A Vet Clinic to Remember a Giant

A group shot at the end of the day of everyone who participated in the vet clinic.

A group shot at the end of the day of everyone who participated in the vet clinic.

There are some people who seem larger than life itself.  Somehow these special individuals are able to fit more into one lifetime than many of us could in several.  Sometimes it’s their zeal for life or pure genius or professional accomplishments.  For Dr. Keith Flanagan, who was known as “Dr. Keith” to many, it was the way he tirelessly spent himself for others over the course of his 26 years of service in Haiti.

I never had the opportunity to meet Dr. Keith.  He passed away suddenly a year ago when Martha and I were new to Haiti and still meeting people.  I wish I had.  However we have had the joy of getting to know his wife Jan who is still in Haiti and attends our church.

Dr. Keith served in Haiti with Christian Veterinary Mission (CVM) which is a sister organization to World Concern.  CVM sends out veterinary professionals to serve in the U.S. and beyond.  Dr. Keith was a vet and was involved in everything from helping the government do vaccination campaigns to training folks in rural areas to become vet agents.

Hold on!  Cows don't like shots either.

Hold on! Cows don’t like shots either.

This past week marked the one year anniversary since Dr. Keith’s death.  To celebrate his life, a vet clinic was organized by the other CVM missionaries in Haiti and Haitian friends who were impacted by him.  Martha and I had the opportunity to travel with the group and document what we saw through photo, video, and interviews so Dr. Keith’s family and the CVM family could remember this special day.

Our good friend and CVM missionary, Rhoda, also participated in the vet clinic.  Here, she and Martha stop for a photo.

Our good friend and CVM missionary, Rhoda, also participated in the vet clinic. Here, she and Martha stop for a photo.

People in the village of Cabaye, one of the three villages part of the vet clinic, gather with their animals.

People in the village of Cabaye, one of the three villages part of the vet clinic, gather with their animals.

The clinic was held in three villages surrounding the town of La Chapelle, a three hour drive from Port-au-Prince.  This was an area that Dr. Keith invested in heavily during his ministry in Haiti.  Around 40 people, many of them community vet agents who were trained by Dr. Keith, came and volunteered their time for the day.  Three groups were formed (one for each village) and a cooler with vaccines and other medicines was given to each group.

Vaccines and medicines iced and ready to go.

Vaccines and medicines iced and ready to go.

Driving from La Chapelle to Cabaye.

Driving from La Chapelle to Cabaye.

We went out with one of the three groups and met all kinds of people who knew Dr. Keith.  One elderly man we met named Julien is a vet agent and was trained by Dr. Keith in 1990.  He remembered three separate trainings, each nine days long, that Dr. Keith gave on taking care of pigs, cattle and horses.  Julien still earns an income from his work as a vet agent, giving vaccines and doing castrations.

julien with animals1

It was really surreal to run into this man named Julien in a tiny village in rural Haiti and hear him say that because of Dr. Keith’s investment in him over 20 years ago, he’s still able to care for his animals and provide for his family by taking care of others’.  After speaking to a number of people like Julien throughout the day, it was clear that Dr. Keith had a significant impact on many people’s lives.

Wiltherne, a godchild of Dr. Keith and vet agent, doing great work!

Wiltherne, a vet agent trained by Dr. Keith, doing great work!

Dr. Keith was obviously a skilled veterinarian and a true professional.  It’s also obvious that he took genuine interest in people and sincerely loved them like Jesus would, whatever their story or background.  Both his skill and heart for others made him an effective vessel for Christ in Haiti for many years.

A time of reflection and sharing after lunch.

A time of reflection and sharing after lunch.

Here’s a short overview video Martha made of our day in La Chapelle:

What Would You Do?

Music and songs are one of the languages that really ‘speak’ to me, make me think about life, and move me. Just yesterday I heard a song whose tune seemed familiar (probably because it was a hit single when I was in high school). I stopped to really listen to the words this time. I have to be honest that the whole song is not the most wholesome story but it got me thinking and made a good point. The chorus says:

What would you do if your son was at home,
Cryin’ all alone on the bedroom floor
Cause he’s hungry and the only way to feed him is to
Sleep with a man for a little bit of money?
And his daddy’s gone, in and out of lock down,
I ain’t got a job now, he’s just smokin’ rock now.
So for you this is just a good time
But for me this is what I call life.

