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 Morikawa interviewing candidatesHiring Jean Marie Desilus as first Director of Floresta Haiti
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.
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.