Monday 30 January 2017

Life is about people....

Today I leave the Dominican and Haiti and return home... My home by Canadian standards is not luxurious by any means... however I find myself reflecting on the blessings I have in a different way then when I arrived here. 

My roof has leaked but we immediately fixed it... my electricity has wavered during storms but it always comes back on and for my entire life, I've taken this for granted. My toilet flushes, I can have daily hot showers and I have water that I can drink directly from the tap. Each of my three children have their own room, clothes that fit them and have or will complete public education with an readily available option to go on to University should they choose. When we get sick, we go to the doctor or hospital and couldn't imagine what it would be like not to have those options.  We have land on which we can grow or raise enough food not only to nourish our family but many others. 

Yes, we work hard for these things but I can't help thinking that a large part of our good fortune comes from the sheer luck that we were born where and when we were. Many of the people that I have met this past couple of weeks, work far harder than I do yet will likely never see the rewards that I take for granted. 

So what do we do with that.... feeling anger or shame doesn't help, although I admit to feeling both this week. This week others who have walked this path before us, have encouraged me to think about how I can leverage my good fortune into opportunities to bless others less fortunate. Service to others has always been a strong value in my life but this experience has definitely made me think about how I could do more. 

I come home with a sense of satisfaction that we changed Liliana and her children's lives for the better. We touched the young lives of hundreds of children in Haiti.... I just know that amongst those faces are the future community leaders that will lead the people of Calvaire to rise above the conditions they were born into. 

Live Different is the organization that made this possible for our team. I have to say its quite an amazing and inspiring group of people. This organization has created a pyramid scheme of kindness and giving that can have ripple effects around the world. They focus on working mainly with Canadian youth to live differently and to make the world a better place. They create leaders that will have impact far greater than a couple of weeks a year. Having been involved for many years with 4H, I am impressed with the way in which Live Different engages youth, teaching skills that this world needs more of. Keep doing what you are doing! You are on the right track! 

As I pack my suitcase, I think about the group of people who journeyed here with me. Some I knew before arriving, others were strangers on Day 1. We return home having had an intense experience that only we share. We cried, sweat and unfortunately sometimes bled together. We supported one another through moments of fear, sadness and joy. We all brought something different to the work that needed to be done. And we got it done! Thank you.

And now.... home! 

Friday 27 January 2017

Where do we start?

Today we spent the day at Ecole Unite in Haiti, the school built from Fransco’s dream and the school for 270 beautiful children.                                                                              

The day was full…. Full of fun and love and yet heartache and confusion. We accomplished our project of painting the new classrooms in between playing with the children. It seems cliché to suggest that all Haitian are beautiful but they are…. Their eyes are deep and soulful and watching their oft serious faces burst into smiles is pure joy.
While painting the classrooms was awesome and needed, the real power in the day came when we fed the children. Having walked through their homes the day before, we had a good idea that many children may not have eaten that day before coming to school or perhaps for several days. While it seemed small and insufficient faced with the scale of the poverty and hunger, leaving those beautiful children with a fuller belly, a bright place to study and some much needed school supplies, felt wonderful.

This trip….in particular the Haiti portion, has raised so many questions and thoughts. I find it difficult to process them all and anticipate finding it impossible to share the profound experience with those back home. 

While feeding those children for one day was great… they and their families need food security on an ongoing basis… they need sanitation infrastructure in their community and electricity in their school. They need homes. 

It all seems overwhelming… it makes you question your priorities and plans for your own life, it makes you feel shame for your own good fortune. We need to help but in ways that are not a hand out… they need a hand up so they can live a dignified and sustainable life.

I don’t have the solution. Organizations like Live Different who organized our trip are a start but they can’t be the complete answer. Haiti is the third poorest country in the world. Yes, there are other communities and countries that struggle with similar issues, even inside Canada. There is enough food and resources in the world for everyone yet so many go without while others live in excess. How do we correct this… where do we start?

As I said, I am not sure, but I think it starts with each of us….

Wednesday 25 January 2017

To make a house a home...

Today we turned over the keys to a house and watched the creation of a home. A powerful end to a year of planning, fundraising and dreaming. An end to four days of construction by a team of fifteen who literally poured their blood, sweat and tears into every bucket of cement, every shovel of dirt, every cinder block... Watching fifteen people join with the family and the community of Nuevo Renacer to create a small and modest home for a woman with a huge heart was inspiring and overwhelming. 

Liliana and her two children were given the key to their new home... a key to a door...the first time they have had a home with a door that locks and a roof that doesn't leak. A home that will withstand the floods and keep them dry and safe. 

The week has been bittersweet as Liliana's story is sad and uncertain. Battling cancer, she is not certain that she will live in her home long but gains tremendous peace and hope from the knowledge that her children will have a home no matter what her future. We are ever hopeful that this hope gives her the strength she needs to fight the disease ravaging her body. 

A key figure for me this week has been the community leader, Sandra. This beautiful soul cares very deeply about the people of Nuevo Renacer and has worked tirelessly to leverage the help of organizations like Live Different to gain what her community needs to thrive and rise up. 

Watching her walk throughout the neighbourhood, was a powerful experience. She was clearly respected and loved. She was everywhere at once and made such an impact everywhere she went. 

As we were leaving, I took the opportunity to thank her for her love and care of this community. With her limited English and some gestures she told me that she doesn't do anything alone and that we are all better when we are together. She linked arms with me and tugged and said 'see, no pull away.. we are stronger like this'. While not an unfamiliar concept, coming from a woman who has made such a significant and palpable difference in a community that many would prefer to forget, was a potent and graphic example of leadership.

