This week, our World Relief U.S. offices have been celebrating Volunteer Appreciation Week by sharing stories and celebrations in honor of all the volunteers who serve with us across the United States. Today, we’re expanding that celebration by highlighting one of the many volunteers who serve with us globally.
Recently, World Relief Haiti’s Esther Pyram connected with Suzette over the phone. Suzette is a volunteer with World Relief Haiti’s Outreach Group Initiative (OGI). Suzette’s brother, Dieuquifait, is on staff with World Relief Haiti, and her mother and husband also serve as volunteers.
You can read Esther’s interview with Suzette below to find out what volunteering as an Outreach Group volunteer in Haiti is all about.
What is your name? Tell us about yourself and your family.
My name is Suzette Louis. I have been married to Prince Octavius since March 31, 2012, and God has given us three boys. It hasn’t always been easy for us because he was a widower with children, but God helped us to find balance in our marriage. We have been living in the town of Terre-Rouge for eight years, and we are members of the Gerizim Baptist Church.
Tell us a little more about yourself. What are your favorite foods to eat? What kind of music do you listen to?
I really like small ripe bananas with ground corn. I don’t have a favorite kind of music, but I do have a dream to learn dressmaking. I think it would allow me to help my husband with some of our household costs.
What is your favorite thing about where you live?
I love Terre-Rouge because it’s an agricultural area and I love the culture. We don’t have problems with livestock or farming and the people here are very supportive.
How did you get connected with World Relief and what made you decide to sign up as a volunteer?
Our church is part of one of World Relief’s Church Empowerment Zones (CEZs) in Haiti. This means we work together with a network of other churches in our region to meet the needs of our communities and share the Gospel at the same time.
When a church joins a CEZ, the pastor chooses someone to attend trainings with World Relief. This person then shares what they learned with their congregation. Illiteracy is a big problem in my community, but since I attended high school and can read and write, my pastor chose me to attend the training. Since then, I have been assigned more tasks and responsibilities as World Relief has brought more programs to our community.
World Relief is like a branch of my family. My husband works to recruit other churches to join our CEZ, my father and brother-in-law are both pastors and their congregations are part of our church network. My mother volunteers with World Relief’s outreach groups (just like me), and my brother is on staff with World Relief Haiti.
Suzette is pictured here on the left with her brother, Dieuquifait who works for World Relief, her mom and her husband — both of whom volunteer with World Relief.
Tell me more about what an Outreach Group is. What kinds of things do you do as an Outreach Group volunteer/team member?
Outreach Groups are teams of church volunteers that go into the community and visit families that are struggling and need help. I help train volunteers using the information I receive from World Relief. Those volunteers then provide their communities with lessons in things like marriage and family, finance, health and faith. I support these volunteers as they go out into the community and visit homes. Sometimes Outreach Group volunteers are nervous, but after training and encouragement, they take charge of the work and enjoy it. The changes we have seen in families that have received visits from our volunteers have been very encouraging.
Every week I also volunteer with World Relief’s Families For Life (FFL) program by providing married couples with lessons on God’s view for marriage, gender equality and how spouses can love and support one another.
What is the most challenging part about volunteering with World Relief?
In the beginning, volunteers were not welcomed by some families. But today there is a very good relationship between our volunteers and the families they visit. Families testify to the positive impact these visits had on them and keep on thanking us.
The other thing that was hard for some volunteers initially was that World Relief doesn’t pay them for this work. In Haiti, volunteers in other programs have often been paid for their work. It took some time for people to understand that what they are doing is a part of God’s call for the church and an act of ministry. In the beginning this was really hard for our volunteers because many households they visited were unkind and humiliated them a lot. But I thank God that this has changed and there is a lot of progress in the community now.
Can you tell us a memorable story about one of your home visits?
I helped my brother-in-law and his wife who were experiencing trouble. The couple was separated, my sister-in-law had abandoned the family home for several months and was preparing to move to Port-au-Prince. I started meeting with each of them separately for a time, but then I organized some sessions and insisted that both of them should be present together. I am always happy to say now their life is much better. The husband agreed to buy a piece of land in Thiotte and they went to live. They have built their house, the husband is working, they are doing very well now.
I also had a volunteer who refused to go for training because she wouldn’t receive any money and she is a very busy woman because of various activities she already had. So I went to her house and taught her the lessons and then I also accompanied her to visit the households. I am happy because she is now one of my best volunteers. Her name is Dieunise.
What do you dream of and hope for your community?
Terre-Rouge is a good area, but I would like to see the people in my community continue to grow in respect for one another as we work together. Sometimes people are not well organized or have a bad habit of not respecting the time or showing up for meetings. I would like them to be more conscious of that. I also want to see more development for Terre-Rouge. I pray to God to send us the support for the construction of a health center and a school for the area. The children are young and they have to walk for more than an hour to get to the pre-school in Marchasse.
How have you seen lives transformed through the lessons you share as a volunteer/team member?
As soon as World Relief started coming with the programs we saw a lot of change. Husbands began accompanying their wives to church. Thanks to the Outreach Groups, many new people have joined savings groups and are now members of our Families for Life program. They have learned to respect basic hygiene principles and many have built tippy taps — simple outdoor hand washing stations, which has become very important right now in fighting the spread of the COVID-19 virus. There is a lot of good change.
How has your life changed personally since becoming a volunteer/team member?
I have learned that if you only give advice and you never take it, you will struggle because people only will follow if you practice what you say, if your testimony is strong. I’ve also learned that there will always be things that will bother you, but being in a leadership position means you have to approach issues with tact and discretion. Volunteering has helped me to communicate better with my husband when we disagree about something. It has also helped me to practice the rules of hygiene and follow the advice we give to other families.
How do you spend your time when you’re not volunteering?
I live off the land. My husband is also a farmer, and I thank God our children can go to school, their school fees are paid and they have enough to eat. But apart from volunteering with World Relief, I also support other child health and agricultural programs in my community.
How can World Relief staff and volunteers around the world be praying for you?
Pray for my family to know God. Pray for a better financial situation in my family, because it is not always easy for us. My husband is getting old and can no longer work the land as he used to. Pray for my dream to learn dressmaking too. Pray for more love between the children, my community and my church. Pray for me, pray for everyone. I will do the same for you.
We are grateful for volunteers like Suzette who put love into action by serving others right within their own communities. Our mission to serve the most vulnerable would not be possible without Suzette and the thousands of other volunteers who serve with us across the globe.
Rachel Clair serves as a Content Writer at World Relief. With a background in creative writing and children’s ministry, she is passionate about helping people of all ages think creatively and love God with their hearts, souls and minds.