Posts Tagged With: Education in Haiti

A Mother in Haiti.

Madame Elliasain Wilson, Andrener & Cynthia

The first time I met the Wilson family of Degand, Haiti I was in a kind of rapture. We’d just seen the new Goat Breeding Center that Heifer International had built to help the town support its school, and met some gorgeous people living on small farms in this town overlooking the infinite blue sea. Madame Wilson’s daughter Cynthia dragged me by the hand to see their new goats, given by Heifer, who were all happily pregnant, and I took this photo of a family that seemed to have a good future ahead.

The Wilson family: Robinson, Madame Wilson, Cynthia, Andrener, Davidson & Monsieur Wilson (Makinley is hiding)

When I went back a week later to talk and visit at length, the truth of their difficult circumstances made me squirm, to think I’d been so oblivious to their real situation.

Elliasain and her husband have five children: Robinson, 23; Cynthia, 12; Davidson, 11; Makinley, 3; and Andrener, 1. In the terrible earthquake of January 12, 2010 (that Haitians called bagay la “that thing!”), their big stone house collapsed, trapping Makinley inside and crushing all their earthly goods: beds, clothes, dishes, cookware. Miraculously, when they were able to pull the heavy stones away, baby Makinley was without a scratch – just scared to pieces.

Where the Wilson home used to stand.

Despite that joy, the Wilsons’ loss was immense: also crushed were their pigs, goats and chickens – which is money in the bank to rural farm families – and their cistern, in this town where the nearest water is 4 kilometers away. Luckily, Heifer built a new cistern almost next door for four families, including the Wilsons.

The Heifer cistern that the Wilsons share at a nearby house painted with Georgia O'Keefe clouds.

But surrounded by banana, mango, coconut, cherry, avocado and jackfruit trees, the Wilson family often does not have enough to eat because the trees haven’t produced much fruit after the four hurricanes of 2008 and the quake of 2010.

The first day I met Elliasain, her eyes were bright and she was buoyed by her husband’s enthusiasm, the goats, and her children. The day I went back, she seemed exhausted, hungry and dull-eyed. I cursed myself for having left my protein bars in the hotel, and wondered how she could possibly breast-feed little Andrener, being so clearly hungry herself. And I thought how exhausting it must be to have to work so hard to merely survive.

Madame Wilson, Andrener & Makinley, the lucky survivor.

Then I thought about all the women across Haiti, trying to make a life for themselves and their children. If only they were able to practice birth control (80% of Haitians are Catholic – like me — so yeah, thanks, Pope Benedict, for the holy ban on contraceptives in this country the size of Vermont that has more than 10 times Vermont’s population.) If only the homeless families were given the materials to rebuild and once again live in a proper home. If only women in Haiti weren’t so overworked and undereducated (most girls receive only two years’ schooling), perhaps they’d have a chance to secure a better future for themselves and their families.

An uphill climb (with a load of bananas) is an everyday affair for the women of Degand.

I was feeling pretty low when I left the Wilson’s residence, but then I met Monsieur Wilson on the road back to the village.

I showed him the photos I’d taken of his wife and children and he was so excited, proud and happy, I could see he was anything but beaten. He had Heifer goats that were having babies. He had wood to build a new house, and his village had the Heifer Goat Breeding Center to support a school. He was standing tall.

And that made me remember this beautiful sign at the house painted with clouds that expresses the fierce independence, sense of community and astonishing spirit of the Haitian people, especially its women.

If you want some people serve you, you gotta serve them too.

The people of Haiti will survive. And if we serve, they may even thrive.


Categories: Animals, Food, Haiti, Heifer International, Hunger, Women | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 31 Comments

The price of a chair.

The day we drove up from the overwhelming crush and chaos of Port au Prince to the town of Degand Haiti, it was like taking blissful step back in time — except that life isn’t quite so blissful for the people living here. Just 10 kilometers from Haiti’s capital of 1.2 million people, Degand is another world — a poor farming community with breathtaking ocean views, crisp clean air, and people who are spirited and hard-working.

The town seems idyllic and avocados grow in abundance here but the land is dry and rocky, and water is 4 to 5 kilometers away–which means girls usually walk about 3 hours a day hauling water. Degand was also hard-hit by the earthquake, with many families losing their homes, and many others taking in relatives from the city who were now homeless, too.

The long walk for water (this is just the beginning).

We were in Degand to celebrate the opening of the new Goat-Breeding Center built by Heifer International, in partnership with the community organizers of MOPLANDA — and it was a big day for the town.

My favorite part? The balloons read: "It's a boy!"(probably because all the "It's a goat!" balloons were sold out).

Heifer has been working in Degand since May of last year, starting with the gift of 25 goats to the neediest families, and the construction of 20 cisterns that are shared by 4-5 families each. The cisterns are expensive ($1500/apiece) but they have a transformative effect on the community. For one thing, girls can stop walking for water and start walking to school — and in Haiti, education is prized above all else. Families will sacrifice almost anything to get their children in school.The problem in Degand was that even with the gift of goats to a few families, the town had no way to pay its 6 schoolteachers their stipend of $40/month to teach. (Obviously, the government provides very little assistance with education, and 80% of Haitian schools are privately funded.) So Heifer helped the community build this commercial Goat Breeding Center as a community enterprise that will eventually house 60 goats, with proceeds of the sale of the animals going to support the school. It’s a different model for Heifer — a bigger investment, but with a far deeper impact on the overall economic viability of the community.

Degand's precious school

For the price of $5,000 to build the breeding center; 2 robust Boer bucks at $350/apiece; and 25 female goats at $60/apiece, Heifer has invested a total of about $7,200 in a quest to geometrically improve the quality of Degand’s goat stock, and enable the community to support its own school– as well as other projects it decides to undertake (like a Tool Bank where farmers can get loans to buy new tools). And with the sale of the school goats, Degand can pay its teachers …and even buy chairs for the children.

You know you’re in a different world when a simple school chair is a matter of  precious delight.

We loved visiting beautiful Degand and its people so much, we went back a week later and had a totally different but equally moving experience. But that’s tomorrow’s story…

Categories: Animals, Education, Haiti, Heifer International | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 39 Comments

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