Monthly Archives: June 2017

Milestones

On the other side of Hispaniola, we celebrated 20 years of working together. It seems like only yesterday that Eldon Garcia and I drove from Santo Domingo to Port au Prince, then up into the mountains of Haiti for the first time. We got hopelessly lost, before finally arriving in Cherident, where our principal office sits today. Just getting there seemed nothing short of a miracle, but God intervened in several other ways as well, and what had started as a lark became a firm commitment to make a difference in Haiti.

Nonetheless, I knew from day one that we were in over our heads, and the more I asked for advice the less confident I felt. However, again perhaps miraculously, Pere Albert, the episcopal priest who had extended the initial invitation, connected us to some very competent and creative local people.

Jean-Marie Desilus (Dezo) was the first of these, and very soon after, he brought in Guy Paraison to help launch a local program in Haiti. Both of these gentlemen still work with us today, and I have learned a tremendous amount from both of them.

Bob interviewing candidates
Bob Morikawa interviewing candidatesSigning initial contractsHiring Jean Marie Desilus as first Director of Floresta HaitiDezo hiring 1997

At the same time, Martin Price at ECHO suggested Bob Morikawa, who had run the ECHO farm in Haiti, might be able to help us get started. I called Bob at his home in Toronto and hired him over the phone to come to Haiti with me. Twenty years later he works full time with Plant With Purpose and in addition to Haiti, has helped to start programs in Tanzania, Burundi and Congo.

I didn’t yet know the depth of the talent that we had assembled, so my expectations were low. Bob told me that he would be happy if a few farmers learned how to use grafting knives and their families ate just a little better as a result. I was inclined to agree. That would be success.

Our first initiative was to offer a two-year program in sustainable agriculture in a local vocational school with a curriculum that Dezo created. Although there was only ever one graduating class, several of the graduates are on staff today, helping people throughout Haiti to grow more food, become more resilient, and restore the health of their land.

Vocational School Grad

Twenty years later, of course, those initial expectations have been exceeded many times over. Nearly 52,000 people are participating in the work. Three hundred twenty-four savings groups allowed people to save hundreds of thousands of dollars prior to Hurricane Matthew, making them far more able to cope with crop loss and farm damage. Furthermore the reforestation and soil conservation work they had invested in meant that they suffered less crop damage in the first place. It was amazing to see how quickly people have gotten back on their feet.

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Transitions

A couple of weeks ago, I traveled to Haiti and the Dominican Republic to celebrate a couple of milestones.

In the Dominican Republic I bade farewell to two of our longest serving employees, and welcomed another to a position of leadership.

Carlos Disla, who has been the director of our local partner, Floresta Incorporada for the last fourteen years, retires having led the organization through tremendous growth and change. When Carlos became director, we were serving about 350 families in the central Dominican Republic. Under his tenure, we moved away from more traditional microfinance to savings groups. Fully integrating savings groups into the program allowed us to significantly scale up work, while concentrating in key watersheds. Today, thanks to the leadership Carlos provided, we work with nearly 5000 families in three distinct geographical regions.

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Estela (Felicita) Rodriguez, who has been a part of the Plant With Purpose family for 28 years, is retiring after a long and faithful career. She has been running many of our credit and savings programs and successfully oversaw the transformation from microcredit to the more efficient and appropriate savings program.

2295014750_d6b757cfbe_zShe is one of only two people who have been involved with Plant With Purpose/Floresta for longer than I have, and I still remember her warmth and kindness on my first visit to the Dominican Republic in early 1993. She will be sorely missed.

Finally, we welcome Durbel Lora Brito, our longtime Agroecology Director into the role of Executive Director. Durbel has been a colleague and friend for nineteen years. In addition to his degree in agronomy he has also earned an MBA, and perhaps most importantly brings tremendous spiritual depth and compassion for the farmers we serve. However, I really glimpsed the depth of Durbel’s character in 2012 when I brought my family to the Dominican Republic:

 

 

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Partner Inspiration

“With VSLA, I have become a new woman. I bought a donkey with the money from the VSLA so that I can go to the market place…My life is new because of Jesus and Plant With Purpose.” Screen Shot 2017-06-19 at 11.59.29 AM

~  Cianise Lubin, Fonds Verettes, Haiti

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