Hurricane Matthew - Recovery Effort in Haiti

by Colorado Haiti Project
Wilda and her children in the garden
Wilda and her children in the garden

Last year, around this time, I sat with a group of Haitian detainees at the ICE facility in Aurora.  Immigration and Custom Enforcement agents took a large number of Haitian immigrants into custody near the Tijuana border and sent several hundred to Colorado to await hearings.  Having lived in Haiti for several years, I speak Haitian Kreyol, and volunteered to translate for the legal team processing their cases.

I first translated for Jean, a man of slight stature and commanding presence.  He described his path to Aurora with passion and composure, speaking clearly and firmly, willing me to understand his story.  Jean grew up in an isolated mountain town off the southern coast of the island.  After excelling in primary school, he went to live with an aunt in Port-au-Prince to attend high school and seek a college he could afford. After his first year of university he could no longer pay tuition, but stayed in Port-au-Prince fighting for odd jobs and opportunities. In 2015, he heard of a program in Brazil, a special visa for low-paying but reliable jobs.  He went, worked for some time, and when the opportunities dried up, he traveled through Central America, up the length of Mexico, and to the Tijuana border crossing. On arrival in the U.S. he was taken into custody and sent to Aurora.

“Why did you go to Brazil?” his lawyer asked.

“Mwen tap chache lavi.”

This literally means, “I was searching for life.”   He continued, “You don’t make a trip like that for vacation. It was no vacation. I didn’t know anyone. I didn’t speak the languages. I can’t describe the things I saw. I didn’t do it for fun – I had no choice.”

It has been eight years this month since an earthquake devastated Haiti, killing hundreds of thousands of people, displacing hundreds of thousands more. People often ask me, “Has there been progress in Haiti?”  The question has taken on particular weight now, in the aftermath of the Trump administration’s November decision to revoke the temporary protected status of nearly 60,000 Haitian men and women living in the U.S. The administration deemed that “Haiti is able to safely receive traditional levels of returned citizens.” They have until July 2019 to leave the U.S. or face deportation.

I lived in Haiti for more than two years after the earthquake, I’ve been there more than 30 times in the past five years, my sons are Haitian-American, and I am the director of a non-profit that supports local leaders in Haiti. It is my job to answer the question regarding progress. I’ve answered it hundreds of times and will answer it hundreds more, and yet each time I’m asked, my chest tightens as I wait to see what will come out of my mouth.

Unemployment and a lack of opportunity are stifling for the youth of Haiti. There is rampant and extreme poverty, inadequate access to healthcare, widespread homelessness, lack of clean water, lack of energy, and minimal infrastructure. A recent New York Times piece, which featured close friends of mine, shows how even burying the dead is a daunting challenge for many. Another Times piece after Hurricane Matthew showed people living in caves for lack of a better option.

My chest tightens, I think, because while all I reference above is true, there is an important, more complex reality that hides beneath the darkness and pain: Haiti is the most beautiful place I know. Beauty in its people, beauty in its countryside, beauty in its courage and grace. It is a place of unique history and singular resistance. I’ve heard it called the birthplace of the human rights movement, due to its triumph over Napoleon’s army and its subsequent status as the first independent black republic in the New World. It is a place with long tradition of homegrown community development, of neighbors looking out for one another, and of grassroots movements organizing to great effect.

These truths are not widely known or published, and while they do not negate the poverty and need referenced above, they are an essential counterpoint to them.  People who seek to invest in Haiti should be investing in local people and local structures, in communities like the one Jean comes from.

Progress is more than possible in Haiti: it is inevitable.

When Jean spoke of his hometown his eyes grew misty and his voice cracked. It was important for him to express that he did not want to leave Haiti, that his heart remained there the whole time. The people of Haiti love their country, are fiercely proud of their history and will fight for their communities if given a chance. They have the talent, capacity, and creativity to move forward, what is required is opportunity; a way to stay and fight; tools in their hands, and a chance to use them in their own communities. Given that, they will do the rest.

Community leader, Darline, leader of GEM
Community leader, Darline, leader of GEM
Students at St. Paul
Students at St. Paul's

Links:

Maurice cleaning up his home garden
Maurice cleaning up his home garden

Haiti has almost no waste management: infrastructure for sanitation, garbage removal or recycling. Only 17% of the country has any type of improved sanitation systems, and that number is even lower in rural areas of Haiti.

That is the situation in Petit Trou de Nippes where St. Paul’s School is located. There is NO garbage collection. What do the people do? Most of the garbage is thrown on the ground or sometimes burned, neither of which is good for human or environmental health.

At St. Paul’s School this fall, there is a new agricultural educator, Raphael, who is passionate about the environment. He has designed a curriculum that interweaves environmental awareness and stewardship with agriculture. He has engaged students in trash cleanup both on the campus of the school and at the students’ homes. But with no garbage collection, where will this garbage go? Students will work with their new instructor and their families to decide what can be burned, what can be recycled and what must be buried. It is not a beautiful solution that speaks of a “Happy Ever After” and the elimination of the garbage problem. It is the reality of their world, where there is no infrastructure for their waste. But it is a start. Students are learning about the waste, what is dangerous for their health, what cannot be recycled and what has a long half-life. And their immediate environment is cleaner, safer and better for their gardens and families.  

 Please help us support this creative educator along with all the teachers and staff at St. Paul’s School. Help us support faculty and students working towards practical and appropriate solutions. By donating, you are supporting Raphael’s vision of interconnected curriculums supporting the environment. Trash matters and we want to help the students of St. Paul’s put it in its place!

