Our Heifer International trip to Petit Goave got off to a petit late start, because we overstayed at the town of Degand. Which meant by the time we pulled into the lush rural community of Petit Goave, the sun was getting low in the sky and we faced one last hurdle: a watery crossing.
Sona Chambers, ace Atlanta fundraiser and bon vivant, was in the front seat and cautioned Hervil Cherubin, Haiti Country Manger/driver extraordinaire, that the four-wheel drive wasn’t in gear. Dave Anderson, crackerjack international photographer and videographer, and I were in the back, minding our own business but secretly hoping for some action. We got our wish, as the minute we plowed hub-deep into the mud, it was pretty clear we were stuck solid. Pierre Ferrari, Heifer CEO in the car behind us, plunged in to the rescue and we were expeditiously pushed out by six farmers with a lot of muscle.
Dirty, muddy and happy, we traipsed into lovely Petit Goave where the community awaited us. By now the light was seriously fading and the Heifer folks wanted to get us back on the road before nightfall. But since we were the late ones, we unanimously decided that all the beneficiaries should have a chance to speak, just as planned. And so they did.
Petit Goave is a beautiful place, blessed with plentiful water reminding me, once again, that water means life. This corner of Haiti, with its tradition of dairy cows, is also famous for the fudge (douce macoss in Creole) that I wrote about in my last post.With a candy industry nearby, the more milk Petit Goave farmers can produce, the more income they can generate from fudge-makers.
To take advantage of that opportunity, over the years, Heifer has given this community the gift of 50 cows & 2 bulls; 5,000 plantain plants; 600 buckets of bean seeds; 150 buckets of corn seed and 12,000 forage plants to feed the animals—as well as emergency food supplies after the earthquake. These gifts, which have been passed on to other families and thus multiplied, have made a profound difference in the life of the community, as we were reminded of by the people who stood to greet us.
Eddy Exantus, with 6 children, was able to send all of his kids (not just the boys) to school with income from selling milk. Francois Revel, a bachelor, used his milk income to finish high school, then was trained by Heifer as a vet agent – giving him additional income while he keeps the community animals healthy. Emmanuel Jean has 9 children and been able to send them all to school, thanks to the milk money earned with his Heifer cow. And finally, a woman stepped up: Margareth Doscar, President of the Petit Goave Women’s Group and a single mother of 4.
Kimberly and I snapped to attention as she thanked us and wished us courage, then asked for more training in food processing and micro-loans to finance small businesses of the 45 women entrepreneurs in Petit Goave.
As the light of female solidarity dawned on us (and the sun set for real) Kimberly asked for the wives of the men who’d spoken to come up & be recognized….and before you could say “Gloria Steinem,” there was huge laughter, people excitedly pushing shy wives and mothers to the front, and tales of romance, kids, and 30-year marriages in the air.
I struggled to take notes in the pitch-black and people held up cell phones to illuminate faces, while Pierre talked Kimberly (also shy) into addressing the women, who crowded around her in quiet thoughtfulness.
“Women have always been the backbone of society, and we know how hard you are working, and how difficult these times have been for you,” she said, as Hervil translated into Creole. “I want you to know that the women in America and all over the world care about you, we support you, and we haven’t forgotten you and your families.”
In the dark we could hear lowing and bellowing of the 50 beautiful cows that had been tied up in the clearing. A quarter moon rose over the horizon. As we walked back to the trucks, surrounded by the talking, laughing people of Petit Goave, it was a Heifer moment. One you’d never forget.