As I enter my third week in Cap-Haitien, I'm beginning to focus more of my energies on the coming school term at the Centre d'Agriculture St Barnabas (CASB), where I will be teaching English to both first and second-year students. Just to clarify, CASB is both a 2-year vocational agricultural school as well as a center for wider community engagement in agricultural practice. Classes at CASB are set to begin next Monday, October 12th.
I had the privilege of attending the CASB 2015 graduation with Episcopal Volunteer in Mission Dan Tootle, program manager of the CASB revitalization campaign. Graduation was held this past Sunday at the local Episcopal parish in the commune of Terrier Rouge (where CASB is located). Graduation was divided into two parts, the first being a full Eucharist service and the second being the actual presentation of diplomas with speeches by students, the director of CASB and faculty.
The graduation, as most graduations usually are, was a joyful event. The graduates who gave speeches spoke beautifully, thanking the CASB faculty and staff for their support and encouragement and for seeing them through to this important stage in their education. The director of CASB, an Episcopal deacon, spoke about the importance of remembering Haiti's historical ties to agriculture. He stated with confidence that the CASB graduates would be major contributors to Haiti's agricultural production, all the while using their skills to help enrich the land, thereby providing for others and initiating prosperous agricultural cultivation across the northern region and all of Haiti.
One of the things that struck me immediately about this particular event was how obviously proud, happy and excited the graduates, their family and friends were on this day. The church was packed full of people, and the joy of all connected to CASB was clear. It occurred to me that this event, like many other "milestone" events around the world, was purposeful in that it was designated as a time for communion with both Christ and with one another. This was a time that had been deliberately set aside for rejoicing in both our relationship with God and our relationships with our neighbors.
After the service, we went outside of the church to speak with some of the graduates and some of the CASB partners and staff. As we were chatting with various people, I overheard something that one of the clergy said in Creole (although I haven’t learned Creole yet, there is enough French in it that I’m able to catch words here and there and sometimes even full sentences). I’m not sure why she said this, or in what context, but it made me think about the pure, sacramental joy of this day and the hope that is spawned by communities that make up CASB and the Episcopal Church in Haiti. She said, “we are all baptized into the same community, so we help each other when life becomes difficult."
What was so remarkable to me about what this priest said was how she said it. She said it in a way that made it feel completely commonplace. She wasn't preaching or in a church and she wasn't making some kind of formal declaration about the Christian faith. It was just a simple truth about how Christ, in his communion with us, simultaneously brings us into communion with one another, thereby obliging us to serve our neighbor as we attempt to serve Christ. Her feeling that this was a totally natural thing to say in normal conversation reminded me that communities that are formed around communion with Christ are the most important communities we are apart of. Whether we like them or not, whether or not we see them outside of church or school, we are called to love and serve them because we have been in communion with the same God. We are bound by the Christian message to love our neighbor.
I continue to be grateful for my placement in Cap-Haitien and at CASB, particularly because I am reminded that the community of CASB is built on the community of the church-- an institution that, above all else, endeavors to maintain communion with God. Words like those of the priest on Sunday make me want to draw closer to the communities of CASB and of the Episcopal Church. I have already been graciously welcomed and warmly received by the men and women I have met and I am excited to continue getting to know those who I will be in close communion with this next year.
I hope to have more pictures in my next post, but I did take a few photos today of the CASB campus, which I have included below!
Front sign at CASB entrance
Front view of main school building
The front gate of the school was designed from various kinds of reclaimed metal and oil barrels in the 1980s
View of the hills on CASB property
Rabbits kept at CASB for a project with Food For the Poor nonprofit organization
One of our more frequent visitors at CASB