Throughout February, as Haiti was facing an ongoing political crisis that has kept much of the country on edge, work continued. For the agronomy team from the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center this meant visiting community organizations, presenting workshops, checking in with people and their livestock with the mobile clinic, and talking to farmers about the quality of the recent sweet potato harvest. I capture some of these activities below, with updates from the team.
In the top-left photo above, participants in the goat program bring their goats to a mobile vet clinic led by Songé; in the top-right photo, Songé speaks with a young man who has brought a chicken in for a check-up. The goat program is built around the concept of “paying it forward.” Community groups receive training on the program and care for the goats, and then “cohorts” are formed including 10 female goats and one billy goat. When the goats have kids, they are shared with other members of the community. The chicken program works in a similar fashion, with community organizations involved in the distribution of chickens, which provide another source of food as well as eggs that can be sold in local markets.
On the bottom left, Aneus, a member of the agronomy team, holds a community meeting with people who are using a cistern to water their yard gardens in Bigue. The cistern project has been a major undertaking (funded by Focus on Haiti, a project of the Sisters of Mercy). More on this below. In the bottom right photo, Teligene, another member of the agronomy team, shows workshop participants how to prepare a smoked fish.
In this photo, Teligene & Songé hold a formation about land preparation before the spring planting in Baden. The spring planting is the primary one for the year (there is another in the fall). These kinds of trainings are one of the benefits for participants in the seed bank, through which farmers can purchase seeds at subsidized rates and hold them “in deposit” at the bank until preparations for planting are complete. The timing and success of plantings is highly contingent on rainfall, which has become increasingly unpredictable.
Above is a map of program sites where the agronomy team is involved in training and other support for farming communities. You can see the various places where the goat and chicken programs have been launched, where work is being done with planting gardens, and in training on the planting of weevil free sweet potatoes.
Although pandemic precautions have not permitted Quixote Center staff to visit our Haitian counterparts this year, we have kept in regular touch with our partners via virtual meetings twice a month. Because of those close connections, we were able to broadcast the need for increasing deposits in the seed bank and many of you truly delivered to meet this need. We received the report below yesterday and wanted to share some highlights with you.
During the week of November 30, the agronomy team from the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center visited the gardens of those who received seeds during the 2020 agricultural campaign. The campaign aimed at expanding support from the seed bank to farmers in advance of the planting season. There was, and remains, tremendous concern about food insecurity in the area due to climate change, and complicated by price fluctuations for inputs and transportation. The seed bank is able to bulk purchase seeds and provide them at a low, subsidized cost, to farmers. The program also includes training on preparing sweet potatoes for planting that are resistant to weevils – a pest that has destroyed harvests over the last three years. The team at the Jean Marie Vincent Formation has led the way in adapting to this problem.
As part of the evaluation, everyone who planted sweet potatoes received a visit, plus 4 or 5 other planters in the zones of Ti David, Koraiy, Janpyè, Veney, and Ravin Olyadnn. One of the planters from Ravin Olyadnn is pictured below inspecting her plants.
The goal was to see how the planters are faring in the fight against the sweet potato weevil and to offer them encouragement and accompaniment for all of their garden activities. Aneus, who shares responsibility for the seed bank along with Songé, completed the garden visits and provided information for this report.
These notes are continued from an initial visit that was made to each of these gardens just after they had planted the seeds they received from the seed bank. From the time of the initial planting until now, the gardens look very green. For those who planted peas, they are growing well despite the fact that they received a lot of sun during their planting cycle. This is giving the pea planters hope, in the same way that the black bean planters have hope in certain areas.
In the four zones that were visited this week, we noticed the same thing, that people are managing to grow beans and peas in their gardens and have already started eating from the crop that they are producing. These planters have hope for the future, and they are already assured that they will have a portion of their garden harvest to feed their families.
