Joseph "Tidj"” Dorsainvil is a Field Monitor for the Lambi Fund of Haiti in the Artibonite region of Haiti. For 15 years, he has been a passionate steward of Lambi Fund's work. Here, Sarah Leavitt sat down with Tidjo to talk about his work, the organizations we partner with and the current state of Haiti.
What is your role within Lambi Fund?
The first thing that we [myself and the Program Directors] do is investigate the [potential] projects after organizations send the proposals to Lambi Fund. Second, I do follow-up and monitor the projects and support the organizations in their efforts so that the project can be successful.
What makes your work difficult?
My work is difficult because the projects are so spread out across the region and some of them are difficult to get to. Depending on the weather, rain and water block the road and if the roads aren't good, we can't get to where we need to go. Also, the political state of the country [makes things difficult] because a lot of times politics and different situations are going on that make it so that we cannot travel to where we need to go to do follow-up on projects.
Can you tell me a story about a certain organization or project that was having problems getting off the ground and what was done to help them along?
There was an organization named AFKB (the Association of Peasants of Katò Bayonè). They had a grain mill project. It was a strong organization, but it didn't necessarily meet all of Lambi Fund's criteria.
Instead of it being an organization, it was more of a cooperative. Yet because the project was such a good project and it was a strong project to support, even though it took us a while, we took the time to work with the organization and to form it as an organization. It took us a lot of time to do that, to restructure AFKB and to provide training so that they could become a strong organization.
Can you clarify what the difference between an organization and a cooperative would be?
An organization is a group of people in a specific area that looks at all of their problems andcarries them on their back. They try to address all of the community's issues—they look at social, political, economic and all other types of issues a community might suffer from and try to address them. A cooperative's primary goal, [on the other hand] is the economic component.
What is one of the most rewarding projects you've worked on or one of the biggest changes you have seen in a community as a result of a partnership with Lambi Fund?
I would say APS. It was a grain mill project and one of the first projects that Lambi Fund worked on. If you look at it up until now, over 14 years or so, you can look at their bookkeeping and their records are flawless. Even though we don't actively work with them anymore and we don't monitor them anymore, they still stay right on top of their game and still do everything so flawlessly.
They've advanced so much and have used their profits to benefit the organization. APS even bought a truck [with their profits] to transport the women back and forth to sell their grains. The mill motor at one point broke down. They didn't wait for help to get another motor. They were able to buy another motor to replace the one that was broken.
What would you say, in your opinion, are the current priorities of what Lambi Fund should be working on today?
Right now, I think that there are three projects that are very important to the [Haitian] peasants. The first or number one most important, are the agricultural projects. The grain mills, irrigation pumps to get water, the plantain and coffee farms, and anything that has to do with agriculture is most important for providing food for the peasants.
The next one I would say is the animal husbandry projects. Haitians do not have a lot of means to take care of animals themselves. These animal husbandry projects are very important because it provides members with a way to make a little bit of money to send their children to school and to feed their families.
The last priority I would say are the community credit funds. This allows the female merchants to not get beat over the head by the bigger organizations or bigger financial institutions when they need to borrow money. It helps them to continue on with their work, to continue on with their sales and merchandising, and to make some profits so that they can continue to make a better life for themselves.
Is there a story that you feel shows an impact that we don't necessarily think of when we talk about our projects?
I would say the sugarcane mills. These are very important because before, it used to be animals that farmers would use to breakdown the sugar-cane. The time that they used to spend overnight, husbands and wives boiling the syrup and going through the whole process to transform it into syrup, they don't waste that time anymore.
Things that used to take five days to do can now be done in a couple hours' time. This is something that we don't really see on a regular basis. Another thing with the sugarcane mills that people don't necessarily realize is the safety aspect.
