Women in Haiti learning to lead the way
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
Petionville, Haiti
On a recent Wednesday morning in Haiti, 220 women, young and old, gathered together. It was a national holiday, but this gathering, while filled with celebration, had a serious purpose. These women had come to shake things up.

On November 19, women from 60 different churches in the western part of Haiti gathered on the campus of the Nazarene Theological Seminary in Petionville, Haiti, to do one thing. The Association of Nazarene Women had come together to change their churches and communities.

"We have come together for the formation of women in the church," participant Innoméne Julìus Philippe said, "so that we can live before our communities."

Those gathered talked about how to do just that by finding specific ways to meet real needs where they live. They discussed ways they could manifest Christian love in their communities. But beyond talking, they started planning.

Nazarene Compassionate Ministries Coordinator Walliere Pierre says he helped organize the conference "to help women play their role in leadership in the church." One of the ways women in churches throughout Western Haiti are doing that is through something they're calling the Phoebe Program.

Named after the deaconess who served her Corinthian community in the first century, this ministry allows women to serve their local communities in Haiti today. The aim is simple: to help meet basic health needs.

The goal of these modern-day Phoebes is to help individuals and families avoid serious maladies through preventative care and to help catch early-stage illnesses before they turn serious. Most of those involved aren't nurses or doctors, but they are fully able to drive people to and from the hospital, help give doctors the necessary medical histories of those who are sick, and aid the families who are affected. They are also receiving training that will allow them to teach community members about nutrition, immunizations, and other preventative health measures.

Claudia LoLauré, who helped organize the leadership event, says their collective goal is "to work so that we can care for others." It's a way to meet both the physical and spiritual needs of people in their communities.

Another way the Association of Women is caring for people is through microenterprise. They see a way for women to help other women escape poverty, so they're doing something about it. They're not giving handouts. Instead, they're using small loans to help other women start their own businesses. According to Pierre, the message they want to send is that "God can provide, but we must do something."

Nazarene women are also focusing on conflict resolution within their churches. The idea is to foster unity in their local congregations and ultimately among the greater church in Haiti. Normil Marie Clairmil says that by seeking unity, the women are "seeking to develop spiritually."

Joseph Clément, executive director of Church for Haitian-Dominican Dialogue, helps to create conversations that lead toward unity among Christians in Haiti and neighboring Dominican Republic. He says the November gathering is important because women can help create unity within their local congregations, and that can lead to unity on a wider scale.

"I came here to support," he says. "My hope is that the women will be able to motivate and mobilize in unity - in their churches and society and eventually the two societies."

Pierre says he hopes the leadership conference will "help women play their role in growing their churches."

Clairmil sees the role of a leader as one of development - first of individuals and then of communities. It's a holistic development that addresses spiritual, social, economic, and emotional needs by simply living out the gospel in their communities.

At the end of that day, 220 women headed home to their communities to practice living and loving in the ways of Jesus. And to lead others to do the same.

To view a video from the conference, Click here. To view photos, Click here.
--Caribbean Communications
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