Friday, August 21, 2015

What Does the Future Hold For he 356 Haitian Refugee Families in Anise A Pitres?

Since the TC Ruling 168/13 was published in the Dominican Republic – a law which the Dominican Government put in place against foreigners living on their territory, people who do not have legal permits to remain in the country – There is a xenophobia mixed with racism that has been declared on the other side of the border that targets especially those who have dark skin, Haitians in particular. Before this ruling, the Dominican constitution recognized every person born on its territory as a Dominican citizen following the law called “Jus soli,” which meant that anyone born on its territory was Dominican.

TC Ruling 168/13 reinforced another retroactive decree that the Dominicans took, which declared that people who were born on Dominican soil after the year 1929 lost their Dominican nationality – in particular Haitians. This is a measure that violates all international and regional laws. It is a measure against human rights, an illegal measure. No country on this earth has ever denationalized its citizens!  All countries, especially those in Latin America, are protesting against this measure; many protests have been held all over to denounce the situation that the Dominican Republic is creating in the area. 

To counter the protests that are coming from all over, the Dominican Republic, created what they call PNRE (National Plan of Regularization of Foreigners), where they give immigrants, Haitians and other foreigners that are living on the territory, the chance to collect their legal documentation in order to remain in the country. In the meantime, even if the Dominican government told those people that they could apply at no cost, the people still have a lot of fees that are incurred including a notary, lawyer, etc. They do not have the money to put together the documents that are being requested. The process is very tedious, but there are no means to even assist all of the Haitians that are considered illegal obtain their papers. The deadline for people to rectify their situations expired on June 17, 2015 at 7:00 pm. Those Haitians who are unable to obtain these regularization papers will be illegal or stateless.

The people are panicking and leaving the Dominican Republic in large numbers. The Haitian government, on its end, created a program PIDHIP (Identification Program with Haitian Documentation). The consulates in the Dominican Republic are supposed to give those people passports and national identification cards. In reality, they don’t have enough documents to distribute, and they are asking the undocumented to pay for this service. The program is ineffective. As soon as the Haitian ambassador in the Dominican Republic, Mr. Supplice, denounced the program, the Haitian government fired him.

The governments of both countries are pointing the finger at each other. For example, the Haitian government is claiming illegal deportations, persecutions, and violence, while the Dominican government is claiming voluntary deportations. Since the deadline has passed, it is estimated that there are more than 45,000 Dominicans of Haitian descent and Haitians who were living there without papers who have returned to Haiti. In reality, Haitians who are living in the Dominican Republic are being persecuted. Dominicans are committing violent crimes against Haitian descent Dominicans, stealing their possessions, land and homes with all of their belongings. We have the refugees’ testimonies clearly stating that they have no protection. 

Based on the principle that we must see with our own eyes and hear what the refugees have to say, the Lambi team went to Anse a Pitre on July 23, 2015, where there are two large refugee camps. Ansapit is a small village that is a part of the Commune of Belans, Southeast Department, on the Dominican and Haitian border. The majority of the people in the area live on fishing. To get there, we go through Croix des Bouquets, Ganthier, Fond Parisien, Fond Verette, Foret des Pins and Thiotte. The village of Ansapit is situated approximately 80 kilometres from Port au Prince. The roads are not great; it took 4 ½ hours to get there. The area is arid and has a lot of dust. Before you enter into the village of Ansapit, you go through Bannann where we saw the two refugee camps. We say “refugee camps,” but in reality it is a grouping of people who occupied the space after crossing the border. The people shared with us that they do not have anyone there to welcome or receive them. They do not have tents, and there are not even tarps to provide them with shelter. They take cover under 4 wooden sticks that they planted and covered with cardboard or old rags that cannot not protect them against the sun or the rain.

At the first camp we saw a group of people with small pails in hand seeking water. We asked if we could meet with them. They said they were going to a nearby town and they would be back later. A man who seemed to be a leader said, “ok, I will organize a meeting with you.” We passed in front of the second encampment and then continued to go to Anse a Pitres. Anse a Pitres is not very different from other villages in Haiti. There is no electricity, no infrastructure and very limited movement of people. However, there is water because I saw a poster indicating there was a joint project between Haiti and the DR to bring potable water and water for irrigation. The people living in Ansapit indicated that the Ministry of Agriculture does not help the inhabitants to plant, so the water in the irrigation canal is going to waste.  