Another thing we noted is that there are some areas, like Rivyè Blanch, where farmers are battling against new pests. In this area, cochineal insects are attacking the peas and the peanuts that the farmers planted. This is causing a lot of stress for the planters, because it puts the future of these crops, which are very important for the peasant farmers, in doubt. We have begun formations to teach the planters how they can fight against this pest, and also how to prevent the cochineal from attacking their future crops.
The beneficiaries report that they are satisfied overall with the accompaniment provided by the agronomy team. They are thankful that the support of the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center has enabled them to plant more gardens.
Geri Lanham works with our partners based at the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center in Grepin, Haiti (just outside of Gros Morne). She offers an update below on the current situation in the area. Gros Morne has had one confirmed case as of June 11, 2020. The person, who was also diabetic, has died*. The community is nevertheless feeling the impact of the pandemic on everything from school schedules to food prices. Included are photos from our emergency seed distribution, ongoing as the rains have begun. Thanks to everyone who has supported these efforts – Tom Ricker
In Gros Morne we do not yet have a confirmed case of covid-19, but people are feeling the impact of the global pandemic. Community organizations created handwashing stations out of buckets and spigots, and placed them along the main streets in town. Local bank branches were some of the earliest adopters of covid prevention measures like washing hands and wearing facemasks, and they are now employing social distancing so that people can continue to utilize their vital services in this cash based society. Since many family members who went abroad now find themselves out of work, remittances are down for families back home in Haiti. Since the president officially closed the borders in a country where imports make up a large portion of the goods in the market, it has been more complicated to supply basic goods via the new guidelines of who and what can enter the territory.
Many Haitians who entered the Dominican Republic for work in the past few months have made the decision to return to Haiti since the health crisis lockdown has been more severe across the border. Thousands of them have returned via irregular border crossings, which means that very few of them have gone into quarantine. Since there are over 10,000 confirmed cases in the Dominican Republic, this unregulated population of returnees poses a risk to the fragile healthcare system, especially since some of them are returning to the countryside to places like Gros Morne where healthcare resources are ill-equipped to manage an outbreak of covid-19. Thanks to community education campaigns, people here have tentatively begun to wear locally-made reusable cloth face masks, although practicing social distancing is practically impossible in the stressed parameters of the large local market and on public transport.
As the exchange rate continues to rise north of 100 Haitian gourde to 1 US dollar, everyone is feeling the pressure of decreased purchasing power in the local markets. School teachers who have been out of work since 20 March are struggling to provide basic food for their families. Prices for basic goods like a bag of rice increase weekly, at a time when fewer and fewer families have the economic capacity to buy in bulk for a discounted price. Basic monthly provisions of rice, beans and oil now cost the equivalent of $50 USD. For teachers who were making about $100 USD per month, they now have to spend 50% of their income on basic food. and that does not include any spices or vegetables.
Many families, especially in the countryside, rely at least partially upon income from their gardens to support their families. As a result of global climate change, the seasonal rains were slow to come this year. That means that the spring planting season was pushed back a few weeks in Gros Morne, which in turn increases the weeks of hunger that families will have to endure between planting and harvest. And this year the rains started and then promptly became irregular to the point that farmers who planted at the first rain lost some of their crop if they were not able to provide an alternate water source for irrigation of their fields.
Schools have been closed for over 2 months. After the president announced that the schools and churches would remain closed until at least 20 July, the Ministry of Education presented a plan that would see schools opening at the beginning of August or the beginning of September, depending upon how the situation develops or deteriorates in the next few months. Due to a lack of access to regular electricity, it has been a challenge to support distance learning initiatives. Some schools have been able to take advantage of whatsapp, google classroom, and other technology to enable them to continue to provide classroom content for their students, but they are very much in the minority.
