Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Hurricane Sandy Emergency Relief UPDATE

December 19, 2012 - The Lambi Fund of Haiti's efforts to respond to Hurricane Sandy has been swift.  Field Monitors in both the North and South have met with community organizations throughout the country to asses damages.  Unfortunately, the impact of Sandy is proving to be quite severe.  Widespread loss of crops and livestock has been reported, rainwater cisterns and irrigation canals were damaged and tree seedlings planted for reforestation efforts have washed away.  Lambi Fund staff members also estimate that the overall pace of projects, organizational capacity, and economic conditions in these communities will be negatively affected.  

As such, Lambi Fund has been working with community organizations throughout the country since the storm.  So far, 13 grassroots organizations have been provided emergency relief grants.  These grants are going straight to Haitians hit by the storm to help:
  • Rapidly replant crops to increase their resilience to the famine that experts predict will occur in Haiti within the next few months
  • Accommodate short-term family needs
  • Allow the organization’s community-run enterprises to get back on track
  • Prepare soil for planting
  • Repair irrigation canals as necessary 
  • Purchase seeds that do not require a long time to harvest (such as beans, vegetables and corn)
  • Groups with animal husbandry projects will also be provided with funding to replace lost livestock 

In addition to this, Lambi Fund’s field monitors have been in contact with over 50 other community organizations that may qualify for similar emergency relief.  Once initial assessments are complete, these groups will be provided with the resources necessary to get back on their feet as well.

For each and every one of you that donated to Lambi Fund's emergency relief efforts following Hurricane Sandy, a very big mesi ampil  is in order.  Your support is helping Lambi Fund respond swiftly and appropriately to communities in need.  Hopefully through concentrated efforts like these, we can work to help curb the impending food crisis as much as possible and keep impoverished Haitians’ incomes flowing.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Haiti's Environment: At a Glance

By Josette Perard
Haiti's ecological system, most specifically the rapport between its population and the environment in which they live, is in a dismal state. This reality has serious consequences on the quality of life for Haitians in both rural and urban settings. It is no coincidence that Haiti's ecological health has degraded significantly while the government has been absent in managing the national territory and its resources.
As one travels through the country, it is easy to see that marshes and open spaces have deteriorated, forests have been destroyed and outdated agricultural practices have contributed to severe erosion. Sediments from the soil are then carried away by water and threaten sea life and the coastal areas.
This very systematic breakdown of Haiti's ecology has adversely impacted overall production capacity on the island. Day after day, small farmers living in Haiti's countryside struggle to get by as quality of life have considerably worsened.
When Christopher Columbus arrived on the Island of Hispaniola in 1492, forested area was abundant and covered 80% of the island. Upon their arrival, Spanish colonists immediately began destroying the environment. They imported animals for breeding and allowed them to graze freely—openly dismissing pasture practices that protected the land and supported food production.In spite of these mounting challenges, the government refuses to implement the policies and regulations that this situation necessitates. Instead, the government continues to make statements and write reports that remain on paper without employing concrete actions. How did Haiti get here?
Additionally, they began cutting trees like mahogany and campeche for coloring and for export. Between 1664 and 1803, French colonists continued deforestation at the same rate. They destroyed forest land near the coastal areas and at the base of mountains to cultivate tobacco, indigo and cane without planting trees to replace them.
After Haiti became independent, these practices continued. The Haitian government, in search of foreign investment, began to give abundant land concessions to large companies. For example, the United Haitian Corporation received 46,511 acres to use for a period of 50 years. Even so, forest cover at this time still accounted for 50% of Haiti's total acreage.
"Haitians are incurring a diminishing quality of life. Families that could live and prosper off the land no longer can."
During the American Occupation, the Haitian government gave 790,000 acres of land to SHADA (Haitian American Society for Agricultural Development). SHADA deforested thousands of acres to plant sisal and rubber, two plants that destroy the quality of the soil. Even more troubling, their cultivation had nothing to do with meeting the needs of the Haitian people.
By 1945, the number of forested acres had decreased to 21% and by 2002, the number of trees was down to 2%. Today tree coverage is estimated at just 1%!

Soil Erosion

Years of alarming deforestation that still continues today has utterly depleted the soil of valuable nutrients. In 1978, it was estimated that 4,651 acres of arable land were uncultivable due to poor soil quality. Today, 36,000 tons of soil that would otherwise be secured by the roots of trees is being hauled off by water each year – this is the equivalent of 9,300 acres. This is purely arable land that could produce food that is being lost.

Water is Rare

Haiti is located in a tropical zone so it benefits from substantial rainfall, but because of deforestation and erosion, the infiltration capacity of water has considerably diminished. Of the 40,000 m 3 of rainfall in Haiti annually, only 10% soaks into the soil. This means the water table is disappearing and the rivers are drying up. It is incredibly painful to watch the soil washed away during the rainy season, disappearing into the sea.
In addition, most water sources are full of toxic material because of a lack of watershed management where they are located. Pesticides, trash and human waste contaminate local water sources. This poor water management is accompanied by the epidemics of malaria, typhoid fever, and other waterborne diseases.
This of course is on top of the deadly and devastating arrival of cholera through the UN occupation two years ago. Inadequate access to clean water and sanitation made Haiti a fertile breeding ground for cholera to flourish – to date there have been nearly 600,000 cases and over 7,000 deaths.
Haiti is Losing its Biodiversity Not surprisingly, destruction of the environment has resulted in a lack of protection for many plant and animal species., causing them to disappear. Despite the odds Haiti is still home to 5,000 plant species and unique fauna, 220 bird species, 300 fish species, and a large reptile population. Urgent actions need to be taken to preserve this rich biodiversity.


