Donor Stories

The Third Choice

I was an ambivalent teenager when I first followed my father to Haiti in the late 1960s; not sure that I wanted to visit a country smothered in abject poverty and even more unsure what on earth I could do about it. I have learned a lot since that fateful weekend trip. I have learned much about the complexities of Haiti and its people, of poverty, of why it is and why it seems to never go away. “The poor will always be among us,” said Jesus. “So why do anything?” I once thought. However, I chose to act otherwise. My upbringing was one that encouraged analytical thinking, to source the cause before treating the symptom. It was this kind of thinking that brought my father (FIDA founder Jack Wall) to believe that the cooperative model was what Haiti needed.

He was (and is) right. The viability of the cooperative model as well as its essentialness in Haiti was brought home during a recent interview with Brett Fairbairn, Director of the Centre for Co-op Studies at the University of Saskatchewan. “Cooperatives exist,” he says, “Where there are social and/or economic voids. They are a response to exploitation (or the fear of) and serve to correct economic disadvantages. When people intentionally yet voluntarily band together there is less risk of exploitation.” Cooperatives are engines of change. They emerge in environments where 1) there exists no individual or 2) no political will to initiate or execute change. “Cooperatives,” he says, “Are the third choice.” He went on, “The successful cooperative is always bottom up. By its nature it is a developmental and educational process for people to be involved. Cooperatives nurture leaders who in turn become spokespersons for their communities on a wider (political) stage. Where coops exist there is greater social capital for individuals and communities to respond and engage.”

As I was hearing this, I could not help but think of three cooperatives who have complied with the new protocols for credit, and of my visit to a classroom in the high mountain area of Delpeche beyond Fon Batis.

Against the outside door leaned the tools of their working day. Inside were the tools of their tomorrow. “And what has the cooperative done for you?” I asked the members. “It has brought us literacy,” they all say. “And what have you learned?” “We have learned what coop is, how it started, what our rights are. We are stronger and know better how not to be tricked or cheated.” I pressed on, “And what will you be able to do with this knowledge?” “We will have a chance to improve our family life, to plant a garden, to buy a chicken, an extra marmite of seed, invest in a business or in our community. We can send our children to school so they can learn a trade and be useful to society.”

I couldn’t resist one last question: “What would you like to become?” It was with this question that I was given the gift of hearing their dreams, the impossible dreams for them. But dreams that may now be realized for their children. “I would like to have been a nurse so my community would be given good medicine and good health. I would have been a teacher and have built a school. I would have been a lawyer in town so that people from my community would have someone who would receive them with heart. I would have been an agronomist.” On and on they spoke. “We have cried and cried for literacy and we did not hope it was possible until the cooperative came,” they said. “We do not have the economic means yet, but we will.”

They were unanimous in their voice. Cooperative will bring transformation. From the bottom up, Haiti is moving beyond survival. We will do well to watch what will become of this people.

Editorial by Betsy Wall, Executive Director

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Listen, and you will hear voices empowered

One of the most important committees of each cooperative is the Supervision Committee. It is their function to hold the cooperative management accountable to the membership. This is not an easy role to play in Haiti where presidents (even in cooperatives) tend to impose a kind of kingly authority over the cooperative.

Pierre Richard Pierre, pcH Adult Literacy Coordinator, conducted the two-day training seminar held at l’Église Bapitste de Robert at the Chinchiron cooperative. The methodology employed is that of Global Learning Partners (GLP), which embraces the concept of “learning to listen, learning to teach.” The principles of this methodology/training are to answer the question: “How do we know that they know?” Can they do what has been taught? Can they ask the right questions? Can they fill out a form? It is training over teaching. The principal player in this methdology is the person themselves. The trainer (pcH) is the facilitator of the learning.

Participants identified the ‘fruits of the cooperative’ (health, economics, finance, change); resources needed (pencils, notebooks, rulers, calculators, receipt books); documents required (bylaws, constitution, contract copies, credit policies, outstanding loans) and other planning tools (inventory counts, calendar of visits, chronology of activities, reporting forms).

Participants were learning how to do their job, how to supervise and how to hold their administration accountable. They came to understand that the Supervision Committee is the most important one of the cooperative. They are not formed to judge or accuse, but to hold the truth. They are to prepare fair and accurate reports to present to the General Assembly. They understand that they have a right to call a meeting at any time if findings reveal discrepancies or misdoings.

