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Archive for the ‘Haiti earthquake’ Category

PLD nurse with hand washing placard

Haitian nurse / PLD staff member showing placards used in teaching family health and sanitation measures.

Despite considerable obstacles, progress in Haiti over the past six months has been impressive.  We continue to focus on building the foundation upon which to create strong, lasting local institutions. This includes assessing existing local structures, promoting community development plans, strengthening priority activities to meet basic needs, and developing broad-based leadership where women and youth may participate equally in decision making structures. Since October 2010:

  • 341 new gwoupman (small solidarity groups of 8-15 community members who pool their limited resources) have been formed.
  • 1,258 village leaders have initiated training to learn to support locally-led development processes.
  • 46 democratically-elected village committees have been established to promote cooperation, help ensure continuity of the process, and fulfill a number of other important functions.

Also, due to the cholera outbreak that began in October, during the past six months we have paid special attention to community health. Since last October:

  • 227 new large family water filters and 273 latrines have been built.
  • 2,231 families have adopted water and sanitation (including hand washing, water treatment, etc.) measures to avoid cholera and other waterborne diseases.
  • 18 village health committees were formed. They promoted and supported the cholera prevention activities as well as workshops on HIV/STD prevention, which were attended by 3,594 adolescents and adults.
  • PLD staff and local health committees launched a massive campaign to aid victims, educate families about preventative sanitation measures and provide basic supplies (chlorine for water treatment and oral re-hydration solution).

Finally, great strides continue to be made with respect to agroecology and natural resource management. For example, during the past six months:

  • 1,182 farmers have been trained in critical soil and water conservation techniques.
  • 89,194 tree seedlings have been produced and have or will soon be planted.

These are just a few of the recent accomplishments in Haiti. Now that the cholera epidemic has abated somewhat, we are again shifting our focus back to creating strong local organizations, and we are placing increased emphasis on income generating activities (seed banks and micro-savings and credit) that have the potential to become self-financing mechanisms for local organizations. We are also working with partners with stronger capacity levels and those that have already transitioned out from being directly supported by PLD to build networks between peasant organizations and supporting them to increase outreach to neighboring villages.

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Report on Groundswell's February 2011 monitoring and support trip to Haiti.

Report on Groundswell's February 2011 monitoring and support trip to Haiti.

During the week of February 13 – 19, 2011, we traveled to Haiti to meet with Partnership for Local Development (PLD), Groundswell’s main partner organization in Haiti, to observe and assess the work undertaken during the past year, strengthen PLD’s Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation (PM&E) system, and collaborate to adjust strategies and plans for the future.

We had the opportunity to meet with two of PLD’s current partner organizations, the Peasant Movement of Saint Michel in Artibonite Department and Bailly in the district of Bahon in the Northeast Department, as well as an emerging peasant organization in Saint Raphael, where PLD is expanding its program activities.  We also met with the Peasant Organization of La Victoire, a strong, long-time local partner in North Department that is now helping other communities to organize. The last day in Port-au-Prince we met with like-minded NGOs to discuss collaboration.

Please take a few minutes to review the report.

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Seed storage in Bailly, Haiti.

Seed storage in Bailly, Haiti.

Even before Haiti’s earthquake, Partenariat pour le Développement Local (PDL) and Groundswell International were working to strengthen peasant organizations to regenerate rural areas as the foundation for Haiti’s future.  Since the earthquake, we have redoubled our efforts.  Our recent visit to the rural communities where PDL is working reinforced again two essential ingredients to lasting change in Haiti:  sustainable agriculture and strong local peasant organizations.

PDL began supporting the community of Bailly, in the Northeast Department, in October 2009.  Two months after the earthquake I visited Bailly (March 2010).  At that time, PDL had supported local people to form about 80 gwoupman (solidarity groups of 10-15 women and men), and we witnessed the gwoupman open Bailly’s first community-managed savings and credit fund.  Some 110 people deposited 3,500 gourdes (US$89) on that day – about 82 cents per person.  They established their own interest rates at around 27% a year- far below the rates of 250% and above normally charged by money lenders.  When I returned to Bailly a couple of weeks ago (February 2011), this same savings and credit cooperative had grown to 329 members with 78,000 gourdes (US$1,934) worth of savings.

