Even before the 2010 earthquake that struck the country routinely described as "the poorest in the Western Hemisphere" it was clear that money alone would not make a dent in Haiti's inventory of problems. A single solution could not promise to ameliorate the effects of poverty, environmental degradation and poor public health. To begin to implement change on the scale needed, a protean approach is necessary, with an emphasis on mass involvement at a local level. With that involvement comes not only empowerment and responsibility, but also tangible results.

Even before the 2010 earthquake that struck the country routinely described as "the poorest in the Western Hemisphere," it was clear that money alone would not make a dent in Haiti's inventory of problems. A single solution could not promise to ameliorate the effects of poverty, environmental degradation and poor public health. To begin to implement change on the scale needed, a protean approach is necessary, with an emphasis on mass involvement at a local level. With that involvement comes not only empowerment and responsibility, but also tangible results.

In June 2010 photographer Carmen Elsa Lopez made her second trip from her home in New York to Haiti since the earthquake, in order to document some of the ways in which local people are working together to effect sustainable change. Many thousands of people are still displaced from their homes as a result of the earthquake, and Lopez visited the Adventist Seminary Camp to photograph the internally displaced people of Port-au-Prince. As well as the very serious risk of health problems due to lack of sanitation, the makeshift nature of the camps has brought with it another problem. Because there is no electricity, everyone is plunged into darkness as soon as the sun sets, creating an insecure environment, particularly for women and children. Women have been raped and assaulted and after dark an atmosphere of lawlessness has pervaded some camps. Light – simply light – provides a solution to this bleak scenario.

Haiti, officially the Republic of Haiti, is a Caribbean country. It occupies the western, smaller portion of the island of Hispaniola, in the Greater Antillean archipelago, which it shares with the Dominican Republic. Ayiti (land of high mountains) was the indigenous Taíno or Amerindian name for the island. The total area of Haiti is 27,750 square kilometres (10,714 sq mi) and its capital is Port-au-Prince. Haitian Creole and French are the official languages.

As Lopez discovered, the Legatum Foundation, in partnership with dozens of other private donors, donated 11,000 solar kits across Haiti, which now provide a source of power for light at night. For many women, including widowed mothers, as well as older women living alone, the solar lamps provide a level of security, allowing them to continue with their activities after sunset, whether they are cooking, studying or dancing. In other ways the power of the solar kits to transform lives has been evident in their ability to improve fundamental communications by charging mobile phones and keeping radios working.

Lopez also noticed a new sense of community being fostered by those living in Camp Abraham. "People are coming together to improve their lives. Once they are able to secure a piece of land they intend to help each other build strong homes," she said.

Above: The Adventist Seminary Camp, Carrefour, inhabited by people displaced by the 2010 earthquake.

"Before the earthquake, the families living in Camp Abraham didn't know each other. Now these former strangers are coming together to improve their lives. The camp is in a remote area on the coast, two hours from Port-au-Prince. They have no school there, and the members of the camp are giving classes to their own children. The solar lamps are the only source of light for gatherings at night. They are providing security for the orphans and women living there. After the sun sets the lamps allow people to continue with their activities, whether they are cooking, studying or dancing. The people in Camp Abraham are also talking about the future. Once they are able to secure a piece of land they intend to help each other build strong homes. A big challenge facing the people of Camp Abraham, and throughout Haiti, is obtaining the necessary permissions to do so from their government."

- Carmen Elsa Lopez

Lopez continued her journey by travelling north to the rural Upper Limbe region, so named because of the river that runs through it. In total, the Legatum Foundation funded five local organisations to manage projects in the region (their creation predates the earthquake), each of which has an ultimate goal of long-term sustainability and recovery. "It was particularly inspiring to watch the chocolate makers in action," she said. "Local farmers received agricultural training from Plant with Purpose and it was immediately obvious how they have been encouraged to work together. They were in competition with each other before; now they work as a co-operative."

Lopez was travelling with another photographer, Evan Abramson, who was impressed to see how the projects were able to create change in real terms. "These are not band-aid solutions," he said. "Farmers and small businesses are being provided with the tools that are integral to forming a thriving community: clean water, sanitation, healthcare, small lines of credit and technical training. These projects are bringing people together. This is generating dialogues for true, on-the-ground change."

Lopez visited the Plant with Purpose project in Acul du Nord which implements agricultural training, and has inspired a new culture among the farmers. While they have always talked to each other around the village, now they have dedicated weekly meetings, where they exchange ideas and experiences about their land, their crops, and, crucially, their hopes. One of the ways in which the programme has elevated the status of the farmers is that they are now in a position to be consulted by potential clients about where to buy cocoa, for example.

Above: A farmer working with the organisation Plant With Purpose participates in reforestation activities in Acul du Nord.

It's amazing to see in just over two years how many people are getting involved in the reforestation projects around Upper Limbe because of what they saw us doing. They have helped us find plants which have an economic value which would have in the past been impossible to find, for example elephant grass which helps cows produce better milk.

- Robert Brunet, Dean of Agriculture UCNH

Before the programme started, each individual farmer would make their way to Cap Haitian to try to sell his goods there, as a unilateral business venture. As their potential markets have expanded, so has their ambition and pride in their work.

Thousands of acres of forest have been razed to the ground all over Haiti in a process known as slash and burn agriculture, in which land is cleared for small-scale farming, the timber trade and charcoal production. Since the programme began, over 100,000 trees and soil-conserving plants have been planted by the community, breathing life back into the scorched earth.

Women dominate the market sector in Haiti. The organisation Fonkoze trains women in literacy and life skills as well as offering micro-credit loans which enable them to capitalise on their talents as successful entrepreneurs.

 

Alan McCormick

Working with Plant with Purpose was a change in my life, in my wife and children's lives and in the life of the whole community. Before we had training in agriculture, there would be regular landslides, but the soil is holding up now. The whole hill is covered with trees that we planted. So now we have hope for the future."

Farmer Erod Mesidor, Acul du Nord

 

Community Health

Perhaps the most pernicious effect of poverty is its impact on public health. The organisation Eben-Ezer is working in a variety of ways to bring health and vitality back to Haitians. Three years ago, all drinking water in Upper Limbe came from the Limbe River, which was also used for laundry and bathing. At this time, 90 percent of local children were infected with parasites picked up from drinking unclean water. An Eben-Ezer-led project to bring clean running tap water to the community has resulted in the prevalence of water-borne diseases dropping by 50 percent. Incidences of typhoid fever have also reduced dramatically.

One of their most successful initiatives is the mobile clinic. One of its leading doctors, Dr Manno, explained the benefits: "One of the big issues is transportation. People have limited resources. They have to decide whether to use those resources to eat or whether to go see a doctor. If the clinic is taken to specific locations, people can come and get treatment."


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