  7. Sheila Callahan
    January 29, 2010, 6:06 pm

    Great post, Barbara.

  8. Doreen Pendgracs
    January 29, 2010, 5:28 pm

    Heart-felt story, Barbara. I certainly hope all your friends are safe and that peace soon comes to Haiti. Its people have certainly had their share of disaster and suffering.