Friday, January 29, 2010

Making progress in Haiti

Results of our damage assessment are beginning to come in:
  • After surveying 10+ communities we have found few deaths, but a 25% percent increase in average family size as relatives flood back from the cities. This, plus busted infrastructure/supply lines are creating an acute food shortage.
This week we are providing 10 lbs of rice and cooking oil to 1700 families, which will serve as 3-4 days rations. We are currently planning with communities to determine the distribution process and delivery will begin on Tuesday. Here is the breakdown for number of families we will serve in each region:
  • Grand Colline 1104 families
  • Bainet 483 families
Additionally, our team was able to distribute over 5,000 bags of water in Grand Goave and Petite Goave. Guy Paraison, the country director for Floresta-Haiti, was able to meet with the KASEC (equivalent to the mayor) in Petit Goave and was then introduced to the rest of the community. Building further relationships will not only help us reach more people now, but also allow Plant With Purpose to expand its community development programs once relief aid has subsided and more and more rebuilding is taking place.

Plant With Purpose Haiti Relief Efforts

Plant With Purpose is in a strategic position to utilize our experience, resources, and 42 national staff members to bring relief to rural Haitians. So what, exactly, are we doing?

Our Haitian staff is currently collecting data from our partner communities on fatalities, household damage, and migration from urban areas. They’ve also been making vital connections with community and religious leaders in some of the bigger cities in order to coordinate relief efforts, minimize duplication, and maximize the number of people we can help and lives we can save.

Distribution of food to areas outside Port au Prince is still insufficient, as heartbreaking news stories of food riots and starving children has made shockingly clear. Plant With Purpose is preparing to access food aid from various sources as it becomes available to distribute to households in need as soon as possible. Most of the aid efforts are centralized in Port au Prince as of now, so Plant With Purpose plans to extend food distribution to more remote areas, particularly those where we have established relationships.

Based on preliminary estimates, Plant With Purpose plans to provide the immediate food needs for 2,800 households for a period of four weeks in four target areas. For just $106, we can feed a family of six for four weeks.

One of the biggest challenges to food distribution is the lack of access to rural communities due to severe damage to major roads. Plant With Purpose has already organized 150 community members to manually repair major sections of the road that serves as the only access route to our main project area. Despite the progress, the road is still inaccessible to large commercial vehicles, preventing local products from getting to the urban centers (and hungry people) and hindering relief efforts.

Plant With Purpose will rent heavy road building equipment to clear the worst sections of the road and allow large vehicle access. This will allow farmers to transport their crops to Port au Prince as well as provide Plant With Purpose the means to reach desperate families in the remote areas with food aid.

By opening roads that will reach remote villages and providing food to families who have lost homes, income sources, and loved ones, Plant With Purpose will alleviate suffering, save lives, and assist Haiti on its long road to recovery.

To help Plant With Purpose feed a family of six for four weeks for just $106 or contribute to our overall relief efforts click here.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Sneak Peak at Tending to Eden

We are very excited to announce that Plant With Purpose Executive Director Scott Sabin has written a book called Tending to Eden which will be published in the next couple weeks! Based on Scott's own 18 years of experiences working with Plant With Purpose in Haiti and other countries, the book provides a global perspective on environmental stewardship and makes the connection between poverty and the environment. Below is a brief excerpt from Tending to Eden.

(to pre-order your own copy, click here.)


From Tending to Eden, pages 22-25

"In December 1997 Plant With Purpose’s technical director, Bob

Morikawa, and our new Haitian director, Jean-Mari Desilus

(whomwe called Dezo), traveled with me to the Haitian village of

Kavanac. The sun beat down on us as we walked a steep, narrow

path between hillside farms, their tiny fields separated from one

another by loose rock walls. Ragged corn struggled through the

rocks on either side of us. My lunch was not sitting well.

After we’d crossed one ridge and were on our way up a second

long slope, I told the others I needed a rest. As I sat on a large

stone, contemplating the hill in front of me, two elderly women

came up the hill, five-gallon buckets of water balanced on their

heads. “Bon swa, blan,” they greeted me. They asked where we

were going, and Dezo told them we were headed to a village meeting

in Kavanac. The older woman said they were on their way to

the same meeting. “We’ll let them know you will be along in a

while,” she said with a teasing grin.

