The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.
Much of the conversation around abundance centers on the power of the mind to attract material wealth. While there certainly is powerful evidence supporting wealth creation through the power of the mind, the reality of infinite abundance applies on an even more profound level.
When the soul of an individual, connecting to God’s will, is drawn to the truth that our purpose in life is to strive to reflect the qualities of God and express them by acting in the service of humanity — and when that individual sets out on a path, undaunted, to place all the energies that can be mustered toward a clear and concise goal aligned with that purpose — the universe will rush to the aid of that individual, delivering capacity and resources beyond imagination.
I think of this when I think about Dr. Mary Sue Carlson, a truly amazing woman who has been serving a community in Medor, Haiti for 20 years. As a Baha’i, I believe in serving people from all walks of life. Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, said that we should “Consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship.”
Dr. Sue, as her many friends in Medor call her, has served through her Catholic church, Our Lady Queen of Peace (OLQP) and an affiliation with the Parish Twinning Program of the Americas (PTPA) which has, for more than 40 years, twinned some 300 U.S.-based Catholic churches in one-on-one relationships with an equal number of rural communities throughout much of Haiti.
Over the initial years of her service, Dr. Sue, then an ophthalmologist with an active practice, frequently traveled to Haiti. Getting to Medor is a challenging trek that generally requires a four-hour donkey-back ride, but Dr. Sue has faithfully gone again and again and again. Working tirelessly year in and year out, Dr. Sue and her Haiti committee have raised enough resources to build schools that educate 3,000 students annually and have introduced a host of services — including 10 tree nurseries located in each of the communities within the Medor district.
The tree nurseries are attended to by hundreds of farm families participating in the Smallholder Farmers Alliance’s (SFA) “tree currency” program. This extraordinary program trains and encourages participating farmers to plant and nurture trees by creating a service more valuable than the cutting of trees for charcoal — a practice that has deforested Haiti, and contributed to its extreme vulnerability. Farmers who participate in this program receive credits that they can redeem for crop seed, farm tools, livestock, and agricultural training through agronomists assigned to participating communities. In addition to reforestation on a mass scale, which helps address climate change, this SFA’s program increases crop yield and improves the farmers’ incomes an average of 50-100%, also tackling food insecurity and poverty.
In 2016 I was asked to become the executive director and a board member for a small nonprofit, which I rebranded as the Raising Haiti Foundation (RHF). The foundation was struggling financially, and I agreed to help — but only to serve as executive director for one year, at which time I hoped there would be enough funding to hire a replacement. The year came and went. While we raised some funds, we weren’t stable enough to hire staff at the executive level.
Enter Dr. Sue. I met her in late 2016 and knew after spending half an hour talking to her that she was the one who could help take our fledgling organization to a new level. At first, she was reluctant because she felt that she would have to split her loyalty in a way that would limit her ability to serve Medor and its people. But, I persisted, and she finally agreed to serve as my co-director, even though she felt she wouldn’t be able to meet the role’s responsibilities. How wrong she was.
Having been an entrepreneur for over 20 years, I have worked with scores of people. Never have I encountered someone more adaptable, hardworking, dedicated, and ego-subdued as Dr. Sue. She was so capable of managing the most complex projects while forging through weeds of confusion and piles of exasperating minutiae.
She’s never accepted a dime for her work at a job that few NGOs would be able to afford at its actual value. Dr. Sue was truly the find of a lifetime — a sign that I took as a personal confirmation of the commitment I made to do my best to help Raising Haiti.
The challenges that Sue and I soon faced together were daunting. We would often commiserate about sleepless nights fretting over difficult issues that ultimately required us to separate the foundation from its original Haitian partner.
That separation led us to establish strong partnerships with SFA and PTPA. As I began to understand SFA’s work, I realized that our foundation’s primary mission — “to foster the creation of wealth in rural Haiti” — could be most effectively achieved through supporting SFA’s need to expand exponentially. Our mutual goals matched perfectly. We also developed a strategy that would build upon the extraordinary work Parish Twinning had accomplished over four decades.
