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Apr 28, 2017

Fet TiFi, The Festival of Young Women

Shelove giving an inspirational speech
Shelove giving an inspirational speech

After five months of weekly GEM (Girl’s Empowerment and Mentoring) club meetings, all the girls along with their mentors and a few lucky guests held a large fet (party) to showcase and celebrate what they had learned and how they had grown.

What is a GEM club? It is a group of similarly aged girls that come together weekly at St. Paul’s School and the national high school in Petit Trou to learn and support each other. Research shows that girls tend to receive the maximum benefit when the programs they participate in are girl-only. The girls feel able to open up, express themselves, ask any questions and take on leadership roles that they might not otherwise. Due to girls’ social isolation, simply creating a space where a group of girls, around the same age and from the same community, can meet regularly, build relationships and begin to trust and share with each other, is critical. These social networks are crucial because girls with stronger social networks are less likely to be victims of sexual harassment and violence.

The GEM club also serves as an opportunity to practice key leadership skills they have been developing with the mentors. It is a place where the girls first learn, openly ask questions and then apply what they have been learning in a safe space with other girls. The main curriculum utilized in these clubs is the Asset Building Framework. It teaches all the different assets, such as social, human, physical and financial, that a girl needs in order to make a healthy transition into adulthood. Activities to build these various assets could range from life skills training to basic financial planning lessons or workshops about girls and women’s rights.

Celebrating these vibrant souls was a local necessity. The party was done in a traditional Haitian style which means everyone of importance at the event spoke and shared their feelings about the program. The speeches by the mentors were words of encouragement and reinforcement of what the girls had learned through the program. However, what was unexpected was after the formal speeches the girls took over the program. The event became all about them, demonstrating the girls’ blossoming leadership.

The most memorable part of the party was the presentations by the girls. One of the young women, Shelov, spoke with incredible confidence; you could feel the power of her convictions. She did not just give a speech though; she reached out to the girls sitting in the audience and engaged with them about the year’s lessons. The conversation that ensued between Shelov and her classmates spoke of finding their “capital”, their resources in health, in social situations and financial security.  Shelov talked of how they should not lower their expectations and should grow their opportunities.  It was a discussion of true empowerment and it was amazing to see the young girls on the brink of womanhood delighting in this.

The festival ended with a brilliant play put on by 5th to 9th grade girls. Plays are one of the most impactful tools for teaching in Haiti. It began because of the lack of formal written native language and a lack of literacy in the rural communities. Today, theater on any scale is a beloved art form and one of the best ways to reinforce learning.

This play while filled with hilarity was about the serious subject of Restovek. A restovek is a young child, often a girl, who is given into slavery. The reasons behind each case is different but the root cause is a family and a community who can not take care of this child.

The girls depicted the antagonist as an evil godmother who promised a better life for her goddaughter and then made her a virtual slave. The protagonist was a young girl whose father had died and whose mother was overwhelmed with children. Each act was an overblown scene of the young girl’s journey with her evil godmother. There were many funny moments and the girls in the audience obviously loved seeing their classmates act out the story.  But the message of restrovek was clear and well delivered.

After the Fet Tifi, we had a chance to interview one of the mentors, Nadaj, and the supervisor Darline.

Nadaj spoke of how the girls had been learning in the GEM clubs how to “catch their power and autonomy.” She explained further how she is teaching the young women to focus on their self-respect and how thinking for themselves is important in their society. Both Darline and Nadaj mentioned the importance of having a space for the mentors to talk to the girls about what is important to the girls and help them grow. They discuss pressing social issues like like HIV, not getting pregnant too early, and defending themselves against sexual violence. They also described how they talked about family life with the girls and why what their moms do is so important. Darline recounted how she educates the girls on the various roles the girls can have in their families like helping out with the family’s small businesses. Most rural Haitians are diverse entrepreneurs with several little business to help cover all their expenses like health care costs and education fees. Resale businesses of local products is common.

They all expressed enthusiasm to continue the program which we are thrilled to hear. These adolescent girls have brought this program to life in unexpected and vibrant ways, the Fet Tifi a small example of that. Their dedication to improving their lives, and the lives of those around them, is what inspires this work!