We went to the border, but on this day there was hardly any movement on either side.  It was not market day. There was a construction site on the Dominican Republic side that appeared to be a market site, but there was no activity. It all seemed normal. We noted that due to the heat, the immigration officers took refuge sitting outside under the trees with no apparent activity.

We left the village and went to another encampment, the one that we really came to observe. 
In the first area we learned that there are 218 families living there.  We observed a general state of destitution in the way people are living under the scorching sun. In addition, the vast majority are mostly women and children. One woman invited us to shelter from the hot sum in her makeshift shelter of pieces of material all torn up. She had nothing in there just a bucket, a pan for cooking, and some old rags/tattered clothing. She did not even have a straw mat to sleep on. However with much politeness she asked one of her 8 children to get a bucket and turn it upside down. She put a cushion on it so that a member of the team could sit on it. She apologized since she could not offer a chair to all four of us.  Her face was in distress. She is 35 years old, and her name is Marina. 


Marina related that she was born in Pedernales (a town in the Dominican Republic that is across from Anse a Pitres). Her mother and father came long ago to the Dominican Republic in search of a better life. She is not sure where her parents are from in Haiti. They have both died. She said she is a Dominican but does not have the documents to prove this; however, the hospital where she was born has documentation of her birth. She knows no one in Haiti. She is sitting there not knowing her fate and that of her children. She hasn’t seen any government officials to tell them what they can do for them. She is about to lose her mind; however, she must remain firm in order to save her children. Marina is courageous woman.

We asked Marina if she was forced to return to Haiti. She said “no,” it was her choice because where she lived, she was threatened often by the Dominicans. Whenever she met a Dominican, they would remind her what Trujillo did in 1937 when so many Haitians were assassinated. She left the DR because of fear. To protect her children, she crossed the border, but her husband stayed. We asked her if she had come through immigration services. She said she came across the river to arrive at this particular place. Her husband works in the bateys and on other plantations. She was a domestic worker. Their children of age attended school. 


“Even though life was not great in the Dominican Republic, we were able to etch out a living,” Marina told us.

When we asked about her outlook on the future, she stated that she does not have a vision of tomorrow. There is no indication of support from the state; the administration of Haiti has abandoned them. It was a pastor who brought them a small amount rice, hardly enough to feed the family. Marina is in a state of despair.

When other people realized we were sitting with Marina under her tent, they came to bring their own testimony and experiences. A woman who did not share her name said she was walking when a bus stopped next to her and the occupants made her get on the bus. She told the driver that she had two kids at home. The driver who seemed to be a good soul, took her to pick up her children, put them on the bus, then took them to the border. Her husband has no idea what happened to her, though she has tried to send him messages.

Many people gathered at Marina’s place, but many refused to talk. They were listening, at times approving or agreeing with what was being said. It seems that everyone had the same issues. Those born in the Dominican Republic are Dominicans and do not know anyone in Haiti. Others had gone to the Dominican Republic to escape poverty in Haiti. There are people in the Dominican Republic who have been there between 4 to 10 years.  Many of them were working in the plantations, but many had no regular jobs and were doing what they could find daily. In general, they have no official identification, Dominican or Haitian.

The conditions they are living in now are horrendous. They are in the dirt, food is insufficient, they have no secure shelter, and many express a sense of loss of respect and dignity. In spite of the difficulties they are facing, at no moment did they ask us for money. They keep asking for work.

The second camp we visited had 138 families who were living there. Pastor Harris previously told us he was organizing a meeting for us at the church with those living in the camp. He constructed the church location with coconut leaves and made some makeshift benches with wood. When we arrived at the church, there were about 30 persons waiting for us, people of all ages, elderly, young men and women and a lot of children.

