Betsy’s Return to Haiti

A message from Betsy Wall, Executive Director in Port au Prince on Thursday March 18, 2010

Greetings to you all from the tent city at Wall’s International Guest House! Although I have yet to see how it withstood the torrential downpour that is just easing up, it is at least still standing. We all are thinking of the thousands upon thousands who are hovering under sheets and tarps, enduring drenching chill rather than risk sleeping  in their home (if they still have one). The fear has not diminished. Streets are closed off in the evening as people are preparing “for bed” in the streets. There is a proverb that goes, “sleep is the little brother to death”. It has become scriptural.

I am seeing a desperation that I have not quite experienced in all of my decades in Haiti. Young men follow me, to open a door, to roll down a window, to tell me my sweater is caught in the door and plead for a dollar or two for this one second of “service”.  It was my first tremor of sadness.

I expected that it would first hit me at the guest house but there was no time. The 21 guests, a medical team from Alabama, continually thanked me for “letting them” be here. Of course, it is not me to be thanked but for me to be thankful that they are choosing to stay in such a situation but they are overjoyed… it is so much more than they had anticipated. They are eager to chat and to learn, as this is their first trip to Haiti. They are inquisitive and ask many questions: “What can we as Christians do for Haiti?”. I tell them in one word… “AGRICULTURE”. They were intrigued and pressed me to show them what a co-operative looks like. So today we went to St. Marc. It was a great day and I believe they are inspired to make such a difference in Haiti.

Yesterday, I spent time at the pcH yard office. It is really quite impressive. The pictures do not do it justice. It was a wonderful meeting. The staff was jubilant; less to see me and more because of all the activity that is going on. They were so thankful for the laptop and the cameras, although they could use three more computers, as the ones brought in January are under the rubble. Pierre Richard, his face shining like a happy child, speaks of the energy and motivation of the evaluation team in Duchity as well as the eagerness of the leaders and members of that community to participate in the assessment activities. We will be travelling there on Wednesday and returning with the team on Friday. I am very much looking forward to this. Of note is that the recent health survey developed last fall (for Fon Batis) is being incorporated into the assessment.

They are also very excited about the partnership with Oxfam Quebec, who is giving us office space at no cost for one year. In addition, Oxfam will continue to support agricultural inputs for one year, such as seeds, goats and chickens; and have provided training to pcH and farmers on raising goats. We will distribute these to Fon Batis, Delis and Breli. The following have been received and distributed lately: 28 household kits, 28 boxes of water, 300 bache (tarps), 2,222 hygiene packs, 300 mattresses, 600 food kits, and 300 sheets.

Oxfam has also accepted the two proposals for soil protection and irrigation for small vegetable gardens. The value of these projects is $250,000. They must be executed within 6 months. Launch is expected by or before April 15. We look forward to the implementation of these plans.

Agronome Yves Charles joined us to report on his visit to Zoranger, a new area past Titayen. We used some seed (200 marmit beans, 400 marmit pitimi, 200 marmit corn, 15,000 root manioc/cassava) received from Oxfam Quebec to help about 250 farmers. They are not a cooperative yet but they are so very eager to have training. Pierre Richard then emphasized that ALL cooperatives are pleading for training. We estimate that it costs $6,000 per cooperative for six months of training and follow up. Activities would include training for all committees as well as for general board members, business plan development, accountability, etc.

To add to the exciting news of the group in Zoranger was the announcement of a new model of cooperative in Fon Batis to manage agricultural tools.  It started with a little committee of 10 people and now there are 197 members! They have made money already by renting out the tools (about 40,000 GDE after five months). The growth in membership, as well as return, is an astonishing precedent.

Tomorrow we will be meeting with Dr. Yuri Zelenski and Dr. Jean Claude Cadet at University Hospital to discuss possible alliances in health care/agricultural production. In the afternoon, we will be meeting with representatives of Light of The World Ministries about the “food for orphans”. No real weekend plans yet. Normally I spend the weekend organizing sections of the guest house. I did this yesterday morning…organizing mattresses, etc and moving on to the large container where all manner of things are stored in typical Haitian fashion. I am sure I sweated off five pounds!

It has been very hot although the downpour has cooled us all off a bit…except for the spiritual fervour whipped up by this evening’s prayer meeting. A number of us are still up and there is a “riddle party” going on. I am not good with riddles.

Good night to you all.


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Earthquake Causing Food Crisis

Last week the FAO announced its worry that immediate agriculture needs were not being adequately funded, there is also evidence of rising prices for basic foods such as rice. Following up on these reports, Inter-Press Service reports today on the likelihood of an emerging food crisis in post-earthquake Haiti:

“Everybody needs to understand the need to act right now, otherwise the planting season will be lost,” Geri Benoit, Haiti’s ambassador to Italy and the Rome-based UN food agencies, told IPS.

IPS reports that is not just the FAO but NGOs on the ground sounding the alarm:

“Food could become the next catastrophe,” says anti-poverty NGO ActionAid. “People affected by the earthquake leaving urban areas, a forthcoming food price hike and a long-term underinvestment in rural areas and agriculture could all spell disaster again.”

The benefits of investing in agriculture are immense, as IPS reports:One dollar invested in agriculture will produce 40 to 60 dollars worth of food in Haiti, FAO estimates.On the other hand, the consequences of not doing enough are enormous, as Beniot told IPS:“you miss the planting season and for us this means you lose 60 percent of food production.”