What would you do?! We don’t know the whole story of this woman but my mind was already going through questions and scenarios. Surely there’s got to be another option than selling your body to make a little money?!

But then I realized that maybe the point of the song is not the moral or ethical dilemma here. My mind quickly drifted to stories of people here in Haiti that left me wondering what I would do in their shoes.

What would you do if you were pregnant and discovered you have HIV which your husband passed to you? And if you say something you’re convinced he will leave, taking with him the security of an income.

What would you do if you were arrested and put in prison for stealing a goat but seven years later you are still in prison untried?

What would you do if you and your five children were suddenly left with no roof on your house after a hurricane and your limited income kept you from being able to repair it?

At first glance, I just see an HIV positive woman, a prisoner, and a victim. I might even see a promiscuous woman, a bad guy, and a lazy person. But once I meet them and talk to them, I begin to see the humanity behind each face and situation. I begin to see that things often aren’t as simple as they may have seemed when I was looking in from the ‘outside’. There is more than meets the eye—especially my judgmental eye.

I don’t mean to excuse bad decisions. I know that I have made plenty and experienced both consequences and grace. Life seems to be this intertwining of both personal decisions and things that we cannot control.

But bad decision or not, everybody has a story. The more I meet people who are different than me, the more I realize that no situation, no problem, no injustice has a simple solution.

Wendy and her husband visited us in Haiti last November and were able to meet some of the people World Concern works with in the South. At the end of their visit Wendy graciously shared some of her thoughts:

Development isn’t simple. That’s why at World Concern we believe in taking the time to listen to people’s stories. That’s why we engage with the community and local leaders when planning what to do. That’s why we rely on experts in the field. Most of all, that’s why we must rely on God to keep us humble, to keep us engaged, and to give us wisdom on how to serve his children—whether HIV positive, prisoner, or victim.

How television inspired a neighborhood to take action

Martha and I recently returned from a four day trip to northwest Haiti.  I always enjoy traveling; one of the perks of the job.  Sure there are long days spent on dusty roads but getting to see different parts of the country and meeting interesting people in these places makes it well worth it.

One World Concern project in this part of the country is working to establish storm shelters, repair a water system, build canals and gabions, and set up basic waste management systems, all while partnering with local committees.

A person we met on our trip is Juré.  He’s a middle-aged guy with five sons.  He lives in the city of Port-de-Paix and is the president of the sanitation committee in his neighborhood. We had an interesting and varied conversation with Juré, and I wanted to share some of it with you including how television inspired his neighborhood to take action.   Our relatively brief interaction shows the challenges of changing people’s behavior, the ingenuity of low income folks, some general perceptions, and the value of supporting local efforts to bring change.  I hope you enjoy this peak into our conversation and do please share your thoughts.  (Just fyi, these are not direct quotes but rather a collection of questions and answers based on my notes during our conversation.)

Wisley, the World Concern community mobilizer, introduced us to Juré.  His gave a firm handshake.  He was short but his broad build seemed to be an outward reflection of his confidence and determination.  He led us through a series of narrow pathways in the neighborhood until we reached his house, a simple cement home with a little porch.

Juré

Juré on his porch

Austin: How long have you lived in Jerilon (a neighborhood of Port-de-Paix)?

Juré: I’ve lived here more than 15 years.

A: And how long have you served as president of the sanitation committee?

J: Since three years.

A: How was the committee formed?

J: We saw on television how when other countries have a problem, they formed a committee and so we tried to do the same.

A: What is the objective of the sanitation committee?

J: The objective is to change the image of this neighborhood.

A: What are the activities of the committee?

J: To clean the neighborhood and work with children by teaching them how to live.  There are ten people on the committee but it is not enough to clean everything.  The community has many young people but some others do not want to help.

A: Why don’t they want to help?