With ACHVRO and the benefits they have explained, is that when it used to be late and it took so much time to use the wooden mills, when they were feeding the cane into the machines, sometimes if they were too tired their fingers would get caught. Once their fingers got caught, their arm would go right into it. So, it hasn't only diminished the amount of time that people would spend [making syrup], it is also a much safer way to go and it has lowered the number of accidents.
Members also make more money and in making more money, they can plant more and produce more sugarcane. Of course, this making more money does not only help their pockets, but it helps the organization to fund other projects that they may need to [or want to do] in the future.
I am hoping that you can try and clarify something. A lot of people see Lambi Fund's projects and think it is as simple as buying a goat or building a grain mill, but there is an essential part of our work where an organization is required.
Can you talk about why this is the case?
What is good about working with organizations and what is important, is that organizations are a group of people that have gotten together and are already members of a group. They have already identified what their issues are and what their solutions could be.
Most of the time, organizations just don't have the technical or financial capacity to make these projects a reality. So, by the time organizations come to Lambi Fund, they're really just asking for that financial backing and technical support. Of course, we throw into this, monitoring and follow-up as well. Working with groups makes it easier to follow-up and see what the results of the project are too.
If we were just to fund individuals who made a request for money, after that person gets their money and they do what they have got to do, then you'll probably never see that person again. There is no follow-up. There is no way for us to test the feasibility, to test the potential success a project might have.
Can you talk about what makes Lambi Fund different from big NGO's? What sets us apart?
The difference or the main difference, between Lambi Fund and the larger NGO's is that the large nonprofits come in and identify what they think the problems are and decide in what way they will intervene.
They might look and say, this person needs a house—we'll build a house. Or they might look and say this region needs water, let us find a source of water and give them some clean water. But Lambi Fund doesn't work that way. It is the people in a community that identify and prioritize their problems. [NGO's] come to do something that they decide is good for the people, but it might not be the highest priority for that community.
The difference with Lambi Fund is that the organizations have identified their own problems and have cometo us. We are not just stepping in and intervening and saying that this is what we think the problem is, because half the time what NGO's think the problem is, isn't the bigger problem for that person or community.
Any last comments?
Within the way that Lambi Fund works as well, and another important aspect of organizations coming up with the projects and identifying their problems, is the fact that members do the work themselves. They have identified the problem, and while Lambi Fund accompanies the organizations in reaching their goals, they are the ones that execute it—it is not Lambi Fund that does the work. The people know that they are the ones who have put their blood and sweat into it… and they have a vested interest in assuring that the project is completed and that it succeeds.
While it’s hard to believe we’re halfway through 2013, the Lambi Fund of Haiti has been working hard to expand food production in Haiti. This is an effort that’s oftentimes slow moving, yet progress with Lambi Fund’s current projects is tangible. One exciting effort is Lambi Fund’s new phase for the Center for Plantain Propagation (CPP). In this phase, Lambi Fund is working with farmers in the Northwest region to support papitas production. Papitas are fried plantains that are a popular snack throughout Haiti. School children and adults alike enjoy snacking on them.
The CPP’s effort to not only increase production of healthy plantain plants, but to transform these into a commodifiable good is progress that’s worth applauding. While this phase is still in its infancy, and it is difficult to predict results, the hope is that supporting papitas production in rural Haiti will provide farmers with an added source of income.
Leaders of the Center for Plantain Propagation and Lambi Fund staff are also working to explore and identify future crops that would benefit from future training initiatives and support. This would mean that training and support services for crops such as beans, rice and corn could end up being selected and workshops and training opportunities that teach farmers pest management and improved crop production would be available.
Progress at the CPP is exciting because this center is much more than a place to buy healthy plantain plants. It is a place to learn, network with fellow farmers and dream about the future of farming in Haiti.
It was a warm, sunny day in Les Cayes, Haiti. The city was bustling with activity – merchants hustling to sell their merchandise, moto taxis weaving in and out of traffic and school children with their cleanly pressed uniforms walking to and from school. Amidst this hustle and bustle, representatives from 14 grassroots organizations throughout southern Haiti filed into an airy meeting room. They were there to discuss life since October with the Lambi Fund of Haiti.
