Tuesday, January 06, 2015

A Message to Americans

Click the photo to watch the video

An interesting opinion video appeared in the New York Times this morning that challenged Americans to examine their motivations in volunteering overseas. Boniface Mwangi, a Kenyan photojournalist and founder of the NGO Kenya Ni Kwetu, asks of us a simple courtesy: “If you want to come and help me, first ask me what I want… Then we can work together.” 

At the Lambi Fund of Haiti, with the understanding that "those who do know," we support those development initiatives that are brought to us by the peasant associations that dominate the landscape of rural Haiti aka The Republic of NGOs. Over just the past ten years, with somewhere between 7,000 and 10,000 NGOs in Haiti, and with more than $10 BILLION in development assistance, Haiti has fallen from 149th to 168th on the UN Development Programme's Development Index, just one place ahead of Afghanistan. Just as you know better than others the obstacles that prevent you from achieving your highest success, at the Lambi Fund of Haiti, we believe that it is equally true that the people of the Global South know what holds them back from realizing their dreams. 

It has been estimated that three of four development projects fail. For twenty years, supporting the aspirations of the Haitian people rather than our vision for their future, 80% of the more than 250 projects we have supported, continue to function today. 

At the Lambi Fund, we believe that our role, as members of a wealthy democracy, is to support the dreams of our brothers and sisters in the Global South rather than to impose our ideas or our vision for their future. What do you think? We want to hear from you. 

Stephen Reichard, Deputy Director
The Lambi Fund of Haiti

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Lambi Fund Reflects on the Death of Baby Doc Duvalier

Jean Claude “Bébé Doc” Duvalier died Saturday at the age of 63. His passing leaves millions of Haitians, and others as well, pondering his life and his legacy for the people of Haiti. Marie Marthe, Lambi Fund of Haiti’s Executive Director, had this poignant response to his passing:

“Is this the only way we will ever see justice in Haiti? For the women who lost their husbands among the disappeared? The street killings, the jailings without limit, silenced by men with guns? Where is our justice? Will be ever heal? Will Haiti ever be free again?” 
Former President Bill Clinton shakes hands with Baby Doc Duvalier

I am not Haitian and so, perhaps, Baby Doc’s death provoked less painful thoughts for me. I thought of my father, who passed away on May 1, 2013. His memorial service last June was, New Orleans style, a celebratory affair as tales from my father’s rather storied life were told in rapid succession by 100 or more mourners/guests. After a momentary loss of words, the following tumbled from my lips, the perfect metaphor for my father’s life. 

It was a beautiful spring afternoon, May 2, 1972. I was shucking afternoon papers along Laurel Avenue in Charlotte, NC.  The headlines boldly pronounced the sudden death of J. Edgar Hoover who’d died that morning, after the morning papers had gone to bed. Suddenly, I heard a cacophonous honking as my father’s purple Valiant careened around the corner, and I heard my father’s loud and joyous cry, “Hoover’s Dead, Hoover’s Dead.” 

Thirteen years previously, my father had been offered a history professorship with George Washington University. Before he’d taught a day, my father, who had been secretary of the Communist Party at Harvard University in the late 1940s, was dismissed from George Washington and subpoenaed to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee. My father took the 5th Amendment, refusing to testify. He later sued George Washington and received a year’s salary. Two years later, as the Anti-Red Crusade lost its grip on the soul of American politics, my father landed a position at a small liberal arts college, Cornell, in Mt. Vernon, IA. Life went on. 

As it turned out, J. Edgar Hoover, a George Washington Law School alumnus, served on GW’s board of directors. A background check was performed routinely on all prospective employees, which is how they’d turned up evidence of my father’s past affiliation with CP-USA.  

My father was not a vengeful man, but I was raised on a steady diet of anti-Hoover/anti-FBI rhetoric. And true to his rhetoric, in reading his heavily redacted FBI file years later, there was an almost Keystone Cop quality to their behavior as they tailed my father’s political activities for the next twenty years.

Hoover was no Baby Doc. Tens, not tens of thousands, died at Hoover’s hands. Certainly Fred Hampton comes to mind. And one cannot dismiss the possibility that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated by the FBI as well. But Hoover’s legacy is with us today, just as the legacy of the Duvaliers lives on in Haiti. 

So I can only imagine the emotions Haitians must be feeling in the wake of his death. Was it something akin to the joy my father felt that beautiful spring day? Or was it something more complex, more nuanced. 