J: There are always bad people not matter where you are.  People think we [committee] are connected with NGOs and have money to give them but it’s not true.

A: What assistance did World Concern give the committee?

Port-de-Paix, Sanitation,Canal_223

J: We now have shovels, hammers and wheelbarrows [gesturing towards the wheelbarrows stacked on his front porch].  When it rains trash comes back in the canal so we use them to get the trash and bring it to the dumpster.  Then we call the government service to pick it up.  They eventually come.

A: What about the new [recently installed] waste bins?

J: People use the bins in a good way.

A: Do people use them consistently or still throw the trash in the sea or canal?

J: Sometimes people throw trash elsewhere; everywhere there are bad people.

A: What do you do for work?

J: I am a mason and can tile but have not had steady work for three years.

A: Can you tell me about your family?

J: I have five children—all boys.  Here is the fourth one, over there [pointing to a teen boy with headphones standing with some friends].

A: Anything else you would like to say?

J: World Concern is our main backup in this area and can help us bring change here.

The new (and clean) canal along the main street in Jerilon

This may look like just a canal, but this canal along the main street in Jerilon will prevent flooding in people’s homes when it rains.  It’s kept clean and unclogged (a key in it’s effectiveness) thanks to Juré and the sanitation committee.

Keeping people first in life and development

Poeple first Sticker

“I didn’t see you this morning,” Jean said.  “You just parked the car and went upstairs without greeting me.”

My brain was full after another day of conversations in a non-native language and a thousand small things to attend to.  I quickly searched my mind for the events of that morning and then remembered that he was right—I had got out of the car and went directly into the office.

“Oh I’m sorry,” I said apologetically which I followed with the first lame excuse that came to mind.

There was no excuse really.  I simply forgot to greet a friend and co-worker that I greet most days. Although this wasn’t the first time I had forgotten, he was quick to forgive.

“That’s okay,” he said with a grin.  “I’ll see you Friday because I’m off tomorrow.”

This recent conversation served as a clear reminder that I am living and working and serving and operating in a place where your social ‘network’ (don’t read social media here) is highly valued and is for many their most prized possession.  Since this network is a priority, people’s choices and way of life reflect this.

And I had forgotten that.  As a part of my friend’s network I had, in a small way, broken this important yet unwritten social contract.  I didn’t mean to.  I honestly do not remember consciously choosing to not greet him.  It just was not on the forefront of my mind that morning, and as I’m learning, it certainly is not a part of my cultural ‘DNA.’

Haiti is a great teacher.  Sometimes its’ lessons are harsh and sudden, other times they are more gentle and subtle.  This time it was gentler but still a lesson to ponder and the lesson was this—people must come FIRST.

People First Collage4

Personally I know I am not quite there.  I want to be but if I’m honest with myself, I know my love of beating deadlines and creating beautiful spreadsheets and solving logistical problems and writing compelling stories, stand in the way.

Now I realize completing tasks are a necessary part of life and work and ministry however it shouldn’t be what comes first—people should come first.

The truth is I come from a culture that demands productivity at all costs (including relational ones) and that is hard to shake.  Thankfully my Haitian brothers and sisters are patient and forgiving.

This is a lesson for those of us who work in community development as well.  How many well planned and financed projects have failed because the people the project aimed to help were not put first?  It is easy to get swallowed up by logframes, impact evaluations, baseline surveys, proposals, and many more things that occupies our minds and demands our attention when running a project.

However we need to remember the ultimate purpose for all these tasks—to help people live safe, healthy and productive lives.  And how can we achieve that without putting people first?

As a well-known developmentista recently put it on Twitter, “It’s not about the data, it’s about the relationship stupid!”

Austin shaking boy's hand

So what’s the application for development workers and agencies?  Listening is certainly one practical step that those in development can take and it is getting some traction.  Projects like “Time to Listen” and the recent focus on feedback loops are encouraging signs.

Listening is important for me personally as well as I attempt to break free from my tendency to go and do first instead of putting people first.  Ultimately I just need to value these relationships more than my list of to-dos.  A shift in priorities and a ‘renewing of the mind’ is in order.

