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.
– Amy Jobin, campus minister, Quest volunteer 1999