At the top of the last ridge, I could see the Caribbean to the

south, Haiti’s tallest mountain, Pic La Selle, shrouded in clouds

to the east, and the brilliant blue water of the Bay of Port-au-

Prince to the north. A little farther along the ridge sat a group of

about forty farmers, men and women, in an open-sided lean-to

made of wood and corrugated tin. When we reached them, several

sidled up tome and discreetly held out their hands while rubbing

their stomachs.

I shook my head, indicating I had nothing to give them.

The meeting convened and moved past pleasantries to a series

of questions from the community as to what Plant With Purpose

intended to do in the village. A woman stood and, in a confrontational

tone, told me about the other humanitarian agencies that

had worked in the area. She named two agencies that had brought

food and clothes, then left and never returned. “How is Plant With

Purpose going to be any different?”

After giving the question some consideration, I responded,

“Well, first of all, we are not going to give you anything.”

She looked stunned.

“Second, we are not going to leave until you ask us to.”

The woman stood there, speechless.

Once we understand God’s heart for justice and the vicious

cycle of deforestation and poverty that traps the poor, how do we

respond? The desire to help is admirable in a world where far too

many pass by on the other side of the road. But determining how

to respond can be complicated.

I was originally drawn to the work of serving the poor and hungry

because it seemed simple, unambiguous, and virtuous. I had

studied political science and was often struck by the moral ambiguity

and unexpected consequences of most policy choices. Well intended

programs often had the opposite effect of what their

drafters expected. The most well-meaning projects could cause

great harm. As I was to discover, humanitarian work can be nearly

as complicated.

Many humanitarian organizations respond to poverty and

injustice by giving surplus food, medicine, and clothes, and maybe

starting orphanages and clinics. They focus on treating the symptoms

of poverty—which sorely need to be treated. But others ask

questions about the root causes: Why are people are hungry and

sick? Why so many orphaned children?

The Bible seems pretty straightforward in its approach: give a

cup of cold water in the name of the Lord. Our first response is

often to give things away. The poor clearly lack things, and we

have things, so what could be more obvious than giving out of

our abundance?

Yet giving things often comes with unintended consequences.

Without knowing the needs and challenges faced by local communities,

our gifts can be inappropriate. In one community where

we work, a relatively new bulldozer sat in front of a school yard

for many years, slowly rusting. No doubt it was given with the

best of intentions and was probably very expensive to ship. Yet it

was completely inappropriate to the local conditions. It ended up

serving as a germination bed for weeds and a few small trees

before being sold for scrap.

Even when gifts are appropriate to the needs of the people, they

can often create dependency. Haiti has received numerous donations

and many short-term mission teams have come to share the

gospel and build churches and school buildings. Yet there is a

growing school of thought that much of our aid may be hurting

the locals.

As we were establishing Plant With Purpose in Haiti, a longtime

missionary sternly informed us that he wasn’t sure Haiti

needed another well-intended nonprofit agency. “We have created

a nation of beggars,” he said. “For years folks have been coming

down here thinking they are helping by giving things away. But

that just teaches people to beg.” Another missionary told me that

after citizens in one village received cracked wheat from USAID,

few local farmers bothered to plant corn because they couldn’t

compete with free food.

Often, the problem is less with aid itself than with how it is

applied. We tend to focus on short-term, immediate-impact solutions

rather than long-term investments in people. Many Americans

have at least a passing understanding of what handouts do

to initiative, self-esteem, and motivation. We talk of how a welfare

mentality creates dependency. When we see panhandlers on

the street corner, most of us realize a handout won’t change their

lives. A gospel tract probably won’t do much good, either—

though it may be better than handing them a dollar. Unfortunately,

we don’t always translate that understanding into our approach

to the poor overseas."

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Where is Bob?

