STRETCH – Get comfortable with being uncomfortable!

STRETCH – Get comfortable with being uncomfortable!

By Rebecca Obounou,

As I reflect upon 2017 and what it has meant for me as a leader and for my team, the single greatest word that comes to mind is “stretch”. Researchers have shown that stretching is a key part of a healthy exercise regimen that increases physical strength, agility and prevents injury to the body particularly as the body ages. As we have been building our experience and credibility as an organization, an onus was placed on us to do more to respond to the demand in Haiti for the training, financing and mentorship that we offer. The more and more I have worked in Haiti, the more I realized just how blessed and privileged I am. There is a greater responsibility to give back –to give back my best. It feels like our team has been holding a never-ending yoga stretch pose. Have you ever engaged in one of those yoga poses where it’s so hard that you have to will yourself and to pray to keep that pose? Jillian Michaels the celebrity workout personality says in many of her workout videos, “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable!” That is definitely the space in which every CHES team member has been living this year. We decided to go with the right thing this year as opposed to the easiest thing.

We committed to hiring a full-time person on-the ground in response to the obvious demand on the ground in Haiti. When you think you’ve mastered a yoga pose, you find that there is always a way to intensify that stretch pose because the person next to you is doing a fancier version of that same pose. We decided to abandon the helicopter approach that served its purpose for us in the past and try a new approach. We have placed our stake in the ground and have decided to become localized in Haiti. We have been learning so much! It’s been exhilarating and frightening all at the same time. It has been a test of faith to hold onto the ground that we have claimed. So many times we haven’t known how we would make it to the next month but we are still here and we know that no matter what we will make it; we must make it. In a conversation with a French woman who is married to a Haitian man now living in Haiti with her family, she shared her journey to Haiti. The most memorable thing she said was, “You should never be afraid to change.” That sentence keeps coming back to me. Change is certainly a part of stretching. The muscles elongate and strengthen. Change is good.

Everyone involved in our activities this year have been stretched in ways they never imaged. We grow wiser, stronger, more humbled, and more blessed. We are more confident in what we can achieve together. This last May, our board member Venita Bell Shaw led our first large-scale event in years: Voyaje: Experience a Taste of Haiti, featuring Chef Stephan Berrouet-Durand (view event recap video here). Vanessa Etienne has thrown herself into her new role as CHES’ full-time Haiti operations fearlessly taking on the high demands of this role – some of which are foreign territory to her. Marcia Roseme, left her life in New York city to support Vanessa’s ramp up for this summer. I’ve found myself adapting to greater visibility such as the panelist opportunities at Diaspora Challenge Initiative (DCI) and the Haiti Tech Summit. I have found myself pitching for funding for our important work more than ever before. We all continue to selflessly give our energy and our scarce time, and resources.

Thankfully, we’ve have the support of many encouraging people. People have messaged, texted us to encourage us to keep going. Others have gone beyond that and voted for us with their dollars and/or referred us to others in their network. We’ve been blessed to partner and to have the support of amazing organizations like Jubilee Christian Church (JCC) and Centre Haitïen du Leadership et Excellence (CLE). Their leaders serve as a source of inspiration and examples to emulate. They are like the expert yogi that are holding the more advanced version of a particular pose. It’s because of them that we are where we are today and are pursuing the things we are today. Next month we will help the community of Laborde, in Southern Haiti, launch a sustainable egg laying hen farm. It’s a monumental project that will require a lot of resources. While we don’t yet have everything we need to complete this project, we do have what we need to start. And start we will! We are continuing to take on the challenges in steps of faith. (Learn how you can support here.)

This year alone has not been one of stretch –past nine years have been! The more we’ve stretched, the more stretching I’ve found that there is to do. Thinking back over the years, we have been often overlooked and disregarded. When I look at our crude and unpolished materials, I cringe and laugh to think that was part of our history. It took I would have been skeptical about me too. But we had purpose that we had to live up to – this is my purpose. In between nos came the sweetest yeses. They have felt like the much needed gulps of water one takes in the middle of an intense workout. We’re moving toward more sweet yeses.

The word “Christian” in our name has and continues to give people pause and to raise skeptical questions. I’ve even considered changing our name to acquiesce these reservations because I understand the questions. Unfortunately, religion has served as a tool for people to secure power, control and great gain at the expense of others. However, when I think back to the roots of why I started CHES as a fresh college graduate, I’m taken right back to my Faith. CHES is simply a calling. I remain unapologetic about that. While we could change our name, it wouldn’t change our roots of Faith. I understand that we must conduct ourselves in such a way that demonstrate the place of love and respect from which we come. I am called me to open doors of opportunity for my fellow Haitian brothers and sisters through business education, training and finance. Everyone who joins hands with us regardless of their beliefs are subscribing to that vision. The vision of seeing people living in dignity and free of poverty empowered through business education and opportunity.

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