Thursday, September 10, 2009

Receipts Beyond Receipts

Bonjou! This is our seventh day in Haiti and I write off-line as Jack struggles with our broken wireless connection. The solar panels that power the rectory at St. Suzanne were inexplicably devoid of charge this morning until the "technician" pulled out various live wires, sparked them together, and twisted them with pliers. But still, the wireless fails, and our blog may wait yet again for its debut.

This morning before breakfast, Madame Serge, one of the women in town, approached us on our way to the rectory. Her son, Sergo, is a second year med student sponsored by HBHH. Madame Serge informed us that Sergo could not take his exams because of outstanding tuition fees. Yet HBHH had received no bills or receipts for the money. Smiling, Madame Serge assured us that these documents had indeed been submitted to Pere Medenel--who authorizes transactions in St. Suzanne before they go to the HBHH Board. We told her that we would discuss the matter with Pere Medenel that morning.

Pere Medenel, the pastor of St. Suzanne, is in his early thirties and our host in St. Suzanne. He speaks French and Creole and fortunately for Jack and I, his English is decent as well. Between our feeble attempts at French grammar, deficient Creole vocabulary, and Pere Medenel's English, we manage to communicate reasonably well. He has a quick laugh and an easy smile, which burst forth when we speak well in French or Creole. Our meals with Pere Medenel are also punctuated with soft meows from his kitten who winds about our ankles and pulls at our shoelaces as we eat.

Over breakfast we inquired about Sergo. Pere Medenel continued chewing and shook his head. Sergo had presented Pere Medenel with all requisite paperwork and receipts well before his first year at school began. Since then, Pere Medenel had heard very little from him and received nothing--despite having made it clear what documents would again be needed. Until now, anyway. Apparently Sergo had communicated with Pere just a few days before but still failed to submit all his papers. Without these papers, tuition will not be paid and Sergo cannot sit for his exams.

Pere Medenel again informed Sergo of what was required. As for us, we will update Madame Serge, request the missing documents, and hope to hear back from Sergo. But this matter seems indicative of a general trend. Time and time again missing receipts halt HBHH projects--or result in unpaid tuition. Projects are lost in limbo or students cannot take exams because of missing slips of paper. Sadly, as a non-profit, HBHH cannot operate without receipts for tax reasons. On one hand, the equation seems simple:

project proposal + approval + receipts & updates = funding

Yet projects continually snag on the last component. By all accounts, obtaining receipts in Haiti is a Herculean task. Vendors rarely (if ever) offer them and one can obtain a handwritten version only upon determined and insistent request. HBHH operations thus hinge on the alteration of typical Haitian business behavior and strangely, the IRS is indirectly changing Haitian accounting. Haitians’ seeming failure to follow simple procedures leaves HBHH frustrated and perplexed. Americans’ seeming meticulousness often leaves their Haitian counterparts exasperated.

I’m sure we’ll have much more to say on the matter soon,



  1. It is so good to hear from the two of you. This post is so lovely to read. It is clearly reflective but also gives a little glimpse of life with a kitten trying to untie your shoes! Also... I can't believe your names is Andrea Koczela!! We love you both!

  2. Love the blog! Thanks for creating it. Miss you guys already!

  3. Fantastic to see your blog! You are much missed - know that you are also much prayed for.

  4. So, is it possible for HBHH to create a third-page document with simple receipt-type items, like:
    1) Vendor Name and Address
    2) HBHH Contact Info. (or name of student, etc.)
    3) Line Items
    4) Total Cost of Transaction

    If written on one side in English and the other in Creole or French, HBHH students and staff could hand the receipt to vendors and just have them fill in the items. Just a thought. . . There are obviously printing costs to consider, but it could be a quick solution.

    Craig and I continue to pray for you two! Love to you from Chicago.

  5. What a blessing to already hear from you. We have your missionary prayer cards at our table and plan to memorize them within the year. (It may take other family member less time than it does me!) Many prayers & love, Teresa and the boys

  6. Loved the visual of the cat pulling on your shoelaces! Is it possible to bring those cats with opposable thumbs out of Haiti? Can't wait for the next post, tell Jack to get going with the wireless :)!

  7. It's so funny!!!I've read your blog like a dramma; and in fact, it is a dramma. I can't help laughing. Keep learning, my dear friends! Not only creole, but the entire haitian life. Thank you for being part of our daily life. Se pou Bondye Granmèt la beni nou chak jou! M'ap vi'n wè nou. (May God bless you every single day! I will visit you soon)

    Pè Jean

  8. Sarah,

    Your idea is one that we've tried to implement down here. I've seen Fr. Medenel running around with a receipt booklet in his hands. The problem is that receipts are not immediately offered. Gas stations are normally pretty good about it, but what about paying a farmer or the person on the street selling cell phone cards? It seems to be a cultural difference more than a lack of material. It's like in the US, some cereal companies or juice companies encourage us to save box/bottle tops to help fund schools. Sometimes we remember, but often times it is an inconvenience to figure out what we keep or dispose of the top, etc...

    At least, this is what I have observed so far!