In Gros Morne, we are launching a series of courses on the radio intended for secondary school students. The Ministry of Education maintains that once the students have returned to school, they will take official state exams after about 50 days of classroom instruction. Somehow during that time they are supposed to absorb, process, and comprehend the content that they were supposed to cover over the course of the more than 100 days of instruction they have missed this academic year between the locked country political debacle and now the coronavirus crisis. The math does not seem to add up, but the schools have to do something to salvage this academic year. Due to lack of electricity, it will be impossible to reach 100% of the students, but for those who are able to tune in this will at least provide a starting point as we start to look toward the future that will at some point involve classroom learning again.
There is a sense of being in a holding pattern that involves suffering no matter what. People are trying to be responsible and take precautions to protect themselves and their families from contracting covid-19. But as they attempt to do this, they do not have much support, if any, from the state or other sources to enable them to provide the basics for their families. Students are suffering as they must sit and home and wait for the education structure to welcome them back to class, and parents are suffering as they must venture out to provide for their families while they know the risk and the lack of medical services if they do get sick. What little they are able to do still equals the current reality of families who are suffering from hunger and lack of resources in the midst of a pandemic.
This passage was updated since the article was originally published to reflect the one confirmed death in the area.
As part of our celebration of the 20th anniversary of the launch of the reforestation project in Gros Morne, Haiti in partnership with the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center, we are sharing reflections from people who have been a part of the program over the years. This week we are sharing a reflection from Roy Lanham, campus minister & advisor for the Haiti Connection at Eastern Illinois University.
Gazebo at the peak of Tet Mon
As part of our mission experience in Haiti, Amy Jobin invited us to come to Gwo Mòn to experience the beauty of the place and its people. At the time we were open to exploring other options and missions. And so we came. As part of our exposure to the area, Amy and Sè Pat took us to what would become the Jean Marie Vincent [JMV] forest. It was just like every other hill top in the area: I do not remember a single tree. (I was also thinking, Amy this is not as beautiful as Barassa.) Amy and Se Pat shared with us the vision of what was going to happen there. There were men already at work on the hill: cutting out scrub brush and preparing the land to receive the first set of trees, building the “ditches” with this cool “A” frame tool that allowed the ditches to all fill up at the same time to keep the water from just rushing down the hill.
I was impressed with the desire to “get it right.” I was hopeful because it wasn’t just a Sè Pat project, but it seemed our Haitian brothers and sisters believed in the value this forest would have. I have to admit it was hard to see success. They took us to Grepin Center and the tree nursery where the trees were being prepared. I remember them not just speaking about the new JMV planting, but their efforts to get farmers to plant trees throughout the zones. In fact, they showed us the room where formations took place and pictures of people picking up their trees. It was a vision of what could be.
As we continued to come over the years we watched the trees grow and the along with it the vision. The first set of trees were planted in rows and it had an “English garden” feel because it all seemed so tidy. I remember on a number of those early trips when Sr. Pat (Amy no longer lived in Gwo Mòn) asked us to cut the vines that encircled seemingly every tree they had planted. We had a big team and she said, as only she can: “Since we are here visiting imagine if every one of you would cut 100 of the vines off of the trees. This would keep 1800 trees from being choked.” We did it. And we did this on more than one occasion over those early years.
We never gave money to this project, but it was always an important part of our experience of Gwo Mòn to visit JMV. I know my memory has faded over time, but I am almost certain Sr. Pat took us to the forest the first 10 years. I remember how energized she was and still is about trees.
I believe like all things, the value of the forest has deepened over the years, but with a twist. At first, I sensed it was like: hey someone wants to plant trees and give some jobs, great. It felt like any other “project” in Haiti. But it did not take but a couple of years and there was this energy. . .groups began to be formed (AJGR, Association of the Youth of Gros Morne, for example) that wanted to imitate JMV and what was happening there. When the sisters moved to their new digs, Sr. Pat transformed that piece of land, I believe because she saw what was happening at JMV and knew it could happen where they lived in town. I remember another tree nursery starting, I remember other smaller efforts, throughout the zone where the Monfortains did ministry: ti forèt yo. Some with success and some not, but all of them efforts born out of JMV.