I’ve been blessed with good relationships in Haiti and I want to see those continue to grow and develop because in addition to benefiting from these relationships myself, that’s really why I’m here—to invest in people.

A couple days later I saw Jean, faithfully guarding the entrance to our office and greeting people as they came in the front door.  I didn’t forget to say hello and ask about his family this time.  I’m learning, albeit slowly

.

Jwaye Nwèl

Warm Christmas Photo

Jwaye Nwèl or Merry Christmas!  We are celebrating our first Christmas in Haiti.

Our tree may not be pine, but it is still a Christmas tree.  There may not be snow outside, but it still feels cozy with friends gathered and some real Haitian hot chocolate.  We may be experiencing some different traditions, but at the core Jesus is still the reason we celebrate.

We hope you have a memorable Christmas this year, wherever you may be.

 

The value of supporting local efforts

Marseille (left) and Jean (right) discuss with the other members in the background.

Marseille (left) and Jean (right) chat.  The other members are in the background.

In Haiti I am learning how crucial it is to work through existing channels, whether government or non-government partners, when implementing a project.  The sad reality is that in Haiti some (not all) projects fail to achieve the long term impact envisioned at the beginning.  This happens for a variety of reasons however one is that organizations and ministries often do not put the effort into understanding what channels or systems or initiatives already exist within a given community and then working through and alongside them.

Since Haiti is impoverished it may be tempting to assume that functioning channels do not exist but this just isn’t true!

One example is a local organization in the village of Lavaneau in south east Haiti.

I first visited Lavaneau in June 2012 on our initial trip to Haiti with World Concern before moving here permanently.  The community’s irrigation canal had been destroyed during hurricanes in 2008 and they were left to rely on rainfall for all their water needs.  World Concern offered materials and technical support but the organization was responsible for the construction and management of the canal that brought water down from the source and for four newly built water fountains.

canal_lavaneau1

A couple weeks ago Martha and I had the opportunity to return to Lavaneau and were pleased to see the irrigation canal and four water fountains still serving the community.  But I was more pleased to see the quality of this local organization which World Concern worked with on the project and how they are still active, with no plans to slow down.

The organization is headed by a man named Jean Metelus.  He commands respect but is not intimidating.  When we arrived on this particular day he and other members of the organization, including the secretary, greeted us.

As we reached the canal and began chatting, Jean instructed the secretary to take notes of our meeting.

Organization members share about the project and their work.

Organization members share about the project and their work.

“The organization will celebrate its 23rd year of existence in 2014,” Jean shared.

Continuing he said, “Our organization has farmers, engineers, teachers, masons, pastors.  We work on projects in agriculture, small business, buildings.”

What tremendous human capital!  It was encouraging to hear the organization speak of the skills and resources that exist in the community and it was particularly impressive that these have been so clearly identified.  Although each community possesses certain strengths and resources, not all know exactly what those are and who has them within the community.

In addition to constructing a new irrigation canal that is 92 meters in length and four water points, the organization established a system for collecting fees which are used to help maintain this infrastructure and fund other projects in the community.

Farmers pay a small annual fee and in return can have access to two hours of water a week.  The water is disbursed by small gates that are built into the canal.  When a gate is lifted, water flows from the canal into the farmer’s field.  When we visited, some of the gates were not working properly but the organization says they plan to fix them.

The water collected at the four water points is free however a family can pay a fee of almost $2 a month if they want water piped directly to their home.

Girls collect water at one of the four water fountains

Girls collect water at one of the four water fountains

One thing that caught my eye was how clean the canal was.  I saw very little leaves or rubbish in the canal.  In Haiti canals are often used as dumping grounds.  I asked one community member about the cleanliness and he responded, “People are responsible for cleaning the section of canal in front of their house.”  This is an example of the far reaching impact this organization has had in the community.

When we were leaving Lavaneau I asked Marseille, World Concern’s project coordinator in south east Haiti, what it was about this organization that made it work.

“The strength of this organization is its history and that its members equally represent all 18 localites [small villages] within Lavaneau,” he said.  “Everyone in Lavaneau has a say.”