Plant With Purpose Technical Director Bob Morikawa arrived in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic (DR) on Sunday and drove to the border between the DR and Haiti on Monday. Once there, he crossed the border without any difficulty and met Guy Paraison, PWP Haiti Program Director. They ventured to a village called Tewouj. That night, Bob along with 200 other people camped out in a soccer field from fear of another tremor. Sure enough, there was another earthquake that night measuring at 4.9. We have been communicating with Bob as often as we can via his satellite phone and Skype. Bob says the biggest hindrance to Tewouj right now is getting the road open. He says that the cabbage and avocado crops are ripe and ready to be transported out, but since there is no road this isn't possible. They are hoping to get a tractor in the next day or two to help rebuild the road. Our 40 staff and technicians continue to assess the death toll and the influx of people from Port au Prince into the rural areas. We are anticipating the need to provide food aid very soon. You can follow all of Bob's updates on his blog:

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Haiti Update and Voting Countdown!

Dear friends and faithful supporters,
We are so thankful for your prayers and concern for our program in Haiti. Although we don't have any new updates from the field, we would like to reassure you that it is still our priority to assess the damage from the earthquake as soon as possible and get help to our villages, farmers, and the hundreds of families we have partnered with in Haiti. Already our staff is joining with other estimable organizations to coordinate and administer relief projects.
One great way you can show your support for our Haiti program is by voting for Plant With Purpose in Project 7's Change the Score Contest. If we receive the most votes, Plant With Purpose will receive $15,000 to plant 15,000 trees and construct 15 miles of soil erosion barriers in Haiti. This will restore ground cover and reduce erosion, and will enable Haitians to rebuild their land and natural resources while improving crop yields.
There's less than a week left to vote, so vote now! Here's how:

Step 1: Click here:

Step 2: Select the cause “Save the Earth”

Step 3: Vote for Plant With Purpose

Please share this with your friends! Use Facebook, Twitter, email, or word of mouth to get the word out. Every vote counts toward helping Plant With Purpose to continue to empower the poor and restore the environment.

Thank you for your support and check back soon for more Haiti updates!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Busted: 5 Myths Of Disaster Relief

The below article is reposted courtesy of Relevant Magazine.

Busted: 5 Myths Of Disaster Relief

by Edward Brown

As they rush to save lives in the wake of the Haiti earthquake, aid workers also must address myths about disaster relief among the American public. Edward Brown, relief director for Christian humanitarian organization World Vision, debunks five myths about disaster relief.

1. Collecting blankets, shoes and clothing is a cost-effective way to help.

The cost of shipping these items from around the country—let alone the time it takes to sort, pack and ship them—is prohibitive and entails much higher cost than the value of the goods themselves. World Vision has relief supplies already stocked in disaster-prone countries as well as in strategically located warehouses around the world. World Vision had supplies pre-positioned in Haiti in preparation for hurricane season, which allowed the agency to respond immediately to last week’s earthquake.

These supplies are designed to meet international standards for humanitarian relief and are packaged up and ready to deploy as soon as a crisis strikes. Cash donations are the best, most cost-efficient way to help aid groups deliver these life-saving supplies quickly, purchase supplies close to the disaster zone when possible and replenish their stocks in preparation for future disasters.

2. If I send cash, my help won’t get there.

Reputable agencies send 80 percent or more of cash donations to the disaster site; the rest is invested in monitoring, reporting and other activities that facilitate transparency and efficiency in their operations, as well as in sharing information with those who can help. Donors have a right and a responsibility to ask aid groups how they will be using those donations, and what will be done with donations raised in excess of the need. Transparent and effective organizations will readily provide that information.

3. Volunteers are desperately needed in emergency situations.

While hands-on service may feel like a better way to help in a crisis, disaster response is a highly technical and sensitive effort. Professionals with specialized skills and overseas disaster experience should be deployed to disaster sites. Volunteers without those skills can do more harm than good, and siphon off critical logistics and translations services. Qualified disaster professionals ensure that help is delivered effectively, safely and efficiently.

4. Unaccompanied children should be adopted as quickly as possible to get them out of dangerous conditions.

Hearing about the specific needs of children often sparks a desire to adopt children who seem to have lost their families. However, early in a crisis, children need to be protected, but should remain in their home countries until authorities can confirm the locations of their family members and explore adoption possibilities within their own communities and cultures. International adoption may be the best solution for some children, but it is too early to know for sure in the first weeks of a crisis.