For rural Haitians, the degraded environment and decline in resources has led to a gradual decrease in economic opportunities. So, many rural communities are witnessing a massive exodus of their populations towards larger towns and the capital city of Port-au-Prince. In 1950, there were 152,000 inhabitants in the capital. The 2004 national census revealed 2.3 million resided in Port-Au-Prince, a number today that is estimated to have increased to 3 million.
Throughout the country, Haitians are incurring a diminishing quality of life. Families that could once live and off the land are now often forced to seek employment opportunities in the cities. However, job openings in urban areas are scarce, as are public services. In a seemingly endless vicious cycle, migrants from rural areas often end up living in ever-growing slums, without access to basic sanitation services, such as adequate drainage and sewer systems. As a result, water quality, alongside quality of life, continues to diminish.

A deforested hillside

Current Causes of Environmental Degradation:

Political Factors

The complete absence of political will to protect the environment continues to cripple Haiti. The Haitian government plays no role in protecting its natural resources. Most often, the government takes a nonchalant attitude and “laissez faire” approach towards the clear acts of destruction and violations of its natural resources.

Socioeconomic Factors

A lack of environmental education, understanding and appreciation is engrained in the Haitian culture. The resulting social norms and behaviors reflect a need for greater respect and care for the environment.

Demographic Growth

Haiti's population is growing at an unsustainable rate. In 1971, Haiti had 4.2 million inhabitants. By 1982, the population rose to 5.77 million and by 2004 the population totaled 8.3 million. Today, there are around 9 to 10 million Haitians. It is easy to see that this level of population growth is putting undue pressure on Haiti's already precious resources.


According to studies by the World Bank, 80% of Haitians live below the poverty line – most of whom live in rural Haiti. In order to survive, the peasant population has little choice but to exploit the land intensively.

The Need for Energy

Selling charcoal is the only means of income for many Haitians
Haiti relies on wood to meet 72% of its energy needs. Wood is used for charcoal, cooking, and use in industrial settings (bakeries, dry cleaning, etc.). Every year thousands of trees are cut down for energy use. Which of course, has significant consequences. Unregulated Exploitation of Sand The absence of regulation means that sand mining is being exploited as well. This lack of policies or regulation around sand mining is resulting in the reduction of plant coverage and a change in the topology of the landscape.

Lack of Urban Planning

In the cities there is no urban planning. People build housing wherever and in any manner as they wish. While the space and planning for roads, sewage, draining and other essentials are not provided.

Natural Causes

75% of Haiti's territory is mountainous, which creates vulnerabilities for the ecosystem. While Haiti is situated in "Hurricane Alley" in the Atlantic Ocean along fault lines that are susceptible to earthquakes, making it particularly vulnerable to frequent and severe natural disasters.


Clearly, the impacts of Haiti's degraded environment have ramifications far beyond the loss of a vibrant ecosystem. On an ecological level, deforestation leads to nutrient loss in soil, soil erosion, degradation of water quality, sedimentation in canals and rivers and a loss of animal and plant life.
In addition, deforestation leads to the phenomena of desertification – which is not only devastating to agriculture, but also intensifies natural disasters (landslides, flooding, and forest fires). Socioeconomically, it is not difficult to draw the connections. A decrease in natural resources limits what citizens can utilize to make a living. A decrease in agricultural productivity leads to declining incomes, while polluted water sources are responsible for a myriad of waterborne illnesses. Above all, these dire effects of a degraded environment increase dependence on other countries as increased trade becomes a necessity.

What Should be Done?

Primarily, it is the role and responsibility of the government to respond to this question. Democracy should be utilized whereby the people turn to the polls to vote for and elect competent leaders. Here at the Lambi Fund of Haiti, we can raise our voices. Together, community-by-community across the country, we can raise our voices in unison in a fight to save the environment that is threatened by total destruction. In all reality, it is necessary for the power of the state to control the population explosion, manage urban planning, spearhead the fight against poverty, reforest the land and reduce the pressure on Haiti's natural resources. This will not be realized though, until Haitian civil society unites and begins demanding these rights.
In light of these current struggles, Lambi Fund is doing everything in its power to bring to the forefront the realization of these objectives. Through the convening of conferences and workshops, community members are educated not only on the importance of the environment, but of their civil rights as well. Lambi Fund is working with partner organizations to reforest the localities in which they live, to build cisterns for potable water, latrines to manage human waste, and training farmers on techniques that protect the environment and improve productivity.
This being said, Lambi Fund's reach is limited and we realize that it takes a force far larger for change. As such, we must join forces and demand a comprehensive plan to restore and protect Haiti's environment—for the well being of all of us.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hurricane Sandy Update