Even in a year that saw an earthquake, a cholera epidemic, and upheaval around elections, the people of Bailly are making progress.  We met with community members who described their advances, reading from notebooks where they keep data on their activities.  After the earthquake we supported the people of Bailly to replenish their seed stocks – which were depleted in feeding people who had fled the destruction.  By using sustainable agricultural techniques, farmers increased their production. They then formed seed banks and repaid the seed borrowed, with interest. As the rainy season now approaches again, they have 19% more seed stored than when they started.  Here is a summary:

Type of seed Number of beneficiaries Seeds (April 2010) Interest generated Seeds (Feb 2011)
Beans 661 664 cans* 92 cans 756 cans
Pigeon peas 288 298 cans 41 cans 339 cans
Peanuts 103 1,021 cans 255 cans 1,276 cans
Corn 76 76 cans 10 cans 86 cans
Black eyed beans 70 50 cans 7 cans 57 cans
Beans (another variety) 70 50 cans 7 cans 57 cans
Total 1,268 2,159 cans 412 cans 2,571 cans

* a local measurement, approximately 1 lb.

The gwoupman have organized coordination committees in nine villages, and in March 2011 these committees will hold an assembly to elect leaders, make plans and formally establish the Union of Peasant Gwoupman of Bailly (IPGB in Creole).  The goal of PDL and Groundswell is to strengthen organizations like IPGB so that they can continue to improve life, grow enough food and generate prosperity. That means linking organizational strengthening and community leadership to practical activities like soil conservation, seed selection, grain storage, and community health promotion.  The UN reports that at least 3 million of Haiti’s people will require food aid in April and May.  PDL and Groundswell are working with rural communities to change that. Haiti’s farmers can feed themselves and the rest of the people of Haiti. They have done it before, and with a little help, they will be able to do it again.

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Madamm Fransura, of a village near Bahon, Haiti, showing bean seed her community organization saved from the last harvest.

Madamm Fransura, of a village near Bahon, Haiti, showing bean seed her community organization saved from the last harvest.

Last week I visited Haiti for the first time. As we flew into Port-au-Prince the devastation was plain to see. On the ground it was visceral; crumbling buildings and sprawling tent camps were constant reminders of the earthquake’s terrible power.

But just as I thought I would be mired in thoughts of destruction and the seemingly impossible task of rebuilding that lies ahead, the Haitian people pushed my thoughts from dark contemplation toward hope for what is possible. This happened to me half a dozen times during the trip. I found myself worrying for Haiti’s future and then I was suddenly hopeful, because I saw people clearing away rubble slowly but surely with their bare hands, farmers growing thousands of trees to reforest their naked hills, rural people organizing to limit the spread of the cholera epidemic and restore fertility to their land.

We spent most of our time in the countryside learning about Partnership for Local Development’s (PLD) programs and working with PLD staff on their monitoring and evaluation system. We met with two of PLD’s current partner organizations, the Peasant Movement of Saint Michel in Artibonite Department and Bailly in the district of Bahon in the North Department, as well as an emerging peasant organization in Saint Raphael and the Peasant Organization of La Victoire, a strong, long-time local partner in North Department that is now helping other communities to organize. The last day we met with like-minded NGOs to explore ways we might work together. Next week I will post a full report on the trip and its outcomes.

Representatives of various communities near Pignon, Haiti filling soil bags for tree seedlings. This nursery will produce 5,000 trees every year.

Representatives of various communities near Pignon, Haiti, filling soil bags for tree seedlings. This nursery will produce 5,000 trees every year.

When I got on the plane to go to Haiti I was not sure what to expect. I knew the trip would challenge my ideas, about Haiti, about how development works (or doesn’t work), and about many other things. It did, but more importantly it inspired new ideas and it cemented in my mind a new vision for Haiti and for humanity based on solidarity and sustainable, people-centered action.

Cantave Jean Baptiste, PLD’s National Coordinator, is one of the main architects of this new vision, so it is fitting that I use a metaphor to describe it that he shared with us on our last day in Haiti:

In our approach, when we strengthen local organizations, we are not trying to just plant ‘annual crops’ but to plant and grow a strong tree that can continue to give life and fruit for the long term. We have to nurture the young seedling with a lot of intense care and support at the beginning – to water it, give it organic matter, and make sure the animals don’t eat it. Then when it is a young tree we provide less support but continue to make sure it can grow strong and bear fruit.  And then when it is strong and can flourish, we leave it to grow on its own.  We continue a relationship and a connection, but the goal is that the tree, the local organization, is growing strong on its own, without us, and is giving fruit and life to the community for many, many years. And we are seeing that this approach works.”