It was an empowering seminar to witness. Each group performed a skit that posed questions to an often resistant administration.

How profound the learning! How profound the ability to read and write! How profound the building of community, of realizing equal opportunity that comes through learning. How profound the lessons of exercising accountability, the power inherent in self esteem, in hearing your voice making a difference. This is the beginning of democracy.

And I was watching it unfold…

Editorial by Betsy Wall, Executive Director

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Documenting Haiti

About a year ago, I was sitting at the breakfast table in Wall’s International Guest House when I saw a chuckling, energetic group of people hop into a white pickup truck with padded blue seats and head off into the controlled chaos that is Port-au-Prince. I shook my head. “In the back of a pickup truck,” I muttered. “Are they mad?”

This was my first experience of a FIDA Haiti Adventure Tour-one that (unbeknownst to me) included FIDA staff Peri Seifert, Glen Radke and Betsy Wall. At the end of October, I too hopped into the back of a pickup truck. And no, they weren’t mad. The trip is far more interesting from the back of a pickup truck. This time, this tour, was just a bit different.

This is a ‘media trip’ as well as a Haiti Adventure Tour. Our media were Stephen Edgar, a Toronto-based photographer with a yen for Haiti, and Urie Bender, a Baden based writer. The purpose of this trip — if we can put so fine a point on it — was to document.

Document. What does that mean? Witness. I think of it as witnessingWitness FIDA/pcH’s projects. Witness the impact.

The impact is tremendous. I am still processing it all. Images stick in my head. Walking along the muddy roads in Fond Baptiste early in the morning, we visit a literacy centre. Approaching the first centre, women’s voices sing a welcome song that rises into the morning. By the time we make it down to the centre (a ten minute walk and they are still singing), they are dancing, smiling and waving their arms to us.

Or walking out to a cabbage field (owned by the president of the cooperative) to see a konbit (work group) weeding the field. We pass homes, through yards (a woman with her three month old son), past donkeys laden with baskets of produce, down to the field where men and women scythe weeds in rows of cabbages. Steve is in action: his camera quietly clicking, snapping in a roll, reloading, snapping. Collecting images.

The next afternoon, Urie sits with Cassandre Jerome, the Coordinator of pcH’s Agriculture Programme, and performs an in-depth interview. Collecting words. Curious cooperative members are on the porch watching the proceedings. As we play Casino, a popular Haitian game, they ask:

“What is he asking her?”
“It is an interview. He’s asking her what he wants to know.”
“Has he been to Haiti before?”
“Yes, around twenty years ago.”
“Twenty years! You’re kidding.”
“No. And now he’s back.”
“What does he think about Haiti now?”
“I don’t know yet. We’ll find out.”

Yes, we will find out. The film will be developed; the words will come together. The collection of words and images will come together. The collection of words and images will percolate into a documentary of Haiti through the eyes of cooperation and respect. This will be yet another means of bringing the story of Haiti to Canadians: Haiti beyond the pictures of bloated children with watery eyes; this story will be the Haiti of the cooperatives; the Haiti of the konbits and schools of singing women; the Haiti that is poor, yet strong; the Haiti that has so much to tell us. May we listen.

by Sarah Cardey

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I Have Followed the Clouds to Shangri-La

A euphoric feeling swept through me as I beheld the waves of green, etched against a brilliant, blue Haitian sky. This was the lost city, a jewel, hidden from the view of dust-shrouded tap-taps winding the National Highway below: Deye mon, gen mon (Behind the mountains, there are mountains). The discovery was unexpected, delightful and inspiring: another chapter in my growing mental scrapbook of life in Haiti. My ‘first chapter’ began between the pages of a Haitian history book. The people’s will to survive captivated me. A Haitian friend summed up the tenacity of this spirit in a Haitian proverb: It is better to be ugly than be dead. I knew then that I had to meet these people.

In May 1998, I had my chance. Nothing quite compares to the first time! Haiti is a land of contrasts. One of the most beautiful and disturbing is the presence of joy and innocence in the midst of squalor and misery. Disturbing because it doesn’t fit Northern logic, which equates success, happiness, even God’s blessing, with a nice home, shiny car and a promising career. Disturbing because you suddenly find yourself on the receiving end of a relationship in which you believed you were the giver.

Be still and listen.

