Tuesday, May 10, 2011

They Know What Is Best

Recently, I returned from a week in Haiti, or “Ayiti” in Kreyol. Haiti is the last country covered in Food Voices. I chose Haiti because it has such a negative reputation of poverty, crime and natural disasters. It is often portrayed as a country facing endless problems while a rotating set of foreign governments constantly intervenes without invitation. I wanted to hear the truth from the Haitian people and catch a glimpse of what they believe to be solutions for their part of the island known as Hispaniola.

The Southwest is dotted with coastal towns that depend on the fruits of the sea. Unfortunately, the fish are scarce and people have to row their small boats farther and farther out to sea, which is dangerous and grueling. The fishing communities believe the fish are harder to find because of marine pollution. They have no facts or figures, but their own experience after generations of fishing point to degraded water quality that parallel decreased fish populations. I spoke with fisherfolks in three communities – Jacmal, Cayes Jacmal and Marigot. Only once before had an outsider spoken with them. They already have 43 fishing associations all under one federation. Now, they are looking for support to help improve their fishing methods, develop markets infrastructure, and increase their organizing capacity.

After the Southwest, I headed north to meet farmers of the Central Plateau. I stayed at the Mouvement Paysan de Papaye (MPP) (Peasant Movement of Papaye) training center where they provide agro-ecology trainings for local farmers and student groups. When I arrived, a group of students from the University of Notre Dame in Port au Prince was preparing to leave after an empowering week of hands on courses. The center has one program that has become quite successful for kitchen gardens. Tires are flipped inside out, a rich fertile compost is grown and then vegetables are planted that use a small amount of rainwater that is captured in large cisterns. I also visited a collective farm, Agricultural Production Cooperative of Kolader. They mill corn, process sugar, tend a tree nursery, raise cattle and goats and grow vegetables to feed the 150 families that are part of the collective.

On the last day, I returned to Port au Prince, the capital of Haiti. Cité Soleil, known to be the most dangerous slum in the Americas, has booming urban garden programs. In 2007, a project of Pax Christi created a soccer camp to engage the youth as an alternative to joining a gang. After the 2010 earthquake, they initiated urban gardens and youth agro-ecology training programs. By growing food together and teaching each other how to provide for their families, violence has decreased and the sense of community and dignity has increased.

Haiti is still recovering from the devastation of the 2010 earthquake. Port au Prince has a population of 2 million people, but 1 million are still living in tents. Less than 2.5 billion dollars out of the 11 billion dollars promised for reconstruction aid has made it to Haiti and those funds went to debt cancelation rather than rebuilding efforts. Haiti still needs solidarity and support to rebuild the urban and rural areas. But, they do not need or want another imperial power to tell them what is best for them. They know what is best for them.

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