Max Blanchet, current Lambi Fund Board member, and past president, put it quite succinctly: “May his pestilent soul rest forever in hell.” 

How has the death of Baby Doc affected you? Let us know. 

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Haiti, Nebraska and Alberta: Connecting the Dots

May Boeve, Executive Director of 350.org, the leading organization in the United States in the struggle to combat climate change, announced at the Environmental Grantmakers Association Fall Retreat yesterday that “The Supreme Court of Nebraska invalidated the proposed route of the XL Pipeline through Nebraska.”

Why is this important for Haiti? Haiti is the Western Hemisphere's nation most vulnerable to climate change. According to the insurance industry, through 2012, Haiti experienced the 3rd highest level of climate change induced damages of any nation in the world.

It is Canada, not Saudi Arabia or Venezuela, that has the largest oil reserves in the world, estimated at nearly 200 billion barrels.The Alberta Tar Sands contain the equivalent of the rest of the known oil reserves in the entire world. But Canada’s oil, buried deep within the sands of northern Alberta Province, require nearly as much energy to pull out of the ground as the energy that they produce. As Dr. James Hansen, the world’s leading scientist on climate change, has put it, if the tar sands of Canada are fully developed, “it’s game over for the climate.” 

The XL Pipeline would bring the large majority of oil from the tar sands of Alberta to market. The decision to build, or not to build, the pipeline will be made by President Obama sometime after the November 2014 election. The Nebraska Supreme Court’s decision throws one more obstacle in the path of the XL Pipeline.

Desolate land from deforestation in Haiti seems to mirror the desolate land of the Tar Sands

Needless to say, if it is game over for the world, it is game over for Haiti. That is why this is an important issue for everyone who cares passionately about the future of Haiti. To learn more about this issue, Wikipedia has an excellent article at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Athabasca_oil_sands. 

More than 100,000 people in the United States have signed a pledge of resistance to engage in civil disobedience should Obama approve the XL Pipeline this coming November. To learn more about the Pledge of Resistance, go to: http://act.credoaction.com/sign/kxl_pledge

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Of Mice, Men and MINUSTAH

On a fundamental level, The Lambi Fund of Haiti is an organization that focuses on the rural. With our belief that through the support of grassroots peasant organizations the true strength of Haiti can be realized, this type of rural focus is essential. But, since our ultimate hope lies in the realization of meaningful democracy, we cannot deny, nor ignore the 50% of the Haitian population that lives within the country’s capital, Port Au Prince. Yet, the issues faced by Haiti’s urban-dwelling population are often very different from those faced by the rural peasant associations that Lambi Fund works with.

Last week, 329 prisoners escaped from a Haitian prison in Croix-des-Bouquets, near the heart of Port Au Prince. And as of last Tuesday, only a few of the escaped had been recaptured. Haitian police are currently fanned out across the country in search for the remaining escaped prisoners. Ironically, the Haitian police force has received help from the Dominican Republic. At this point, it is still not clear whether the break was meant to free a particular prisoner or the work of a collective group.

Security, or lack thereof, is an all too important issue facing urban dwellers in Haiti. But it is interesting to consider the way that outsiders view security in Haiti. On one hand, there are numerous US reports that consider the safety of traveling to Haiti.  Yet this recent prison break found scant coverage in the U.S. or European media. Why no coverage? If a prison break of this magnitude had happened elsewhere, it would have at least been mentioned in the US news. But even with Haiti’s relative proximity to the United States, despite the presence of a diaspora population of more than one million Haitians, the story was not told.

Speaking of untold stories, the recently released UN Human Development Index ranked Haiti 168th out of 187 countries, just above Afghanistan, which has been plagued by over 40 years of constant war. Curiously, Haiti’s relative position has dropped steadily since the earthquake in 2010 (from 150th in 2009, to 158th in 2011 to 168th today), losing ground even as billions have been invested for reconstruction.  And yet, Haiti’s homicide rate and prison population are relatively low when compared to some of the higher-ranking countries on the list. Indeed, Haiti’s violent death rate is indistinguishable from that of the United States (95th vs. 92nd). Which begs the all important question – if violence in Haiti is not actually a problem, why is MINUSTAH still occupying the country four and a half years after the earthquake? If they are not there to protect the population from itself, could it be that they are there to protect something or someone else from the population?

What are your thoughts?

As of August 19th, the majority of the escaped prisoners have not been recaptured.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Ile a Vache: Paradise Lost?