     As you are well aware, Hurricane Sandy barreled through the Caribbean and Eastern coast of the United States and wrought extraordinary damage.  Millions of families and many of you, I am sure, are looking to pick up the pieces from this powerful super storm.  Those living in Haiti are no different. 
Photo by: EFE
Flooding in Haiti from Hurricane Sandy

     Over the course of four days, Haiti received over 20 inches of rainfall, which inundated communities with massive amounts of water and debris.  The Lambi Fund of Haiti is now in the process of contacting partner organizations to assess damage and losses.  Initial estimates calculate that thousands of acres of crops in Southern Haiti have been washed away and large numbers of livestock have been lost. 
     For impoverished families in Haiti still struggling to recover from the earthquake in 2010 and Hurricane Isaac in August, this news is just devastating.  These crops are the very essence of rural Haitian’s livelihoods  and the rammifications of this storm could spell widespread starvation. 

     Please take urgent action to help rural communities throughout Haiti pick themselves up and get back on their feet again.  It is during trying times like these that even a little can go a long way.  Donate now and you will help:

  • Purchase local seeds so small farmers can replant their crops
  • Provide the resources needed for community organizations to replenish local grain reserves
  • Replace livestock like goats, pigs and sheep that were lost in the storm
  • Contribute to community-led efforts to clean up debris, fallen trees, and destroyed roads in towns throughout Haiti
  • Replenish community credit funds which provide local  members with valuable access to capital so that they can purchase life essentials like food and water
Its efforts like these that will lessen the impacts of Hurricane Sandy on impoverished Haitians.  Together we can help clean up the wreckage, replant crops and move forward.

Our thoughts and prayers are with all of those affected by Hurricane Sandy.  

May your recovery be swift,

Marie Marthe Saint Cyr

Executive Director
The Lambi Fund of Haiti

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

For Haiti’s Agriculture, the Hits Keep Coming

Lambi Fund's Sarah Leavitt recently wrote a guest blog for the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy

      It’s a common scene in Haiti: Marceline, a small farmer, walks into a bustling market to sell her harvest and the marketplace is riddled with imported goods.  Fruits and vegetables are from the Dominican Republic, packaged goods from the U.S. line the rows and large bags of rice stamped with USAID lay on the ground.   To an unknowing eye, this wouldn’t mean much, but to Marceline these imported goods are undercutting her and other Haitian farmers’ ability to make an honest living.
In Haiti, the idea of food sovereignty means so much more than growing food that is healthy, culturally appropriate and produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods (as defined by the International Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty).  For the more than half of Haitian society that depends on agriculture for its livelihood, an agriculture system that that supports locally grown foods is imperative.
     The struggle to protect and strengthen local agriculture is nothing new to Haiti. Severe environmental degradation and years of deforestation have eroded the soil and left much of the land devoid of the nutrients essential to producing high yielding crops. This, coupled with Haiti’s propensity for natural disasters, like hurricanes, leaves small farmers especially vulnerable to fluctuations in the environment.
Used under creative commons license from Marion Doss.The damage from Hurricane Isaac was so severe,
 it is estimated that the agriculture sector
 in Haiti suffered $2,420 million in losses.
Take Hurricane Isaac for example. Heavy rains came and quickly washed away topsoil no longer anchored down by the roots of trees, leading to the destruction of many crops and livestock. The damage was so severe, it is estimated that the agriculture sector suffered $2,420 million in losses (Caribbean Journal 2012). This susceptibility to crop loss makes relying on agriculture in Haiti a difficult endeavor. For small Haitian farmers like Marceline, losing crops to a hurricane is devastating. Selling goods from a harvest in the market is now out of the question and the need to feed her children, send them to school and eke out an existence becomes a herculean feat.
     If the seemingly ever-present threats of the environment were not enough, small farmers continually face ramifications of unfair trade policies that promote the incessant dumping of food aid and cripple local markets.
     The most well-known example of this is the infamous U.S. rice programs that destroyed Haiti’s rice production in the mid 1990s. The Clinton Administration negotiated an agreement with the Haitian government that dramatically cut tariffs on imported U.S. rice, which became cheaper than Haitian rice. As a consequence, the floor dropped out from beneath Haitian rice growers. As Clinton explains it, "It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked. It was a mistake." Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in March of 2010, "I had to live everyday with the consequences of the loss of capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people because of what I did; nobody else."
     Then again in May 2010, on the heels of the earthquake, when communities were still reeling from the devastation and loss of life—farmers’ crops were attacked yet again. Monsanto announced the donation of $4 million dollars' worth of hybrid corn and vegetable seeds. Much like Clinton’s rice subsidy policies that were at the time touted as providing Haitians with a cheap and affordable source of food, this donation was given under the veil of benevolence to help farmers who “may not have had sufficient seeds to plant” (Monsanto 2010), an assumption without merit.
     Monsanto’s actions were harmful for a couple of reasons.  First, the seeds came coated in toxic fungicides and require significantly more water, chemical fertilizers and pesticides than local Creole heirloom and organic seeds.  In addition, these hybrid seeds cannot be saved and re-planted, so farmers who use them must purchase new seeds for planting each year.
     Small farmers saw this ruse for what it was—a move by Monsanto to create agricultural dependency in Haiti. The peasant farmer leader Chavannes Jean-Baptiste of the Peasant Movement of Papay (MPP) called this donation, “a new earthquake [for Haiti]” and “a very strong attack on small agriculture, on farmers, on biodiversity, on Creole seeds…and on what is left of our environment in Haiti.”  Local peasant farmer movements were so opposed to this attack on food sovereignty that they committed to burningMonsanto’s seeds upon arrival. Undoubtedly, not all of the seeds were destroyed and thousands of Haitians were distributed these seeds unaware of the long-term risks and impending dependency—all of which impoverished farmers simply cannot afford. (Read more about the continued impacts of Monsanto’s influence in Haiti.)
     In spite of these egregious threats from the U.S. and international corporations, small communities throughout Haiti are uniting to strengthen local food production, protect the environment and promote Creole seed and food storage.
     One such example is the Youth Association of Sél (AJS) who are partnering with the Lambi Fund of Haiti to build a grain storage facility and to launch a community credit fund in their community. The organization is building a grain silo to store surplus grains and seeds for use in times of need—droughts, natural disasters and between growing seasons. The storage facility will also be a place to store local Creole seeds. With this silo, AJS members are working to increase access to high quality, local seeds that they can share and sell to one another at an affordable rate.
     AJS, a youth organization comprised of 255 members (120 women) is a young and vibrant group that realizes the importance of fighting for and promoting food sovereignty in its community.  In order to increase their capacity, members attended workshops administered by Lambi Fund on grain storage management and operation, bookkeeping, the issuing of loans and how to manage a community credit fund.
     To date, 50 low-interest loans have been issued to members who are using the funds to purchase more seeds, tools and organic fertilizers for growing more peanuts, peas and corn in the area.  One recipient noted that investments from the loan allowed him to cultivate 25 percent more land. All of these loans were repaid on time, and since AJS manages the credit fund and interest earnings stay within the community, the fund is growing.  As a result, AJS members are planning to issue an additional 19 loans this fall to farmers in preparation for the upcoming planting season.  The silo is currently under construction and committees have been formed that will be responsible for managing the food storage unit and distributing the grains and seeds in an equitable manner.
     While members of AJS may be young, each of these members is not naïve to the difficulties of farming in Haiti.  Hurricanes, droughts, a degraded environment, unfair trade policies and corporate influences make growing food and earning a fair income markedly difficult, yet members of AJS and countless other Haitians living in rural Haiti realize the importance of standing in unity and working together towards a food secure Haiti. Cooperatives and community organizations much like AJS are working together to promote food storage, seed sharing and community lending practices that are strengthening the foundation of agriculture in Haiti. To read more about efforts like these or to support community-led efforts for sustainable agriculture, please visit