We introduced ourselves as concerned Haitian citizens who came to find out about the current situation. There was a lot of information circulating but nothing specific to living in the camp. Our purpose was to be informed and to share the information with other Haitians who are concerned as well. We needed to mobilize on these issues. We promised to disseminate the information everywhere we could.

Pastor Harris, with a young man who appeared to be a leader, spoke and explained what was occurring in this site. Pastor Harris said he came from Bèlfontèn and went to the DR 16 years ago. His parents worked as lessees on a plantation, and when they died, he had no place to go and returned to Port au Prince to seek employment. He could not find any means to earn a living, so he went to the DR with a group that was going to work in the fields. He had been working as a farmer until he was able to find a piece of land to work for himself. In his mind, the Dominicans have never accepted the presence of the Haitians in spite of the fact it is Haitians who work in the plantations. However, they were not threatening to kill them as in the last few months. He said that when they burned his house he realized he could not stay in the country that is such an enemy, so he crossed the river and landed here without a place to stay, no job with nothing. He is not begging for charity, but he asked the government to help them work the land for agriculture. There is water and land available for farming where they are currently.


Those camping in these two sites have no representation from any government institutions or anyone else. The Prime Minister and the first lady of Haiti visited the site. They said they would give each person some money to go back to their town of origin. Most of the people who are there do not know where their family originated in Haiti. They were born in the DR or left Haiti many years ago. They are not linked to family in Haiti, so what would they do when they arrived at the place of origin of their ancestors? They do not belong here in Haiti in many ways. The government must have a planned program to relocate them where necessary.

The majority of people in the camp are women and children. Children are scattered everywhere. In the same way the first camp is, the second is similar. There is no shelter or even a tarp to protect people against dust, sun and rain. There is no food available.


There are numerous pregnant women who returned to Haiti. Many babies are born on the site in very bad circumstances. In the group there is a woman who recently gave birth to a baby. She is holding the baby, and she wrapped the baby to protect her from the dust; only her little face is visible. The mother’s face is stressed. She said she has no husband here, “I am here with my arms hanging on my side; what will I do?” Her two other children are in the DR with their father. I was very afraid because I saw a Dominican bust the head off a Haitian with a machete, and I ran and cross the river to get here.

There was a fairly old gentleman who said he was born in the Dominican Republic. He went to school and studied electronics. He earned a living with his training until he was caught in the street, detained, placed on a bus and dropped at the Haitian border. He has had no news of his wife and their four children.  He is trying to go back, but in the Dominican Republic, he has no papers.
One woman in the group was complaining. She was hungry. The rice that she received from a pastor from time to time was not enough to feed herself and the four children. She asked what the government is going to do for them. They are praying that the rain does not come because they have a very poor shelter. If the rain comes, the small children may get sick or even die.

We asked them if the Ministry of Public health had been there. They answered no. In the Ansapit, there is one community clinic, and we asked if they could go there? They indicated that they were not sure. The Mayor of Anse a Pitre came once to the camp when the First Lady of Haiti came to visit. No one has returned since.

The pastor is accompanied by a younger man who is trying to organize the two camps and restore order reduce potential crime, but it is rather difficult. They really need the presence of government officials in the country. Many representatives of the NGOs have come by, talked to them, taken pictures and made promises; however, none have returned. What the refugees find most humiliating is the journalists from the Dominican Republic who come to take pictures and ask them what the Haitian government has done for them. Today they received the Lambi Fund because we offered up front that we are here fact finding so that we can circulate the information to others so they know what is happening in Bannann/Anse a Pitre. They trust us.

In one testimony after another, the situation they are living is the same. The state has no presence there. There is no official center to welcome them. It seems that there is no plan to help them. However, the people continue to cross the border. On a daily basis the Dominican people as well as the Dominican police are committing egregious acts of violence against the Haitians. They relate that even Dominican friends are rising against them.

