The Quixote Center supports the work of the Jean Marie Vinent Formation Center located in Grepen, just outside of Gros Morne, Haiti. Most know of our work in relation to reforestation efforts which have led to 2 million trees planted in the area since 1999. Accompanying the tree planting, however, is work with local farmers. The agronomy team at the Grepen center, travels throughout the region, working side by side with the parish’s Karitas network, and grassroots organizations such as the Peasant Movement of Gros Morne to identify problems, and work with small farmers to find solutions. We periodically report on some of this activity.
The Grepen center has organized and supports a seed bank for local farmers. The seed bank allows for bulk purchases of seeds, often “off-season” when seeds are cheaper. Farmers are able to purchase the seeds at a discounted rate and deposit them with the seed bank until needed. During the spring we launched an emergency appeal to raise funds for the seed bank to ensure that there were plenty of supplies available to farmers for the summer planting season. We also received additional funds in mid-summer from Alternative Gifts International to further support the seed bank. The following is a report from the agronomy team on use of the funds:
From August until December, local planters usually plant a lot of beans, especially black beans, and vegetables in their gardens. This year the situation facing the planters was complicated. The year began with the locked country political debacle, and then descended into the coronavirus crisis. Ongoing political instability has increased market prices, and a drought during the last spring planting season, which is the largest of the year, caused a lot of problems. The sun destroyed many gardens without the relief of periodic rain.
All of these things put the farmers in a difficult economic situation. This created difficulties for them to be able to plant on time in the spring, and farming is their principal economic activity. With the support of Quixote Center, our seed bank at Grepen was able to help the farmers respond to these difficulties and move forward with their gardens. We provided seeds and technical support for the farmers in order to save the spring planting season and change their lives for the better.
For this planting campaign, we were able to support 61 farmers in the zones that were ready to plant. These farmers all have gardens near Twa Rivye, which we consider to be the boundary that separates our diverse agricultural zones. Of the seeds that we distributed to the farmers, they will have to return a certain quantity to the seed bank after they harvest their crop. This is how we are always going to have good quality seeds available after each harvest.
Goat Program and mobile veterinary clinic
Three years ago the agronomy team launched a program to distribute goats. The program involved first doing training with “cohorts” of roughly 10 families, who would then receive a female goat for each family and one billy goat for the cohort. If the female goat has a kid, the family agrees to pass the kid on to a new family. Maintaining the health of the goats is an important part of the program. Integrated into the program is a mobile vet clinic, run by Roseline. She visits the cohorts on a regular basis. Here the clinic is visiting Perou.
Yam harvest in Grepen
Food insecurity is obviously a huge issue for all of Haiti, and addressing this is the primary goal of the program at the Grepen center. Toward this end, the agronomy team works with local farmers on techniques for growing cassava, yams, and, in the past several years, planting sweet potatoes that are resistant to weevils (which have destroyed many harvests in recent years). Below Teligene and Songé show off some healthy yams grown in gardens in the community of Grepen.
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.
Several years ago a breed of weevil began infesting sweet potato crops in the area around Gros Morne, ruining many harvests. In response, the team at the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center went to work developing a weevil resistance strain of sweet potatoes, and have been introducing this to farmers. Below are some photos from a project site in Perou, a satellite nursery for sweet potatoes, Aneus (red shirt) and Teligene (white shirt) check on sweet potatoes.
Another program run by the agronomy team based at the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center is a mobile vet clinic. Here Songé performs a wellness check & vaccine campaign for chickens in the Family Enterprise Program, which provides trainings to families about how to treat their activities – such as courtyard gardens & raising chickens – as intentional income generating activities.
To get a sense of where all of these activities take place, check out the project map below.
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.
The world is facing a global hunger crisis of “biblical” proportions, at least that was the headline for CNN’s report on the looming impact of coronavirus on food supply chains and health systems around the world. Does biblical mean really bad? Or huge? Or end of times? Not clear. But certainly the point was global hunger was about to spike. Prior to the emergence of COVID-19, the world was facing a crisis of maybe pre-biblical proportions – or more Hebrew Scriptures than Revelations-level stuff. The World Food Program’s report for the coming year initially identified nearly 130 million people facing a crisis level or worse for insecurity around the globe – meaning they either did not have enough food, or could only eat by foregoing other necessities. These pre-COVID numbers were modified upwards as borders began to shut and economies slowed. The World Food Program in essence, doubled its estimate of people facing crisis level food shortages, with the risk of perhaps 36 countries seeing famine for some of their people. Currently there are 10 countries in the world where more than a million people are at crisis levels of food insecurity, and thus on the brink of falling into widespread famine.
