Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Bonjou Zanmi!

By Kate Dill
When the entire Lambi Fund of Haiti team traveled together in February to meet a few of our partners in the South, Nippes and Artibonite Departments, the trip was also my first time in Haiti.
The visit allowed me to witness firsthand the challenges that the Haitian people face, but it also reinforced my strongly held belief that grassroots organizations provide a critical space for community members to identify shared challenges and devise solutions.
For those who have not had the opportunity to travel to Haiti, I know that you do not have to search long to read accounts of the extreme poverty that exists there. Thus, I will not dwell on it here longer than to say, as someone who has traveled elsewhere in the developing world, I still find it incredibly difficult to witness the hurdles such a taxing environment raises in people's daily lives.
However, I choose to focus on the many wonderful memories I have traveling throughout Haiti—a truly unique country. If someone asks me in ten years what my first impressions driving around the country were, I know that the street vendors and vibrant, colorful marketplaces will immediately come to mind. All sorts of goods were sold in the street markets, ranging from clothing to vegetables and tropical fruits.
I frequently observed two vendors selling the exact same items right next to each other, and I became curious how they make a living selling their products. A member of our partner organization Women in Action in GwoMon (AFAGM) later told me that each vendor has her regular customers. She takes orders, travels four hours in a crowded tap-tap to Port-au-Prince to purchase her goods, and then returns to GwoMon to deliver the orders and sell the remaining merchandise on the street. With this money, she is able to feed her family and send her children to school.
This is an example of how people in Haiti are working hard to survive and create opportunities for their families. It is also indicative of how important it is to talk to people to really understand what their daily lives are like.
The people I came into contact with during my stay inspired me to ask how my efforts can more effectively support my colleagues in Haiti and Lambi Fund's partner organizations as they undertake the truly challenging and courageous work of improving their communities, creating opportunities for themselves and future generations and doing so in a way that restores and sustains the environment.
Our visit to the Association of Youth in Saint Martin for Community Development (AJSDC) provides an example of the power of organizations to move their communities forward. AJSDC approached Lambi Fund with a proposal to install a rice mill in their community. Lambi Fund toured the area and, observing that corn and millet were common crops, suggested that AJSDC instead purchase a standard cereal mill. AJSDC agreed, purchased and installed the mill, and began operations, serving the entire community.
Using revenue generated by the grain mill, AJSDC made two strategic purchases: (1) a sorting machine that separates the processed grains from dust and foreign particles, making the output a more desirable product, and (2) a used rice mill, which they put into service a few months after the grain mill opened.
All three machines are located in the same space, creating a central location for women to come and process all of their grains at once.
Our conversation with AJSDC revealed not only that they took initiative to grow the services they provide to the community, but also that they think creatively to identify problems and formulate solutions that responsibly address those problems. AJSDC is evidence of grassroots organizations' capacity for innovation and self-determination, and I feel lucky to have met them.
This project is a reminder that Lambi Fund has much to gain from our partnership with rural grassroots groups. We are constantly learning from them and using those lessons to inform how we support new projects and evolve Lambi Fund's programmatic focus areas.
On my last full day in Haiti, we drove from the relatively quiet city of Ennery in the Artibonite back to hectic Port-au-Prince. The drive afforded me one more glimpse of all the activity that goes on every day in Haiti.
We passed expansive rice fields, where groups of neighbors were working together to care for each other's crops. We saw denuded mountainsides, stripped of all but a few trees and bushes. We drove through Saint-Marc, where people played on the beach and frolicked in the water.
We passed a funeral procession, and children walking to school, and women carrying huge loads in baskets on their heads. We saw people washing laundry in dirty rivers or bringing heavy containers of water from the nearest well back to their homes. All this, and much more, happens every day in Haiti.
As I reflect on all that I saw during my trip, I am reminded that, though Haiti is a complex place, life there goes on. I spend much of my time in the US talking about the major challenges the country faces, of which there are many, and it sometimes feels overwhelming. But my trip reminded me that the Haitian people are survivors.
Kate walking up the mountainous hillside to meet with KPM
With that in mind, the road ahead does not seem so daunting.

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