Seeing Cantave and PLD on the ground using this approach with the team’s local partners leaves little doubt that they will reach their goal of helping 340,000 more Haitians (through 20 peasant organizations) launch and sustain their own processes of local development.

I have said this before, but it warrants saying again. There is hope for Haiti, it is the Haitians.

By Christopher Sacco, Groundswell Program Officer

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Last month the American Jewish World Service (AJWS) made two grants to Groundswell for our work in Haiti.

The first grant, titled “Strengthening the Capacity and Resilience of Rural Communities and Peasant Organizations”, will allow Groundswell and its local Haitian partner organization, PLD, to strengthen local leadership and capacity of six nascent peasant organizations to sustainably improve agricultural production, livelihoods, savings and credit, health and natural resources management.  More specifically, with AJWS support, Groundswell and PLD are working to:

  • Strengthen organizational capacity and leadership development with six peasant organizations through a practical “learning by doing” approach. Organizations will be strengthened from a capacity level of 1 to 3 (on a 1-5 capacity) scale within three years;
  • Sustainably increase agricultural production of 3,500 farmers by 75 percent and the food security of 3,500 families;
  • Improve natural resources management and disaster risk reduction among six peasant organizations;
  • Improve health and nutrition of 2,000 families that are members of the six peasant organizations; and
  • Develop improved livelihood strategies and income and services generating programs in six peasant organizations.

AJWS support comes at a critical time for rural Haiti because while significant international aid to Haiti has been promised, not much has actually been delivered, and generally there is limited international support planned for rural areas like those where Groundswell and PLD work. We believe it is necessary to promote decentralized development in Haiti and to revitalize rural areas as a foundation for the county’s future.  While this has long been an important strategy, it is even more vital after the January 12 earthquake’s destruction of urban centers and their questionable prospects for the future. The most effective way to foster resilience and sustainable rural development is by strengthening peasant organizations’ capacity to lead it themselves, which is precisely the goal of the work AJWS is supporting with this grant.

The second grant, titled “Strengthening the Health Response of Community Based Organizations to Cholera”, will provide lifesaving assistance to rural people suffering from the cholera epidemic while building the long-term capacity of community based organizations to address the epidemic through water treatment training, the construction of latrines, and the development of community health committees. AJWS funds are allowing us to:

  • Strengthen the capacities of PLD health staff and resources in former, current and new program areas;
  • Develop appropriate education program and teaching materials for community health promoters and community health structures;
  • Train new community health promoters and promotes new community health structures in new program areas;
  • Link local promoters and community health structures to existing health services providers;
  • Support the access of communities to safe water (water filters) and appropriate sanitation infrastructure (latrines);
  • Provide antibiotics and rehydration fluid to clinics, dispensaries or hospitals serving populations in the Groundswell/PLD program areas; and
  • Provide oral rehydration kits, Clorox and other water treatment materials to trained local promoters and community health structures.

This grant complements the broader capacity building support made possible by the first grant by helping Haitian communities learn how to reduce the risks they face from cholera. If they do not, the disease may well erode the hard fought gains they are making. The connections between resiliency, sustainable local economies, and healthy communities and the determinants of health and disaster vulnerability form an intricate weave that demands a holistic approach and intersectoral collaboration that builds on shared strengths in pursuit of common outcomes, such as healthy people, and which contribute to the overall goal of creating resilient and vibrant communities. This idea is at the core of Groundswell’s holistic, people-centered approach.

Next week (February 13 – 19) Groundswell will be in Haiti to learn about these and other initiatives being implemented by our partner PLD. We will post updates to our Facebook page and Twitter as often as we can. Please follow our visit to Haiti!

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On a mountain top several hours north of Port-au-Prince, twenty-five rural villages have organized themselves and are working hard to improve their lives.  By doing so, they are helping to lay one block in the foundation for Haiti’s future.  In spite of the earthquake, cholera and the political uncertainty created by recent flawed elections, they are making good progress.  The “Peasant Organization for the Development of the 8th Communal Section of Arcahaie” (OPD-8) has defined a simple but radical vision for their organization:  “To make our communities a good place for people to live.”  Such a vision for rural areas should guide the wider recovery process in Haiti.