5. People are helpless in the face of natural disasters.

Even in the poorest countries like Haiti, people often reveal a great deal of inner strength and often show a resourcefulness that can save lives ... While support and aid are necessary, the Haitian people are by no means helpless.

Haiti Village Spotlight: Kavanak

The village of Kavanak, Haiti is home to 1,100 people in the Grande Colline region, perched on a steep and rocky cliff. In addition to the normal crops of corn, beans and yams, the area is known for its chives, which can be planted once every five years and provide a good income at the market. There is no school in Kavanak, so children, if their parents are able to afford to send them to school, walk three kilometers down the hill to Meyer or Cherident to attend classes. We have been saddened by pictures we received of the school in Cherident that was destroyed in the earthquake and hope to help in the reconstruction process in whatever way we can.
Kavanak is not accessible by vehicle, and since the hurricanes of 2008, the conditions have only worsened. Several Plant With Purpose staff come from the village of Kavanak. A testimony to Plant With Purpose's compassionate and life-changing approach, these staff members are now using their skills and talents to empower farmers to make the most of their steep, rocky soil, create their own economic opportunities, and work together to build a better future.
We have been encouraged by countless stories of villagers in Kavanak learning to thrive in their harsh environment. For example, Mignonne Charles is a founding member of the Plant With Purpose group in Kavanak. With Plant With Purpose's training she has increased the productivity of her farm and share her new skills and knowledge with her neighbors, literally transforming the entire community. Additionally, Plant With Purpose's unique micro-enterprise credit system has helped Mignonne get back on her feet after the hurricanes. Mignonne Charles joyfully recounts, “With a loan from Plant With Purpose, I have bought some pieces of land. I have a lot of respect for Plant With Purpose in its effort to plant better farms.”
Mignonne Charles pictured with her baby.
After the hurricane of 2008, Plant With Purpose was able to provide farmers in Kavanak with bean seed to regrow their damaged crops and goats and sheep to boost their income. Despite hardship and unforeseen obstacles, we have seen great determination and transformation in the lives of the people of Kavanak. We have not yet heard how the recent earthquake has affected the community, but we are dedicated to partnering with the people of Kavanak to rebuild and revive their village once again.

Saturday, January 23, 2010


We have been meeting nightly with Guy Paraison, our Haiti director, coordinating our next steps and preparing for Bob's arrival in Port au Prince. Here are some of the key developments from last nights meeting:
1. Guy put together a team of about 150 people to make rudimentary repairs on the road between St. Etienne and Trouin. Yesterday, following repairs, two private vehicles were able to make the trip, reconnecting Trouin, Cherident and all the surrounding towns with the outside world again for the first time after the quake. More repairs will be made today so that larger vehicles may pass. We are very excited by this progress.
2. The previous night our meeting was cut short by an aftershock. Guy was forced to leave the office suddenly, but when it stopped he ran back in to retrieve his computer and spent the rest of the night outdoors. He was able to type a last skype message to us to indicate there was a tremor and he was going offline.
3. Floresta Haiti, like most people is having problems securing cash.  Banks are open, but will only allow account holders to withdraw $2500 or write a cheque for $2500 US. 
4. Guy met with the magistrate and other leaders of Leogane yesterday--they are interested in collaboration--in particular they need medicines--in the midterm they will need tents or other shelter for the upcoming rainy season.
5. Our staff: staff are also having trouble finding food and Guy would like to try to get a salary advance to them--but they are ready to help with the recovery plan
6. Bob will arrive in Santo Domingo tomorrow and in Haiti on Monday.

"Under the Rubble"

First published by on January 21, 2010
Under the Rubble
by Scott Sabin, Executive Director

The earthquake that hit Haiti on January 12th was unimaginably devastating, killing as many as 200,000 people, utterly destroying Haiti’s fragile infrastructure and demolishing some of its most important symbols of national identity and pride. The blow has been so complete and so demoralizing that more than one Haitian has said “Haiti is done.”