Centre for Economic Research and Policy Research

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A New Day Dawns in Fon Batis

It is a beautiful morning in Fon Batis. The agricultural trainer has just spent several weeks training groups of 20 cooperative members in how to compost, start a nursery and establish a vegetable garden, introducing carrots, leeks, onions, broccoli, and beets. These were the last round of trainings that culminated in the graduation ceremony for this day.

As we rise, we hear the sounds of preparation, the blowing up (and occasional popping) of bright yellow and green balloons (the colours of the cooperative) and lively chatter along the path outside the compound. As it is in Haiti, the celebration starts when it starts.

There are 190 graduates. They begin to fill their designated seating area in the centre of the church. The cooperative development agents, monitors, and presidents are seated to the left. Staff and visiting dignitaries are seated to the right. Through the five doors crowd dozens of children, who then slip in along the walls, eager to observe their parents perform little skits and receive their certificates. Time and time again, the adults would usher the children out until the exercise became of no use.

The celebration is rich with music, beginning with a laborious rendition of How Great Thou Art and a singing and dancing column of women praising the graduates and FIDA/pcH for making this day possible. Presentations from each cooperative follow: BIENVENUE is spelled out. B is for the beautiful sun. I is for institution. E is for education. N is for normal. V is for voluntary. U is for united.

Each presentation attested to the benefits of education: the sick father who was charged $100H for poison dispensed by a Voodoo priest because he couldn’t read; a debate between two farmers about the merits of planting trees that bear fruit rather than cutting trees for charcoal; praise for FIDA/pcH because an end has come to signing and “X” for their name, “There is now light in our head. We are not afraid of the X.” The benefits of research are also celebrated, of knowing what questions to ask to help solve problems in the community.

But for many of us, it is the last presentation that provides the most powerful statement: “We have chosen to plant. We have chosen to end our misery. We put plants in the earth. We are given life. Our community has life. We have coffee. We have vegetables. Our misery is ended. We celebrate life of all plants. We celebrate our life. This is the festival of plants. We want more and more plants in Haiti. We have chosen to plant. We have chosen to end our misery.”

I remind myself of an ancient Chinese saying that helped shape the early constitution of FIDA:

“Go in search of your people. Love them, plan with them. Begin with what they have. Build on what they know. But of the best leaders, when their task is accomplished, their work is done, the people all remark, “We have done it ourselves.”

The names of the 190 graduates are each called to receive their certificates recognizing three years of rising at 4am and walking up to an hour to the nearest literacy center to attend classes before beginning their work day. The exceptional graduates, who practiced composting, soil anti-erosion, tree nurseries, and vegetable gardening, we all awarded new macehetes, or picks and handles.

Truly, a new day is dawning in Fon Batis.

by Betsy Wall, Executive Director, FIDA

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Education Overcomes Fear and Superstition

We received news by email on September 18th that an anthrax outbreak was reported in Fond Baptiste. More than 100 cattle were stricken dead, nearly 50 people were in critical condition and by the time the news reached us, three people had died. The next morning, two more had died. There were huge challenges faced. First, many people believed this to be a mystical illness brought on by a bad spirit. They didn’t believe the illness is transmitted through the meat of cattle. They continued to eat the meat of the stricken animals. They refused to destroy the carcasses. They refused to vaccinate and many fell sick. Vaccination, too, presented its own challenges. It takes 14 days for the vaccine to take effect. Without immediate results visible, farmers doubted the effectiveness and didn’t want to participate in the campaign. A sick animal often has no outward symptoms until the vaccine is administered (which eventually causes death). This led the farmers to believe that the vaccine is the cause of death rather than the disease (this is true only in that the vaccine accelerates the timing of an inevitable death).

The power of superstition also proved to be an enormous obstacle in tracking the source of the infection. No one would tell where the animals died so that area could be burned clean of the spores (which can be dormant for up to 20 years). No one wanted to admit to being sick until it was almost too late for treatment. It was time to pray for the enlightenment of this community; freedom from fear and darkness.

The Development Centres established through the literacy project became the conduit for education and organization. The pcH staff who are based in Fond Baptiste were familiar with the community, enabling lives to be saved through quick and responsive action. pcH staff member, Godmeze, mobilized the ADEVKO (Agents of Development Kooperativ) to help fight the epidemic at all levels. An awareness campaign was launched to inform the community of the hazards of anthrax. Signs were posted on the doors of the Development Centres. A ban on the sale of meat at the Thursday market was requested. A quarantine was suggested for the two affected communities. A relationship with SADA (Service and Development Agency of the African Methodist Episcopal Church) was initiated to begin vaccination.

Then there was light.

Results of the awareness campaign became evident. People who believed the epidemic was a curse and refused antibiotics changed their minds. They saw the results of the antibiotic and shared the news with others. The ban on the sale of meat was supported and enforced by officials of the community (surprisingly, no cattle were allowed to enter the market area). Firewood being precious, old tires were carried up to aid in the burning of carcasses. Cooperation with SADA ensured that sufficient medication was made available.

However, the economic recovery will be difficult to overcome. One hundred cattle is a huge loss for this community. Greater still, the loss of loved ones due to fear and superstition. The task is great but new light is shining.

Your support has given rise to minds being opened and lives being saved. On behalf of the pcH staff here in Haiti and the members and families of the cooperatives of Fond Baptiste, thank you.

by Janet E. Bauman, Country Manager, Haiti

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