Category Archives: haiti

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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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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Savings Group Names in Haiti

Espwa pou Demen–Hope for Tomorrow
Kenbela–Stand Firm
Kolabore–Collaborate
Kris Kapab–Christ is Able
Lamesi–Thanks [more like Give Thanks]
Limye2–Light II
Map Lite–I’m fighting [more like I’m making my way]
Pasyans–Patience
Pwogre–Progress
Soley–the Sun
Solidarite–Solidarity
Souvni–Remember
Viv Ansanm–Live Together

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Relief vs. Development

Although many people confuse the two, Hurricane Matthew has reminded us that there are huge differences between relief and development. We ordinarily do not engage in relief work, but as we learned after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, when disaster strikes our partners, our deep and longstanding local connections make us uniquely positioned to respond. However, while relief work helps people to stay alive, it does nothing to change their overall situation or improve their long-term conditions. Continued too long, it can actually be harmful.img-20161011-wa0018

It has the potential to undercut development work, as people become accustomed to handouts. This is tremendously disempowering. Recipients grow passive, since what they may have to offer is not valued. In time they will be dependent on the one offering assistance. On one of my earliest trips to Haiti, I met farmers who couldn’t sell their produce because food was being given away as part of an aid program. Many of them didn’t even bother to plant that year because competing with giveaways seemed futile.

Furthermore, relief can never help people to grow out of poverty, no matter how much money you put into it. One of the most common questions I get is, “why, with all the money that was spent on Haiti after the earthquake, is it still poor?” The answer to that is complicated, but the simplest answer is that putting money into relief and expecting an end to poverty is expecting the impossible.

Effective development, on the other hand, can actually help people to move beyond poverty. In fact we see it happening every day amongst our partners. However, unlike relief, it requires the active participation of the people themselves.

All of the elements of the Plant With Purpose model encourage that participation: Bible study curriculum that helps people to understand that work is a gift and that they have talents and a calling; savings groups that depend not on outside donations, but on the savings of the participants; agricultural experiments that farmers themselves run. Efforts to help the poor that don’t enlist them as leaders and employ their talents and resources are missing the most potent ingredient.

Once people become active participants in change, they can both discover and contribute their own gifts. Possibly the most tangible example of this is the savings that people contribute. New participants frequently don’t believe they have money to save, and truth be told; I didn’t really believe it when we started either. However, groups that didn’t think they could save fifty cents a week have saved thousands of dollars, and collectively they have saved and invested millions of dollars into their own communities.

But there are other, less tangible, ways that they have contributed as well, digging up and employing amazing talents in the process of ending extreme poverty. For example, tree planting and watershed restoration are done on a voluntary basis. People begin to serve and care for their neighbors as an expression of their generosity. They become true partners in the effort to redeem communities and creation. We look forward to transitioning out of the relief and recovery mode in Haiti, and back into a mode where we are better able to free people to use their God-given talents and respond to one another in generosity.

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Haiti Update, Wednesday October 12

On Monday, four teams of ten people each began work on the road from St. Etienne to Cherident. They worked to restore half of a kilometer near Lonpre. Yesterday that team was expanded to five groups of ten people, who cleared 1.2 kilometers.

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To facilitate communications, we have asked Taylor Pizzuto, who was serving with us as a communications fellow in the Dominican Republic, to move to Haiti and help us with updates, and reports. He arrived in Port au Prince today and we expect his first report later today.

Survey work continued as well. We still have not heard any news of fatalities, despite some rumors. Most of the loss of life was farther west than where we work. However, we are seeing terrible destruction, like this church in Boucan Chatte, where a couple of our village savings groups meet. The first set of pictures are of the church just over a week ago, during one of our meetings, and the second set was taken last Friday.

However the real destruction has been to the food supply – crops that people were depending on are badly damaged. Yesterday, I spoke with a friend who is originally from the village of Kavanac, near Grande Colline. He said, “fortunately we didn’t have any death, but the damages are very considerable. I wonder what people in the community will eat in the following 3 months.”

I pray that we can help to answer that question. We hope to provide cash-for-work for the next several months so that people will be able to buy food. However, for that to happen we will need to raise considerably more money than we have to date.

If you want to help, our donation page is set up so you can create your own fundraiser for Haiti relief. https://plantwithpurpose.dntly.com/campaign/help-haiti#/ You can also make a direct donation.

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Haiti Update, Tuesday October 11

I have time for just a quick update today.