Last October, just before Hurricane Sandy moved on to batter the eastern coast of the United States, the storm cycle hit Haiti with days of unrelenting rain. While the brunt of the storm sidestepped the island, rains pounded the South for four days straight, resulting in widespread crop damage and loss of livestock. Haiti's Ministry of Agriculture estimated that 70-90% of planted agricultural crops were lost, resulting in severe food security concerns.
With these dire prospects in mind, Lambi Fund field staff mobilized 14 grassroots organizations to assess damage and to determine how best to respond.
As a result, emergency relief grants were provided to each of the organizations to purchase seeds and fertilizers needed to replant crops, to repair damaged irrigation canals and to replace animals lost in the storm. Now, on this sunny day in late February, Lambi Fund staff met with representatives from each of these organizations to discuss the impact of these relief grants.
A member of AFDL explained, "The emergency relief was an opportunity for us. Sandy was during the planting season, so we weren't prepared to repair the land. With this money we re-tilled the land. We planted again. Now we have corn, nuts, and black beans… we have begun harvesting." Another said that, "Lambi Fund provided support to our members when they weren't sure how they were going to undo the mess of Sandy. They helped us replant and start again."
As Lambi Fund staff sat and listened while representatives shared with the group how the emergency relief grants were used, it quickly became apparent that several vulnerabilities were making it difficult for farmers to move forward.
As an elderly member of ODRO shared with the group, "I remember when I was young hurricanes really shook the country - they were a rarity. At the age of 25 I'd only experienced two hurricanes. Now, we have them almost every year. I can tell you that Haitians are not a lazy group of people. Unfortunately though, it seems that every year there is an event that shakes the country more and more. The rains, the sun, the cholera… every event in our country is a hurricane."
The most troublesome news was that it has not rained since Hurricane Sandy. At the time of the meeting, it had been four straight months without rainfall. A member of TK-Bedo said, "After every hurricane there is a major drought. The land is dry and hard." He continued on to explain that, "When there is rain, it is guaranteed to flood. In January, everyone was ready to plant, but there was no rain. We continue to wait and wait and the rain never comes."
One after another, grassroots leaders shared their woes regarding the drought. It seems that organizations located in areas near a river or with irrigation fared much better. Members were able to take the emergency relief grants, purchase seeds, make repairs and replant.
For those less fortunate organizations with no means to water their crops aside from rainfall, the outcomes were not as significant. Most were waiting to plant their crops until the rain arrived.
These types of circumstances are typical in Haiti. Living a life of poverty leaves Haitians open to numerous vulnerabilities. A degraded environment from years of deforestation leaves the soil devoid of nutrients essential for growing bountiful crops. Climate change is bringing unpredictable growing seasons and lowering crop yields. Farmers that lack access to irrigation canals and water pumps are at the mercy and unreliability of rainfall. High interest loans with untenable loan requirements tie hardworking Haitians to a never ending cycle of debt.
It is a compounding of circumstances like these that has lessened the overall impact of Lambi Fund's emergency relief. While the Lambi Fund of Haiti clearly would have desired to see more marked impacts, this meeting has required the organization to take a long, hard look at its efforts and realize that life in Haiti is changing. Each and every day life gets harder and the multitude of struggles that rural Haitians face continues to mount.
This hard reality is what makes Lambi Fund's partnerships with grassroots organizations so important. As an organization, Lambi Fund realizes that it will never have, nor should it have the capacity to address the myriad of issues that leave communities vulnerable and make development in Haiti difficult. It is in the face of these vulnerabilities, however, that Lambi Fund recognizes the ever present importance of communities uniting, working together and calling on the government to make changes that will benefit the greater whole of society.