Haiti is one of them.
The World Food Program tracks crises across different levels of food insecurity. From Phase 1 (None, or minimal) to Phase 5 (Famine). As the map above shows, almost all of Haiti’s departments are at Phase 3 (Crisis). As noted, this means there is either not enough food, or people can only eat enough if they forego other necessities. Across the country 2.6 million people are at this level. Another 1.1 million people are facing Phase 4, or emergency levels of food insecurity, meaning there are large gaps in meeting daily requirements that are reflected in wide spread malnutrition. In total, then 3.7 million people are at crisis level of higher.
Another 3.2 million people are at Phase 2 – or stressed, meaning households are barely finding enough to eat. The households at Phase 2 are at high risk of sliding into Phase 3 as the economy slows and food prices increase.
All of which means, in Haiti, 35% of households are currently facing crisis levels of food insecurity, or worse and the prospect of that number reaching 65% amidst the economic contraction associated with COVID-19 is very high. This would, of course, also mean that people currently facing more extreme shortages will see their situation worsen. Famine is a very real possibility in parts of the country.
The roots of this crisis run deep. It is widely understood that the current food crisis in Haiti rests on historical factors, from the re-engineering of Haiti’s economy as an agro-export platform under the U.S. occupation 100 years ago, to the dismantling of protections for domestic food production in the late 1990s, to the recent collapse of their currency, the Haitian gourde, and spikes in fuel prices. Another collapse, that of the rural economy in Haiti, contributed to the movement of people to increasingly crowded and under serviced cities, thus magnifying the tragedy of the earthquake in 2010 and other disasters. The point is that these deep structural changes have reshaped Haiti and will not be transformed any time soon. Though, perhaps, as the current crisis unveils the global forces undermining food security, world leaders will take it more seriously in Haiti and elsewhere. Maybe.
Meanwhile, the primary countervailing force has been the organization of people in rural areas seeking to find sustainable pathways out of the crisis. The combined efforts of peasant associations, rural workers, reforestation initiatives and youth organizing are laying the foundation for a different kind of rural ecology.
Our work with the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center is one small part of this nationwide effort. You can explore the map below to get a sense of the scope of the program.
In the coming week we are making a special appeal to support an emergency fund that will support the purchase of seeds to disseminate to small farmers in the region. The program already runs a seed bank. Our goal is to boost supplies for the seed bank so that the team can expand efforts to deliver seeds for low or no cost as soon as the spring rains begin. Planting now, means more food in three months. You can join in this effort by making a donation here.
As of Thursday, March 26, Haiti had eight confirmed cases of COVID-19. The Ministry of Health is tracking the location of confirmed and suspected cases and providing other updates here. As with everywhere the virus has appeared, the principal advice is social distancing and taking extra steps to ensure that hands remain clean. Handwashing stations have popped up all over – as potable, running water is in short supply in many parts of the country. Schools, churches and most businesses have been directed to close. It is difficult for people working in the informal economy to simply stay home, of course, because this means no income at all. Markets and street vendors are thus still operating, and people everywhere still need to go out for food.
International travel has largely been suspended. The U.S. government was working to get those U.S. citizens who wanted to leave Haiti out – the last scheduled flights were on Friday as I write, but may get extended. The border with the Domincian Republic is closed, sort of. There have been many more cases of COVID-19 confirmed in the Dominican Republic, and thus the lock-down has been more severe and more severely enforced. As a result, many Haitians have been returning to Haiti. There are efforts at health screening – at least taking temperatures – at official points of entry. But as the rest of the world has discovered, although slowing travel might help, it is nearly impossible to stop it. Supply chains for food and medicine, minimally, require people to cross over borders. And many people are just trying to get home.
