Tag Archives: capacity building

Stories and Photos: We need help!

Recently there was something a little different going on just outside the World Concern office in Port-au-Prince.  One of our co-workers was ‘pushing’ a parked van, another was ‘washing’ their hands under a faucet, and you could see someone else ‘watering’ the plants.  They weren’t actually pushing, washing, and watering; they were having their pictures taken.  We were practicing photography!

noel washing

It’s exciting to work toward something with others.  It’s also important to recognize when you need help.  Martha and I have realized we need to put more energy into collaborating with and leaning on our co-workers here at World Concern when it comes to stories and photos.

We all need photos and stories.  Our co-workers write reports of their activities and insert photos and write short stories about the people they are serving.  We do the same, primarily for fundraising and advocacy purposes in the U.S.  So why, we asked ourselves, don’t we work together more on this?

Since the introduction of our communication liaison position a year and a half ago, we have seen an increase in the quantity and quality of stories and photos collected in-country, but we know we could accomplish more if we worked even closer with the World Concern staff that are interacting with people in the field each week.

By working with our co-workers to create a system of storing and sharing collected information and exposing them to some tips and tricks of interviewing and photography, we hope to (a) create a spirit of collaboration, (b) further develop the skills of our co-workers in these areas, and (c) capture more stories to show our supporters exactly what we’re doing and who we’re serving.

We recently held our first training session on all this with our microcredit co-workers in Port-au-Prince and we had a little fun with photography practice.  They will each collect a story with photos in the next month and we’ll meet again in July to see what went well and what can be improved.  To make it even more exciting, we are having a little contest to see who conducts the best interview and takes the best photos.

Martha 1

Martha sharing about why we collect stories and photos.

They say that two minds are better than one.  Well how about a whole team full of creativity.  We’re excited to see how this journey of working together to collect stories continues to progress.

lesly & van

austin & staff 2

Checking out the finished product.

Role playing 1

Role playing!

Food insecurity and the silent crisis in Haiti

Quietly, a crisis is brewing in Haiti.  You likely have not heard about it.  It rarely makes headlines or even surfaces in mainstream media.  It currently affects 6.7 million people, or about two thirds of the country’s population.  And it is getting worse.

fastfoodAt the center of this crisis is one of humanity’s most basic needs—food.  In Haiti, as of March of this year, 6.7 million people face food insecurity.  Simply put, food insecurity refers to a limited supply of food and the inability to access it.  This means families in Haiti, already stretched financially, are forced to make hard decisions.  Where will we get food today?  How much food can we afford?  Will we eat two meals, one, or even none today?  Can I afford my children’s school fees when there are more pressing needs?  These are questions no one should have to ask and wrestle with on a daily basis.

Why is Haiti on the verge of a food crisis?  Like many things in Haiti, there is not one answer.  However a series of brutal storms and droughts in the past year has been a big player.  There is a brilliant infographic published by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) that provides an overview of the natural disasters Haiti has faced since May 2012 and how these events have exacerbated the food situation.

Haiti-hurricane-sandy---Web

The destruction Tropical Storm Isaac and ‘Superstorm Sandy’ left behind in 2012 meant combined agricultural losses totaling $174 million.  This is an incredible amount of money when you consider that the average Haitian only earns $700 per year.  There is no safety net in Haiti, aside from the support one has from their family and others in the community.  Though Haitian culture is very communal and it is almost expected that you will help out someone when they are in trouble, there is only so much support that can be given.

For poor farmers, the most valuable thing they have is the land they work.  Their entire income may be dependent upon a successful harvest.  Following Hurricane Sandy, 70% of Haiti’s crops were destroyed.  This means a loss of income for many farmers and less food available on the market, which drives up prices.  These two outcomes, due to a rough year of consecutive natural disasters, are why so many people are currently facing food insecurity.  

Even in normal conditions, Haitians spend a huge portion of their income on food.  Rural households spend almost 60% of their income on food and the poorest groups spend more than 70%.  Compare that to the average American who spends 11% of their income on food.  It doesn’t take much to imagine how drastically different your life would be if it took the majority of your income just to feed yourself.