In my role as Executive Director of Plant With Purpose (formerly Floresta), a Christian development agency with long-term work in Haiti, this has been particularly difficult to watch. I have visited Haiti perhaps 30 times in the past 15 years. Though I work from San Diego, we have a local staff of 42 amazingly dedicated Haitians. Thankfully, all are accounted for and well, although one of our workers lost his wife and ten-day old son when their house collapsed on them.  Fifteen years ago I wasn't all that excited about working in a nation sometimes referred to as "the graveyard of good intentions."    My first impression of Port-au-Prince was that the tide had come in and stranded garbage and rubble everywhere. Rotting fruit and raw sewage smells combined with the smell of frying meat and exhaust. People spilled out on to the broken streets in every sort of dress imaginable, filling alleys and turning the sidewalks into an impromptu market. In the countryside, a constant parade of pedestrians streamed down either side of the road: old women leading donkeys, men carrying machetes and groups of schoolchildren in ragged yellow uniforms. High above the road, every slope was cultivated with struggling cornfields.  Pere Jean-Wilfrid Albert, an almost superhuman Haitian Episcopal priest who worked in the mountains not far from the epicenter of last week's quake, sparked my special love for Haiti. Banished to a remote rural parish, with virtually nothing, he had, on his own initiative, founded over 30 schools and was responsible for the education of over 13,000 children. (Although Pere Albert died far too young, a victim of cancer, his work is carried on today by the Haitian Education Foundation.)  It was Pere Albert who first showed me what the farmers who make up the bulk of Haiti's population are up against. Yet in spite of the odds against them, their singing rings through the hills each morning as they work together to cultivate hillsides that you and I would find difficult to walk on. Too often portrayed as victims, they are the ultimate survivors.  I remember my first visit to one of those mountain communities. About forty farmers, men and women, waited for us in a tin-roofed shelter. As I surveyed the spectacular setting – from the top of the ridge, the Caribbean was clearly visible to the south, Haiti's tallest mountain, Pic La Selle was in the clouds to the east, and the brilliant blue water of the Bay of Port au Prince sparkled to the north - several people sidled up to me holding out their hands and rubbing their stomachs.  As we met, a woman stood up and in a confrontational tone told me about the other humanitarian and aid agencies that had worked in the area. "Agency X was here, they gave us food - they are gone," she said, listing them. "How is Floresta going to be any different?"  Although I was a bit taken aback, after giving it some consideration, I responded, "Well first of all we are not going to give anything away, and secondly we are not going to leave until you ask us to."  It was her turn to be taken aback.  After that first meeting, our local staff began meeting with the farmers group on a regular basis. They facilitated planning, provided training, and organized a loan group.  Three years later, I again made the trek up the stony ridges to that little village and was met by a very different group. No one asked me for money. They were eager to tell me all that had been accomplished in the community. A credit group had been formed and was making loans. Many farmers had bought the land they had been renting. Trees had been planted. Rainwater harvesting systems and cisterns had been constructed. Fruit trees had been grafted. But the highlight of the meeting occurred when one of women stood up and proudly told me: "What you have given us is the knowledge that we are not helpless, but that God has given us talents that we can use to change our community."  Working together we have accomplished small but remarkable things, but they represent the accomplishments of the poor themselves. More than 420,000 trees have been planted by farmers who are practicing a whole new type of agriculture, suited for steep hillsides and far more productive. Because it makes sense for them economically, these farmers will go on planting trees long after we are gone. Thousands of small business loans have been made. Fruit production has been improved. Hundreds of miles of soil erosion control measures – often living barriers of trees - have been installed and hundreds of rainwater harvesting systems have been built. Dozens of Bible studies have been held.  But Plant With Purpose, and our Haitian staff have merely been a catalyst for their success. The loans we have made (with a repayment rate of 98%) and the training we have provided have helped to uncover the talents of the people themselves.  Too often aid fails because it is applied without understanding the needs of the people who receive it and without involving them in the planning. Furthermore, nothing is required of them. Aid is done to them, by outsiders. In time it robs them of dignity, self confidence and initiative.  If the post-earthquake relief and recovery effort in Haiti is to succeed, Haitians need to participate in its planning and execution. Our Haitian director, Guy Paraison is meeting today with relief committees and mayors in several towns and cities in our region to talk about their plans and needs for recovery.  After the hurricanes of 2008 he did a similar thing. The local people came up with a plan for supplying seed to those who had been forced to eat their seed after the storms. Two thousand families received new seed and had an abundant harvest, from which they repaid us. Today – by the grace of God – we have several tons of beans stored, not originally intended for an emergency such as this, but suddenly available. Through this experience, we saw leaders gain confidence, and experienced a blossoming of enthusiasm for the rest of our program, as all were energized by the success. That's because we never gave away food, clothing or shelter – we worked to equip people and gave away love and hope.  However, today, as the international community descends on Haiti like a mighty army, I am already hearing stories of local officials being excluded from meetings. I am reading discussions of plans to fix Haiti which involve no Haitian voices. The Haitian government is continually discounted. Granted it was weak before the disaster and has been decimated. However, for Haiti to move forward, Haitian leaders must be at the head of the table. Leaders, at all levels, must be given the opportunity to lead.  We must also be careful of the labels we apply. Labels have a tendency to be self-fulfilling. As Haitian national symbols have crumbled, repeating fictitious stories of a pact with the devil does nothing to build up those who mourn, and worse, casts doubt on the very character of God. Similarly, I have yet to read a news report that does not mention that Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. While this is undoubtedly true, it is certainly not the whole story, or even the most important part of the story.  I think I understand why Haiti has been the graveyard of good intentions -- too many well-intentioned people want to do for the Haitians what they so desperately want to do for themselves. Today they may need us to do much for them, but as quickly as possible our role should become one of empowerment and support – alongside them.  Those roads, villages and people, who had seemed so ominous in the spring of 1995 are as familiar as family to me now. We have yet to determine the full impact of the earthquake's impact on the 67 villages where Plant With Purpose works, but we are confident that the villagers will rebuild. They are not "done."  Dreadfully misunderstood and overcoming impossible odds, Haitians still manage to face life with a smile, pulling themselves together each morning to toil under the blazing sun. They face their depleted hillside farms with a song. It is not a burden, but an honor, to work alongside them.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Haiti Board Members Are Alive and Well