In my whirlwind ten day tour, I cradled the fragile life of a malnourished child, climbed the Citadel, and waded in the waters that had claimed thousands of courageous boat people. I massaged the wasted legs of AIDS patients and walked along the rows of street vendors, hawking their wares. I was inundated with poverty; the history that led to it, the system that sustained it and the people who suffered it.

I also saw hope in the beaming faces of the children, pride in the graceful stride of the women and a burn for opportunity and education. I heard the voices raised in praise, and behind every smile, joy. Haiti and her people moved from my head to my heart. I was captured.

I returned home with more questions than answers: what is help? Haiti is teeming with mission groups. People from all walks of life serving in hospitals, building orphanages, evangelizing, sponsoring students, teachers and churches. Have church-based missions made a difference in both the lives of the individuals who contribute and the lives of the specific individuals they touch? Undoubtedly.

Have church-based missions had an impact on self-sufficiency? Have they been able to eradicate the malnutrition, which feeds the proliferation of disease they treat? The act of charitable giving contributes to the cycle of dependency that has stifled grassroots development.

Consider the importation of used clothing or rice; the local tailor or farmer cannot compete with these well-intentioned donations. They fall victim to our misguided attempts at help.

What happens to the Haitian school or church that has built upon the temporary generosity of some Northern institution? Reality is that, within organizations, priorities shift, budgets drop, people get nervous or influenced by a negative media and the flow of aid can trickle or cease. The structures they’ve built upon a foundation of goodwill crumble or collapse, and a wall of mistrust towards the North rises from the rubble. Haiti is a graveyard of good intentions.

This is less a criticism than an observation. Humanitarian aid serves best to relieve specific and severe short term needs. Difficulties arise when charitable organizations compromise development with paternalism. Development respects the capacity of the individual and community. Development opens the door of opportunity to economic growth, without removing responsibility. The community can then provide its own medical care, construction, administrators and teachers.

At the close of my second visit to Haiti, a Haitian friend asked me if I had completed my quest. The answer was no. My friend replied, “Good. Then you’ll be back.”

And so I returned, standing in the back of a Land Cruiser, on top of a mountain in a cloud, gazing across acres and acres of beans and corn. I had my epiphany; commnunity-based development, the cooperative model, people of all faiths joining together in productive enterprise. My question, what is help, was finally satisfied. I can only imagine the dedication that it takes to plant mountains of corn, beans, cabbage and potatoes with only a hoe. Or to select rocks from the field and grind and sift them into powder to make cement blocks. That’s the human spirit at work. When development is of the people, for the people and by the people, the hearts, minds and hands of the people engage in cooperative ownership of their community. Development becomes a way of life: sustainable.

What is our role? To be servants: to respect, to listen, to ask, to build relationships with trust, to assist in providing tools, information and opportunities, to educate others, and to get out of the way!

Have I arrived? No. New questions surface to replace the first. I’m on a journey, and in Haiti, the journey is the destination!

by Valerie Mossman

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True Development must be in the Hands of the People

“… If true development is not by the people for the people, it will fail.” I must have heard this statement a thousand times over the years as Jack’s daughter. It was the premise, after all, of what brought my parents to Haiti 16 years ago and it was their faithful belief in that premise that has sustained them over the years. Moreover, it has become true to itself: sixteen years in Haiti and 50 years of marriage. Their trip to Haiti in November was a celebration of these things.

Jack, you have been patient with us. We know that God may take you from us but we wish that you would live forever. We know that you will die but the seeds that you have planted here will never die.” Thus began our evening meal in Fon Batis. In a narrow room of long and narrow tables, uneven chairs, the glow of a single Coleman lantern, we gathered to share oversized bowls of rice and beans and chicken and tender, warm, humourous conversation with the presidents of the Fon Batis cooperatives.

Look around you,” the president of Coopérative Victorieuse invites. “Look at this building you are in. It is a building that is only in progress. We must keep moving forward. I was surprised to know that the money that is coming here (through CIDA) is from the Canadian taxpayer. When I knew that, I decided to make whatever sacrifice to use this money in the right way. Even though Jack and Anne are getting older, they are learning another student to take over the job. I want to thank Canada, for today we are learning to read and write. The literacy program has been a miracle for us.