Members of OPD-8 doing a training skit on sustainable agriculture.

Members of OPD-8 doing a training skit on sustainable agriculture.

Haiti’s historical legacy is one of destructive centralization. From the days of colonialism and plantation slavery until today, the political and economic center based in Port-au-Prince has drained resources from rural areas rather than promoting development there.  Over time this led to deforestation and dramatic erosion of soils, lowered food production and impoverished rural communities.  As fertile soil washed towards the sea, rural people followed – migrating to Port-au-Prince and other cities to live in terrible conditions.  When the earthquake struck, many of them were the most vulnerable and were killed or injured.

Earthquakes cannot be prevented.  Neither can the hurricanes that come each year.  And Haiti will continue to be dealt other blows beyond its control.  Cholera was introduced a few months ago and has become an epidemic.  At the global level, the UN is currently reporting dangerous increases in food prices, just as occurred in 2008 and led to food riots that brought down Haiti’s prime minister.  But the underlying rural poverty and soil erosion that makes the Haitian people so vulnerable to these shocks can be prevented and overcome.

Haiti remains predominantly rural and agricultural, with over 60% of the population depending on family farming.  Haiti’s peasant farmers work tiny, scattered parcels of land, often on eroded mountainsides, and live on one or two dollars a day.  But the families of OPD-8 have been working for over 12 years to conserve their soil, diversify their farms, and increase their food production.  So when the food prices spiked in 2008 and hunger rose in the cities, these communities had food reserves.  When the earthquake struck a year ago, they housed, fed and supported hundreds of people who fled the death and destruction in the cities.  Since cholera has broken out, they have prevented deaths by teaching families how to purify water and treat the sick.

Improving rural lives starts with strong local organizations that increase agriculture and food production.  This requires peasant farmers to engage in a way of farming that works for them – sustainable agriculture – as most industrial farming practices and inputs are not appropriate.  Farmers conserve and improve their soil, carry out seed selection to improve local varieties, improve storage to reduce losses to pests, diversify crops to spread risks, and process crops locally to add value. They experiment on their farms to see what works, and then teach successful practices to neighboring families and villages.  All of these activities improve lives and strengthen local initiative, confidence and organization.  In other words, they build Haiti’s economic and environmental foundation through a decentralized, democratic process of citizen participation.

The good news is that there are hundreds of examples of local peasant organizations similar to OPD-8 all over rural Haiti.  They are already creating and spreading this way of sustainable farming and decentralized development.  Many of these organizations are linked to regional and national networks of peasant organizations that coordinate actions and amplify their voices.  For years we have worked to support and strengthen local peasant organizations like these.  This experience leads us, and many others, to believe that within 10 years it is possible for rural Haitians to conserve and improve Haiti’s soils, to once again produce the food and seeds the country needs, and to raise rural incomes from one dollar to five or ten dollars a day.

Haiti needs many big changes to help make this happen:  a legitimate and effective government; a better response to one million people still living in tent camps; and trade and development policies that support rather than undercut national food production.  Many of these challenges are not new.  But Haiti’s six million peasants cannot afford to sit and wait for the solutions to be designed in Port-au-Prince.  Many peasant organizations have been working hard for years to create the communities they envision for themselves and their children.  Haiti’s peasant groups are arguably among the country’s most functional organizations and important assets.  They are an engine for increasing local production and raising rural living standards.  International and national development efforts should invest in them and involve them in decision making to create the broad economic, environmental and political foundation upon which to build the future.

By Cantave Jean-Baptiste, Director, Partenariat pour le Développement Local, Haiti, and Steve Brescia, International Director, Groundswell International, Washington, DC

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Farmer leader in Maissade, Haiti showing soil conservation work undertaken by internally displaced people.

Farmer leader in Maissade, Haiti showing soil conservation work undertaken by internally displaced people.

