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Doors: Opened and Closed 

Last year, EcoCafé Haiti celebrated our 10th anniversary, an adventure that started with a simple idea, to enable rural Haitians to be economically self-sufficient. That simple idea has grown in complexity and, as a result, has tasked those that are part of the company and the Ranquitte citizens that the company supports; nevertheless, it has proven to be a highly rewarding and fruitful endeavor.
In addressing the Boy Scouts of America recently, Donald Trump stated, “When one door closes, another opens in an unusual way.” (Washington Post cartoon depicting the quote).

So, the saying now is immortalized. If only it were that simple. Over the last 10+ years, our company has had numerous instances of doors that opened, perhaps miraculously, perhaps coincidentally, and many doors that closed.

Closed Doors and Haitian Roadblocks

It took less than an hour or two upon our arrival in Haiti when Mike English, trusted partner, and I encountered our first closed door, a roadblock (two-foot-wide, three-foot-deep, hand-dug, trench across the road) created by some angry Ranquitte citizens to prevent traffic on the one and only dirt road leading into the town in which we operate. As it turns out, the citizens were upset that the Ranquitte magistrate had not fixed very rough areas of their section of the road, an unusually rough road that was made even rougher by recent monsoonal rains. Mind you, there are no “road crews” in Ranquitte. Actually, there is no one in the town’s government, other than the magistrate, to address problems such as these. The local gendarmes (two smartly dressed guys with shotguns, most likely without shotgun shells) and the magistrate were faced with a difficult situation. How do you resolve this problem? After less than 15 minutes of conversation/negotiation, our executive director and truck driver, Georges Derval, perhaps weary from our long drive, found several timber planks and created a makeshift bridge to subdue the treacherous divide. Although a gallant idea, our truck quickly lost track and the rear axle ended up in the ditch. Plan “B” consisted of all onlookers (10+ citizens, including the magistrate, men, women, and children) lifting the rear axle of Georges’ truck out of the trench. We made it to our location soon thereafter.

Ironically, on our way back to the USA, we spent the night in Port au Prince, Haiti’s capital, expecting to depart early the next morning via a taxi to the airport. Unfortunately, the citizens of Port au Prince decided it would be a good time to protest suboptimal, minimum wages. As a result, they blocked one of two roadway entrances into the airport, thus limiting our ability to depart Haiti. Sadly, with an 80% unemployment rate in Haiti, one must wonder how a minimum wage increase would benefit anyone other than the few who actually have jobs. As before, we skirted the demonstration and left Haiti unscathed.

More Closed Doors

Other interesting and somewhat comical door closures from the past include:

  1. One unsavory citizen, who needed some steel bolts for some unknown reason, decided to pilfer the four bolts that secure our pump to the well we use for water. Subsequently, after repairing the damage, we had to cordon off the water well from public use to avoid a repeat performance.
  2. Another spry citizen, who liked the idea of our solar-powered light affixed to the top of our coffee mill (a 25-foot shimmy up to the top), decided they would benefit more from its use than the purpose it serves, one that allows our employees to work after dark. Now we only use flashlights to illuminate the facility if working late.
  3. A former employee who decided that the late evening theft of 10,000 coffee plants from our nursery was worth more than their employment. We are still tracking the whereabouts of those plants.
  4. The Director of Taxation for northern Haiti who insisted upon a bribe before allowing our shipping containers to be released from the port of Cap Haitien. After five, eight-hour, days of non-stop negotiation, we reduced the bribe to a mere $3,500, only 10% of the original bribe request.
  5. The suspected theft of 200 lbs. of prime coffee from our drying racks by a local woman neighbor, stealing handfuls of coffee at a time by scaling a 6-foot-tall concrete wall multiple times, a wall with chards of glass affixed to the top of the wall to prevent such things. At an estimated 12 oz./handful, it would have taken her 267 trips to complete the entire theft, roughly two times per evening for the entire harvest season.

With that background, one cannot help but wonder the genesis of doors that close. Theologically, they are simply a facet of our fall from grace and testament to our sinful nature, or they are created, or at least allowed, by God. Further, if God has His hand in their origin, one must wonder if the door was closed as a test of faith, or as a sign to go in a different direction. Lastly, if the closing of the door is a test of one’s faith, perseverance, and resolve, at what point does one admit defeat? (Hint: Just ask Jonah, Job, Daniel, Joseph, David, or Abraham for the answer).