Proud mentors after the event
Proud mentors after the event
Girls of the GEM Program
Girls of the GEM Program
Apr 4, 2017

Seed Bank Opens for the Petit Trou de Nippes region

The opening day banner
The opening day banner

In a just a few short hours in October 2016, over 200,000 people’s lives were drastically changed in the Nippes Region of Haiti. A community that already struggles to use its assets to stay above the proverbial water watched those assets submerged and destroyed by Hurricane Matthew.

Supporters of the Colorado Haiti Project poured forth their hearts and financial support after Hurricane Matthew last fall. The response was overwhelming. And then began the critical task of deciding how we could best support the community of Petit Trou de Nippes.

The Colorado Haiti Project is not a relief organization. We knew it was not our role to come in and distribute food and clothing. Fortunately, many aid organizations and companies like Food for the Poor and Episcopal Relief and Development fulfilled that role. We are there for the long process of rebuilding and recovery.

Many minds and empathetic hearts worked tirelessly in Colorado and in Haiti to design a project that would serve the families in the most effective way. Community meetings were held with the elected officials, spiritual leaders, health advocates and local agricultural associations of the area. Since the Petit Trou region is an agrarian section of Haiti, the greatest loss to their livelihoods from the hurricane was loss of crops and seeds for replanting.

Rather than being able to use their own seed, struggling farmers now had to pay for transport to travel and buy new seed. However, due to the hurricane, these farmers did not have money from selling their crop. This made it impossible to travel a long distance and buy new seed. Local agricultural associations, along with the leaders of the community, asked for our support in opening a Bank Agrikol or a seed bank. This is essentially a seed store to help the farmers with the first replanting after the hurricane.

The Seed Bank brings a much needed resource directly to the community, helping to reestablish livelihood and prevent famine. An important aspect of the Seed Bank is that it is a community led project. Members of the community are responsible for running the bank and driving its success. This is an opportunity for the people of Petit Trou to have something of their own, as opposed to having an outside organization decide what should be done. This project is about fulfilling a need while also mobilizing the community to respond to the hurricane together.

With the team of local leaders, local agricultural associations and consultants, we have been working on the seed bank since early December. And on February 9, the seed bank opened!

We are happy to report that the hurricane response donations raised since Hurricane Matthew funded 100% of the initial seed at the Seed Bank for the first planting. The Seed Bank will charge 1/3 the normal price for the first planning instead of giving the seed away. This allows the Seed Bank to purchase what it will need for the second round of planting for the community. We will partially supplement the second round and hopefully the community will be paying full price by the third harvest.

The future of the Seed Bank will depend on the community. If they feel like this project is beneficial, even when they will have to pay full price, the Bank will stay open. There has already been requests for additional products like tools such as hoes and machetes and different varieties of seeds that could be sold at the Bank. There are many possibilities and it will be a community project as it continues.

Since opening day, the seed bank has served over 1200 families which is over a quarter of our final goal. The bank has taken in over $2700 and we’ve seen people come together and do what it takes to make this project happen. The seed bank appears to have the potential to be so much more for the community. It could be a distribution point for buying and selling and a resource in case of emergencies such as Hurricane Matthew.

Thank you for standing with our Haitian partners. As we heard from the teachers in the school, they feel like they have a family in far-off Colorado who cares about them.

A happy customer
A happy customer
A community member helping out
A community member helping out
Seed bank open for business!
Seed bank open for business!
Community members gather to buy their seed
Community members gather to buy their seed
Jan 27, 2017

After the Storm: Growing More than Greens

Hurricane Matthew brought heavy winds and waters to the community of Petit Trou. However, that did not prevent St. Paul's School from continuing to educate young minds! With the help of our amazing community of supporters, the school was back in session only a few weeks after the storm. That being said, many of the the school's students are crammed into homes with extended family or living in damaged structures. Some are without the typically required uniforms but are continuing to attend school because of how much they and their families value their education. 

In 2017, the middle school agriculture program continues to grow and thrive. While the school garden was wiped out by the hurricane, our resident agricultural educator and his students got busy, not long after the disaster, replanting their plot of land with greens that participants will be able to eventually take home to share with their families. Carrots have already been produced and tomatoes and cabbage are almost ready for harvest. This program not only teaches students better practices on how to grow produce in their vital family gardens. It also allows students to transform in to active learners and to grow their critical thinking skills. Both of these skills will serve the community well as they trek the road to recovery from Hurricane Matthew. 

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