Monday, October 22, 2012

Worldwide Food Crisis in 2013 Would be Catastrophic for Haiti

By Sarah Leavitt     

     According to a recent article in the Guardian, the UN is warning that the world is on the verge of a major food crisis in 2013.  Just the slightest hiccup in plans for the year's agriculture will mean food shortages, rising food costs, and food riots.  

Why? Falling harvests around the globe have put worldwide grain reserves at their lowest since 1974.  Abdolreza Abbassin, a senior economist for the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said that, "We've not been producing as much as we are consuming. That is why stocks are being run down. Supplies are now very tight across the world and reserves are at a very low level, leaving no room for unexpected events next year." 

Flooded fields in Haiti after heavy rainfall
     This is incredibly troublesome news at a time when costs for main food crops (rice and maize) are rising and weather patterns are becoming anything but predictable and "normal." This year, for the sixth time in 11 years, the world will consume more food than it produces, largely because of extreme weather in the US and other major food-exporting countries (Guardian 2012). 

     Lester Brown, president of the Earth policy research center in Washington, says that, "We are entering a new era of rising food prices and spreading hunger. Food supplies are tightening everywhere and land is becoming the most sought-after commodity as the world shifts from an age of food abundance to one of scarcity.  The geopolitics of food is fast overshadowing the geopolitics of oil."

      One thing that is clear - if and when this food crisis strikes, the world's most vulnerable populations will be hit the hardest.  Take Haiti for instance, 60% of its population are farmers.  Growing conditions are already difficult for this small island nation that suffers from severe soil erosion and depleted soil nutrients.  Increasingly severe weather patterns have already begun taking its toll on crop production - abnormally long droughts have depleted crop yields in years' past while hurricanes and harsh storms have washed away millions of dollars in crops.  If the food crisis that the UN is warning of comes to fruition, the 80% of citizens living below the poverty line face dire circumstances.