The cost of living here in Haiti is actually quite high and is not something widely known.  It has definitely surprised Martha and I since we moved here to work with World Concern.  To put things in perspective, currently our monthly food budget is the same as it was in Seattle (and we’re not buying imported wines and cheeses).  We often eat rice twice a day because it is cheap, a good filler, and we like it.  Martha and I have the resources to feed ourselves even if the cost steadily rises.  Unfortunately, this is not true for many in Haiti especially as food insecurity worsens.

So what can be done?

A priority must be to get farmers producing again.  Productive farmers mean increased income for families and also a needed boost to local production.  This is why supporting farmers and helping them become successful is important and positively impacts both farmers and consumers alike.

World Concern’s food security project is one way we are attempting to support rural farmers.  In 2013 alone, this project aims to improve food security for 2,000 people.  This is a really cool project and one that I am happy to share about.  World Concern leases three hectares of land in three different departments and uses the space as an outdoor classroom.  Here, local smallholder farmers are taught how to produce high quality seed that they can use season after season.  Other trainings geared towards youth interns, the next generation of farmers, teach best practices.  Another important piece of this project is the introduction of mechanized equipment to local farmers.  Many farmers in Haiti work the land manually which is tedious and difficult work.  The project uses small tractors to help farmers increase productivity.

Row of okra at World Concern's agricultural training center (outdoor classroom) in southern Haiti.

Row of okra at World Concern’s agricultural training center (outdoor classroom) in southern Haiti.

Youth interns at the training center enjoying some watermelon.

Youth interns at the training center enjoying some watermelon.

A training about how to protect the soil and prevent erosion.

A training about how to protect the soil and prevent erosion.

Getting some hands on experience.

Getting some hands on experience.

 

One of the project's tractor hard at work.  The tractor's are used to help local farmers during planting.

One of the project’s tractors hard at work. The tractors are used to help local farmers during planting.

Food insecurity remains a real threat to families in Haiti.  This is a big issue and cannot be dealt with quickly.  However it is exciting to see World Concern take important steps to support rural farmers and strengthen their capacity to become productive.

This is definitely a silent crisis.  My goal is to, at the very least; make people aware of the current situation and how it is affecting millions of people in Haiti.  So please check out the links you see throughout this post and become informed.  Even do a little research on your own if you feel compelled.  In order to effectively engage we must understand what is going on and why.  Thanks for reading!

 

Cooperation & Clean Water

“Water cooperation is not an option — it is an imperative for a better future for all.”          – Irina Bokova, director-general of UNESCO

Today is World Water Day!  Although this is celebrated annually, it has extra significance this year because the United Nations General Assembly has declared 2013 “International Year of Water Cooperation.”

Water is a shared resource, and therefore requires everyone to join in and help make important decisions.  According to World Bank estimates, only 51% of the rural population in Haiti has access to an improved water source.  Providing access to water for those who still lack access to this basic necessity is a huge task and will likely only be accomplished through intentional cooperation.

So, on this day I wanted to share with you about a place called Michineau and how World Concern collaborated with local stakeholders to provide clean water.

World Water Day - Michienau Photo Spread

Michineau is a Section in southeast Haiti.  In Haiti a Section is a collection of small communities.  This region of Haiti is known for its’ mountains.  Michineau is surrounded by these formidable mountains, which provides a stunning backdrop.  However amidst the natural beauty people remain vulnerable to heavy storms which can wreak havoc and harm existing water supplies.

In 2010 Hurricane Tomas swept through Haiti and damaged the water system in Michineau.  With the system destroyed, people throughout Michineau were forced to journey up the mountain each day to the source to collect water and then carry it back home.

“It would take around 2 hours to get water,” explained Carel, a local community leader.

If more than one trip was required for a household’s needs then even more time was spent on this laborious task.

