Friday, January 18, 2008

Green Belt Movement Visits Haiti

The much anticipated visit of the Kenyan delegation representing the Green Belt Movement (GBM) finally happened. Lilian Muchungi, Josephine Wangari, Esther Wamucii and Mercy Karunditu, landed at Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

This was the beginning of a journey of mutual learning and sharing between GBM representatives, Lambi Fund staff and members of grassroots organizations engaged in reforestation and agro-forestry projects in Haiti. This visit offered GBM representatives the opportunity to learn about Haiti's degraded environment and its impact on the both rural and urban communities. It also allowed GBM representatives to become more knowledgeable about the Lambi Fund of Haiti by gaining a deeper understanding of how it works, its relationship to the communities it partners with, as well as the problems addressed. The Lambi Fund of Haiti benefited tremendously from this exchange, learning about the Greenbelt Movement, its philosophy, its methodology, its accomplishments and challenges. It was a true peer to peer exchange.

On their second day in Port-au-Prince the GBM delegation visited a national fair "La Foire de L'Alimentation" which explored themes of domestic agricultural production and food security. The colorful stands and displays of regional crops and culinary delicacies provided a great introduction to subsequent discussions about agriculture, the environment and food security. These issues were debated at a conference held in the afternoon where about 40 Haitian students, environmentalists, and other stakeholders gathered to meet the delegation, learn about the Greenbelt Movement and offer GBM representatives a greater insight into Haiti's environmental and ecological crisis.

The delegation left the next day for a visit to Gwo Mon located in the Artibonite Valley. The first site visit was at Lambi Fund's plantain greenhouse in Gwo Mon. This center is a great model of collaboration where, by working with local organizations, Lambi Fund is producing a plantain tree resistant to the diseases which have devastated local plantain production. Members of the delegation were very impressed with this center as it offered solutions to concerns about crop and food security.

The visit to the Oganizasyon Peyzan Bige was GBM's first encounter with a peasant organization. Members of the delegation were greeted with the haunting and vibrating sounds of the lambi (conch shell) calling the meeting to order. OPB is a grassroots organization that has partnered with the Lambi Fund to address the environmental degradation in the community of Bige with the construction of water cisterns and the commitment to plant 100,000 trees. So far, OPB has successfully planted 48,260 trees that were produced in the tree nurseries built throughout the community. The members had the opportunity to introduce themselves, discuss the nature of their projects, and listened with great attention to Josephine Wangari's presentation of the GBM's tree planting methodology. This presentation was followed by a lively exchange between OPB members and GBM delegates comparing and contrasting strategies and discussing the political and cultural contexts in which environmental work is conducted. OPB members took the delegation on a tour of reforested sites, answered questions about tree selection, maintenance and rates of tree survival.
The next day the delegation visited another grassroots organization, ODEPERIB, where members greeted them with songs of welcome and solidarity. The dialogue focused on issues of civic education and engagement. Members of ODEPERIB shared their frustrations about their inability to garner any support from locally elected officials. Lillian Muchungi stressed the importance of advocacy in Kenya's environmental movement and urged the ODEPERIB members to partner with the Lambi Fund around issues of advocacy. The meeting was followed by a site visit where ODEPERIB members took the delegation on an extensive visit of the multiple sites where reforestation, as well as agroforestry projects, were implemented.
Saturday was a very special day as the delegation had the opportunity to meet with representatives from all of the organizations in the Gwo Mon area that partner with the Lambi Fund. This meeting took place at Lambi Fund's Center for Food Security and offered representatives from different peasant organizations the opportunity to hear about the Greenbelt Movement and share their experiences.

What followed the meeting was a celebration of cultures. The entertainment was provided by the incredibly talented, dynamic and politically engaged women's musical group called Awozam, all members of a women’s organization partnering with Lambi Fund in the Northwestern part of Haiti. It was truly an opportunity for sharing knowledge and culture. The Kenyan women donned their traditional dresses and regaled the crowd with traditional Kikuyu songs and dances, impressing all gathered with their high pitched ululations. The day ended with a tree planting ceremony by the GBM delegation.

Upon the delegation's return to the capital, they met with the Honorable Marie Laurence Lassegue, Minister of the Women's Condition. She expressed enthusiasm about the historic partnership between the Lambi Fund and the Greenbelt Movement and offered her support of this Global South collaboration and partnership.

The visit accomplished its stated objectives of mutual exchange between the Greenbelt Movement and the Lambi Fund. The next steps will entail an assessment of the trip and discussions about areas of interest where the Lambi Fund and the Greenbelt Movement will partner to improve Haiti environment through sustainable grassroots efforts. Representatives from the Lambi Fund will attend a GBM sponsored Pan African Network summit next spring in Kenya and learn even more from the people who are responsible for the reforestation projects in the Greenbelt Movement throughout Africa and the African Diaspora.

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