Food shortages, already impacting close to one third of the population directly before COVID-19, will be made worse by travel and work restrictions. Prices have already begun to skyrocket – with a can of rice costing 600 gourdes (that is almost $6). The daily minimum wage in Haiti is 420 gourdes for apparel workers – far less for agricultural workers. So, for Haitians with employment, they need to work more than a full day, in some cases two days, to buy a can of rice. Many of these people will be out of work soon. In the United States someone earning the federal minimum wage would work 40 minutes to buy the same can of rice – except that by volume rice is even more expensive in Haiti right now. Just something to keep in mind.
As I feel compelled to remind people, U.S. policy lies immediately behind this crisis. From The Haitian Times:
In 1995, at the behest of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, Haiti lowered import tariffs on rice from 50% to 3%, as part of a structural adjustment program. The following year, President Bill Clinton’s Federal Agricultural Improvement and Reform Act directed subsidies to U.S. rice farmers. By 2013, a nation that once grew most of its own food was importing 80% of its rice from the U.S. The policies eventually led to job losses in Haiti’s agriculture sector and swelling of the urban population.
The same article also examines the impact of these institutions and conditions on the health sector:
In addition to reduced tariffs on imports, the short term impacts of structural adjustment in Haiti included cuts to government expenditures in health and education, according to a 2011 paper published in the journal of the Japan Medical Association. National health care spending has dropped dramatically in recent years, from 16.6% of Haiti’s budget in 2004, to 7% in 2019.
Dr. Youri Louis, a physician in Haiti and leadership committee coordinator for the nonprofit EqualHealth, which supports medical and nursing education, said both international policy and government inaction are to blame for Haiti’s lack of investment in health services. By 2013, he noted, 64% of Haiti’s national health budget came from international aid, including NGOs.
Haiti’s health sector has 30 ICU beds. On Twitter this morning Jacqueline Charles from the Miami Herald was trying to confirm that the country had 50 ventilators – as she could only document the location of 24. Facing such grave shortages, one does not need to think very hard to understand the frustration people feel over $2 billion in theft of Petrocaribe funds by members of the current governing party and others. Or, I would hope, the anger against the “legal” blackmail perpetuated by international financial institutions and the U.S. government which has drained Haiti of desperately needed money for domestic investment.
Be clear: foreign aid in no way makes up for this. Capital flows in Haiti are negative – meaning more money leaves the country than comes in. In terms of private investment, $100 million more left the country in repatriated profits than arrived as new investment last year. The only significant in-flow of funds that might help now are remittances – but they will suffer as well, since Haitians working in the U.S. are also facing layoffs or cut hours.
For our program partners in Gros Morne, all of this means that the work must slow down. Training and workshops and other group activities have obviously been suspended. People still need to eat, however, and so the outreach program director is delivering seeds to program partners in the hopes that when the rains begin farmers will have supplies. Planting in the coming weeks means there will be more food in two or three months. Right now that is of critical concern.
We are launching an interactive map so folks can view different parts of the program. This map was just begun this week and is a work in progress. We will be adding photos and videos in the days and weeks ahead, as well as pinning new project sites. Check it out now! If you have a connection to the program to share, or a question, let us know in the comments below.
This week United States ambassador to the United Nations, Kelly Craft, met with president Jovenel Moïse in Haiti, in what most saw as a gesture of support for his government. This was not a gesture welcomed by the majority of Haitians.
Though Haiti’s Moïse remains under intense pressure to resign, there seems to have been little movement in the positions people have staked out. Moïse refuses to talk about stepping down, and the opposition refuses to sit down with him and negotiate anything but the terms of his departure. As protests continue [five more people were killed this week in demonstrations] and the resulting lockdown on the country’s economy goes on, people are living under increasing stress. Food shortages have been endemic in recent years. However, the current crisis is threatening to create even more hunger as transportation difficulties and fuel costs send food prices up – when food is even available. Estimates are that up to 4 million people out of 11 million will lack access to adequate quantities of food by next year.
In Gros Morne, as in the rest of the country, children are unable to go to school. Over the last week the primary hospital in the city was facing closure for lack of supplies. As of now, the hospital is holding on with limited resources.
