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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Today is a special day at Plant With Purpose. Indeed, the first Friday of the month always is. That is the day we have all set aside with our partners around the world to spend time in prayer for one another.
Throughout the month we work together as one team to bring hope and opportunity to the destitute, to steward God’s creation and to share the good news of the Kingdom of God. We are very much together in spirit. But one day a month we are even more reminded of our fellowship as we lift one another’s burdens in prayer. Our Director of Field Operations, who has many years working in secular organizations, marks this as one significant difference. He often refers to it as our secret weapon.
Some of the prayers we shared to day included prayers of thanksgiving for Paulette, our cook in Fonds-Verrettes, Haiti who was told by local doctors that she would lose her leg after an automobile accident. However, Carlos and our Dominican Staff stepped in and helped her to get surgery in the Dominican Republic, where she is now recovering well and being visited and encouraged by her Dominican colleagues.
We also prayed for:
- The wedding of Felix Kiruhura, our environment technician in Congo (and one of my companions last month on our trek through the Kakumba watershed.)
- The launch of Plant With Purpose’s international fellowship program. There were prayers for the fellow going to live in the Dominican Republic for a year, and for the graduate student who will be spending time in Mexico.
- Jared White, our Africa program officer and his wife Doreen as they go through the often difficult visa process to move from Uganda to San Diego.
There were also a lot of prayers for specific communities and projects.
Common themes for all of us included:
- Prayers for peace and political stability. Elections are or have been a concern for all eight countries.
- Prayers for rain, or an end to drought. The families we serve practice rainfed agriculture so the importance of reliable rain cannot be emphasized enough.
- Prayers for health – many of us are dealing with illness or injury.
We also prayed for each of you who support Plant With Purpose. In fact, it was Luis in Mexico who exhorted us to remember and pray for “Every heart that gives with joy to support the work of Plant With Purpose. May God continue blessing you.”
We would love to have you join us each month. If you are interested in joining our prayer team just contact me and we will send you our monthly prayer letter.
This week I was honored to guest blog at Miracles in the Mundane. Thank you, Siv, for the opportunity.
During a job transition for us, we were privileged for a short time to attend a small church with the loveliest people. Among them were Scott Sabin and family. Humble and unassuming, it took us a bit (but not that long) to realize that Scott is a world-changer. His work with Plant With Purpose changes lives around the world and empowers people–and future generations–to change their circumstances, provide for their children, and live with God-given hope and dignity.
Create Challenge #15: Scott Sabin
From the very beginning God has invited human beings to participate in what he is doing in the world – creating, redeeming, and loving. In short, we were created for a purpose. Yet for many people that sense of purpose is precisely what is missing in their lives.
I had never given that much thought until one evening in the mountains of Haiti, when the Haitian Episcopal priest we worked with joined a group…
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Members of the prayer group in Uvira
I am sad to admit that I am not always very spiritually sensitive. As a result, prayer often gets neglected. Cathi Lundy, who served as our board chair for a number of years, was of great assistance in this regard, always remembering to bring prayer into our meetings and planning.
Our long-time Technical Director, Bob Morikawa and I agreed we had never been on a trip like this one. Combined, we have over forty years of traveling for Plant With Purpose, and quite a few years of trips before that, yet this visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo stood out. It was amazing in every way. I might have thought it was because this was my first trip to the DRC, but Bob had been there four times previously. And it wasn’t just us. Local villagers felt something special was happening as well, saying to one another, “Is this a dream?”
Plant With Purpose has been working in the Kakumba watershed south of Uvira, in South Kivu, since July, offering the transformational Plant With Purpose package: agricultural training, reforestation, savings groups, and Christian outreach focused on empowerment and reconciliation. We have established a total of ten savings groups in four different villages and farmer field schools are working on locally chosen agricultural experiments all over the valley. Fifty thousand trees have been planted and farmer-managed natural regeneration of forest is being taught.
A number of things make Kakumba unique however. The DRC is our first new country program since we refined our watershed approach a few years ago. Focusing on the whole ecological unit has brought together communities that have been linked by conflict as much as geography. Indeed the history of conflict in the region is deeper and more horrible than is easily imagined making reconciliation a key element of our work. Our local partner, with employees and participating pastors from seven different tribes, is a living demonstration of this reconciliation.
A key part of this trip was a multiple day hike from the bottom of the watershed to the top. We would spend the first night at our field office in the town of Gomba near the midpoint, then visit another one of our participating communities before ultimately camping on the edge of the forest at the top of the watershed. As we learned in the baseline study last year, the higher you go in the watershed the poorer and more malnourished people tend to be.
The main “road” linking the top to the bottom is a six-inch wide trail that climbs 6600 feet alongside sheer cliffs and over rocky ledges and until recently, through several unofficial militia checkpoints. When hiking in the US we often curse endless switchbacks, but I quickly grew to miss them, since this road tended toward a much more direct approach.
We had hoped to visit all of our communities with savings groups, and then evaluate ecotourism opportunities in the Kirwa forest, where many of the locals have stories of mountain gorillas. However, it turned out the trip had a far deeper meaning than we had suspected. Community members saw it as a sign of a new day of peace. By the time we reached our campsite in the forest, 46 people were hiking with us, representing six or seven ethnic groups. There were ex-combatants, five village chiefs, government officials, several pastors and four wazungu.
In each community along the way, we were received with joyous welcomes. People would tell us about the changes they were beginning to see through the savings groups and the increased yields from the new farming techniques. Men spontaneously shared how our Biblical teaching on work had inspired them to get out of their houses and begin helping their wives with the farming. “Maybe if we work together we can do something great,” one man told me. And over and over, people remarked on what a miracle it was that such diverse people could sleep in the forest without fear. “Perhaps peace has really come.”