In October 1937, Haitians in the Dominican Republic were victims of an “ethnic cleansing” that the racist government of Trujillo organized. 26,000 Haitians fell victims of violence. This cleansing in 2015 is a prolongation of the same as that of 1937, but in another form. The conditions that allow the Dominican government to attack the Haitian people with impunity are ever present. If the Haitian people do not stand mobilized, not only to build a solidarity chain across the nation to support the people the Dominicans are pushing out, but also to radically change the conditions that result in the humiliation of our people, the same causes will continue with similar consequences.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Ruminations on Statelessness And the State of Our Work

As I watch the unraveling denial the obvious discrimination against Dominicans born of Haitian parents, I feel the tension of statelessness that seems to have existed since excised from our native land, the core of the colonial existence.  People rendered stateless, sold for labor, a revolving door of denial, fragmentation and racist overtones that everyone wants to dismiss for different reasons.   These painful and uncertain factors surge in my reflection on twenty years of work in rural Haiti.

On the one hand, there is the undeniable reality that Haiti has slipped, both absolutely and relatively,

by all measures:  When we began our work in 1994, Haiti ranked 137th in the UN Development Programme’s Human Development Index; today it ranks 168th.  While food security, the bedrock of the work that we support and foster at the Lambi Fund of Haiti, has improved since 1994, it has deteriorated since the earthquake of 2010 and Hurricane Sandy in 2011.  With an increasing unemployment rate and rising exchange rate, how can we maintain the slipping level of food security?  With a growing population, with one of the highest population densities in the world (34th of 221 nations ranked in Wikipedia), how can we redefine the quality of life for all Haitian people?

We would not be generating serious thoughts on 20 years of existence if we remained within the confines of relative success, project by project.  We are looking for the total picture, for the transformation of a society in decline to one that crosses over to progressive growth and cumulative change.  Indeed, each engaged person and organization can ponder their own contribution but together where are we?

At the same time, we celebrate the undeniably positive impact of the efforts of the peasantry in partnership with the Lambi Fund and the transformative impact on their respective communities. On our recent 20th anniversary delegation to Haiti, we were struck most particularly by two organizations – the Association of Peasants of Katò Bayonè (APKB) and the Organization of Peasants of Bige – communities with which we have worked for many years. As the call of the Lambi drew us to our meeting in Bige, we were struck by the sense of prosperity within the community. Relative to be sure, but the children were well fed; clean water was abundant; goats, which ran freely about the community, provided protein for growing children many of whose older brothers and sisters were off studying at the university. Such simple, and reasonable, outcomes borne at so little cost, investments made at the behest of a people who know far better than you or I the challenges they face and what might most make a difference in their lives. Even in APKB, an organization we began to work with in 2004, the promise of investment was palpable. Here at the end of a torturous, 90 minute drive over pitted, dirt roads that slowed us at times to a crawl, we were greeted by a community that welcomed our solidarity with a display of the wealth – again however relative – that our partnership had showered upon them over the years.

In May of 2014, we celebrated our work with some 40 organizations of the more than 150 with whom we have worked over the years. Their enduring confidence in our partnership  was gratifying and inspiring to hear. They also shared with us in a clear voice what is now needed for Haiti: advocacy for the work of our partners in Haiti so that they might be rewarded through meaningful investment into roads and transportation networks that their products might better reach their markets; into extension programs so that the best agricultural methods might be employed and the scourge of plant disease might be minimized; into meaningful trade agreements that don’t undermine local food markets; into reforestation that the precious soil upon which the food security of Haiti rests might be preserved for future generations. Thus, as we look forward to the next 20 years, we intend to honor our commitment to extol the wisdom of our partners by advocating with and on behalf of the peasants of rural Haiti.

We will celebrate our work to date on July 15 as we gird ourselves for the work ahead. Please join us on July 15 – on-line at or at our celebration itself in New York City. Click here for more information.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Locovorism: The bounty of Haiti as seen on Lambi Fund's 20th Anniversary Delegation

By Anna Ferdinand

Anna Ferdinand is a journalist who covered the political climate in Haiti during the mid 90s through the early 00s and the earthquake in 2010. Anna, and her two children, joined the Lambi Fund of Haiti on our 20th Anniversary Delegation in February 2015. 

