Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Lambi Fund Celebrates 15 Years in Haiti

This year Lambi Fund celebrates its 15th anniversary of working with grassroots organizations in rural Haiti. As with any major milestone, this event offers a unique opportunity for reflection. Haiti country director Josette Perard sat down and talked about Lambi Fund's humble beginnings and struggles.
Lambi Fund began in 1994 amidst political turmoil and a coup d'état. At the time, Josette Perard and Ferry Pierre-Charles, Lambi Fund's current field director in Haiti, were the only staff members. They had no office and were working underground given the tenuous political situation.
"It was really quite hard trying to meet with organizations because we would put them in danger if they met us in Port-au- Prince," Perard said. "We were under a lot of pressure because the military junta was arresting many peasant leaders and members of community groups.
"Ferry and I were like mad men and women looking for a place to meet in town."
As it turned out, Perard and Pierre-Charles would meet with members of organizations anywhere they could—in churches, conference rooms, and cafés.
More often than not, Perard and Pierre-Charles preferred to go out and meet with organizations in their villages so as not to endanger their lives.
In spite of danger and fear of arrest, some peasant organizations remained active. Lambi Fund's first collaboration was with an organization in the department of Nippes in Southern Haiti. Because their needs were so dire, these projects "were about survival, not sustainability."
Lambi Fund financed four projects in Nippes: a community bakery, a local food store, a women's credit fund, and a tool bank.
Women at the community bakery would bake bread and sell it in neighboring communities, while the local food store was opened to supply products that met basic needs, which at the time was completely lacking in the community.

The credit fund was created for women to sell goods at the market. These small loans allowed women to buy and sell products, using the income to send their children to school, and manage their households. Given the political unrest at the time, many men were in hiding and women became heads of households, managing all the needs of their families.
Lastly, a 'rent-to-own' tool bank was developed, using four tool banks where villagers could come and rent farm tools at a nominal fee, with the fees going toward the eventual purchase of the tools.
These tools enabled peasants to efficiently cultivate their crops. This was crucial, as many peasants at the time were leaving the community because they didn't have the proper means to cultivate their land.
Once the coup d'état was over and Aristide returned to office, Lambi Fund was then able to safely establish an office in Port-au-Prince. Peasants' knowledge about Lambi Fund quickly spread by word of mouth. As a result, peasant organizations were traveling from all over Haiti to partner with Lambi Fund. Around this same time, Perard, Pierre-Charles and the advisory board met to discuss the future and goals of the Lambi Fund of Haiti.
They began to realize that the hardships that communities endured were not caused just by the coup d'état, but by fundamental, ingrained political and economic forces.
After recognizing the problem's systemic nature Lambi Fund members realized they needed to help craft systemic solutions. A sustainable development model was subsequently implemented, and remains to this day.
As Perard explains, "our method, our philosophy, and our approach to working with communities has remained the same because experience tells us that our bottom-up, sustainability-focused approach provides the best solution to overcoming systemic roadblocks to development."
While Lambi Fund staff first concluded that these early projects were not inherently sustainable because they merely addressed immediate local needs, an independent evaluation of Lambi Fund's work conducted in 2004 proved otherwise.
Three out of the four projects are still functioning today.
The bakery is still open and producing, yet locals are using different approaches. Members no longer make the bread. They rent the space and equipment out to other women in the community to bake bread for themselves.
The community store is still open, yet it has shifted from providing goods merely for subsistence to becoming more of a corner store (selling soaps, toothpaste, and common household goods).
The women's micro-credit fund has grown, and its funds continue to circulate throughout the community.
Given the very nature of the rent-to-own format of the tool bank, the project by design no longer exists. It would be a poor state of affairs if farmers were still 'renting-to-own' after 15 years!
It is from these humble beginnings that the Lambi Fund of Haiti has gone on to partner with local grassroots organizations to fund over 175 projects that have impacted over one million lives in rural Haiti.
"When I started listening to people's stories of crushing exploitation, I knew I had to do something. And when I started relating to them, I saw that these were courageous people who wanted to change their lives. They just didn't yet have the tools and the support to change their lives," Perard said.
This exciting model of placing the tools of change in the hands of locals has been a core element of Lambi Fund's work.
Click here to read even more Lambi Fund articles.

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