What do you think the outcome of this project would have been if World Concern came to Lavaneau and began work how they saw fit without consulting and working through this local organization?  At best the physical work would have been completed and may have lasted for a couple years before deteriorating.  At worst the project could have completely flopped early on leaving the community disempowered, disenchanted and still without consistent access to potable water.

I am not so naïve to believe that this local organization in Lavaneau is without flaw or that World Concern always does things well.  However I will say that World Concern in Haiti does understand the importance of community based action and the need for working through and supporting existing channels and Lavaneau is an example of this.

As we were preparing to leave Lavaneau one representative from the organization asked, “What do you think of our work?”

“It is good.  It is very good,” I said.

Driving through Lavaneau

Driving through Lavaneau

On The Road in Haiti: A Week In Review

The first week of November Martha and I had the opportunity to host a lovely couple named Adam and Wendy from California and a colleague from Seattle named Dave.  Adam’s family has been involved with World Concern for over 30 years and although Adam had traveled with World Concern previously, this was Wendy’s first trip.

This was Martha and I’s first donor trip to help coordinate since moving to Haiti so we were excited but a bit anxious as well to see how everything turned out.  Well I’m happy to report that other than one flat tire and a little motion sickness on my end, the trip was smooth and without any hiccups.  Our colleagues are diligent and gracious, which we were reminded of constantly throughout the week.

Here is a look at our five day trip together stretching from Les Cayes to Jacmel and then back to Port-au-Prince.  As always, photos were taken by my talented wife.

Tuesday
les cayes presentation1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our day started with a presentation of all World Concern current activities in southern Haiti given by our staff in Les Cayes.

morency well1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We visited Morency, near Les Cayes where Adam’s family helped build this water well in 1998.

morency school1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just up the road from the water well in Morency is this primary school which World Concern also built in 1998.  The school is currently a partner in our Hope to Kids program which provides goats and husbandry training to students so they can generate income and pay for school.

morency goats and bernard1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here students line up with their goats so Bernard (pictured far left), the Hope to Kids project coordinator, can give vitamin and deworming shots.  Most of the goats do not like the shot at all and afterwards jump around frantically, which the kids get a kick out of.

Wednesday

farm group shot1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What a good looking group!  West of Les Cayes World Concern leases a few acres of land that is used as an ‘outdoor classroom’ where our staff hold trainings for local farmers.  We had the opportunity to visit the farm and speak with staff, farmers and interns from a couple local agronomy universities.  The tractor you see above is one that is used to provide plowing services for farmers.

farm flooding1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last month southern Haiti received a lot of rain…too much rain in fact.  You can see that there was some flooding at the farm when we visited.  The staff were draining the field and focusing on their raised beds.

les cayes staff eat1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To thank the World Concern staff in Les Cayes for all their hard work and to enjoy some fellowship, we shared a delicious meal at Gelee beach.  This small restaurant is owned and run by a World Concern microcredit client which is awesome.  Rolande, the owner, has been a client since 1998.  We were happy to support her business and eat her delicious food!

Thursday

drive to jacmel1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday morning we drove from Les Cayes to Jacmel.  We took Route National 2 which is well paved and provides some spectacular views as you zigzag up and over the mountains.

group lavaneau1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once reaching Jacmel and meeting up with Marseille, World Concern’s project coordinator in south east Haiti, we drove to the community of Lavaneau just outside the city.  Here World Concern helped a local organization rebuild their irrigation canal after it was destroyed by hurricanes in 2008.  The local organization is 22 years old and works on a variety of projects in their community.  In this photo we’re speaking with the president of the organization and other members.

water fountain1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In addition to the construction of a new irrigation canal, World Concern supported the local organization in Lavaneau to build four water fountains like this one which we visited.