Anna enjoys Haiti's cuisine with her children.
The week before my two children and I left for Haiti to travel with the Lambi Fund during the year of their 20th anniversary, I started a new unit with my sophomores on locovorism. Students were to read various arguments and data on the impact of eating locally grown food and argue what a community would need to consider before implementing a local food program. It was a tall order geared to prepare students for the Smarter Balance Assessment test Washington State will be implementing before the year’s end.  

First step was asking students what they thought the word meant.  Many thought it might have something to do with crazy people. Others read the writing prompt or connected the root words loc and vore and came up with “Local eating”.

“So, no coffee or bananas, right?” I pointed out.

“Does McDonalds count as eating locally?” One student asked.  Great question. “No.”  

Many said it would be impossible to eat locally, so I asked students to imagine what tribal people of yore ate, or to think about what is grown on the farms of the fertile Skagit Valley where we live.  “Just call it out!”

Kids began to call out: “salmon”, “crab”, “oysters”, “apples”, “potatoes”, “elk”, “tomatoes”, “spinach”, “peas” and on and on.

Some of the art displayed at the Kinam Hotel.
The connection between this mini-unit of study and the six-day journey with the Lambi Fund delegation to visit various projects deep in Haiti’s countryside was not initially apparent to me. But by the end of this foray deep into the heart of Haiti, it became clear that locovorism, as expressed through the avocado, papaya, rice, millet, corn, grapefruit, plantain, cassava, peanut, pigeon pea, and on and on, formed the backbone of the economy and was a fundamental means toward economic survival in a country where McDonalds simply, and mercifully, does not exist.

There were seven guests that joined the Lambi Fund staff the first week of February in the newly renovated Kinam Hotel, with a the new annex built onto the gingerbread charm of the original, boasting faux Chihuly chandeliers, statues, vases and large Haitian paintings of vibrant flowers on sleek white walls.

Guests on the excursion were greeted in the charm of the tiled restaurant on the gingerbread side, overlooking the outdoor pool, by original founding member, Josette Perard, based in Haiti, Executive Director Marie Marthe Saint Cyr and Assistant Director Katiana Anglade, both based in New York, along with Deputy Director Stephen Reichard, based in Portland, and anthropologist K. Jessica Hsu, the board secretary, currently based in Haiti.  Paul Rodney Henry, Ferry Pierre Charles and Frank Sylvain, all three agronomists who train, assess and evaluate Lambi Fund projects around the country were present, and would be our guides into the world beyond Petionville and the new fancy hotel.
Joining the Lambi Fund staff was Edwidge Danticat, whose fiction and non-fiction explore the complex beauty and tragedies of Haiti and the psychological dance of spanning the worlds of her two countries.  She was returning on a Lambi delegation 20 years after her first with the organization’s founding in 1994.  Dr. Chris Pannkuk, director of Washington State University’s International Research and Agricultural Development program joined the delegation. He has worked extensively around the world in reforestation, dry land irrigation and soil conservation. Louise Davis and Jeanette Hagen, childhood friends from Maine, both traveled to Haiti for the first time.   They help run a small private foundation called PRBB that supports women’s organizations around the world.  And myself - a former journalist in Haiti - along with my two children, Clea, 16 and Taino, 13, who were returning to the country for the first time since 2004.

Edwidge Danticat and Chamille Chalmers.
Chamille Chalmers kicked off the week by introducing members of the delegation to the new Haiti context: the post quake, post democracy Haiti– there are currently ten parliamentarians with legal mandates, leaving President Michelle Martelly to rule by decree. Chalmers, a professor and member of the political party KAPAB, laid out his global assessment of the problems in Haiti: Aid going to anyone but the Haitians, projects run by foreign investors with minimal use of Haitian employees; and mining interests, textile industry and tourism - all entities run by foreign companies and aimed at an exterior market – taking precedence over national production.