     In order to prevent this impending catastrophe urgent action that supports and strengthens local food production is needed.  Haiti is already overly reliant on food aid and imported food: some 51% of the food consumed in the country is imported, including 80% of all rice eaten (according to the Haitian government).  Undoubtedly, if worldwide grain reserves continue to decrease and food costs rise, food aid will abate and Haitians already struggling to scrape by will not be able to afford the increased cost of imported food.
Lambi Fund led training on sustainable agriculture methods

     So, what can be done?  Work to build a strong foundation of local food production with built in safeguards that can withstand fluctuations of markets and inclement weather.  First and foremost, investments in small farmers that provide hard-working Haitians with the resources and training they need to plant more food and improve crop productivity will make a marked impact.  This means providing funding for farmers to purchase high-quality local seeds that are fit for the local environment.  Training is also critical.  Offering training opportunities to small farmers that teach them sustainable agriculture strategies, how to care for the environment and techniques that will boost productivity will foster self-sufficiency and a vibrant food economy.

     Investments in irrigation, water management and low-use watering techniques are of paramount concern as well.  The more that rainfall becomes unreliable, the more that farmers need appropriate water strategies.

     On that same token, building local grain storage silos so that communities can store their own reserves and have safeguards in place if a food crisis occurs will empower communities to plan for unforeseen circumstances and to provide for one another when emergencies do arise.

Supporting local food production provides hard-working
Haitians with goods to sell in the market
     Beyond this, governments like Haiti and other nations in similar circumstances need to implement policies that will protect against land-grabbing, promote local agriculture and that plan appropriate responses for crop failures.
     Regardless of whether or not a worldwide food crisis strikes in 2013, these types of local, grassroots-led investments in local agriculture need to be made a top priority.  Providing training, tools, seeds and the resources needed that strengthen communities and increase local outputs will not only make an immediate impact on fighting hunger, but will equip communities with a built-in safety net when agricultural disasters occur.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Finding Peace in Haiti

By: Marie Marthe Saint Cyr

Today is International Peace Day.  In honor of each of our brothers and sisters in Haiti, I would like to call for peace in Haiti.  I know that most of you reading this note may not think that Haiti is at war and that this call for peace is somewhat unnecessary.  In reality though, the ever-smiling and resilient people of Haiti have faced many great wars - the war of deliberation from slavery, the fight for sovereignty and now the war to enjoy this hard fought freedom.  Day in and day out, the Haitian people are denied basic human rights: the right to food, to shelter, to education – the right to survival. 

This struggle to survive is a battle that wages on in the rural countryside, in the tent cities – throughout Haiti.  Declaring victory and peace means reclaiming the land their ancestors died for and growing food for their families.  Who is the enemy?  The enemy is the everpresent flood of imports in the local marketplace that continually undercut small farmers’ ability to sell their goods.  The enemy is the lack of interest and accountability from government.  The enemy is the lack of support and resources available for the future generations. 

Hosting three carnivals a year will not bring peace against the rising cost of living, against the high unemployment rate, against the threat of natural disasters and the complete absence of a plan for a sustainable future.  These substantial barriers and challenges can only be met through policies that work to deliver improved watershed management, alternative energy sources, promotion and protection of the environment, access to education and a commitment to strengthening local agriculture.  Only then will Haiti begin to realize peace. 

If peace is reflected in the unity of a people, the caring for one another’s wellbeing, and protecting the land that harbors their dreams - then let peace reign over our people.  If peace achieved by honoring the wisdom acquired over years of experience, then let the hour of peace sound today for all Haitians.  If peace enlightens the mind, let our pathway to unity shine.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Haiti Loses a Champion for Equality and the Environment

    It is with great sadness that the Lambi Fund of Haiti announces the passing of longtime agronomist Bernard Philogène.  He died on September 5, 2012 battling Cirrhosis of the liver.

 Bernard was a tireless champion of Haiti who found great joy in te
aching grassroots organizations the power of change and sustainable agriculture in Haiti. He will be greatly missed and the Lambi Fund family is sincerely grateful for the wonderful impact he made in his lifetime.  May you rest in peace Bernard!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Buying Haitian Food and Goods Supports Development in Haiti

