In Haïti there is a saying, “Chèche Lavi,” which means “every morning we must get up and look for life.” This was an underlying theme of the Community2Community (C2C) mission trip to Haïti this March.
One of the communities we work with is a small farming community that lives on one of Haïti’s mountaintops and the people are resilient despite of the hardships and natural disasters that have befallen them over the past years. On a typical day on the mountain in Petit Goâve, the people wake up before dawn and begin their trek up and down the mountain in search of work. The women are often seen balancing a basket of goods on their heads as they gracefully navigate the mountain slopes on their way to the market. The men are seen with their hoes and satchels digging up the land sowing and reaping what they can. This is a typical day in the life of the men and women of Petit Goâve who are trying to make a living.
Standing on top of the Plateau of our partner community residing on the mountainside, the view is amazing. The scenery is set with the view of the crisp Caribbean Sea and the sky so blue that you cannot tell where the water ends and the sky begins. The clouds are fluffed to perfection, they almost look as though they were painted; the mountains stand tall and strong against the backdrop of the vast sky. There is only one thing missing from this view– trees. The mountains are nearly naked. All around the mountains are ravines created by decades of continuous erosion from rainfall as it rolls down the mountain with no trees or grass cover to soak some of it up. This presents dangerous and threatening situations, such as severe flooding and mudslides that destroy homes, crops and kill hundreds every year. The result is a vicious cycle. These conditions constantly strip away the nutrients in the soil. Thus, desertification, a process by which the soil becomes dry and rocky, and making it difficult for people living in the community to plant and harvest successfully, begins to set in.
During one of our community meetings, a member of the community said, “We do not want food. We do not want clothes. We want jobs!” In that moment there was a paradigm shift for me; the people of Haïti are looking for sustainable ways to survive. Many a times we in the developed world are under the illusion that the best way to eradicate poverty is to provide handouts, this will certainly pacify people for the day, but leave them wholly dependent tomorrow.
One of the highlights of this trip for me was hearing an elder in the community, who attended one of our community meetings; tell us the story of the trees. He said “A long time ago when the rain would fall and the winds would blow hard, the tress would protect us and defend us from the winds, but we cut them down. This is our fault. We must work to bring the trees back”. When asked why they cut them down in the first place, he replied, “because my children were hungry and I needed the money. If you had to choose between saving a tree and feeding your children, which would you choose?” This anecdote allowed me to understand the mountainside community’s perspective, but most importantly where they would like to end up. It shows that the people of the mountain are willing to put in the time and effort to improve their community, because they now understand the value of the trees.
The next steps for Community2Community and our mountainside partner involve treating the soil to restore its fertility, and then start planting with species that are resilient in harsh atmospheres. This also involves mapping out the mountainside area to implement strategic neighborhood developments that can foster incentives for commerce such as schools, hospitals, businesses and etc.
Many other organizations have attempted to eradicate poverty in this community, but to no avail. C2C’s approach to working with Haitian communities involves evaluating what other organizations have done in the past, listening to the community and establishing feasible goals based on the key learning from the community members themselves. One of the main objectives of our trip was to engage the community leaders in discussions around the specific needs of the community. C2C strives to assist communities with the resources they need to make life happen. Our mission is to create engagement between US and Haitian communities in ways that support sustainable development so that they may continue to ‘Chèche lavi’ without feeling hopeless or disheartened.
Tendo Sekiwala is a Project Assistant for Community2Community (C2C), who also manages C2C’s social media platform.