Under Martelly, he says, the national debt has spiraled. Plans for free school for all have been riddled with corruption and unpaid teachers. A planned tourism project on the island of Ile-a-Vache with two golf courses, a resort and international airport and port that would displace many thousands of people from their land, seems to be the business de jour; an industrial park built on valuable farmland in northern Haiti with a quarter of funds from Haiti’s earthquake reconstruction was projected to employ 60,000 but is currently employing roughly 5,000. 
Marie, Chris, Louise, and Anna converse before leaving PAP.

Delegation members took notes; teenagers, weary from all night travel did their best listening to Marie Marthe’s translations, before ducking out to watch the Super Bowl, the last shred of Americana before immersing ourselves completely into the country.

The delegation was set to leave at ten the following morning to tour Port-au-Prince then head north to the L’Artibonite valley, often called the rice bowl of Haiti.  But a national strike had been called in protest of the high price of gas.  All of Haiti’s major arteries had been shut down by blockades of rocks, burning tires and carcasses of vehicles.  
In-country Lambi staff determined it would be safe to leave the capital around three and we piled suitcases into three cars to make the trip north.  The agronomists were our guides as we worked our way down the back streets of the Delmas neighborhood, to the national road heading north, blocked by a barricade of rocks and car frames.  

We rerouted to Route Neuf, the road from Cite Soleil that bypasses the congested suburb of Northern Port-au-Prince and leads to the main thoroughfare heading north, mercifully coming to a recently-cleared barricade. The road passes near Titayen, the area where bodies from the ‘91 coup were brought to their unmarked graves.  It is also a garbage dumping site and the smell of burning garbage permeated the air of the car as we headed to the freedom of uncongested roads, passing the new Olympic training stadium just before turning left onto Route National #1.

We sailed through Cabaret, stopped at Achailles for candied peanuts, or tablet, drove through Mont Rouis, lined with merchants of fresh-caught fish and crab, cooked in large vats with rice and beans and kalalou, and women selling mango and soursop, manioc and banan peze with griot, Haiti’s national street food dish of fried plantain and pork. We pushed our way through the crowded seaside town of Saint Marc, sailed through Pond Sonde, home of the former Agrarian Reform program of the ‘96-‘01 Preval Government, passed emerald rice patties with farmers wading in water, sparse standing cattle with white egrets balancing effortlessly on their backs.

We zipped through L’estere on roads, once corrupted and riddled with potholes, now presentable with yellow lines, ignored by most drivers.  We passed homes with cement yards used to dry rice after harvest, coming to the arid desert span before reaching the flat, dry town of Gonaives.  Gas stations hosted long lines of Motorcycle taxi chauffeurs filling up on five-dollar gallons of gas.

It was dusk as we continued north on Route National #1 toward Cap Haitien.  The unpaved road, currently under construction by Dominican contractors, was bumpy and we jostled through the plains just outside of Gonaives, into the Pass Reine area up and into the foothills into the town of Ennery to the newly constructed Village D’Ennery hotel.   

The sprawling complex of sun-yellow buildings with white trim, two pools, outdoor restaurant, and landscaped pagodas was virtually empty, save for a small Spanish-speaking group.  A major conference for officials from the Ministry of Education had been canceled due to the strike, and rescheduled for the following week.  The opportunity to inquire into the much-maligned “free school for all” program would have to wait for another time.

Breakfast began with bananas and locally grown coffee.  White bread and jiffy peanut butter stopped the locovore roll.  The Cuban chef, soliciting suggestions, would hear from the delegation, whose primary role in Haiti was to support the local, organic production of Haiti’s foods by farmers whose livelihoods are based on farming the land.  

Day one of the real meat of our journey began after breakfast: visiting associations and their various projects within a thirty-mile radius of the hotel. It began with another blockade.  Though a second day of strikes had been planned, the strike had reportedly been lifted due to Government negotiations with transportation unions, bringing down the price of gas by 20 cents.  But the delegation was stopped just outside of Gonaives by a blockade of rocks and tires. A group of young men indicated that passage would be impossible; however, after fifteen minutes the police arrived, sending those around the barrier running.  Soon we were clear to head into Gonaives, taking a road which heads northwest towards the town of Gros Mornes.

Exploring CPP grounds.