By Marie Marthe Saint Cyr

Fostering practices that yield democratic functioning in Haiti is the overarching principle of the Lambi Fund of Haiti's mission. Each and every day, together with our partners, we assess events and situations created by policies or the lack thereof that weaken the capacity of our communities to strive to move forward.
I was never more surprised than when I encountered a Dominican asking me, "Donde está Port-au-Prince?" That was while I was in Ganthier recently, a small town near the border of Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
In Petion Ville, when I was hungry, a family member asked me if I wanted some Dominican food that was on hand for an afternoon snack. Whatever happened to Akasans or Fritay (a Haitian medley of fried vegetables and griot), I thought to myself.
When I needed to wash my hair, my choice was Dominican or Haitian hairdressers, not vice versa and with an emphasis on the former. On the road, traveling from the North to Port-au-Prince, there were Dominican firms building the roads with Haitian spectators watching them work.
I suppose you could ask me. "What does this have to do with rural Haiti or the mission that Lambi Fund seeks to fulfill?"
The rural area comprises roughly 90% of Haiti's population. We are Haiti. We produce and deliver the food. We sacrifice to create access to education for our children. In spite of the failings of governance, we continue to produce and feed the local economy — we want to grow and we have long waited for strong partnership with government entities to strengthen our capacities.
Survival in rural Haiti is dependent on the need to and the ability to produce creatively given a shortfall of resources. Communities continue to face serious challenges without subsidies, without plans for protecting the soil, without plans for watershed management, without alternative energy for daily utilization and the latest challenge is the loss of our borders.
The invasion of agricultural production is implicit in the dumping of goods in our local communities thereby reducing the ability of Haitian farmers to compete and reducing the level of profit they can make — devaluing local products such as rice, plantains, coconuts, and lemons.
Whether we invest $300 million or a billion dollars elsewhere, it rids Haitians of job opportunities, the transfer of skills to our youth and for the local farmer it rids him of the right to access the local market. This is the principal source of development and incomes for communities throughout Haiti. Agriculture is the key investment that will yield our nation marked growth, yet it is being attacked and weakened from the outside.
While rural farmers invest in the sweat of their brows to educate their children out of poverty, work opportunities are farmed out and opportunities to make a fair living are dwindling. So, the constant outmigration of citizens from rural towns continues. If the dream of the next generation of rural citizens is to move to Port-au-Prince, then the dream of the next generation in Port-au-Prince is to find the next opportunity to fly out of the country altogether.
There is a vigorous yet silent invasion in Haiti. It is seeping through not just the culture, but the land, the market, the thinking. Even the clothing is no longer made by local tailors or shoemakers. Education is not guided by normative standards with a set of principles and values representing the needs of our country.
We are allowing all of these goods to come from elsewhere and it is diminishing the internal trade and exchange that can fuel the local economy.
This is about recalculating and reversing the trends. Haiti needs policies that reverse these trends and that place value on local markets and local goods. Policies need to help the rural areas to plant, harvest and sell their crops.
The primary result needs to be an integrated practice of development. This will deliver initiatives that put decision-making in the hands of those whose lives are most affected – meaning a much needed inclusion of the rural areas. We must have policies that are dedicated to improving access to land and productivity that will feed all of Haiti's nine million citizens.
Teach the next generation the value of the land while at the same time stressing the importance of respect towards the environment. Raise the standards, expectations, rights and implemented justice so that we can have a new legacy.
None of this can be done without policies that invite community members to be part of the development program and opportunities. These policies should value community members' participation in programs and provide opportunities to change local thinking and the reverse of negative trends.
This cannot be done “for” Haitians, but it must be done “by” Haitians. We simply cannot wait to be delivered, but we need to deliver ourselves. There once was a time that food and basics used in Haiti were made in Haiti.
Now the restaurants are not ours and the products they use are not either. The frontier is open for anyone to come in and sell their goods, while we destroy the rural economy — the foundation of Haiti's economy. We cannot have the international community flood the economy with their goods, we need to close that door and build Haiti's own goods and services.
Read the rest of the 2012 Spring Newsletter here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Making Women A Priority: Thinking About Women and Pushing for Equal Rights in Haiti

By Josette Perard 

On March 8, 2012, women throughout the world celebrated International Women's Day. On that day in Haiti, various women's groups convened and held meetings to reflect on the struggles of women in Haiti and discussing: how women can take the lead to obtain their rights, the work being performed, and where current struggles exist.
In these various celebrations, women did not miss the opportunity to commemorate the memory of women who died in the earthquake on January 12, 2010. This included the great champions of Haitian women's rights Magalie Marcelin, Miriam Merlet, Anne-Marie Coriolan, and Gina Porcena all of whom were among the countless others who disappeared in the disaster.

