In this blog post, UUSC President Rev. Dr. Bill Schulz shares the latest from the UUA/UUSC Joint JustWorks Seminarian Trip to Haiti.
Leaders from UUSC, the UUA, and our two UU theological schools arrived in Port-au-Prince yesterday to join 10 seminarians (including three who had just graduated the week before). We missed having UUA President Peter Morales with us but he was felled by illness at the last moment. Our destination was Hinche, a town about three hours’ drive from the capital where UUSC’s partner, the Papaye Peasant Movement (MPP), has its headquarters. MPP was founded in 1973 with 17 members and today boasts more than 100,000 throughout Haiti. Its fundamental mission is to support sustainable agriculture in rural Haiti — reforestation, potable water, eco-friendly building materials, etc. The seminarians were here to partner with MPP in construction of a new “eco-village” that embodies these values and technologies. UUSC has utilized funds donated by Unitarian Universalists following the earthquake of January 2010 to support this work, which serves many displaced by the catastrophe. This visit inaugurated what President Morales and I hope will be a long-term commitment to ensure that every person preparing for our ministry be engaged for a period of time in the developing world.
Haiti evokes two common responses: empathy and cynicism. To truly encounter the enormity of the tragedy here, and not just the recent one, is both to risk a broken heart (which can itself be discouraging to efforts to rebuild) or a sense that Haiti is beyond repair. But to meet Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, MPP’s charismatic founder and president; to meet members of MPP and their families who insist that a better life is within reach; and to work with them to realize their dreams (even, in my case, in the simple and — for me — uncharacteristic task of passing stones from field to house construction site) is to be dissuaded from such pessimism. The seminarians are learning many lessons here, but among them is the paramount one that leadership means resisting the seductive temptations of both empathy and cynicism.
What moved me as well was the precedent this venture sets for a cooperation among four of Unitarian Universalism’s preeminent institutions: the UUA, UUSC, Meadville/Lombard Theological School, and Starr King School for the Ministry. These entities have not always pulled in the same direction. On this trip, they certainly are.
Tonight the institutional leaders are back in Port-au-Prince to meet tomorrow with UUSC’s partners based here. Stay tuned.