We arrived at the Center for Plantain Propagation (CPP), a center with a meeting building, nurseries and a greenhouse set up to cultivate plantains.  The local plantain variety of the area had been ravaged by disease.  The project, funded by Lambi, began 8 years ago to test certain varieties that would be resistant to the disease and thrive in the area of the planter’s association. 

The head of the program was trained by Lambi in the PIF method (planting from bits of the stem), and showed the delegation how to peel away layers of the plantain bulb, cut away spots that could infect the plant, removing the stem from the top of the bulb. Plantains do not reproduce and must be manually cultivated. The peeled bulb is dried for 24 hours, then scored with an X on top to allow for shoots to grow from the sides of the bulb.  The bulb is then placed in a mixture of compost and sawdust where it can sprout up to fifteen shoots in a month. CPP members brought us to the nursery where the bulbs, like mothers in a ward, were cared for in optimal conditions. Those shoots are separated from the mother then transplanted. The bulb is replanted and begins to reproduce again. Four months can provide up to 60 plants.  
CPP staff member demonstrates the decortication process.

Planters who have benefited from the new disease resistant variety spoke of the old variety, which often blackened before arriving at the market, provided fewer branches on the plant and fewer plantains on each branch. Several planters attested to the change this new disease-resistant variety had brought into their lives - the ability to send children to school, reinvest in their farms and a competitive market that sprouted with the new variety.  

Following was a visit to the micro-credit program run by AGPBRM, an organization just outside of Gros Morne.  It began with music, as did each of the six following visits – collectives singing together of the fundamental role the planter, and those who bear the brunt of countryside living in areas with little infrastructure.  “We are the bamboo,” went one song, “they can cut us and burn us, but when the rain falls we will sprout anew.” 

There was hope in each place - far down corrupted roads, amid communities of pastel painted homes, candelabra fences, pink blossoms of the Bougainville – in the collective voices which sang of pride in the role of providing the nation’s food, love for each fruit of the tree, the stalk and the labor that goes into the work.
AGPBRM reviews their books for the delegation.

After introductions on both sides, committee leaders ran over the books they keep for the moneys received from the Lambi Fund; the amount of loans given, those reimbursed and the amount of money remaining in their coffers after payment.

The members spoke of their reforestation program, literacy programs and scholarships for those identified in the community as having the least ability to go to school.  Various members shared how those loans had helped: a woman with seven children who came from the Northwest, took a loan for her fried food vending business and earned money to build a house; an older man who used his money to buy goats and sell the meat.

Daughters of AGPBRM members offer coconut water.
When the meeting was over, one of the women laid a basket laden with mango, soursop, grapefruit, coconut and papaya on the ground before the delegation.  Coconut water in hand, we were led to a schoolroom built off the main meeting space and ate local rice with pigeon peas, fried goat, double fried plantains and pickles (Cabbage, carrot, habanero pepper, lime juice and vinegar) beets, watercress, tomato and grapefruit juice - a locovore’s dream.

Day two we traveled to Bige, a small community up a road that overlooks a valley below, and bare mountains on the other side that jut up into blue sky.  Green patches of trees peppered the ragged plateau with candelabra fences lining homes, painted in pastels. Marie Marthe commented to one of the heads of the Peasant Organization of Bige (OPB) how much greener it was from their last visit, a landscape that, according to the head of the organization, had been a kite flyers dream due to the lack of trees.  Members had implemented a reforestation program, planting coconut, avocado, lemon, mango, and a variety of pine tree, among others.  Members of the association provided group members with mangos, dripping with sweetness.

The call of the lambi.
After the call of the conch, members gathered in the yard of a home with a catchment system, consisting of gutters on the home that funnel water into a PVC pipe and into a large cistern.  

“We used to lose a night walking to the white mountains you see behind us,” one of the committee members told the Lambi delegation.  In 1991, at the behest of Lambi’s Regional Monitor Joseph Dorsainvil, the community members officially organized into OPB, the Peasant Organization of Bige.  Since that time 30 cisterns have been built in the area, serving family compounds all over the community.

