Grassroots groups fertilize an ailing Haiti
Locally owned organizations invest, protect and provide to regrow a country
Grassroots organizations run by Haitian Americans are bringing their hearts along with seeds, tools and money to help their compatriots in Haiti six months after that country’s devastating earthquake.
These grassroots organizations, small compared with the huge international agencies there now – the United Nations, Food for the Poor, CARE, Save the Children — are striving to improve the quality of life for Haitians at the local level.
As thousands of people flee the cities directly hit, they are taking refuge with families and friends in rural areas, putting further stress on poor communities. Many farmers have had to use seeds put aside for next season’s planting as food. At the same time, more stress is being put on the environment as farmers cut down more trees for fuel.
These small Haitian organizations are trying to slow that trend, investing in food production, protecting the environment and providing credit to mom-and-pop businesses that do not get access to banks. Unlike the big agencies, they have to struggle for funds as countries and donors focus on the organizations that are familiar to them. That leaves a huge gap that the smaller organizations try to fill.
The Lambi Fund of Haiti provides Haitians with money, tools and skills to support themselves. Lambi Fund staff and volunteers also dedicate time, often years, to teach the people how to operate certain tools, how to grow crops effectively and how to function after the organization packs up and leaves.
Leonie Hermantin serves as deputy director of The Lambi Fund, which is based in Washington, D.C., and invests in agricultural projects. Since the earthquake, Hermantin has made several trips between Haiti and her home in South Florida, visiting projects in rural areas outside Port-au-Prince, where the organization operates and where most of Haiti’s people live.
“To them [Haitians], education is the key to everything,” said Hermantin, who has worked for many years with social service programs and agencies in the Little Haiti community of Miami. “They just don’t have the resources.”
Like other grassroots organizations, Lambi is working with several partners, including The SG Foundation, an organization that provides relief grants to “the poorest of the poor to help themselves.” SG has promised to match every dollar donated to Lambi, up to $20,000.
Grassroots organizations have also influenced residents of South Florida to get more involved with the Haitian relief efforts.
Fonkoze, yet another grassroots organization, is considered “Haiti’s Alternative Bank for the Organized Poor,” teaching low-income women how to borrow, handle and make money.
Fonkoze teaches women about a four-step staircase out of poverty. The steps range from Chemen Lavi Miyò, or Road to a Better Life, which simply gives the women of Haiti the mindset that they can better themselves and their families.
The last step, “Business Development,” gives the participants a chance to take out long-term loans. The staircase gives the rural market women of Haiti, the ti machann, a chance to set a long-term goal and the ability to improve themselves in an economy whose population primarily survives on less than two dollars a day.
“They [Haitians] are constantly struggling against forces and trying to overcome them any way they can,” said Lyla Leigh, Fonkoze administrator.
Operation Green Leaves is a South Florida-based grassroots organization that works with Haitians in rural and urban areas to improve the environment.
For the past two decades, the organization has been working to slow and reverse the ecological damage caused by harvesting trees to produce charcoal. The organization believes that re-planting the once green hills will stop flash floods and mudslides that occur during torrential storms.
The organization raised funds through memberships and private foundations to set up an environmental center, Arcahaie, about 45 miles outside of Port-au-Prince.
They are also working on setting up a model city with sustainable plant nurseries.
“My ultimate goal is to see Haiti green where the environment and the standard of living can be much better,” said Nadine Patrice, Green Leaves’ founder and president. “Sometimes the resources are there, but the will is not there. Most of the funding goes to the bigger organizations.’’
In addition to its work with reforestation, Operation Green Leaves has been encouraging Haitians to use alternative cooking methods, and educating them about the causes behind deforestation.
Since the quake, Operation Green Leaves also has partnered with several environmental organizations to help rebuild schools and provide school supplies to students.