And so the number one value would be HOPE. They have this beautiful and constant reminder of what is possible. I do not believe we will have “green hats” on every mountain any time soon, but you realize it is possible to show people how to restore the land. How to believe that the last chapter is not written, and it is possible to renew the land. It is a living laboratory for sure.
The other piece which is not lost on the people of Gwo Mòn, is the forest has become a place of prayer. Isn’t it amazing that folks come to pray there. The link between the God of Redemption and the God of Creation is so beautiful and probably best exemplified in the way of the cross/stations on Good Friday.
Finally, the Grepin Center keeps expanding their efforts to create a vision for the people. I think the agronomists, the benefactors, the priests, the people only have to look up the hill and see what is possible whenever they get overwhelmed by the myriad of problems that beset Haiti. Right here, right now this works.
I have to admit it was not until the second planting that we began to see the real value of the trees. For the first time we began to hear birds and then see them. The Gazebo became a place where we would reflect a bit on what was going on around us (we don’t do this anymore) and we would wonder about what if every mountain in Haiti began to have a “green hat?” It had this effect on us, and we were just visiting…The trees of the first planting are twenty years old and there is a sense of look at what it possible. Having said this, it is when you get into the second planting that you feel you are in a forest. I guess that is the effect pines have on you.
This change might seem strange: First there was a real concern to keep the canals cleared, so they could fill properly and aid with keeping the water from causing erosion and to keep some on the mountain. I think it is amazing that twenty years later they are allowed to be filled with leaves and whatever and they are becoming “Just memories,” because the trees themselves are doing what the canals did in the beginning. To me, that is one of the coolest changes.
Sr Pat in those early years and her desire to show off the forest, even when it was just a bunch of saplings was amazing. It didn’t seem like much was happening, but her enthusiasm was contagious.
The men we would meet on the mountain and listening to them talk about their work had a pride in what they were doing for JMV and for the community. Lives transformed.
The joy we have had over the years in bringing our mission teams to the top. Many times, it is seen as a thing “Roy wants us to do.” However, always, always afterwards the students talk about the beauty and the power of the woods. Isn’t that cool. They write about it in their journals. It has an impact on them to see what is possible. It is at moments like that I am reminded how we all are connected, and how all our lives are interconnected on this planet of ours.
As part of our celebration of the 20th anniversary of the launch of the reforestation project in Gros Morne, Haiti in partnership with the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center, we are sharing reflections from people who have been a part of the program over the years. This week we are sharing a reflection from Amy Jobin who volunteered with the Religious of Jesus and Mary’s (RJM) Quest program in 1999 as the reforestation project was getting started.
I remember going to Tèt Mòn for the first time shortly after I arrived in Gros-Morne back in August of 1999 for a year of volunteering with Quest. I remember Sr. Pat first telling me about Tèt Mòn and how the RJMs and the Montfortain priests had made the [transfer] of the land possible [from the Diocese of Gonaives] so that it could be reforested. I don’t recall exactly how many acres or hectares Sr. Pat told me had been purchased but it sounded like a lot – and that a lot of trees would need to be planted to cover this much ground.
I also remember the first time we went out to see Tèt Mòn, the name we called this mountain that was going to be reforested. It wasn’t much to look at, like many of the mountains in Haiti; it was brown, dry, eroded looking….. but whole sections had tiny new trees planted on it that ranged from about six inches to a foot or foot and a half tall. When places like this become too deforested, rain stops falling, creating conditions that make places like Gros-Morne even more prone to drought which can lead to a host of other challenges in places where water and especially potable water for drinking is already on short supply. To combat the water problem, big blue plastic barrels had been placed all over Tèt Mòn that were periodically filled with water from [the river] and when we would go out to see the forest in the evenings, we would check the small trees, giving a sip of water to as many trees as we could before it became too dark. At the time, this struck me as a “nice project” that needed to be done so that there might be some tree cover on the mountain again and maybe more rain in that area. I had no idea when Sr. Pat introduced me to Tèt Mòn in the early beginnings of this project what it would one day come to be.