And then the next president takes his turn and says, “I want to thank each of you for making the sacrifice to come over these mountains and share dinner with us tonight. We thought Fon Batis was abandoned in the world but we now know God had a plan for us. He has used FIDA to bring us people, good seed and now a literacy program. We know that we are being led in the real development way.:

We stand, hold hands, and then the men begin to sing softly, a hymn of a most beautiful melody.

Indeed, true development.

By the people. For the people.

by Betsy Wall

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It is the message we all long to hear, “I have not forgotten you”

Having grown up outside the city working on neighbouring farms, as well as delivering feed for a number of years, I experience a sense of comfort and security within the familiarity of rural settings. I don’t pretend to be an expert in any field of agriculture or related industry but I do admit to having a fascination and interest. So, when opportunities present themselves to partake first hand in the experiences of ‘farm life,’ I gladly join in. Be it climbing into the cab of a brand new John deere, chewing a mouthful of freshly harvested wheat or slopping through the mud at the annual plowing match, I’m always game.

You can imagine then, how keen I was to experience ‘farm life’ in Haiti, when on the second day of our adventure tour, we boarded the back of a pickup truck and headed for St. Marc to see the cooperatives. Having travelled to developing nations before, I was expecting to see a different way of rural life than what I was accustomed to. I was anticipating the many tiny garden-sized fields cut out of the jungle sustaining meagre crops. I was expecting to observe many men and women, with bodies and brows glistening in sweat, working by hand in their fields under the hot, tropical sun. I wasn’t surprised as we neared the village, when children of all ages, dressed in soiled, tattered clothes chased our vehicle into town playfully trying to catch a ride on the bumper.

I wasn’t surprised. That’s what we expect to experience in a country like Haiti. That’s why so many organizations set down on the shores of Haiti, in attempt to bring help and the message of hope to these struggling people. Though well intentioned, we, perhaps, have not communicated the message that we had desired. In our eagerness to help, we have often hastily imposed our ‘new” and ‘better’ ways of doing things. We march into their culture and their lives smelling of affluence and privilege. We impatiently tear down their ‘old’ and replace it with our ‘new,’ all the while shaking our heads in disbelief, wondering how things became so backward. “We are and you are not,” “We have and you have not.” It is a message that I believe is incompatible with Jesus’ Gospel.

After spending time listening to Janet Bauman, FIDA’s Country Manager/Team Leader in Haiti, and to members of the cooperatives, I learned that another message is being communicated; one which is being whispered deep into the souls of these Haitian farmers. It is the message of the Creator to His creation. It is the message that we all long to hear spoken from the mouth of our God. It is the message, “I have not forgotten you.” These words were shared during a potluck supper in the remote mountain village of Fond Baptiste by a cooperative president. He was thanking God for sending FIDA to his village. He was thanking God for loving him enough to lift him out of his despair by breathing hope back into his life. No one wants to be reminded of what they don’t have or what they can’t do. Instead, people want to hear that they are precious, respected and full of God-given potential. I am glad that this is FIDA’s message to Haitian farmers… that each has God-given potential and each can realize it!

Whether by helping an adult farmer learn to write their name for the first time or by enabling a family to send all their children to school through the introduction of better yielding crops, FIDA is working to help the beautiful, unique people of Haiti become all that God created them to be. This is what we believe God is calling FIDA to do and it is in this way that we are asking you to be our partner.

Ron Weber on his Haiti Adventure Tour

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A People of Faith. A People of Fear.

It was a presentation made to an OAC class at a local high school, here in Waterloo. They had been studying the cycles of family and were interested in hearing of family life in Haiti. I had titled the presentation “What Memory Runs Through.” Families in Haiti are not all that different than families in Canada, or here in the Waterloo Region, for that matter. They, like us, wish for a peaceful, productive life of well-being. They like to work. They want to be able to feed their children. They want their children to be healthy. They want somewhere to go when they are sick or hurt. They want to go to school. They want a place of worship.

What makes families in Haiti different? Indeed, what makes any family different are the memories that run through.

There is a story here for the children of Waterloo Region. It begins in 1516 when Martin Luther posts his 95 thesis on the door of the University of Wittenberg. It was the cannon shot of the Reformation, the birth of Anabaptism, the seed of Mennonitism. It is a powerful chronicle of faith and spiritual fervour for which no price was too high to pay. From Germany, Switzerland, to Holland and Russia, Mennonites fled, settled, and fled again, finally finding refuge in places like Waterloo County. Memories of faith are the fabric of this region, now one of the most fertile and agriculturally productive pockets of Ontario.