We call our strategy, “Community Twinning.” Why not, we asked ourselves, follow PTPA’s lead and develop new, more expansive, twinning relationships? These new partnerships could be driven by individuals who would attract others from diverse backgrounds. These new communities of interest would raise additional resources allowing the addition of time-proven programs in support of tens of thousands of women and smallholder farmers throughout Haiti.
Toward this aim, we formed a task force in early 2019 consisting of the leadership of our three respective organizations and began slowly making headway. In addition to opening four new Haitian communities to SFA’s programs, we funded two new tree nurseries and a lending program in the Medor region.
What Sue had discovered, as she recounts, is that the possibilities in service are not limited at all. Her efforts to expand her thinking, despite the fears she had held about dividing her loyalty and precious time, actually elevated the possibilities. In addition to opening so many new communities, increased resources were flowing to Medor.
But, that’s only part of the story. The rest is unfolding as I write this. While the creation of our task force opened new vistas, the developments were happening at too slow a pace considering the magnitude of Haiti’s challenges.
Then COVID-19 struck. Due to high poverty, malnutrition, and a lack of sanitation, Haiti is one of the countries most vulnerable to the devastating impact of the virus. In response, our task force sprang into action and formed the Haiti COVID-19 Preventative Response consortium (Haiti-CPR). Connections were made with several other organizations, bringing a wealth of services and hard assets together.
These services include a distance training program with physicians remotely providing training on prevention and best practices, a team of college alumni serving as community coordinators, and teams of local community members. These community members are while practicing social distancing and wearing face masks, being taught in their respective communities how to visit their neighbors, share prevention best practices, and dispel the often misleading rumors that abound in the absence of reliable information.
A Haiti-CPR coordinator has been hired, some 10 communities are now being trained, and 20 more have transpired identified. A call has gone out to every Haitian development leader in each of the 300 U.S.-based churches in PTPA’s program, asking them to reach out to their entire church membership and their friends and associates. We’re asking them to join a Zoom event where the available programs and resources will be introduced by the consortium members. The event will also be live-streamed on Facebook.
In working with several organizations over the past several weeks, we are astounded by what we are hearing and seeing. Attitudes everywhere seem to be shifting in the face of this pandemic. Over the past four years of struggling to make a dent in the seemingly intractable challenges that Haiti has faced for decades, I have often felt a sense of frustration at the sometimes territorial attitudes of groups that have tried to assist Haiti but resisted working with one another.
But there seems to be a new movement stirring. It is a movement of the heart. Souls, even among the leadership of the most formidable institutions, are articulating the need to come to this challenge with “a humble posture of learning.” There is an evolving realization that, while we may have worked in isolated spheres in the past, individuals from diverse backgrounds and Haiti-interested NGOs must work together to find creative ways to accompany the people of Haiti to mitigate the terrible impact of COVID-19.
Our entire team is running now at a breathless pace, buckets out, praying to catch every resource the universe is raining down. While none of us can be certain where this is going, here’s what we do know: Together, we are each working as hard as we can to assist our Haitian partners to bring COVID-19 preventative assets to their fellow Haitians in as many communities as possible, while at the same time feverishly working to build capacity to reach many, many more.
This process has been one steeped in wonderment. Each hour brings fresh occurrences that make it crystal clear that all things are in the hands of God. Anything we possess, whether wealth or talent, are gifts from God. When we use those gifts in his service, humbly joining with others to accompany those who need assistance, a universe of possibilities we never before imagined opens.
The universe is wreathed in limitless abundance. But, to truly access the possibilities, it comes down to these three words: We are one. The example of Dr. Sue’s service reminds me that our earthly and eternal happiness lies in recognizing and acting on this reality. It’s an anthem God has raised in varying measures as humanity has evolved in its collective capacity to understand over the ages. His message has been delivered via every one of his prophets — those luminous souls who have established each of the world’s great faiths. They have each given essentially the same message: Love one another. Serve one another. Care for those less fortunate. See the face of God in every soul.