Michineau_Water Day8

We had the opportunity to walk a couple kilometers up the path leading to the water source and it is no easy stroll.  It is steep and rocky.  I’m not in terrible condition, but even I was pleased to reach the source so I could catch my breath!  Carrying water long distances on this path would be tiring and time consuming.

Thankfully the system is operating again!  World Concern, in partnership with the community, repaired and strengthened the water system in Michineau.  Now there are seven functioning water points through the Section.  Each water point is equipped with sinks for washing and water collection, and showers for bathing (as seen in the three-photo spread above and the photo below).

Looking down on one of seven water points in the community.

Looking down on one of seven water points in the community.

Carel (in the yellow shirt), World Concern staff, and local community leaders collaborating.

Carel (in the yellow shirt), World Concern staff, and local community leaders collaborating.

Crucial to the success of this project was cooperation between everyone involved including: local community leaders like Carel, the Department of Civil Protection, grassroots groups, and local church leaders.

Not only is water flowing again in Michineau but the local Civil Protection Committee has been trained and is now better equipped to respond to future disasters in their community.  It is this thorough and collaborative approach to development that makes our efforts last.

Bertrand Russell, the 20th century philosopher and Nobel Prize winner, said “The only thing that will redeem mankind is cooperation.”  I think he was on to something.  Cooperation is especially relevant and necessary when transforming communities and we have seen this first hand in Michineau.

World Humanitarian Day

Today, you may or may not know, is World Humanitarian Day.  This annual global celebration is meant to “recognize those who face danger and adversity to help others.”  Essentially, it is the ‘Labor Day’ of the humanitarian world, for our U.S. American friends.  It is a day of remembrance and action.

The World Humanitarian Day site says it like this:

We honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, and we pay tribute to those who continue to help people around the world, regardless of who they are and where they are.
Every day we see and hear images and stories of pain and suffering in our own neighborhoods and in countries far away. But we also find acts of kindness, great and small. World Humanitarian Day is a global celebration of people helping people.

This day is an invitation for people from all religious, ethnic, and geographic backgrounds to not simply remember those that have labored for others, but to become someone who is laboring for others.

Especially as people of faith, it is important to be involved and engaged, both locally and globally.  This is how the world will know who we belong to right?

Jesus himself said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

I do not want to sound too idealistic and persuade you that what happens on World Humanitarian Day will change your community and our world for good.  That is simply not true.  However, I do want to applaud the attempt at togetherness that is associated with a day like this and challenge you take action.  World Humanitarian Day is also an opportunity for advocacy and education.  You know Martha and I care deeply for Haiti; the first black republic in the world and the second country to achieve independence in all the Americas (aah see, education).  This is a nation that faces numerous challenges, but is also a nation that bursts with vibrancy and potential.

World Concern is an organization that is interested in tapping into this potential.  We, as an organization, seek to empower individuals and partner with local communities in Haiti to encourage transformation.  One way we do this is by providing microloans to small business owners and entrepreneurs like Rolande (pictured left).  We were able to meet Rolande and hear her story of how the microloan she received from World Concern has allowed her to expand her business and meet her family’s needs.

 

 

Martha and I are honored to participate in this work of transformation, and we invite you to join us.

We have seen how World Humanitarian Day is about remembering those that serve, becoming educated, and committing to doing something for others.  So in this spirit, I want to suggest ways that you can become involved in our work in Haiti on World Humanitarian Day:

  1. Get educated!  Watch a video and read an article below
  2. Post the link to our blog on your facebook or twitter page
  3. Partner with Martha and I in Haiti by making either a one-time or monthly gift to our ministry

“Solving the Tap-Tap Puzzle” – A FRONTLINE/Planet Money Special Report
A look at the colorful public buses that you find around Haiti

“Wasn’t Meant to Be” – Nu Look
Music from the well known compas band Nu Look

Powering Lights and Progress in Haiti – Haiti Rewired
An article about Haiti’s energy and electricity challenges

Seeing Beauty in Haiti – World Concern blog
A look at post-quake Haiti and World Concern’s work in building shelters

 

Thoughts on a week in Haiti

It’s hard to believe it has been almost a week already since Martha and I left Haiti.  We hope you were able to read our posts throughout the week.  If not, just keep scrolling and you will see them!  Now that we are back in Seattle and have had a little time to process our week in Haiti, I wanted to share some thoughts.

