Three years ago last month, as I tried to find news of my friends and family in Port-au-Prince after the earthquake, my life changed overnight.
Not being able to find a non-profit organization that would accept me and the funds raised by my Orcas community, I decided to start my own. Upon sending out a mass e-mail to friends across the globe, the response was overwhelming. During theses past three years, the Encouragement, Love and Support you have all given has been humbling to me.
We at Helping Hands Noramise, have been steadily doing what we can to help empower Haitian citizens in Limbé and elsewhere in the country. We have produced and distributed chlorine and other water purifying agents to more than 100 families during the cholera epidemic, Your financial and emotional support has been invaluable in that work. We ave produced chlorine and distributed other water purifying resources to over 100 families, during the cholera epidemic. We’ve held Art, English and Nutrition classes at our center in Limbé. Our center is also home to a small library, several models of fuel efficient and healthier cooking stoves . These stoves are healthier for the women who use them by burning cleaner, healthy for the environment by reducing the need to cut trees for charcoal production. We planted a garden at our center, one with the Masabiel farmers association and most recently, have begun a reforestation and food growing garden in the moutains of Ravine de Roche. A community located about a mile outside of Limbe.Your financial and emotional support has been invaluable in that work.
The latest work in Ravine des Roches has been the the most rewarding and encouraging by far. The residents of this area are mostly peasant farmers who receive very little aid from outsiders. They have been the most responsive to the idea of working the land in order to provide for themselves and their families. They also understand that as long as they can effect some positive change in their lives, no matter how small, there is hope for tomorrow.
The first day I climbed the mountain to start the work, many asked me what it was I and the “blans” had brought for them. My standard answer to this question is : “knowledge”. Usually those hearing this tell me it’s not knowledge they need but rather money. It was refreshing to find a group of people who were hungry for the knowledge and willing to come see what they could learn.
We started each morning with coffee at Con’s coffee shop beside the river. We then continued up the mountain and sat in a circle to introduce ourselves, tell each other how we were feeling and make plans for the day’s work. The common threads in all the morning talks were hunger and illness. Many Haitian suffer from high blood pressure, diabetes, and intestinal problems. The children usually have some sort of pulmonary disorder and a constant runny nose. These issues stem from the overwhelming fact that they are all malnourished. There are many factors leading to malnutrition in Haiti. The main factor being that Haiti currently imports some 95% of all the food it consumes. This is an island nation that was dubbed “the Pearl” of the Antilles and produced more revenue for France than any of it’s other colonies. The Arawak and Taino who lived on the island before it’s “discovery” by Columbus were farmers and cultivators. The African slaves brought to the island by both the Spanish and French were also farmers. They valued the land and its products so much, that they hid seed in their clothing, hair and belongings and brought them along. So you may ask “what happened to destroy the agriCULTURE of the island?”. That is a question too vast to fully address here in this post. Suffice to say it is the same that has happened to many small farmers worldwide: think “AGRO BUSINESS”. I encourage you all reading this to do some research of your own to find other answers. Also feel free to comment on this post via our Facebook page and we can begin a conversation.
Back to what is going on back in Limbé and Ravine de Roches.
We spent about 10 days working on the hillside with 15-20 members of the community, mostly women and young boys. A few men came by each day and didn’t return a second day, all except Orkel who is the caretaker and main farmer of this particular hillside. Orkel is a gentle giant. He has been cultivating the land for over 60yrs. When Jim had any questions regarding plant species of the region, Orkel was the go to guy. He wakes up early every day and is either tilling, planting or going to help a neighbor build a house. His calm presence during our time on the mountain was inspirational and reassuring.
The women and youth who joined us, Celamise, Clothide, Mercilia, Miralta, Sonya, Dieulans, Macenson, and Milton all shared with us their hopes and aspirations. The women, most of whom had little or no formal education work hard to make sure that their children can go to school in town in order to have a better future. The young boys all have animals they take care of, before and after school. Milton sold one of his goats last year to pay for school and also bought a couple of chickens and now has eggs to eat. Dieulans was not able to attend school for a while – even though his mother had paid the tuition – because he had no shoes. So at the end of the week, we provided him with a new pair of hiking shoes and now he’s back in school. Macenson told me what leaves he feeds his goats when they are sick and also when they are milking. When I asked him how he knew these things, he said his mother taught him.
All these people are not lazy nor are they looking for a handout. Rather, they are in need of support, they need to know how to replenish the soil in order to raise their crop yields. So we taught them how to make compost piles and also held a bio-char workshop for them. They need pumps to get bring water up from the river to irrigate their crops. We started a small nursery along the river. These trees will be transplanted to the hillside once the yams, peas and sweet manioc have been harvested.
They want to provide for their families the basic necessities that many of us take for granted each day. Nutritious food, shelter and education for themselves and their families. What we at Helping Hands Noramise are providing resources and the knowledge that Celamise needs in order to make the right choices for her family, a better breed of goat for Macenson and Milton, so they can get a higher price at the market when they sell their next goat.
The chance for them to share their knowledge with others and understand that they can effect positive change in their community equals empowerment. Being empowered gives them the confidence to continue making decisions for themselves.