In Port-au-Prince, the Ministry of Women organized a forum on women's issues and the Haitian Women's Solidarity Organization (SOFA) had a march calling for women's worker rights. In rural communities where Lambi Fund works, women took the initiative to meet and to reflect on the situation of women in Haitian society and to discuss how they could make claims to obtain their rights as citizens. The current situation of exploitation, discrimination and mistreatment of women in Haiti is complex. It can be seen everywhere deeply rooted in daily practices — it is an underlying issue and continued crisis in both civil society and politics.
Some discrimination carries the trademark of the feudal system of the 19th century, where little girls serve as restaveks (a form of indentured servitude) to the lady of the house, among others.
This exploitation runs deep in Haitian society — it is deeply engrained in historical and social contexts and is a phenomenon without an easy solution. As all phenomenon, there will be no real solution until the root causes in social relationships are addressed. To come to the end of slavery, the revolutionaries of Saint Domingue had to destroy the relationship of master/slave. So must the feudal republic the women of Haiti are relegated to, be changed.
Looking back, we can see that many advocates of women's rights in Haiti have led the way. There was a time not too long ago that women could not vote and were not afforded the same rights as men.
Today, for the most part, men and women enjoy equal political, economic and social rights on paper under Haitian law. While these rights are not always fully implemented in civil society, it is important to recognize and appreciate that strides have been made in a legal context. For example, in 1944 women earned the right to hold public office and in 1950, women throughout Haiti finally earned their right to vote.
"The dialogue must first open up if there is any hope for genuine change within society."
Passing of the 'rape law' was a landmark moment for women in Haiti. Legislation was passed in response to pressure from women's groups calling for reform on the way rape was treated in the legal system. Under this law, rape is now considered a criminal offense and forced sexual activity is grounds for a prison sentence. Despite this prevalence of women's victories in the legal system, women's social reality weighs heavier than the laws in place.
For most Haitian women, this workload at home where their role is cooking, cleaning, farming, caring for the children and following the orders of their husbands. Why does this traditional role continue to be the norm? Well, there is little space for liberation in Haitian society. Norms and tradition persist and productive forces tend to get squashed. Despite headway made for women's rights in the legal system, many antiquated customs continue to repress women and their rights.
For instance, under Article 199, a woman can not undertake any legal action without judicial authorization from her husband. Under Article 201, a woman is unable to give away, mortgage or buy property without the written consent of her husband. In order to override this, a woman must seek authorization from the Dean Court of Civil Cases.
Quite simply, this means that Haitian women do not have the freedom to make decisions for themselves. There is a tendency to portray women as second-class citizens. Aggression and abuse against women pervades throughout society. At the Rara carnival, musicians promote many old norms of women in their music. A popular old Haitian proverb babò tribò depicts a dirty image of women saying: beautiful women are evil, therefore they fall into poverty as punishment. Another proverb likens Negro women to cashews. The more men have in their pocket, the better…
When a woman does work at a business or factories in Haiti they are paid less for doing the same work as men. In the family, especially in rural Haiti, boys are more likely to attend school than girls. Girls are meant to stay at home for domestic work.
Women are not appreciated as being the pillars of the economy. Women cultivate the fields, tend gardens and sell goods as venders in the market, yet all of this work is regarded as an "informal economy." Most men in society do not recognize this as meaningful work. Few women vendors receive respect; their goods are frequently stolen and many customers purposefully short-change them.
Clearly, equality for women as it is written on paper does not play out in Haiti.
Given this reality, average women must unite to make their voices heard. Both in the cities and in the rural communities, citizens must begin meeting to discuss the rights and duties of women in Haitian society. The dialogue must first open up if there is any hope for genuine change within society. For the Lambi Fund of Haiti, the aim for gender equality is a deep commitment.
As an organization, Lambi Fund recognizes the role that it can play in supporting and promoting positive social change. In this sense, Lambi Fund takes pride in supporting numerous women's organizations throughout the country. In partnership with these organizations women are learning how to breed goats, building grain mills, receiving the training and capital needed to manage credit funds, and reforesting hillsides to name a few of the many initiatives these female leaders are undertaking.
In addition to supporting a variety of projects that build women's capacity and increase their incomes, Lambi Fund proudly facilitates discussions about women's rights and gender equality. Lambi Fund recognizes that empowering women is just one piece of the puzzle. Men too must be invested in this social change.
They must see the importance in training women, providing them with leadership roles and in viewing them as equals. If men are not on board and proud of their wife's newfound independence and economic success they will feel as though their role as husband and provider for the family is being encroached upon.
Investing in Rural Haiti Yields Results
With this in mind, Lambi Fund hosts regional semi-annual Gender Equity Conferences in rural Haiti. These conferences provide men and women with the opportunity to discuss gender roles and norms in society. Participants receive training on not just the rights of women, but they also engage in a variety of discussions about how they can work to support one another — including how women can help to play a positive role in Haitian society.
The feedback from these conferences has been overwhelmingly positive. Both male and female participants say the forums provide a safe and productive outlet for discussing changing gender roles in their communities and that they are now equipped to meaningfully address concerns head-on.
That being said, the exploitation of women and repression of women's rights is widespread. While small, these conferences and the work of women's groups throughout the country are working to slowly turn the tide. This important work needs continued support because the voices of thousands of women throughout Haiti deserve a platform to voice their concerns and assert their rights.
When the struggle of women's rights is recognized within civil society as they have been granted in a legal sense, deep changes that benefit the whole of society will finally take place.

Monday, May 14, 2012

For the Boy with Brown Eyes

14 May 2012 - I recently had the wonderful experience of taking a Center for Digital Storytelling workshop. This workshop not only teaches you the basics of putting together a video with music and photos, but shows you how to tell your story.  Each of us have stories to tell and lessons that we have learned.  Being able to lend voice to your stories is incredibly empowering.

Here's my story and how I first began working with the Lambi Fund of Haiti.

I look forward to telling many more stories about Lambi Fund, our partners and the communities we work in.  See you next time.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Using Aid Money in Haiti as a Slush Fund Must Stop

After reading that the Red Cross of Haiti is considering building a hotel in Port-au-Prince (you can read that full article here), the Executive Director of the Lambi Fund of Haiti got to thinking about how misusing aid money in Haiti has become the norm.

     I am appalled at the liberties people take in the name of humanitarian AID.  If you travel through Haiti and wander through the camps, you have to begin wondering as I have: who is being cared for from the gifts of so many loving people across the world?  The administrators, the politicians, and the employees.  Not the people for whom it was intended. Those relegated to the harsh conditions of the camps do not sleep well. They are living on one meal a day.  They get wet in the rain and scorching hot in the middle of the day.  I am sickened by this deliberate abuse of those in need.  The practices reflected through humanitarian aid in Haiti constitute an attack on democracy, for they yield as a result: subjugation, subservience and create an elite class of so called "providers" who usurp a great majority of the resources intended for those so desperately in need.