We are excited to report that Plant With Purpose Haiti's three Board members are alive. Mrs. Salomon, who ran a nursing school, suffered minor injuries, but is well. Father Irnel, former priest of a church Plant With Purpose has partnered with and the current chair of Plant With Purpose's Haitian Board of Directors, is jumping in to assess the damage to his community and surrounding area. The third board member, Hubert Normil, a consultant, is also alive and well. All three are eager to help in the relief and recovery efforts.
Our hearts are warmed at the news of their safety and we are encouraged by their compassion and desire to help others in the midst of tragedy.
Milmer Martinez, Plant With Purpose Programs Officer, and Father Irnel

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Plant With Purpose Technical Director to Join Team in Haiti

Plant With Purpose's Technical Director, Bob Morikawa, will soon be going to Haiti to help Plant With Purpose coordinate with other organizations for relief. Plant With Purpose staff are currently mobilizing to work with communities in our project area to do road repair. They are also meeting with community leaders to formulate recovery plans.
We will be posting updates from Bob as we receive them. Safe travels, Bob!
Bob Morikawa is Plant With Purpose’s Technical Director. He facilitates the initiation of new Plant With Purpose programs and promotes technical innovation amongst field staff and farmers.

"Some Frank Talk About Haiti"

Reposted from the New York Times Op-Ed article by Nicholas Kristof

Some Frank Talk About Haiti By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

Published: January 20, 2010

On my blog, a woman named Mona pointed to Haitian corruption and declared: “I won’t send money because I know what will happen to it.” Another reader attributed Haiti’s poverty to “the low I.Q. of the 9 million people there,” and added: “It is all very sad and cannot be fixed.”

“Giving money to Haiti and other third-world countries is like throwing money in the toilet,” another commenter said. A fourth asserted: “Haiti is a money pit. Dumping billions of dollars into it has proven futile. ... America is deeply in debt, and we can’t afford it.”