This project was primarily a goat husbandry association.  The group began with 250 goats and now has 560 according to committee members 

Dorsainvil, also known affectionately as TiDjo, is originally from Gonaives and has been working to gather groups of peasants for over thirty years.  He is trained in accounting and business mathematics, management for popular banks and small businesses, as well as the organizing of cooperatives. 

“I train people in how to carry out sustainable agriculture without fertilizer, with compost,” he says of his work with the associations.  At a credit union for women further down the road later in the afternoon he trained much of the Lambi delegation in a finance lesson, describing the terms – two percent interest with what he called a degressive loan in which interest is paid back on the remainder of the balance, rather than the amount of the initial loan.  Each association provided the delegation with figures going back to the group’s inception, detailed books noting all costs, loans, revenue etc.
TiDjo meets with project members.

“I chose this work because I saw that the peasants were the ones that were most poverty stricken,” Dorsainvil told me at one of our stops.  “They had the unity and collectivity but they didn’t have the knowhow.  We provide them a framework, they put their heads together.  I follow up with them and provide them with training.  With everything that you do, you have to have training and preparation.”

Another meal of Haiti’s bounty was provided at a second stop of the day, a women’s collective and micro-credit fund.  That evening we stopped at a cooperative outside of Gonaives, a former chicken corral now abandoned and were treated to a performance by AWOZAM.  The female led choral, with a lead female drummer, represent a group from Jean Rabel, and have worked to build cisterns, and run mills funded by Lambi.  They performed songs of protest for the delegation, singing of a country for sale, a textile industry which has brought pollution to their river, of leaders who ignore the true needs of the people, and songs of remembrance of the Jean-Rabel Massacre of 1987 when a landowner killed 139 peasants in a dispute over state-owned land - all sung in call and response over intoxicating rhythms and subtle dance, bringing the delegation to their feet in the end, who joined hands in a circle as drums cascaded over the plains and into the night. 
The last day we journeyed to the plains outside of Gonaives, where a mill for corn, rice and millet helped planters who previously had to pay for transportation to mill their harvest.  The drought in the lower plains is acute here outside of Gonaives and the flight of the young to the bigger cities has plagued the countryside, according to farmers here. The mill has helped, but association members expressed the need for water pumps for irrigation.

AWOZAM performs!
Further up a long stretch of bumpy road in Bayonnais, a town in the foothills of the mountains that create a barrier between Gonaives and Cap Haitien, water seems to flow freely. This group runs a micro-credit program, a mill and a reforestation program.  Parrots and white pigeons flitted around the lush green landscape where we ate our final meal of the food of Haiti next to hundreds of trees – lime, sour orange and mahogany – waiting for transplantation into Haiti’s soil.

As a journalist in Haiti I covered the devastating effect of failed politics from 1995 up to the insurrection in 2004, the cataclysmic earthquake that destroyed the face of the capital, the politics of the preceding elections and the cholera that ravaged the country like wild fire.  This journey was a reminder of the seed in the center of all the turmoil, that could be slashed and burned, but had an innate capacity to sprout anew.  Lambi was working the PIF here in Haiti, planting bits from the stem of Haiti’s roots to foster that process of growth by providing easier access to water, credit funds, and infrastructure - needs identified by the associations with a homegrown team on the ground to assess projects, implement them, train members and follow up to ensure success.
The entire delegation together.

Our final meal at the Village d’Ennery, a long table filled with the writers, teachers, agronomists, students, organizers, and researchers, was filled with laughter over too many fish inadvertently ordered.  The group had fused before being set free like fish back into their own lives, having borne witness to the collectives of the L’Artibonite. A major march was planned for Saturday, the day of departure and the broken politics of the nation played on.  But deep in the heart of Haiti my children and I knew that the planting and harvesting was continuing – that locovorism was a way of life, an identity of a people perhaps stronger than anywhere I had seen.  It gave me hope for a smarter balance beyond the textile mills that churn out t-shirts.  We touched down in Seattle, the only three to applaud, and journeyed back north to the classrooms of the Skagit Valley.  And I told my students of the locovorists I had met, and they knew just what I meant. 

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.