Opened Doors

Equally puzzling, but far more enjoyable, are the times in which doors open, “sometimes in an unusual way,” doors that appear to open without effort and are either coincidental or miraculous. We have more than our deserved share of doors that opened, including:

  1. The relationship with Christian Flights International (CFI). It was not a planful discovery that initiated our relationship, one that has lasted eleven+ years. It was a simple Internet search, subsequently leading to a conversation with then-director, Scott Mandl. Scott explained CFI’s need for economic development and resuscitation of their agriculture/reforestation program, a perfect match with our mission, one that led to our sustained relationship and the first opened door.
  2. After a year of discovery and several trips to Haiti in 2005/2006, I realized that the only economic opportunity that fit with the community’s skills and resources had to be agriculturally oriented; yet, I did not know anything about agriculture other than what was learned through home gardening. A call to the Specialty Coffee Assn. of America led to the name of a renowned coffee agronomist, Dan Kuhn, who subsequently agreed to help us, doing so as a special favor and visiting Ranquitte multiple times over the course of two years (6,600 miles from his home in Hawaii). Without Dan, EcoCafé Haiti would not be, an unusual door opening to say the least.
  3. The funding of our start-up consisted of my personal investment and two kick-start grants from an organization in which my former seminary professors were board members. I didn’t initiate the prospect of funding; they did!
  4. The largest donors to EcoCafé Haiti were the founders of a former client of mine. The company owners, Douglas and Gerry, agreed to donate a large sum to the EcoCafé Haiti cause as a condition of my support to help negotiate the sale of the company, a sale that served as their exit plan after 30+ years of entrepreneurial dedication. The closure of one door led to the opening of another.
  5. After eight years of “going it alone” in Haiti, my gas tank was near empty. On yet another solo trip to Haiti, I departed Ranquitte and literally ran into Mike English, the head of a mission team entering Ranquitte. We had a brief exchange of no more than five minutes. Once Mike returned to the USA, he emailed me to offer his support, time, and expertise to the cause. It has been a true partnership ever since. This door remains open.

On balance, I cannot complain. The few setbacks that have been encountered with doors closing somewhat suddenly are far less significant than the numerous doors that opened, ones that opened in mysterious and unusual ways; however, the question remains. Were these doors opened or closed by a force greater than sheer coincidence? If so, what was the intent? I am betting that God had His hand on each/every door, including the ones that opened and those that closed. Only time will tell if I am wrong.

EcoCafé Haiti's role to effect change and offer a lasting solution

EcoCafé Haiti's mission is to enable economic self-sufficiency in rural Haiti (through coffee cultivation, processing, and export sale), to restore the environment back to good health, and to feed the poorest of the poor, a tri-fold holistic mission statement. Each element of the mission is connected to the other, and all three need to be addressed simultaneously. To restore the environment (ecological problem) without addressing the economic problem (poverty), to resolve the economic problem without feeding the poor (society problem), or to attempt to do either without addressing the relational issues (spiritual problem) simply repeats mistakes of the past.

Although we started the company as an economic development endeavor, the purpose/mission of the company expanded to address the primary needs of the Haitian people for food and shelter, needs that superseded the benefits/efforts associated with coffee cultivation/processing/sale.

By reducing and potentially eliminating the Haitians’ concern for food and shelter, we do away with their primary sources of dissatisfaction. Now, the task shifts to provide each farmer and each employee with the opportunity to experience the self-satisfaction from their contribution to a higher cause—economic and social independence.

Concluding Remarks 

Each element of the work we do is based upon relationships that need to be restored, the relationship between humans (without roadblocks), between humankind and the environment (without deforestation), and between humankind and their/our God/creator, a God/creator who opens and closes doors for a purpose greater than our understanding.

With God’s grace and your support, we are in the midst of fulfilling our vision for rural Haiti. So, if you find it in your heart and have the ability to support our efforts, your donation in any amount would be greatly appreciated. If you choose to support the program through donation, kindly send a check to Christian Flights International, 309 S. Bragg Street, Perryville, Kentucky 40468. Be certain to write “EcoCafé Haiti” in the memo section of your check. As in the past, your donation is fully tax-deductible.

Thank you for your support, prayers, and blessings. Without you, this program would not have gotten off the ground. More important, without you, the people in Ranquitte, Haiti would be far less able to lift themselves out of their precarious condition.

Tom Durant


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