When we hear about the creation of new jobs in Haiti, this is often seen as a positive change. And rightfully so, given the country’s high unemployment and underemployment rates. There are more people in Haiti that want to work than there are jobs for them to fill. But when the creation of jobs results in the loss of livelihood for others, are more jobs always a good thing?

Ile a Vache, a 20-square mile island off of Haiti’s southern coast, known as one of the country’s most pristine and beautiful islands, has recently become a hub of booming development. An airport is being built, as well as restaurants, bars, cafes, hotels, and golf courses. All of this is in the name of a new mandate for ecotourism being pushed by the Haitian government. The gradual transition to a resort town is already well underway, but what about Ile a Vache’s 20,000 residents?

Since Ile a Vache is so small and so remote, most of the population is made up of farmers and fishermen whose families have called the island home for generations. In May 2013 a decree was put forward by the Haitian government, which annulled all property rights of the islands residents for five years and declared the island of Ile and Vache a zone of tourism

The project of turning Ile a Vache into a resort town was never explained to the island's residents. The people of Ile a Vache still do not know what is being built or why their homes and farms must be plowed under to carry forth this ecotourism push.

In the US, we equate increasing numbers of jobs with increasing amounts of success. But how can the Haitian people of Ile a Vache be productive and successful when their traditional livelihoods are taken away along with the land of their ancestors?

While we cannot speak for the Haitian government or any of the few news sources reporting on the issues in Ile a Vache, Lambi Fund of Haiti is concerned with the situation on the island and believes that it needs increasing attention. In Ile a Vache, the peasants, the very people who Lambi Fund exists to serve, are losing their historic lands and livelihoods to this new push for ecotourism.

But shouldn’t the people of Haiti have a say in determining what their own future looks like? You can read more about the situation in Ile a Vache in the most recent edition of CounterPunch, an on-line journal started by the late British journalist, Alexander Cockburn.

Photos by Marie-Chantalle.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

#GivingTuesday is Here!

Today is the day! The 2nd ever #GivingTuesday is here and we hope you join us in taking part.  Not only is #GivingTuesday a great way to jumpstart the giving spirit of the holidays, but starting at 11am EST, all donations will be matched by the Case foundation up to $60,000.

So don't delay, donate now and double your impact! Last year, the Lambi Fund of Haiti raised $1,500 on #GivingTuesday.  Can you help us DOUBLE this?   Click here to make a contribution.

Together, through simple actions like these, we can take small steps towards building a better world for each and every one of us.  Here at the Lambi Fund of Haiti we are excited to take part in #GivingTuesday, because it encourages each and every one of us to take time out from the hustle and bustle of the holidays, to give with an open heart and to celebrate generosity.

Good tidings and good cheer from my family to yours,
Sarah Leavitt
Outreach Manager
The Lambi Fund of Haiti

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Building an Equitable Haiti From the Grassroots Up: Annual 4-Day Conference Convenes

By Sarah Leavitt

They traveled by dusty dirt roads, through the mountains, on the back of a moto-taxi, crammed into the back of a colorful tap-tap and many walked a good part of the journey. In all, 36 leaders of grassroots organizations arrived in Ennery, Haiti eager and excited—albeit a bit tired—but ready to begin their training. Nine partner organizations with the Lambi Fund of Haiti were present and the participants were young and old, male and female—20 women and 16 men in all. These grassroots leaders are Haiti's hardworking farmers, enterprising female merchants and upcoming youth that are pouring their blood and sweat into changing Haiti for the better—and they came to attend Lambi Fund's 2013 conference for the Artibonite region on civic education, gender equity and how to lead more democratic organizations.
Lambi Fund photoClearly, this was quite an ambitious agenda for just four days. So, early on September 9th, after sitting down for a communal meal of eggs, bananas, piping hot coffee and bread rolls, Lambi Fund's facilitators got straight to work.