Fast forward to May, 2015. It has been over a decade since I have visited Haiti and when I arrive in Gros Morne, Sr. Pat says to me, “I want you to come and see Tèt Mòn while you’re here.” I had a much greater appreciation for trees and reforestation by this time in my life and I remember being excited to go and see this forest that had been in the re-making for over 15 years now. When I got there, I couldn’t believe what I saw. The once nearly barren land with small trees on it now had to be entered through a special path that was made so that anyone visiting could walk through the forest! I remember our first few steps inside, it had changed so much that we were no longer standing on a piece of land that was being reforested, but we were inside the coverage of an actual forest. The trees were anywhere from five to fifteen feet tall at least. And wonder of wonders, there were birds, insects – in particular, caterpillars weaving pupas and several different colored moths or butterflies, one a beautiful color of delicate yellow, everywhere we turned. Not only had the trees grown, but this now forest had an eco-system all its own, supporting a host of plants and animals not to mention the humans who were benefiting from its carbon-absorbing properties, not to mention its beauty.
I am still struck each time I remember and re-imagine my experience of the forest with Sr. Pat 15 years after it had been planted, struck by about how much it changed and transformed and came back to life, how even the animals and insects knew it was time to come back. Is it a miracle, well, yes, in its own way, but it is also a testimony to a well planned reforestation project and care for our earth, who needs us to be awake to her condition so much at this time in our history.
During one of my early visits to Tèt Mòn, I was with Sr. Pat and one of our good Haitian friends, Jean (pronounced John) Desnor. Jean was instrumental in helping plan and coordinate this project, knowing which trees needed to be planted, how much water they would need, the growing cycles of certain trees, and many more agricultural complexities that needed to be carefully thought out as this project began. I hardly remember taking the photo, but I still have one of Jean and Sr. Pat up on Tèt Mòn back in the very early days and Jean has his hand on his heart and Sr. Pat is looking reflectively at the land. I didn’t understand what this project meant to either of them when it began, but the photo says it all; they knew it was possible for a forest to be re-grown here someday. Sr. Dorothy Stang, SNDdeN, who was martyred in the Amazon in 2005 for her work empowering indigenous peoples to fight for land rights and for protecting the land itself, said “The death of forest is the end of our life.” She knew as she watched acre upon of acre of clear cutting in the Amazon that “the trees are the lungs of our planet” and that if we keep cutting them down without replacing and reforesting, we would be (and still are) on a fast path to self-destruction. Let us remember her words and let us continue to plant, support and celebrate forests like Tèt Mòn that remind us of the regenerative powers of our Mother Earth and that it’s our right and our responsibility to assist her. Thank you, Sr. Pat, Sr. Jackie, Jean, Pè Chacha, the Grepen farmers and agricultural workers and so many others who helped bring Tèt Mòn to life again, helping Mother Earth sustain, one tree at a time.
(Above Drone Video of Forest on Tet Mon and Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center [Grepen Center])
This year we mark the 20th Anniversary of our work with Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center in Gros Morne, Haiti. Today we are launching a new blog series to celebrate the 20 year anniversary, which will focus on reflections from people who have worked on the program through the years.
One of the original visionaries of the program was Fr. Ronel Charelus (Father Chacha). Below he discusses the beginnings of the project back in 1999.
Fr. Ronel Charelus (Pere Chacha), former pastor of Notre Dame du La Chandeleur parish
Wi se avèk kè kontan nou te pran inisyativ pou forè sa a nan Nan Gwomon. Map sonje Sè Lise Brosseau, Barthelemy Garcon, Nesly Jean Jacques, Jean Desnor, père Cine syriaque, Sè pat Dillon, Sè Rose Gallagher avèk lot moun anko ki te konprann valè plante pye bwa nan Gwomon.
