I recently read a blog that began with the words, “Haiti is a country known for its statistics.” Such statistics being the not so good ones such as majority of the population living on less than $2 a day and tens of thousands dead following the 7.0 magnitude earthquake in 2010. As this blog said and as I believe too, “Haiti is full of potential” despite these statistics and the bad press the country often gets.
This potential is often best seen within Haitians themselves. They are people very capable of becoming change makers in their families, communities, and country. I was reminded of this recently when Martha and I attended a five-day agricultural conference called ‘Konferans Agrikol.’
The goal of the conference was to bring together delegates from across northern Haiti who are actively working in agriculture and sustainable development for exchange, cross-learning, stimulating presentations, and hands-on workshops.
The conference was hosted at L’Université Chrétienne du Nord d’Haïti’s (UCNH) beautiful campus in Limbe and coordinated by our good friend and Christian Veterinary Mission (CVM) missionary Rhoda Beutler, who is actually an agronomist. Rhoda worked closely with a committee made up of UCNH faculty and a couple others from organizations in Limbe and Cap-Haitian. There were also many other volunteers who put a lot of effort into making this conference come together.
Martha and I were representing World Concern at the conference and also documenting the conference through photos, videos, and interviews so that materials can be produced to attract delegates for future conferences throughout Haiti.
Additionally Martha gave a short photography training to the conference’s interns who were responsible for take photos of what they saw throughout the week and then sharing highlights with everyone at the end of the conference.
The first evening was spent giving a presentation of activities for the week and introductions. As introductions in Haiti can take a long time (an open floor is just too enticing) delegates were encouraged to take 3 minutes to introduce themselves and the area of their work.
We didn’t get to everyone that first evening but right away I was impressed with the high level of interest and capacity shown by the delegates who introduced themselves. Delegates were representing churches, grassroots groups, non-government organizations, and peasant organizations but all were focused on agriculture and sustainable development.
Presentations were given almost daily throughout the week on topics such as: soil conservation, animal husbandry, new and improved agricultural techniques, and even the chikungunya virus which has been wreaking havoc in Haiti the past few months.
While the presentations had a lecture feel, there was often discussion and comments from the delegates, each sharing their insight and asking questions. The fact that the conference created a space for cross-learning was the most unique aspect in my opinion because everyone had the opportunity to benefit from each other’s experience.
UCNH was an ideal place to host the conference because as a university it has a dormitory, cafeteria, and meeting facilities, not to mention lots of space outdoors. I told Martha it reminded me of summer camp for adults! Here are some of our new friends enjoying breakfast before the day began.
In addition to presentations, the conference also organized several hands-on workshops. This is a photo of the compost workshop. Some of the delegates were familiar with composting already but it was new for others. This workshop and the others were valuable because they involved ‘learning by doing’ not just listening.
Dr. Kelly Crowdis (center, at the table), also with CVM, gave a workshop on diseases which can be transferred between animals and humans. This workshop was very conversational and delegates took turns sharing stories and asking questions.
Any idea what these delegates are doing? This workshop was about the “Nivo A” (or A-frame) technique which is used in contour farming and helps prevent water runoff and soil erosion. Obviously this is a very important and relevant technique for people working in agriculture in Haiti to know. I sure learned a lot!
Later in the week, there was a day of field visits. Three field visits were organized in total to three different organizations doing unique or new work in the region and each delegate was given the opportunity to choose one. Martha and I helped lead the visit to the Meds & Food for Kids (MFK) factory and experimental peanut plots (pictured above), and to Carbon Roots International’s production site.
MFK makes a nutritious and peanut based ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) paste for malnourished kids in Haiti. They work closely with local peanut producers in the region and teach them about growing and storing this crop. MFK produces this paste in Haiti and has a beautiful facility (pictured above) which we also toured.
These photos are from Carbon Roots’ production site. They are all about sustainable charcoal technologies. Haiti continues to see its trees chopped down to fuel the ever hungry charcoal industry; contributing to many problems such as climate change and environmental degradation. Carbon Roots is trying to provide another option–treeless charcoal or “green charcoal” made from agricultural waste like sugar cane and corn refuse.
The staff at both sites were very hospitable and receptive. The delegates were very curious about the work both of these organizations are doing and hopefully encouraged them to think outside the box in terms of how their own organizations operate and function. Local ingenuity is certainly present in this country, it just needs to be channeled in the right direction and I think these field visits helped delegates see what is possible.
What a good looking group of people! It was refreshing to spend a few days with these remarkable people. I walked away feeling very encouraged because I met many people who love Haiti and are working diligently to help people in this country live more healthy and productive lives. Haiti has tremendous potential and there is so much more to this place than statistics. Things are changing for the better, albeit slowly, and it’s fun to see a glimpse of that happening from the ground up.