What a contrast to the memories of Haitians that are rooted in greed. Betrayal, murder, rape, unconscionable brutality launched a slave trade in the Caribbean that would scar generations. Fear, lack of identity, low self-esteem, sense of powerlessness; trademarks that disabled an entire nation to be productive, to believe in a tomorrow.

What memories run through?

These two stories move me greatly. The first, because I am a child of that noble history of faith. The second, because I know children of fear. Haiti connects them both. Haiti is where we hold hands, where we listen and learn and share; where faith meets fear and rises above. When one sees the harvests of potatoes and beans and carrots, it is faith in living colour.

by Betsy Wall

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“It was the best trip I had in 80 years!”

“I went to Haiti to see how well my money was being spent,” said Ray Good of St. Jacobs, “And I returned home feeling that this was the best trip I have had in 80 years!” Ray, who is 80 years old, a retired businessman and FIDA supporter, was one of 11 people from the Waterloo area who traveled to Haiti in February 2000 to see what in the world FIDA was doing. Ray admits that it took a bit of convincing to commit to taking the trip. “I even canceled my ticket at one point,” he says with a laugh, “But I sure am glad I went.” One of the highlights for Ray was getting to meet the foster child he supports through Compassion Canada. Both Ray and his niece Maria spent a day visiting their foster children at Wall’s Guest House. One of the highlights for the rest of us was watching Ray and Homer Schwindt, FIDA Board Chairman (the other octagenarian on the trip), attempt to inflate a soccer ball with a balloon pump (a gift for Ray’s foster child). The next three days of the tour were spent on the road visiting FIDA sites… Haute Saint Marc, where we met with representatives of the cooperative who have had great success in marketing Taiwanese rice and are now anxious to build a silo for their growing harvest. Without a silo, the coop is forced to sell the excess yield, thereby affecting the price they are able to get at the market. They are equally anxious to build a new classroom for the growing number of children now able to attend school. What a wonderful treat it was to hear the musical rote of lessons being learned!

The second day trip to Dessables was an exceedingly hot and dusty trip where lives the poorest of the poor. Dessables, being a desert zone, has little to no agricultural potential. FIDA operates a health clinic here, under the very capable guidance of Health Clinic Coordinator Rosemene Flezin. This clinic, which is now completed (through a spring fundraiser held two years ago), has trained in this past year 32 health agents, 17 matrons, and 11 veterinary agents in 11 areas. It has given care to 2,798 malnourished children, provided 7,255 children with vitamin A, and vaccines for 196 pregnant women and 2,998 women who are of childbearing age.

The third day trip to Fon Batis, always the most difficult, proved to be the most rewarding. This day, we travelled with Canadian embassy representative Michel Guillmette and a crew from Haiti TV to celebrate the completion of a 25,000 gallon reservoir. The reservoir project includes a laundry area, shower stall, and toilet facility and was one of the 25 projects that are approved each year through the embassy (Approximately 800 applications for these small time-framed projects are received each year. This is the second project that FIDA has had approved in the last two years). The incredibly steep trail to the reservoir itself inhibited some members from visiting the site. The real celebration, however, was not lost.

Further up the mountain, hundreds of people had gathered to share with us their thanksgiving for their new reservoir. “We started little by little,” said the president of the cooperative, “And now we are growing. We had a problem with water and FIDA presented us to the Canadian Embassy where Raynall (FIDA’s coop coordinator) insisted on this project. Then God led M. Guillmette to realize this project. We are thankful to FIDA for bringing us cooperatives, for giving us technical assistance. We are thankful to God for sending you to us.”

Then a young boy beat out a gentle rhythm on his drum. The women of the cooperative swayed through the slim aisle, carrying on their heads baskets of beans, cabbage, potatoes, yams, coffee beans… the fruits of their cooperative, and set them at our feet.

They sing, “Women are the cornerstone of life. Without us you cannot succeed. We care for the home, we care for the garden, we go to market. Men, you must not take advantage of us. Without us, there is no life. We are important to the fight, we must fight together if we are going to change our life. So men, take your hats off to us.”

And the men did.

Our trip could have ended there for each of us remained profoundly moved by what we had just seen.

Haiti Winter Adventure Tour

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