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 farmers 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 like OPBK 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.
Lambi Fund is happy to report that the community organization OPBK is making great strides on their community ox-plow project. The group successfully completed technical training on how to manage and operate an ox-plow service and has begun offering the service to members of the community. Currently, members can obtain the plowing service at a rate of $3-6/hectare. Prior to this service, farmers were expected to pay between $15-20/hectare or till their land by hand. Most impoverished Haitians opted to till their land by hand because they could not afford the previous rates. This was not only back-breaking work, but many farmers could not finish tilling their land in time for the planting season.
OPBK members have also reported that a happy consequence of the ox-plow services have meant that farmers have been yielding larger harvests. In the past, farmers would harvest about 50 mamits (large bags) of corn on ¼ hectare of land, while today with the use of the plows they can get about 150 mamits! When growing peas, they used to harvest 20-25 mamits and now they can get between 140-150 mamits.
For those of us who are not farmers, the use of an ox-plow seems like a minor and inconsequential detail, when in reality the opportunity for Haitian for farmers to plow their land is wildly beneficial. Farmers are tripling and quadrupling their crop yields and selling more produce in the markets. Ox-plows are clearly a win-win for members of OPBK and your support in making this happen is greatly appreciated!
Fostering practices that yield democratic functioning in Haiti is the overarching principle of the Lambi Fund of Haiti's mission. Each and every day, together with our partners, we assess events and situations created by policies or the lack thereof that weaken the capacity of our communities to strive to move forward.
I was never more surprised than when I encountered a Dominican asking me, "Donde está Port-au-Prince?" That was while I was in Ganthier recently, a small town near the border of Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
In Petion Ville, when I was hungry, a family member asked me if I wanted some Dominican food that was on hand for an afternoon snack. Whatever happened to Akasans or Fritay (a Haitian medley of fried vegetables and griot), I thought to myself.
When I needed to wash my hair, my choice was Dominican or Haitian hairdressers, not vice versa and with an emphasis on the former. On the road, traveling from the North to Port-au-Prince, there were Dominican firms building the roads with Haitian spectators watching them work.
I suppose you could ask me. "What does this have to do with rural Haiti or the mission that Lambi Fund seeks to fulfill?"
The rural area comprises roughly 90% of Haiti's population. We are Haiti. We produce and deliver the food. We sacrifice to create access to education for our children. In spite of the failings of governance, we continue to produce and feed the local economy — we want to grow and we have long waited for strong partnership with government entities to strengthen our capacities.
Survival in rural Haiti is dependent on the need to and the ability to produce creatively given a shortfall of resources. Communities continue to face serious challenges without subsidies, without plans for protecting the soil, without plans for watershed management, without alternative energy for daily utilization and the latest challenge is the loss of our borders.
The invasion of agricultural production is implicit in the dumping of goods in our local communities thereby reducing the ability of Haitian farmers to compete and reducing the level of profit they can make — devaluing local products such as rice, plantains, coconuts, and lemons.
Whether we invest $300 million or a billion dollars elsewhere, it rids Haitians of job opportunities, the transfer of skills to our youth and for the local farmer it rids him of the right to access the local market. This is the principal source of development and incomes for communities throughout Haiti. Agriculture is the key investment that will yield our nation marked growth, yet it is being attacked and weakened from the outside.
While rural farmers invest in the sweat of their brows to educate their children out of poverty, work opportunities are farmed out and opportunities to make a fair living are dwindling. So, the constant outmigration of citizens from rural towns continues. If the dream of the next generation of rural citizens is to move to Port-au-Prince, then the dream of the next generation in Port-au-Prince is to find the next opportunity to fly out of the country altogether.
There is a vigorous yet silent invasion in Haiti. It is seeping through not just the culture, but the land, the market, the thinking. Even the clothing is no longer made by local tailors or shoemakers. Education is not guided by normative standards with a set of principles and values representing the needs of our country.
We are allowing all of these goods to come from elsewhere and it is diminishing the internal trade and exchange that can fuel the local economy.
This is about recalculating and reversing the trends. Haiti needs policies that reverse these trends and that place value on local markets and local goods. Policies need to help the rural areas to plant, harvest and sell their crops.
The primary result needs to be an integrated practice of development. This will deliver initiatives that put decision-making in the hands of those whose lives are most affected – meaning a much needed inclusion of the rural areas. We must have policies that are dedicated to improving access to land and productivity that will feed all of Haiti's nine million citizens.
Teach the next generation the value of the land while at the same time stressing the importance of respect towards the environment. Raise the standards, expectations, rights and implemented justice so that we can have a new legacy.
None of this can be done without policies that invite community members to be part of the development program and opportunities. These policies should value community members' participation in programs and provide opportunities to change local thinking and the reverse of negative trends.
This cannot be done “for” Haitians, but it must be done “by” Haitians. We simply cannot wait to be delivered, but we need to deliver ourselves. There once was a time that food and basics used in Haiti were made in Haiti.
Now the restaurants are not ours and the products they use are not either. The frontier is open for anyone to come in and sell their goods, while we destroy the rural economy — the foundation of Haiti's economy. We cannot have the international community flood the economy with their goods, we need to close that door and build Haiti's own goods and services.
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