Friday

figue church1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday morning we drove to the village of Figue, high up in the mountains east of Jacmel. This is the inside of the church in Figue that was rebuilt following Hurricane Sandy last year. The congregation did an awesome job painting the church and making it beautiful.

figue fountain1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

World Concern also helped Figue build a new water system which brings water from a source in the mountains to this water fountain.  You can read more about World Concern’s work in Figue by clicking here.

kokoye1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Haitians are very generous and the folks in Figue were no exception.  Here’s the remnants of the coconut that we enjoyed during our visited.  A guy will take a machete and with precision cut off the top so a small hole is exposed; perfect for drinking the cool contents.

tap tap1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday afternoon we drove back to Port-au-Prince.  This was the leg of the trip where I got pretty motion sick.  As we drove through and around and up and over the mountains from Jacmel to Port-au-Prince I was sitting in the back with the luggage.  The Dramamine I took apparently didn’t do its job.  Adam was nice enough to swap seats on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince.  In the photo above you can see one of the many taptaps (the public bus in Haiti) we encountered upon reaching the capital.

Saturday

lookout1

Adam, Wendy and Dave flew out Saturday evening so we had all day to explore some of Port-au-Prince together.  Here is a panoramic shot Martha took of the city from a popular lookout.

lunch21

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Before heading to the airport we stopped for a late lunch.

It was a fantastic week.  Adam and Wendy were able to see firsthand how God is using World Concern to serve and equip communities in Haiti.  It was an honor to introduce them to this amazing country.

Eloude & Loulou

Driving through Tapion.

Driving through Tapion.

In the coastal village of Tapion in southern Haiti lives a sweet, soft spoken woman named Eloude.  She and her husband Loulou have five children and have lived in Tapion for just over 15 years.

I first met Eloude and her family in June of this year.

In October 2012 Hurricane Sandy ripped through southern Haiti destroying more than 18,000 homes.  Eloude and Loulou’s home was left largely intact however the roof was completely destroyed.  World Concern helped them put on a new tin roof and also gave Eloude some cash to get her small business up and running again.

This was a family that left an impression.  Honestly not everyone does.  I meet many people and some interactions are impactful and others are indifferent.  However their relaxed and inviting nature, coupled with good conversation is what made the difference.

Eloude and Loulou outside their home.

Eloude and Loulou outside their home.

Well last week I got to visit Eloude and Loulou again which was awesome.  Martha and I were traveling with a colleague from Seattle and a couple donors from California in the south and stopped to see them.

Four months on since I first met Eloude and Loulou they are doing okay.  All five of their kids are attending school this year at the national school down the road which they’re proud of.  They are also adding on to their house slowly.  Eloude continues to run her small business on the road in front of their house selling pate, a popular Haitian snack, and other items.

Several years ago Loulou received a cow from World Concern through an animal husbandry project.  At the time he decided to sell his cow and use the income to purchase a motorcycle which he uses to this day as a moto taxi; giving rides to people from Tapion to the city of Les Cayes which is the largest in southern Haiti.  This consistent source of income is huge for the family.

“It [income] allows me to send my kids to school and give them food,” explained Loulou.

Although the motorcycle is still serving him well, Loulou said that people prefer to ride newer moto taxis so that’s a challenge for him.

“They say mine is granmoun,” he chuckled.  Granmoun is the word typically used to describe an elder or older person.

This family is an example of how World Concern stays involved with people over time.  Dips in private giving and grant cycles that inevitably end are challenges of course but the goal is to continue to invest in the same families and communities, and it’s encouraging to see that play out in the life of Eloude and Loulou.

As I revisit people and churches and communities that I’ve been to previously it brings a lot of joy to see relationships form.  My Creole is far from perfect but improving (albeit slowly) which really opens up lots of doors relationally which is exciting.  Not sure when I’ll see Eloude and Loulou again but I hope it’s sooner rather than later.

Eloude, sporting her huge smile, and her children.

Eloude, sporting her huge smile, and her children.

Happy International DRR Day

DRR Day Intro -blog

Today we celebrate the International Day for Disaster Reduction.  I have to say that before coming to World Concern, I was not really aware of disaster risk reduction (DRR) and the magnitude of its importance.  I knew that prevention was important but I often only thought of it within the realm of health.   The more I see and hear about DRR and the devastating impact of hurricanes and other disasters, the more I believe that we can no longer be a people of reaction.  We have to think ahead–imagine the unimaginable.  Not for the sake of freaking ourselves out and burdening ourselves with worry but for the sake of being prepared and preventing unnecessary loss.

