The American Welcome Mat Has Been Pulled

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Our country is deeply divided on many issues, the most recent concerning immigrants from Muslim countries. I find it disturbing that the wealthiest country in the world is shutting the door on those that are the most marginalized and in need of our grace and acceptance. Arguing with those who don’t believe as I do doesn’t work. But sometimes personal stories cause others to stop and consider how we may appear to the rest of the world.

I have felt more acceptance and a welcoming spirit during my travels abroad than I have felt from my own neighbors here in Minnesota. During a recent trip to China, our guide became lost during a 6 hour trek thru terraced rice fields. When asking directions of a young man on the path, he offered to show us the shortcut to our final destination. He saw that we were wet and cold and had us stop by his house so that his elderly grandmother could fix us hot tea and serve us oranges. Three hours later we arrived safely at our destination and he waved at us as he turned and walked back home.

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I have been welcomed into humble Haitian homes and served a Coke, knowing that the family may have skipped a meal in order to purchase the beverages.

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When we traveled to Kenya as part of a medical mission trip, my group was hosted and feted almost every night for hours at a stretch.

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Tapestry, a movement I co-founded to increase interfaith dialogue and acceptance, has been welcomed into Muslim, Jewish and Christian places of worship in the Mpls area. Unfortunately, it has been the Christian places of worship that have expressed more reservations when it comes to accepting the beliefs of another religion. In an attempt to spread the wonderful work that we are accomplishing, I have spoken to representatives of churches outside the metro area about hosting similar gatherings in their communities. I have not been successful in receiving a single invite. Those Christian communities who follow the same teachings of Jesus that I do – welcoming the poor, oppressed and marginalized – won’t let anyone cross their threshold who doesn’t “accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior”, to quote one person that I spoke with. And yet we Christians have been warmly welcomed and hosted by both a synagogue and a mosque.

Even Pope Francis has spoken out on the treatment of refugees by Christians. “It’s hypocrisy to call yourself a Christian and chase away a refugee or someone seeking help, someone who is hungry or thirsty, toss out someone who is in need of my help,” he said. “If I say I am Christian, but do these things, I’m a hypocrite.”

One final story about why America is already great. This picture depicts a Chinese American girl born in China, a girl whose father was born in Ecuador and a girl whose mother has survived breast cancer twice due to medical research in the US. These girls used their time last weekend to help pack reusable menstrual pad kits for less fortunate girls in Haiti. What are you doing to keep this country great? Are you reaching out to those who are less fortunate with a helping hand? Or are you supporting the America First Agenda where those who have much refuse to share with others. img_1551

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Seamstresses Without Borders in Haiti

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You may have heard of Doctors Without Borders or Engineers Without Borders, but you have probably not heard of Seamstresses Without Borders, as we have just started the first branch in Limbe and Ranquitte, Haiti. Ellen Schreder and Abbie Ahner traveled to Haiti this week to work with Haitian women who are interested in a microfinance loan thru Helping Haiti Work, but do not have a pre-existing business. We have been collecting fabric over the past few months and 6 – 50 pound suitcases followed the women on their journey over potholed and washed out roads to the rural village of Ranquitte. Ellen and Abbie are helping women with basic sewing skills develop a business plan for constructing and marketing the items that they sew. We will be continuing to encourage the women to use the reusable menstrual pads that I have written about previously, in addition to reusable diapers and mens and womens underwear.

The board of Helping Haiti Work has had numerous discussions about how we can make this business sustainable but also profitable for the women. Too many projects that are started in the developing world falter and break down when funds to sustain the enterprise dry up. Using donated fabric and supplies, purchasing remnants of fabric and using used flannel sheets has allowed us to keep the cost of each item low enough so that a profit can still be made when the women sell the items in the local market. Unfortunately, flannel fabric is difficult to find in Haiti so most of the fabric will need to be brought in by volunteers.

The first day of the project went beyond our expectations. The sight of an electric sewing machine (the norm in Haiti is a treadle machine as electricity is variable) generated much excitement when women saw it in operation the first time. During a teaching session about business models, women brainstormed new ideas building on the sewing program. One woman wants a loan so that she can purchase fabric in Cap-Haitian and then sell to the sewers so that they can focus on sewing. Women wanted to teach their sons and daughters to sew to increase production. Although cooking is considered women’s work in Haiti, many of the tailors are men.

Free handouts to those who are poor are easy and make the giver feel fortunate and superior. The recipient, however, does not benefit to the same degree and is left waiting for the next handout. Programs such as this are much more difficult to implement, involve more time on everyone’s part but create a sustainable business that will be in place long after the Americans have left. Haitian women also benefit by realizing that they have the power within themselves to make a better life for their family and their community. They no longer need to rely on handouts and can replicate this same business in neighboring communities.