This is why Lambi Fund's work to strengthen organizational capacities and teach civil rights is an irreplaceable part of its efforts. Providing communities with the tools they need to respond to changing needs, problem solve and advocate for change in their community will be an integral part to advancing Haitian's quality of life.
"The rains, the sun, the cholera…every event in our country is a hurricane"
Take the Women's Organization of Jabwen (OFJ). Every year there is an event that shakes the country more and more. A member said, "At first, our husbands would always ask, ‘Why are you part of that organization? It takes up too much time.' Then we became partners with Lambi Fund [for goat breeding efforts] and they began to see our projects and the impact. Now our husbands will ask, ‘What are you doing home? Go to your meeting!' They see the value of our work and want to be organized too."
Organizations like OFJ are an exemplary model of what can be done when communities unite and go beyond the work of an individual. This group has gone beyond just this project to launch numerous efforts that are working to strengthen the community. When organizations like OFJ transcend unitary efforts to address a number of initiatives, the true power of being united is realized.
So, in the short-term, as communities continue to recover from the impacts of Hurricane Sandy, the true rebuilding continues as local organizations work to improve their communities and strengthen their voice.
As the Lambi Fund of Haiti reported a few months back, while the heart of Hurricane Sandy did not hit Haiti, the storm brought days and days of persistent rain. This significant rainfall caused severe flooding – causing widespread loss of crops and livestock.
In response, Lambi Fund moved swiftly to respond to our partners’ needs. Field Monitors in both the North and South met with community organizations throughout the country to assess damages. As suspected, widespread loss of crops and livestock were reported, rainwater cisterns and irrigation canals were damaged and tree seedlings planted for reforestation efforts had washed away. Lambi Fund staff members also estimate that the overall pace of projects, organizational capacity, and economic conditions in these communities will be negatively affected.
As such, Lambi Fund has been working with community organizations throughout the country since the storm. So far, 13 grassroots organizations have been provided emergency relief grants. These grants are going straight to Haitians hit by the storm to help:
In addition to this, Lambi Fund’s field monitors have been in contact with over 50 other community organizations that may qualify for similar emergency relief. Once initial assessments are complete, these groups will be provided with the resources necessary to get back on their feet as well.
For each and every one of you that donated to Lambi Fund's emergency relief efforts following Hurricane Sandy, a very big mesi ampil is in order. Your support is helping Lambi Fund respond swiftly and appropriately to communities in need. Hopefully through concentrated efforts like these, we can work to help curb the impending food crisis as much as possible and keep impoverished Haitians’ incomes flowing.
Typically, the Lambi Fund of Haiti uses these project updates and an opportunity to highlight progress on specific projects and how your support is working to move Haiti forward. Setbacks in this type of work are inherent though and hardworking Haitians have been dealt a very harsh blow by Hurricane Sandy.
As I am sure many of you are all too aware, Hurricane Sandy tore through the Caribbean and then continued onto the Eastern Coast of the United States wrecking incalculable damage. In Southern Haiti, it rained unrelentingly for four days straight. In a country riddled with severe environmental degradation and soil erosion, the flooding was severe. Initial reports from our project partners in the area are speculating that famers lost over 90% of their crops and livestock. Homes were destroyed and roads were washed out. For a nation already struggling to feed itself, this news is just devastating and the country is now facing a severe food crisis.
Lambi Fund is working hand-in-hand with community organizations throughout rural Haiti to aid in recovery efforts. Seeds, tools and fertilizers are being provided to farmers so that they can quickly replant crops, community credit funds are being replenished, livestock replaced and much more. It is setbacks like these that make our work in Haiti heartbreaking and trying at times, but in witnessing the unbreakable spirit of hard-working Haitians, we continue to move forward. Please consider supporting Lambi Fund’s Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts which are urgently working to fight the looming food crisis in Haiti and help get families back on their feet.
Mesi ampil and our thoughts are with the thousands of families in the Caribbean and across the U.S. who were affected by Hurricane Sandy. May your recovery be swift.
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