I am super fortunate that in my role at Plant With Purpose I get to make regular visits to our programs. This last February I had the privilege to visit some of the communities in the region of Fonds Verrettes, Haiti where Plant With Purpose works. This was my second visit to this area, which lies about three hours south and east of Port au Prince, high in the mountains near the Haitian – Dominican border. Plant With Purpose began working in the region of Fonds Verrettes in 2004, after severe storms caused devastating flooding in the area, killing over 4,000 people on both sides of the Haitian and Dominican border. Since that time, Plant With Purpose’s work has grown dramatically, due to the strong work ethic of the local staff, the great enthusiasm of local farmers and the support provided by our partners in the United States.
Our group of 12 spent three days in the area, visiting just a small sample of the people with whom Plant With Purpose works. The goal of the trip was to provide our visiting partners an opportunity to personally see each of our community development program components (Environmental, Economic and Spiritual), to build significant relationships with Haitian farmers and local Plant With Purpose staff, and to gain a deeper understanding of how those components are designed to work in unity to empower Haitian farmers to transform their communities. The hope is also that the visitors could also become more informed and effective advocates for Plant With Purpose’s work when they returned to their own communities in the U.S.
Our group of visitors was hosted by Plant With Purpose’s local staff, who gave very generously of their time and expertise to help us better understand their work. The following are just a few of the things that made a significant impression on me:
1) Rapid restoration of damaged watersheds– On the first day we visited sites where we had been a year before. It was amazing to see the difference a one year had made in the growth of the trees and the other crops that had been planted on these slopes. Farmers described how their land management techniques had dramatically changed. They no longer burn the land and no longer use pesticides. Their crop yields and incomes have dramatically increased and feel a much greater sense of confidence about their future.
2) Significant expansion of program– In the last three years, the scope of Plant With Purpose’s work in the region has expanded from 7 to 13 villages, especially up the hill in the direction of the Foret de Pins. On this visit we visited several villages that had been added to the program in the last year, including Ba Barasa, pictured below. The community of Ba Barasa proudly showed us their new community tree nursery and explained to us their vision to reforest the hillsides surrounding their community. Our visiting group also had the opportunity to plant some seeds in the new tree nursery.
3) The Precariousness of life and the vital role of savings and loan groups. Many times my own family has needed to use credit cards to cope with unexpected expenses. Haitian farmers with very limited and uneven income have no such luxury. As a result, they often go hungry, cannot visit the doctor when they need to, and are not able to educate their children consistently.
One woman whom we met, Edmond Jules, shared the following story with us, “Last year there were several days when my children were sent home from school because I could not pay for their school fees. Since I joined the savings group, I have also had trouble paying their fees, but this time I went to the group and got a loan to pay their fees. I am so grateful to the group, and know that my children will never be sent home from school again.” It was so encouraging for us to hear these specific stories of how participation in these groups is dramatically changing families’ lives. Our recently completed Haiti impact evaluation also reflects this improvement, as participants in Plant With Purpose’s Haiti programs are more than four times as likely to have household savings as those who are not participating. The multiplication of these groups is a key component of Plant With Purpose’s expansion plan in Haiti.
4) The unique role of the local staff in investing in farmers’ skills: More than once farmers told us that Plant With Purpose was the only organization that was making a long-term investment in their communities, as opposed to other organizations that generally focus on 3-6 month projects. As a result, local staff have very deep and significant relationships with local farmers. But far from creating a sense of dependency, the investment that staff has made in the lives of farmers has given them the confidence that, even if Plant With Purpose were to depart, the skills that they have taught have become a permanent resource for the community.
5) The role of the local church– Pastor Jules, pictured below, is both the pastor of a local church and leader in the farmer’s group in Ba Barasa. We continue to be very inspired by the way Plant With Purpose staff integrates the church into its work and also empowers and equips the church to reach out effectively to the community. On our last day we worshipped with this church. There was also a special presentation as leaders of seven local churches each received ten Haitian Creole Bibles for use by their congregation.
Pastor Jules, on the right
We all know that there is no shortage of bad news out of Haiti, but this visit allowed us to see first-hand in Fonds Verrettes just how our partnership is making a dramatic and long-term impact on the lives of farmers in rural Haiti. We see a future filled with hope for farmers in Haiti and around the world.