“Every time something very dramatic happens we hear people say, ‘Oh we could not have imagined that this would happen.’  So I would say really the first thing that we have to do is to start imagining what can happen.  To actually acknowledge that this may happen to me as well.” 1

- Margareta Wahlstrom
Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction

DRR is one of World Concern’s largest focuses here in Haiti.  Community meetings, trainings, building canals.  Yes, it’s nowhere near as glamorous as digging wells or giving goats to young children so they can go to school (both of which are very important to development), but sometimes we need to take off our “I-only-see-glamorous-development glasses” and ask ourselves what is important.

So what does DRR actually look like?  Take a look at some ways World Concern is working to decrease the risks and improve preparedness vulnerable communities in Northwest Haiti.

11-DRR Training for Staff_NW Haiti_CIDRR Presentation Photos_2013Knowledge is power safety   Community Mobilizers are trained in topics related to DRR as well as water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH).  They then go into the communities to hold trainings in order to raise awareness and increase preparedness among the vulnerable population.

16A-Canal Construction Djerilon_NW Haiti_CIDRR Presentation Photos_2013Canals to prevent flooding   This canal in the community of Jerilon, which is located in the city of Port-de-Paix, is one of several being constructed in Northwest Haiti to prevent flooding in surrounding homes.   They are carefully built at the right capacity and strength to handle heavy rains during rainy season and hurricanes.

Loading Materials_NW Haiti_CIDRR_8-13__26A shelter during natural disaster   Roofing materials are loaded into a truck headed for Northwest Haiti.  There, schools and church buildings are renovated to withstand hurricanes and earthquakes to ensure the whole community has a safe shelter to go to during the next natural disaster.

SchoolsPreparedness in schools   We are working with schools in five different communities in the city of Port-de-Paix to create emergency plans that they can use in the case of disaster.  Administrators and teachers are also given training in disaster management.

Xavier Alix farmer_NW Haiti_CEDRA_5-13Agricultural security   In 2012, drought caused $20 billion dollars of economic loss in the Americas.  Yes, billion.  Drought resistant seeds which require less water can help farmers like Xavier Alix feed his family despite changing weather patterns.

So Happy International Day for Disaster Reduction!  Thanks for taking the time to be informed and consider imagining the unimaginable.

Want to dig deeper?

*  I would recommend this 5-minute video based on the 2013 Global Assessment Report for Disaster Risk Reduction.  It touches on some of the different issues in DRR across the world today.

*  This is not just an issue affecting Haiti.  It must be considered in the US too.  This Guardian article talks of urban areas like New York, Boston, and Miami and the dangerous combination of their high risk of flooding and low preparedness.  “Inaction, could lead to losses in excess of $1 trillion a year [across the world].”

Compost: It’s More Than Just Dirt

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Of all the challenges farmers in Haiti face—poor infrastructure, inconsistent rainfall, and limited access to modern farming tools just to name a few—a lack of affordable fertilizer was not the first obstacle that came to my mind.  However in fact this is a huge hindrance for farmers.

“In Haiti we don’t produce chemical fertilizer so small farmers, even poor farmers, when they are poor they cannot afford to buy a sack or a bag of chemical fertilizer.  That’s too expensive for them,” explains Pierre, World Concern’s regional coordinator in southern Haiti and an agronomist by trade.

An alternative to expensive and imported chemical fertilizer is organic compost.  Compost is not commonly used currently in rural Haiti but the benefits are numerous which is why World Concern is introducing it to small farmers.

“There are many advantages to compost.  First compost provides nutrients for the plants, helps to rebuild the soil, reduce soil erosion, and compost helps in the structure of the soil.  Also when we plant it can last more; it can improve the soil longer than with chemical fertilizer,” according to Pierre.

Perhaps most importantly, the materials needed to make compost—animal manure, straw, moisture, ash—are common things that even poor farmers have access to.