For our partners at the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center the work of reforestation and environmental renewal continues. There is no doubt that the cost of fuel, frequent blockades, and general instability are making the work more difficult. But the agronomy team is still delivering workshops and supplies – via pack mule when needed. The mobile veterinary clinic is still visiting to care for animals – if on a reduced schedule. And trees are still getting planted. While we remain concerned about the broader instability of the country and increasing political tensions, we do want to pause to celebrate the incredible work that goes on in Gros Morne – especially in these difficult times.
Through the first nine months of the year, here is a taste of what has been achieved through work at the Jean Marie Formation Center.
50,000* trees distributed from nursery at Grepen Center.
25,000 Haitian gourdes earned from the harvesting of 1,000 pounds of weevil free sweet potatoes by farmers in Baden during spring.
18,000 trees distributed from Satellite nurseries.
15,000* trees planted in Perou in coordination with the Lorax Project.
1,000 families received seeds at subsidized rate from seed bank (January through April).
800 eggs a day produced at the hen house in Campeche, powered by solar technology.
305 farmers took part in trainings.
174 goats treated by mobile veterinary clinics (April-September).
75 farmers join the sweet potato program from June through September.
17 base communities participated in an environmental conference with local officials to deal with plastic waste.
15 episodes of the radio program “The Earth is Our Mother” produced (April-September) to educate the local community on environmental issues.
Being witness to the work in Gros Morne over the last fifteen years, and visiting other grassroots organizations during these years as well, I know that there is a deep spirit of cooperation and incredible ingenuity, wrought from years of struggle, among activists in Haiti. The Haiti we read about in the news is not the Haiti that lives and breathes, resists and strives for independence. Our work in Gros Morne touches one small part of the possibilities that exist. We thank you for joining us in supporting our friends in Gros Morne.
*In the newsletter we had slightly different figures. While the total number of trees planted remains the same – there more trees planted through the Lorax partnership than we originally reported, and fewer trees delivered directly from the Grepen Center.
If you would like to support the project, click the link below.
Political stalemate continues, migration news and celebrating 20 years in Gros Morne
The political crisis in Haiti continues to unfold. President Moïse remains in office despite a year of demonstrations demanding his resignation. Haiti has had four prime ministers during that time. Jack Guy Lafontant was forced to resign following massive protests last July that launched the country into the current period of instability. His replacement, Jean Henry Céant, was forced out after a no-confidence vote in Parliament following another round of national protests in February of this year. Céant’s replacement as acting prime minister, Jean Michel Lapin, was put forward in April. However, Moïse nominated another official, Fritz William Michel, as prime minister on July 22, because Lapin was unconfirmable. Michel must still present his government and policy platform to Parliament before he can govern. As a result,
In reality, Haiti has two prime ministers. There is Michel, who is technically prime minister under the country’s amended 1987 constitution. And there is Jean-Michel Lapin, who officially announced his resignation after Moïse chose Michel on July 22, but remains in charge. Neither one, however, can enter into any legal accords.
The opposition, united in calling for Moïse’s resignation, is otherwise divided over tactics and what comes next should Moïse step down. Those who have mobilized to create a new society confront not just the current government, but those who simply want to replace the current cohort in controlling the existing apparatus of the state. At the official level, the House of Deputies has gathered three times in the last week to vote on an opposition motion to hold impeachment proceedings against Moïse. As of Wednesday this week, the vote has not yet happened – postponed indefinitely over security concerns. While President Moïse remains unpopular in the streets, he has sufficient support in the House of Deputies to most likely avoid the supermajority required for an impeachment vote – if the proceedings ever get that far.
The international community…
Meanwhile, the “international community” seems content to hold out for new elections, currently scheduled for October for parliament and local offices. As always, the hope for international actors is to both control the outcome and provide a veil of legitimacy over institutions under strain. The contradiction embedded in that model continues to escape the would-be doyens of international order, chief among them the United States foreign policy team, the same crew that facilitated Moïse’s tenure in office to begin with. It is the Catch-22 of the moment. Elections are probably necessary and will solve nothing unless deeper structural reforms are instituted; so there is an actual choice when people go to the polls in October. The U.S. government, not big on actual choices (especially when they lead to reform), will direct the process as best it can through funding conditions, and hope for the best. What could go wrong?
Of course, until there is a government to form the electoral commission and pass the electoral laws needed to proceed, there will be no election.