In the name of assistance:

Do not brandish your gun in my face; I am not at war. I am trying to survive.

Do not teach me how to wash my hands when the water is not clean – it is already contaminated.

Do not teach our youth yoga without a meal in their stomachs.

Do not have meetings in English.  We speak Kreyol; this is not inclusion.

Instead, I suggest you try your hand at earnestly providing the funds to those in need.  This means engaging the so called beneficiaries you talk so frequently about.  Ask the single mother of four who has been living under a tent for over two and a half years what she needs to climb out of the depths of the tent city and into a living situation that has dignity and a chance for an improved livelihood.

Work on developing a real plan for water and sanitation infrastructure.  The illnesses and deaths will not stop until everyone has access to clean and safe drinking water and long-term sanitation solutions. 
Invest in small farmers living in Haiti’s countryside.  Ending Haiti’s dependence on food aid will be achieved when the thousands of hard-working peasants have the means, tools and training in organic and sustainable agriculture to increase crop productivity and outputs.  Doing this will not just increase food production, it will create a vibrant and robust food economy in communities throughout the country.

The real beauty in this strategy is that strengthening the local food system creates a bounty of opportunities for Haitians to make a fair and honest living in the countryside.  This means that the thousands currently toiling away under Haiti’s hot sun in tent cities will be incentivized to leave Port-au-Prince – most of whom moved to the capital in search of jobs and better economic opportunities only to find living conditions even worse than before.  Investing in programs that empower, train and provide Haitians with the resources they need to not just leave poverty behind, but to realize that they have the knowhow to be the stewards of their own destiny is what justice in Haiti looks like.

Marie Marthe Saint Cyr
Executive Director of the Lambi Fund of Haiti

Thursday, January 12, 2012

“Vè ki lè?” or Around What Time?

On this day, just two short years ago, tragedy struck and turned Haiti’s world upside down.  The impact of the earthquake on January 12, 2010 reverberated deeply throughout the country – forever changing each Haitian’s life.  More than just homes and office buildings were destroyed.  Over 300,000 lives were lost.  Each of these 200,000 had a name and a face.  They left behind sons, daughters, siblings, friends and loved ones to mourn their loss. 
We knew then that much like the aftershocks that continued to shake the ground for weeks following the quake - there would be several significant “shocks” that would rattle the already weary nation.  The work to rebuild would be difficult and would necessitate a long-term vision.  Rubble removal was slow and cumbersome, forming a team of international donors and government officials to oversee the millions of dollars in aid has been sluggish and ill-effective at best, long-term housing solutions continue to be a concern for the thousands that remain in tent cities and cholera arrived unexpectedly.  It swept through the city and countryside - taking nearly 7,000 lives and infecting over half a million individuals to date.
Amidst all of these trials, local Haitians are beginning to ask “Vè ki lè?”, or around what time [will the change come]?  Two years of talk and slow-progress.  The time is now and the Lambi Fund of Haiti is working with our partners to build a stronger foundation in Haiti from the ground up.
In order to make this call for progress a reality, several calculated strategies are in order:
  1. Continue to expand rural agriculture and increase local food production.  Lambi Fund currently has 17 projects ranging from goat breeding to community farming microcredits to grain storage underway in efforts to strengthen crop outputs and local food systems in Haiti.
  2. Provide technical training and capacity building to grassroots organizations so that they gain the skills needed to successfully and sustainably manage the business enterprises they are launching.
  3. Build latrines and rainwater cisterns in rural communities to help stem the flow of cholera while advocating for a comprehensive and improved water management system.
  4. Hire new staff and attend trainings from specialists in the field to enhance Lambi Fund’s core capacity in order to amplify programs and to work in partnership with communities on a more comprehensive and penetrating level.
  5. Bring human rights to the forefront of rebuilding.  The right to shelter, food and fair wages need to be prioritized.  Once there is a respect for people’s needs, we as a global community can more effectively mobilize to deliver results.
  6. Let the people of Haiti dictate their own future.  Give a voice to the poor majority and provide leaders of rural communities with opportunities for active participation in the decision-making and priority setting process for rebuilding Haiti.
These are not pie in the sky objectives.  These are obtainable goals that can be achieved through strategic partnerships and empowerment of the people.  While it may seem like a longshot to dream of equal rights and improved livelihoods for the many living in poverty, we at Lambi Fund live the hope.  We live to see people struggling make it.  We live to see that everyone has a fighting chance – that those who are down and out can one day sustain themselves.
The people of Haiti are strong and are carrying this immense struggle gracefully.  I urge you to stand up and stand with the people of Haiti: Advocate for the rights of all Haitians and demand that their voices are heard.   You can join Lambi Fund in helping to build a better tomorrow – this is the way to honor the loved ones lost.  Let hopes soar and Haiti rise again.  The time is now.

In remembrance of our beloved brothers and sisters,
Marie Marthe Saint Cyr
Executive Director