On a warm Friday morning in September, twenty-four small farmers and agronomy students from two local universities gathered together on a farm outside the city of Les Cayes in southern Haiti.  This four acre farm is leased by World Concern and serves as a training center; a place to educate and teach agricultural techniques.  On this particular day this group was gathered to learn about organic compost.

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Huddled under a simple tin covering, the group listened carefully as Pierre began sharing about organic compost—the definition and theory, and especially the process of making it.  It took a bit of improvisation but eventually a makeshift screen was erected to display images on a projector.  Several participants raised their hands to ask questions which sometimes produced a lively debate.  The teaching and discussion was rich.

It was obvious these farmers and students were eager to learn.  As I was observing, a thought arose; although most definitely poor and vulnerable to uncontrollable forces, the people in this group are not passive.  They chose to spend their precious time, one whole day, coming to this training to glean new insight and to discover a new technique.  This is encouraging and challenges the notion that the poor are only waiting for the next handout.

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After a couple hours of teaching and discussion, everyone piled into World Concern vehicles and drove to the nearby Université Notre Dame d’Haïti (UNDH), one of two local agronomy universities World Concern partners with.

Here a demonstration took place, putting into practice what was taught that morning.  Pierre and the other World Concern staff put emphasis on actually doing the work of making a compost pile.  So before long, farmers and students were moving compost bins and digging in the dirt to the tune of instructions.

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Pierre, far right in striped shirt, and others getting dirty.

Later in the day Pierre summarized the process of making compost.  “There are different ways we can make compost but this is one of the ways.  We make compost in bins.  In the piles we make some straw first, we add animal manure, we may add also some ash.  And again repeat the same layer of straw, layer of animal manure, layer of ash and so on until we get it high and then we stop.”

“Usually it takes 3 months but in the process we have to turn it perhaps one month, second month and third month.  After the third month, it is usually ready to use.”

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Brunelle, 30-year-old husband and father of one, was quiet but attentive during the demonstration.  He is trained in administrative management and was formerly a teacher before beginning to farm full time.

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Brunelle, all smiles

“From November we will start to plant tomato.  Now we are getting ready for the new season.  We are making nurseries and preparing seeds,” he shared.  “The harvest is very useful because we eat it and we sell it as well.”

“This is my first time to work with compost,” continued Brunelle, “But the training is really good and I am learning a lot and I will try and implement what I have learned.”

21-year-old Fontaine (pictured below) is a third year student at UNDH and was equally interested in what was being taught.

“I had some knowledge about compost but today I went deeper.  Today I had a better understanding of compost because they taught us the theory and now we are getting the experience,” she said.  “Compost helps the plant to grow better and also it ventilates the soil more and brings more nutrients.”

fontaine portrait1

This young woman was inspiring.  Our conversation moved beyond compost to her interest in agriculture and her dreams.

“First of all, I decided to study agronomy because I like it very much.  Secondly, because of the situation in the country.  Haiti is not even able to feed itself so we would like to produce more because we are an agricultural country.  This is how I would like to help Haiti,” she shared.

Wow.

Continuing Fontaine said, “We would like to feed our own population.  I am not saying importation will be over but we can decrease it.  We just want to feed the population and produce more so everyone can eat better.”

It was an honor meeting Brunelle, Fontaine and the others at the training that day.  You begin to see how incredible of a resource the country of Haiti has in its people.  Although they may lack material wealth, they possess sharp and eager minds, gifting’s, and a desire to improve their lives and their country.

With an estimated 60% of the population—nearly six million people—in Haiti engaged in agricultural activities, supporting small farmers and Haiti’s future agronomists is crucial in moving the country forward and helping people feed themselves and earn an income.

“If they can make their own compost with the residues from their crop they only need a little technique to do that so when they get this technique they can produce their own natural fertilizer and improve their soil, increase their production and also protect the environment,” said Pierre.

World Concern is walking with individuals like Brunelle and Fontaine; encouraging them and providing them with skills and resources.  Conducting a compost training in one example of what this looks like.  Who knew a pile of dirt could be the source of transformation?

Oh and according to Pierre, another thing Haiti has going for it is that there is no snow…..