In all it was a day of many tears, much joy and important lessons we won't soon forget. 


Friday 20 January 2017

A day of impact....

As many of you know, I (Leanne) have the incredible opportunity to be in the Dominican Republic and Haiti right now. I am part of a team of awesome people who are building homes, schools and other infrastructure for people who live in conditions that are overwhelming. Floods, poverty and government inaction mean they are surrounded by garbage, filth and poverty. However, today I also saw the wealth of community and love that they live within and was humbled by their grace and ability to find joy. 

We are working with an incredible organization called Live Different which has built over 200 homes, schools, and other vital infrastructure. Today we had the opportunity to visit two communities (one rural and one urban) that Live Different has working in. We met many incredible people but two stand out for me. Two community leaders.... not because they were elected or sought power... leaders because they have stepped up, walked with their community and filled needs. Pastor Challa saw overwhelming need and knew that education was the first step. Sandra's love for her community radiates clearly from her beautiful face. 

Today we also met Lalita and her two children, whose home we will be building. A woman who is struggling with overwhelming health challenges, yet shows such grace and gratitude for us. The connection was instant and powerful and I look forward to getting the chance to get to know Lalita and her family. 

As I prepare for bed, I am processing many thoughts and feelings... the most powerful is my reaction to the beach. While I took pictures, I don't think they do justice to the scale or power of the garbage and squalor that flows through the community and lands on the beach. All the garbage from the wealthy city folk is washed down the river and ends in the homes and lives of the beautiful people I met today. As I stared out over the vast expanse of trash, I felt shame, immense sadness and rage all at the same time. I can't begin to unpack all the thoughts and feelings that the sight created for me. 
Tomorrow we return to the community and begin to build. It will feel good to take action, however small. Lots to think about....

Sunday 25 December 2016

Week #52 - End with Gratitude

This week ends a full year of weekly blogs of my random thoughts, pictures and musings from the farm. The year has flown by once again and I find it hard to believe that we are once again heading into a new year.  

Last year I shared a picture a day from the farm, a challenging yet rewarding practice that I enjoyed immensely except on the days I didn't. I enjoy sharing our successes and stories of folly and fun from the farm. I love hearing from the few of you who follow along and hope that every once in a while you get a chuckle or learn something new! 

Today is Christmas Day and as we get set to eat a meal fully grown here on the farm, I feel immense gratitude that we have carved out a life that allows us to enjoy good food, fresh air and simple pleasures.

I hope that all of you are safe and warm with someone you love, awaiting the impending blizzard that is reportedly going to arrive shortly. Regardless of what traditions you celebrate this time of year, I hope they bring you peace, joy and grace as you move forward to a new year.


Sunday 18 December 2016

Week #51 - Worth the effort...

Many people have a favourite recipes that we make at this time of year. We haul out Grandma's shortbread or nanaimo recipes, prepare to make that special stuffing we only make once a year or enjoy some warm cider or eggnog that bring a rush of memories. 

This year, I've discovered a new favorite that will likely be a regular feature in my repertoire! Sundried tomato and basil pesto cheese torte is festive, yummy and impressive! 

Using a springform pan lined with plastic wrap, you layer a cream cheese/ricotta mixture with alternating layers of sundried tomato and then green basil pesto, freezing after each layer. It takes a day to make while you wait for it to freeze in between but it is well worth it! 

Once complete you cut in wedges with a hot knife and wrap individually. I keep them in the freezer, ready to grab and go. An impressive appetizer for any potluck! They kept well for months. 

If you don't have the ingredients or the patience to make your own pestos, you can always purchase them pre-made from your local farmers or small business shop. 

Interested in giving it a try? I found a number of different recipes on line by googling 'cream cheese sundried tomato basil pesto torte'. They were all fairly similar. Don't be scared off by various steps.... it is well worth it! 

Sunday 11 December 2016

Week #50 - Failing to plan, is planning to fail

Last Christmas, my oldest son gave me a simple gift that I use everyday! A reclaimed frame around a board that he painted over with chalkboard paint, I've used it to post a weekly menu ever since. 

Each Sunday night, I take a look at our schedule for the week, collect requests from the family and take stock of what we have on hand. 

When you raise the majority of your own food, you learn to cook what you have in abundance when you have it. For instance right now I have a pantry full of winter squash and potatoes that I need to find creative and yummy uses for! 

After almost a year of creating weekly menus, I would highly recommend the practice to anyone and everyone! Taking time when you are neither hungry nor tired to plan out healthy meals for the week has helped us eat better, reduce food waste, decreased what we spend in the grocery store, and reduced the overall stress of figuring out what to put on the table everyday. 

Now that both Farmer Phil and I are working full time off farm and the kids are all in school or university in the city during the day, there is no "supper fairy" preparing our meals in time for our arrival home. Our evenings are full with barn chores, 4H, ferrying children around and house work... anything to cut down on work is most welcome!

I find the menu makes planning ahead much easier. We can look at what is planned for tomorrow or the next day and quickly assess what needs to come out the freezer... what can be prepped ahead of time or popped in the slow cooker. At the end of the day, when you are tired and hungry, its much easier to stick with the plan than come up with something new (and usually less healthy), especially when the rest of the family is looking forward to the advertised meal. 

And best of all... we don't have to face the daily question from everyone in the house..... "what's for supper?"... we simply point to the sign on the wall!