St. Paul
St. Paul's students working together in the garden

Links:

Local food from Haiti
Local food from Haiti

Every year, including this one, hurricanes threaten the Caribbean and the United States. It has been a year since Hurricane Matthew came through Haiti, and we have no reason to believe that the trend of powerful and devastating storms will be reversed. Knowing that these storms will continue to threaten the region, what can be done to protect those communities that have the most to lose and the least access to large scale investment, as they prepare for next year and beyond?

This year Haiti has been spared, comparatively speaking, though there was serious storm-related flooding in the North of the country. The 2016 Global Risk Index places Haiti as the 3rd most vulnerable nation in the world to extreme weather events. As we look for ways to minimize the risk associated with hurricanes, Haiti is a place of great need and great opportunity.

Last year, in response to Hurricane Matthew, CHP invested heavily in agriculture, planting trees, opening a seed bank, and strengthening agricultural education programs for students. By investing directly in local community agricultural structures, soil was conserved, local food systems were improved, and yields and profit margins increased for farmers, thus putting capital in the hands of local people as they recovered. 

Haiti is often portrayed as a troubled and distant land, a world away and rife with intractable problems; a daunting place to invest resources. As a person who has worked there for the past seven years, I can promise you that the short-term hopes and long-terms dreams of parents and children in Haiti are not so different than those you’d find here in Colorado. This leads me to the Boulder County Farmers Markets.

The Colorado Haiti Project recently held an event at Lone Hawk Farm in Longmont, wherein Brian Coppom, director of Boulder County Farmers Markets, along with a sizeable group of local Colorado farmers, came together to show their support for small farms in Haiti. Brian and his fellow farming friends and colleagues engaged in dialogues around food systems, production, and seed quality and all present saw clearly that while miles apart, there is a great commonality between the goals of BCFM and the Colorado Haiti Project.

The Boulder County Farmers Markets website reads: Our farmers and ranchers grow what they sell. Today, the markets serve as community gathering events, provide nourishment to neighbors, boost sustainable agriculture and support the local economy. These goals are shared by the Colorado Haiti Project and our local leadership in Haiti. The most significant and most troubling difference is that for most Boulder and Denver residents, the alternative to healthy food, is unhealthy food. In rural Haiti, oftentimes the alternative to healthy food, is no food. The hopeful reality is that there exists in Haiti a long history of community-based and community-driven structures, families lending each other labor and resources – a community gardening and co-op system. This type of organizing is what the local food movement we see flourishing in our American communities is all about. Community gardens, farm to table initiatives, the sharing of seeds, the Slow Food movement are all working to reinforce here our connection food, connection to the land, and connection to each other.   I find that the same people that are passionate about local food systems are also committed to the idea that we are not just a local community but a global one. 

We hope and pray that Haiti makes it through the last few weeks of this brutal hurricane season without widespread damage. In the meantime, investment in rural Haitian communities is producing outputs for the environment, strengthening local defenses against climate events, placing capital in the hands of local families, and putting healthy food on tables.

In the face of Mother Nature and her overwhelming power, it’s promising to realize that her beauty and bounty are part of the solution as well.  In sifting through the news of today, it can be daunting to consider where to invest limited resources. I suggest, quite simply, that we invest in the land and its farmers.   In doing so we find a chance to stand for some of our most important values, creating connection to our food, connection to the land, and connection to each other.

Farmers working to replant
Farmers working to replant
Seed bank opens after Hurricane Matthew
Seed bank opens after Hurricane Matthew
Patrick Desir speaks to Farm Dinner attendees
Patrick Desir speaks to Farm Dinner attendees
Women of the Petit Trou, Haiti Seed Bank
Women of the Petit Trou, Haiti Seed Bank

A seed bank in rural Haiti provides seed for over 6,000 families post Hurricane Matthew.

Five months ago, the Colorado Haiti Project launched a seed bank in the rural community of Petit Trou de Nippes, Haiti in response to the devastation of Hurricane Matthew. There were damaged homes, lost livestock and destruction of crops and food supply. The seed bank provided seeds at one-third the normal price affording access to the local staples of corn and beans.

 The first planting season post-hurricane is in the ground and the corn is high. The seed bank, through the efforts of the community and with the support of our donors, provided over 6,000 families rations of grain seed. Over 66,000 pounds of seed was sold and a mobile seed bank was launched to serve the remote mountain communities that were having difficulty reaching the centrally located seed bank.

 As we thankfully watch the results of this first planting, we begin to plan for future steps of agricultural preparedness with the community. One frequent request from the farmers and families of the region at the seed bank has been for other varieties of seed. Corn and beans are essential to the diet of this area but more is needed to complete the nutritional profile necessary for healthy families. This summer, the seed bank is offering kits for the next planting with corn and beans and the addition of chard, okra, watermelon and leeks. When the planting time is right, tomatoes, cabbage and onions will be added.

 Please continue to support this community-led project providing Haitian families with the life-giving tools essential to planting and growing their own food.

  • A kit to provide a family of 7 with corn, beans, chard, melon, okra and leeks- $10.00
  • A resource trip to purchase seed for the community’s seed bank- $75
  • Support the seed bank’s functioning in one of the remote mountain communities for a day- $150
The corn is high!
The corn is high!
Serving over 6,000 families since Hurricane Matth.
Serving over 6,000 families since Hurricane Matth.

Links:

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
 

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Organization Information

Colorado Haiti Project

Location: Louisville, CO - USA
Website: http:/​/​www.coloradohaitiproject.org
Project Leader:
Teresa Henry
Director of Donor Relations
Louisville, CO United States
$4,426 raised of $85,000 goal
 
8 donations
$80,574 to go
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