Civic Education & Human Rights:

Day one had the task of providing an introductory course on civic education in Haiti. This included a brief history on slavery, Haiti's independence, and democracy today. Discussions of what it means to be a citizen, a citizen's role in society and the rights of a citizen were all covered.
"[Before this training,] I didn't know what gender equity was. I used to hear people talk about it, but I never quite understood what they meant."
For most, this was their first formal discussion about what it meant to be a citizen of Haiti and what rights and responsibilities accompany being a citizen. Voting and participating in Haiti's democracy and advocating for certain changes in their community are all part of being an engaged citizen. There was a lot of talk about participating, speaking up when things are going wrong and being proud of Haiti and its flag.
Part of this included discussing each person's human and civil rights – the right to food, a home, security, health and an education.
An engaged young man and member of OPMO, emphatically stated, “This training is working us up so that we can go home and change things.” After discussing Haitians' rights and responsibilities as citizens, another responded, "The development should come from us. Only this will happen when we step up." A woman from APEAG said, "Before this education, I didn't know anything about these topics at all. Now I know much more and understand how we should strive to live and the type of country we can and should be."

Gender Equity:

Next on the agenda was discussing the imbalance of men and women in society. By default, many participants assumed that their homes and organizations are models of equality, yet as the trainers delved deeper into what it means to have equality, several interesting topics arose.
The workshop facilitators
From the get-go, there was a consensus that women are just as good as men and that they should have the same rights. Once trainers explored this a bit more and teased out what equality means within the context of society, interesting discussions emerged.
For instance, there was a lot of discussion about the unfair burden of work that falls on a Haitian woman's shoulders. She must cook, clean the house, fetch water, watch after the children, tend the fields, wash clothes, go to the mill to have their grains milled, and then find time to go to market to buy and sell goods. Participants recognized that a man, however, will come home, say he is hungry and demand that dinner be ready. He never offers to help with the meal if she is overwhelmed with work because that is "woman's work."
Many laughed at the thought of a man helping his wife prepare a meal, but when it was shared that women often eat the remaining scraps in another room or forgo meals altogether to feed their husbands and boys, many nodded as they acknowledged the unspoken practice. Throughout Haiti, women face much higher rates of malnutrition.
One woman from APEAG was especially inspired with this discussion. She stated, "[Before this training,] I didn't know what gender equity was. I used to hear people talk about it, but I never quite understood what they meant. Now I know that it's not about just holding our organizations to this standard. Although I have more boys than girls, four boys and one girl, I used to put all the weight of the chores on my girl and me. She had to carry the water, help with cooking and cleaning and now I know I can spread out the chores more evenly."
Solange Michelle from OPMO declared, "From now on, when I cook for my husband, I'm going to make two plates - one for me and one for him. I'm not going to eat scraps out of the bowl in the corner anymore…and if there aren't two pieces we both won't eat or we'll share."
The discussion then moved past the home to discuss women's place in society – the clothes they are expected to wear, how their hair should look, the tendency to send boys to school over girls, and how women are represented in society. Clearly these are diverse topics with deeply embedded social undertones, yet most participants agreed that women should look, act, and behave in a way that is "feminine," while males are expected to be "strong" and "brave."
One of the older men in the group said, "Women are taking big and important posts [in society and the government] and this is something we need to continue to work on for the next 5, 10, 55, years so that we see more of this."
By no means does Lambi Fund think that the few days set aside to discuss the imbalance of women in society will radically transform or magically create communities throughout Haiti that are equitable for both men and women, but one can be certain that seeds of change were planted and some social norms that had never before been questioned are now being looked at in a different light. Perhaps the most hopeful statement was from a young woman from ACHVRO, "This training was especially important in regards to gender equity. I don't have a family yet, but now I know how I should balance my family when I do."

Leading Democratic Organizations:

The last and final component of Lambi Fund's training was providing the participants with practical tools to return home and share this information with their organization members. Methods of “animation” or group singing, role-playing, and dancing - which are common activities in Haitian grassroots organizations, were covered.
Conference attendees participating in a breakout session
Vita, one of the trainers, taught participants new songs and showed the grassroots leaders how to educate and share certain topics through animation. In addition, a great deal of time was spent covering what types of characteristics make a leader democratic and what makes a leader authoritarian. In that same regard, members shared what kind of practices within organizations actively include and exclude its members.
Both the trainers and participants also reflected on what makes up a truly inclusive and democratic organization and they shared with one another how to lead meetings that are efficient and productive. It is hoped, that as a result of this training, these participants who are leaders of organizations in their community will return home with a new found sense of motivation. Beyond acquiring some tools and techniques for making their organizations stronger, hopefully, these leaders will relay some of the concepts discussed.
Quite possibly they will become advocates for certain rights and issues in their communities, use the network of leaders they met at the training as resources and allies and maybe, just maybe, these grassroots organizations will begin to see the strength in working collectively and in valuing each person as an equal. Here's to the next chapter in Haiti.