We still have no reports of fatalities in the communities where Plant With Purpose has been working, which is a blessing. However, crop loss has been extensive. Guy has been working on getting a complete list of damages, which includes injuries, damage to homes, loss of crops, and loss of livestock. We work with 40,000 people in Haiti, so this list is long.

Yesterday Guy organized a work party, which is hard at work repairing the road to Grand Colline. We are paying people for their work with the money we are raising right now, so they will have money to buy food. He is giving preference to the most vulnerable families in the hiring process.

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This system of cash-for-work is one of the most effective ways of getting food to people without undercutting the local farmers and merchants with food to sell.

In the meantime we have a lot more pictures to share.

Cornillon did not have as much damage as Fonds Verrettes or Grande Colline, but the damage is still significant as these pictures show.

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Hurricane Matthew Makes Landfall

Hurricane Matthew made landfall at 7 AM this morning, as a Category 4 just west of Les Cayes. It is apparently the strongest hurricane to hit Haiti in 52 years. The storm has since moved into the Gulf of la Gonave, but will likely drop a lot more rain before it completely leaves Haiti.

I just got off the phone with Guy Paraison, the director of Floresta Haiti, our local partner. He is in Croix de Bouquets near Port au Prince, but has been communicating with the regional directors by phone and text message. Here are specific local updates.

• Bainet, on the southern coast, and closest to where the eye made landfall has had flooding and landslides. Information is still incomplete, and I expect we will be hearing a lot more about damage and possibly loss of life.

• Grande Colline – the phones are apparently out and roads are impassable, so Guy has no concrete information.

• Cornillion – Our regional director, Smith reports that the wind is still very violent and there has been a lot of rain. Many farmers have lost crops – particularly bananas and beans. Also, many of the tree nurseries have been destroyed. However, the contour canals and soil erosion control barriers have been effective in reducing soil erosion and crop destruction.

• Fond Verettes – There has been a lot of rain but no specific reports of damage yet.

• Acul du Nord, furthest from the center for the storm, has experienced mostly rain and wind. We were planning on holding training on ecological latrines, led by Jorge from our Mexican program, and at least one farmer made the trip down from Acul du Nord to attend the training, which has obviously been postponed.

This information is very incomplete, but with the isolation of the communities we serve, we are unlikely to get an accurate picture of the full devastation for a few days, so stay tuned. However, Guy talked to us about the need to set up a relief effort for those who are most affected, so we are starting on plans to respond.

If you wish to donate you can go to our online donation page and write Haiti in the comments section. https://www.plantwithpurpose.org/donate/

Thanks for your prayers. I will keep updating this through the day and week as more information becomes available.

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Drought and Deforestation

Lost in all the news of our own first-world problems is the ongoing drought that has stricken Haiti for the last three years. This article does a good job of describing the connection between this drought and deforestation, from the perspective of the people who are living it everyday.

As I have often said, the problem is not one of ignorance, but rather desperation. The farmer in this story talks about cutting trees as a survival mechanism. Without the safety net that Plant With Purpose savings groups provide, the few remaining trees become the safety net.

The farmers we work with are suffering from the same drought, but that far have been able to turn to the members of their savings groups for mutual support, and to their savings accounts for emergency funds.

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Lessons to be Learned

Monday’s New Yorker article on the current political fiasco in Haiti might have some lessons for us on the consequences of electing brash celebrities of questionable character to run your country…

Aftershocks: Is the earthquake-stricken country’s flamboyant President a savior or a rogue?

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Transforming Haiti – defying Stereotypes

Most articles about Haiti tend to talk about Haitians as passive victims. This is even more common when talking about rural people – the subsistence farmers who produce most of the country’s food and generate most of the GDP. Another common theme is to blame them for the deforestation of Haiti’s hillsides.

I am excited to know a very different reality.

IMG_0929.JPGJean Robert Calix who lives in Fonds Verrettes is just one of thousands who are replanting degraded land and restoring fertility to the hillsides.  I am always inspired by their perseverance and courage.

Jean has a very steep and rocky farm. He is the president of a local Plant With Purpose savings group. His father owned this land but then it was sold to some one else. It was so steep and degraded that no one wanted it, so he bought it back and started planting trees gradually restoring it.

He has been working with us since 2006. “I used to only plant on the fence line, but now every avocado I eat I plant the seed. When the land uphill from mine was recently sold, I told the new owner, ‘That is fine but you have to plant trees on your land!’

He continues, “I also have another plot of land near the forest that in the past was very poor. I made a lot of compost- 14 bags- and applied it to the land. The harvest was so great that with the money I made I was able to buy a mule. I am also able to pay for my children’s school fees, pay for medicine and buy other things we need.”

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