As the one year anniversary of the terrible January 12 earthquake approaches, many of those who have contributed to Haiti relief and recovery efforts have expressed frustration at the lack of progress.  As much as 20% of Haiti’s total population remains displaced and more than a million people are doing their best to survive in makeshift tent camps.  Now, a cholera epidemic is killing and sickening thousands of Haitians, and the country has just struggled through poorly organized elections!  People ask themselves how this can be when the world has mobilized to help on such a massive scale?  Why hasn’t all of the money donated and pledged been delivered? Is it worth donating to help Haiti?

We would like to provide you with a brief accounting of the money donated to Groundswell and Partnership for Local Development (PLD) to respond to the earthquake emergency:

  • Through November 1 we had raised $375,787 for earthquake response and recovery.
  • All of this money has now been spent on short-term recovery programs, supporting rural families to host over 10,000 people displaced by the January 12 earthquake.
  • 7% of the $375,787 raised was used for Groundswell administration and program support.
  • 3,097 displaced people participated in traditional work groups between February and October 2010, earning a total of $99,894.62 (an average of $32.25/person) through short-term work opportunities focused on rehabilitating productive infrastructure in the villages that were hosting them. They used the money for food, medicine, shelter and to send children back to school.
  • 96 hectares (233 acres) of farmland (representing approximately 1,000 farms) was improved using proven soil conservation techniques.
  • 65 kilometers (40 miles) of rural roads were repaired, providing access to isolated communities.
  • 414 family water filters and 239 community and family latrines were constructed, which together provide safe water or sanitation to some 10,000 people. Participants also received training on essential health and sanitation practices.
  • 13,200 trees were planted to protect critical watershed areas and farms, to reduce erosion and to provide resources for fodder, fuel and construction.
  • 25,694 kilograms (56,646 pounds) of seeds were secured for the planting season. Farmers were able to purchase this seed from local partner organizations at a reasonable price. This was necessary because seed prices skyrocketed after the earthquake and most farmers could not afford them.
  • 146 women affected by the earthquake received small loans to rebuild their businesses.
  • 12 locally run stores were created to sell subsidized basic foods (beans, rice, salt, etc.) and other essential supplies (batteries, basic medicines, etc.) to displaced people and host families, allowing them to get by on their reduced incomes. Subsidies are being gradually removed.
  • 50 displaced families received materials and technical assistance to build shelters.

It is worth mentioning that we are now supporting peasant organizations to respond to the cholera outbreak with education, oral rehydration, water purification and antibiotics.  Community health committees are leading the response locally and coordinating with government health posts where they exist. We have even provided basic support and resources to some of the overstretched health posts.

On December 2nd Steve Brescia, Groundswell’s International Director, spoke with Cantave Jean-Baptiste, Director of PLD. Steve asked Cantave if the support is making a difference in Haiti.  He said:

We cannot confirm what is happening with all of the money sent to other organizations.  Almost eleven months after the earthquake, if you ask me if I see any reconstruction process happening in Port-au-Prince, I will answer that we don’t see it.  At the macro level, the government and the United Nations are managing the country, and most of the Haitian people do not feel comfortable with what is happening.   But if you ask me what did Groundswell and PLD do with the money received, I will answer with the reports and numbers we have given, but I will also invite anyone to go to the rural areas to ask the same questions to the local organization leaders.  They will tell you how many seeds they were able to buy for the rainy season.  Many were able to harvest and reimburse local seed banks, and they are now hoping to build more community grain storage silos to have food and seeds for next planting season.… They will tell you how they used it to give people short term jobs, to rebuild roads, to do soil conservation.  At the grassroots level we are building confidence of the people.  Communities are getting more confident in themselves when they plan and carry out activities and see the impact.  Now we are focusing with them on the long term solutions.  We are trying to move away from the emergency response.  Now, responding to cholera needs to be a part of the long term solutions as well.”

Your donations to Groundswell and PLD have been well spent.  But money alone is not what is needed for Haiti to reverse its downward spiral. What is needed is a sustained, people-centered, nation-wide initiative to re-create strong, healthy and viable rural communities as a foundation for Haiti’s future development.  Haitians must lead the way.

Groundswell and PLD have proven that locally-led development processes can produce profoundly positive changes on a wide scale in Haiti with relatively little resources. Beginning in 2011 we are launching a three-year initiative to support 20 peasant organizations representing over 345,000 people to create strong, healthy and viable rural communities as a foundation for Haiti’s future development. There is hope for Haiti. It’s the Haitians.

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