The standard of living in Haiti continues to fall as prices go up, investment stalls, and everyone seems to be in a holding pattern to see what happens next. Among the chief concerns is food insecurity. In announcing a nine million euro emergency aid package, the European Commission’s Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations noted,
In recent months, the humanitarian situation in Haiti has deteriorated dramatically and the country is facing serious food shortages. Between 2018 and 2019, the number of people in crisis situations or facing food emergencies doubled to 2.6 million, i.e. 25% of the population. Furthermore, the prevalence of acute malnutrition among children under the age of five remains high, and above World Health Organization (WHO) emergency levels in several locations, including the Nord-Ouest department. (emphasis added)
The nine million euro package will provide food security for 130,000 people.
The International Monetary Fund staff came to an agreement with officials in Haiti this past March for a $229 million loan, at a concessional rate (0% interest, repaid over a three year period). While this represents an infusion of money that might otherwise be welcome, this is the IMF and so, yeah, strings. Among the strings are budget reductions mandated in order to ensure “debt sustainability.” The IMF does not just hand out money in a lump sum, instead issuing “tranches” periodically, and only after staff review conditionalities put in place in the policy realm to ensure “progress” is being made. Currently the lack of an actual government is complicating final negotiations for the aid bill – which will be, at best, a mixed blessing. Remember that it was IMF pressure to end fuel subsidies last year that sent an already angry community out into the streets and brought down Lafontant’s government.
The combination of political instability and a collapsing economy has led many Haitians to look elsewhere for places to settle. Over the last year, there has been an increase in people seized at sea by the U.S. Coast Guard and naval patrols from other Caribbean states. There has also been an uptick in people from Haiti at the U.S./Mexico border. For some, arrival is complicated by the fact that they are arriving via Brazil or Chile where many Haitians resettled in the ten years since the earthquake and in some cases started families. The governments of Brazil and Chile have become increasingly anti-immigration amidst their own economic woes. Haitians have been a particular target of new laws to limit resettlement, especially in Chile.
In the United States, the list of efforts to limit migration for Haitians and to make it more difficult for them to stay in the United States continues to grow.
As a result of the Trump administration’s not renewing Temporary Protected Status for Haitians in 2018, 40,000+ Haitians were facing removal proceedings this summer, starting in July (as well as the question for many about what to do with their U.S. born children). However, the effort to cancel TPS for Haiti (and other countries) has been tied up in court, and federal judges have ruled against the Trump administration in two separate cases involving Haiti. Both cases are still under appeal, but the result is that TPS remains available for Haitians for the time being – through at least December of this year and likely well into next year. It is not, however, secure long-term.
Last year the Trump administration decided to end Haiti’s participation in the federal H-2A and H-2B guest worker program. The program had benefited some Haitian farmers and laborers seeking to come to the United States as temporary, seasonal workers.
In the past few weeks, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service agency announcedformal suspension of the Haitian Family Reunification Program, a special program that allowed Haiti family members awaiting visas – and otherwise fully qualified – to be allowed into the United States on a parole basis to wait out final determination here. The program had resettled just over 8,300 Haitians since 2014 – though USCIS had not issued any new invitations to Haitians to participate in the program since Trump took office.
20 years of partnership in Gros Morne
Here at the Quixote Center, we continue to work with our partners at the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center near Gros Morne, Haiti on reforestation and sustainable agriculture. The forest celebrates its 20th Anniversary on August 28 this year.
August 28 is the day in 1994 that Jean Marie Vincent, Montfortain priest, and strong advocate for Haiti’s peasantry, was murdered. Father Vincent argued against a charity model of working with the poor. His vision was an empowered community, in control of its own destiny.
At the Formation Center, this vision still guides the work. The program is run by our partners in Gros Morne, in relation with the Peasant Movement of Gros Morne and other local organizations. In this way, the program is responsive to the immediate needs of the community, as determined by the community itself.
Over 20 years we have planted 2 million trees. But the real story is in the hundreds of workshops, thousands of family gardens, and the mobilization of 34 parish communities that form the Caritas network in the parish.
In the context of the current political crisis, the importance of this work becomes ever more clear. Food security and independence is a necessary component of any sustainable future for Haiti. As Geri Lanham recently wrote, the project in Gros Morne has demonstrated its value to the community over the last year.
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.