Thank you to those of you who were praying for us and thinking of us.  It really does help on those long days!  Where to begin?  Overall, it was a very affirming trip.  I totally agreed with Martha when she said, “Being there makes it feel much more real and tangible.  It doesn’t feel as far off or surreal anymore.”  We both just felt this peace all week about living in Haiti and being a part of World Concern’s work there.

The structure of the trip was the best way I think to be introduced to a new place.  We were traveling with a handful of other World Concern Seattle staff, which provided us with great travel companions.  A couple of our travel partners had been to Haiti before, so we enjoyed hearing stories leading up to our arrival at Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port au Prince.  The week’s events were already planned for the group and us, so it was nice to not worry about details and just soak everything up.

The World Concern Haiti staff was just amazing.  Our new colleagues exceeded our expectations as hosts and guides.  We are so excited to work alongside these talented people.  Naturally, Martha and I were curious about lots of things we saw.  We had lots of questions!  The staff was gracious and taught us a lot about the country and World Concern.

I learned that one of the primary forms of transportation in Haiti is the tap-tap.  I had heard about the infamous tap-taps before leaving Seattle.  In a PBS Frontline episode I watched about tap-taps, they mentioned that tap-tap owners might spend hundreds of U.S. dollars on the exterior paint job in order to attract would-be customers.  Interesting strategy, but it totally works.  There were a number of more “flashy” tap-taps I saw that I would have gotten on long before I gave one of the more “simple” a try.  If you only have a few seconds to decide which tap-tap to jump on, lots of color goes a long ways!  We did not get a chance to ride a tap-tap on this trip, but I’m looking forward to doing so when we return.

After spending a couple days in Port au Prince, we traveled to some rural areas in southern Haiti where World Concern works.  The three days we had in the south was just awesome.  It is one thing to hear about our projects and partnerships with communities, but to actually see these places and meet the individuals being impacted makes it very real.  We visited World Concern’s agricultural training center near the city of Les Cayes.  World Concern leases a little over one hectare of arable land and uses it as an ‘outdoor classroom’ for area farmers.  Farmers are taught new techniques and learn how to best utilize good seed.  So far, the training center has equipped 50 area farmers.  In rural Haiti, agriculture is the primary source of income, so it was encouraging to see how World Concern is involved in supporting farmers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We are eager to get back to Haiti and begin our work there!  There is so much more I could say, but I better stop for now.  Keep checking back for more pictures and updates on our week in Haiti.  Thanks for being a part of great community development in Haiti!

Are you on Facebook?  If so, click this link to view more pictures from our trip to Haiti.

 

 

Exploring the world of grant writing

As you know, Martha and I are currently making preparations to leave for Haiti and begin our work there.  Along with supporting raising, this time of preparation includes participating in some trainings that will help us do our jobs better once we arrive in country.  We want to be at the top of our game when we arrive in Haiti to provide the best support possible to the stellar staff World Concern already has there, so we are excited about the opportunity to hone our skills now.

Last week I (Austin) started an online grant writing course called “A to Z Grant Writing” through a local community college.  One of my responsibilities as Communications Liaison will be to assist the local staff in preparing grant proposals with the goal of building their capacity in this area.  World Concern is doing some great work in Haiti and in order for that to continue we need to consistently seek out funding.  I have some experience with public and private grants through an internship I did last year with another organization, so I hope this course will provide me with a deeper understanding of the grant writing process.  We are currently in lesson two and I have already learned a lot!  So I am confident that this course will prepare me well for my future role of supporting my Haitian colleagues in putting together top notch proposals.

I wanted to thank each of you for your support because without it, participating in trainings such as this grant writing course would not be possible.  Your investment in Martha and I now will truly make a difference in our ability to serve well in Haiti.  So thank you for being a part of the transformational work going on in Haiti!