It was with happy hearts that we took the initiative to start this forest in Gros Morne. I remember Sr. Lise Rosseau, Fr. Barthelemy Garcon, Fr. Nesly Jean Jacques, Jean Desinor, Fr. Cine Syriaque, Sr. Pat Dillon, & Sr. Rose Gallagher, along with other people who understood the value of planting trees in Gros Morne.
Se te yon pwoje pilot pout tout peyi a. Nou te gen konviksyon si nou rive plante bwa Gwomon si nou reyisi, ap gen anpil lot kote nan peyi a kap enterese ak pwoje sa a. Se esperyans sa nou te fè apre kèk lane nou komanse ak pwojè a.
It was a pilot project for the whole country. We had a conviction that if we were able to make this tree planting in Gros Morne successful, there would come to be many other places in the country that would be interested in this project. This is the experience that we had and after some years we started with the project.
Pwojè a te demare nan lane 1999 ak yon relijiez nan kongregasyon Sè Lise Brosseau ki rele Carol ??? mwen bliye siyati l. Li tap travay nan Quixote center nan Washington ??. Sete Sè Rose Gallagher yon bon zanmi m ki te metem an relasyon avek li. Li te rive fe plizyè vwayaj nan Gwomon. Se limenm ki te ede nou jwenn lajan pou nou komanse pwojè sa a.
The project kicked off in in 1999, with a religious sister in the congregation of Sr. Lise Brosseau [Holy Names of Jesus and Mary] who was named Carol [Reis]. She was working with the Quixote Center in Washington. It was Sr. Rose Gallagher, a good friend of mine, who put me in contact with her [Carol]. She came to make many trips to Gros Morne. She was the one who helped us find money so that we could start this project.
Nou te chwazi bay pwojè a pote non Jean Marie Vincent , yon prêt monfoten yo te asasine le 28 Aout 1994. Pou kisa nou te chwazi Jean Marie ? Nou te chwazi l paske li te gen yon rèv pou Ayiti. Rèv li se te pou tout peyizan yo gen lavi, pou yo viv tankou moun. Rèv sa se pou peyi Dayiti kouvri ak Pye bwa yon Jou. Se te yon pwojè odasye. men li te gen Konviksyon nan Bondye, li te kwè nan moun tou… Pou Jean Marie Espwa peyi a se plante pye bwa. Se mete konsyans sa nan lavi tout timoun lekol yo. Jean Marie mouri, men rèv li yo pa mouri. Nou kapab di li toujou la avèk nou. Grepen ap toujou rete yon referans pou tout Pè monfoten yo ki vle kontinye travay Jean Marie tap fè nan Peyi Dayiti.
We chose to give the project the name of Jean Marie Vincent, a Montfortain priest who was assassinated on 28 August 1994. Why did we choose Jean Marie? We chose him because he had a dream for Haiti. His dream was for all peasants to have life, to live like people. This dream is for the country of Haiti to be covered with trees one day. It was an audacious project. But he had conviction in God and he also believed in people. For Jean Marie, the hope of the country lay in planting trees. He put this awareness in the lives of all of the school children. Jean Marie died, but his dreams are not dead. We can say that he is still here with us. Grepen will always remain a reference for all of the Montfortain priests who want to continue the work that Jean Marie was doing in the country of Haiti.
Yon lot pwojè nou te gen pou Gomon se te pwoteje tet mon yo sitou Rivye Mansèl. Jodi a map mande si pwojè sa a toujou la ? Apre 20 tan jodi a nou kapab evalye ak moun yo, avèk jean Desnor pou nou we si rèv sa a Jean Marie te genyen an ap kontinye toujou.
Another project that we had for Gros Morne is to protect the mountain tops, especially in Rivyè Mansel. Today I ask if that project is still there. After 20 years, today we can evaluate with the people, with Jean Desinor, to see if this dream that Jean Marie had still continues.