Not everyone is so frank, but the subtext of much of the discussion of Haiti is despair about both Haiti and foreign aid. Pat Robertson, the religious broadcaster, went furthest by suggesting that Haiti’s earthquake flowed from a pact with the devil more than two centuries ago. While it’s not for a journalist to nitpick a minister’s theological credentials, that implication of belated seismic revenge on Haitian children seems defamatory of God.

Americans have also responded with a huge outpouring of assistance, including more than $22 million raised by the Red Cross from text messages alone. But for those with doubts, let’s have a frank discussion of Haiti’s problems:

Why is Haiti so poor? Is it because Haitians are dimwitted or incapable of getting their act together?

Haiti isn’t impoverished because the devil got his due; it’s impoverished partly because of debts due. France imposed a huge debt that strangled Haiti. And when foreigners weren’t looting Haiti, its own rulers were.

The greatest predation was the deforestation of Haiti, so that only 2 percent of the country is forested today. Some trees have been — and continue to be — cut by local peasants, but many were destroyed either by foreigners or to pay off debts to foreigners. Last year, I drove across the island of Hispaniola, and it was surreal: You traverse what in places is a Haitian moonscape until you reach the border with the Dominican Republic — and jungle.

Without trees, Haiti lost its topsoil through erosion, crippling agriculture.

To visit Haiti is to know that its problem isn’t its people. They are its treasure — smart, industrious and hospitable — and Haitians tend to be successful in the United States (and everywhere but in Haiti).

Can our billions in aid to Haitians accomplish anything? After all, a Wall Street Journal column argues, “To help Haiti, end foreign aid.”

First, don’t exaggerate how much we give or they get.

Haiti ranks 42nd among poor countries in worldwide aid received per person ($103 in 2008, more than one-quarter of which comes from the United States). David Roodman of the Center for Global Development calculates that in 2008, official American aid to Haiti amounted to 92 cents per American.

The United States gives more to Haiti than any other country. But it ranks 11th in per capita giving. Canadians give five times as much per person as we do.

As for whether aid promotes economic growth, that’s a bitter and unresolved argument. But even the leading critics of aid — William Easterly, a New York University economist, and Dambisa Moyo, a banker turned author — believe in assisting Haiti after the earthquake.

“I think we have a moral imperative,” Ms. Moyo told me. “I do believe the international community should act.”

Likewise, Professor Easterly said: “Of course, I am in favor of aid to Haiti earthquake victims!”

So, is Haiti hopeless? Is Bill O’Reilly right? He said: “Once again, we will do more than anyone else on the planet, and one year from today Haiti will be just as bad as it is right now.”

No, he’s not right. And this is the most pernicious myth of all. In fact, Haiti in recent years has been much better managed under President René Préval and has shown signs of being on the mend.

Far more than most other impoverished countries — particularly those in Africa — Haiti could plausibly turn itself around. It has an excellent geographic location, there are no regional wars, and it could boom if it could just export to the American market.

A report for the United Nations by a prominent British economist, Paul Collier, outlined the best strategy for Haiti: building garment factories. That idea (sweatshops!) may sound horrific to Americans. But it’s a strategy that has worked for other countries, such as Bangladesh, and Haitians in the slums would tell you that their most fervent wish is for jobs. A few dozen major shirt factories could be transformational for Haiti.

So in the coming months as we help Haitians rebuild, let’s dispatch not only aid workers, but also business investors. Haiti desperately needs new schools and hospitals, but also new factories.

And let’s challenge the myth that because Haiti has been poor, it always will be. That kind of self-fulfilling fatalism may be the biggest threat of all to Haiti, the real pact with the devil.

Plant With Purpose's Long Term Commitment to Haiti

by Aly Lewis, Grant Writer

The pictures and stories coming from Haiti this last week have been heartbreaking to say the least. Heartbreaking, confusing, and also strikingly foreign to me. Surely Haiti has historically confronted staggering problems, but as I see the pictures of crumpled buildings, displaced families, and dead bodies I somehow cannot connect them with the farmers we work with, the hillsides we reforest, and the staff members we support. I hear the story about Serge losing his wife and child and find it hard to comprehend that he is my coworker.

I want to tune it out. I want to turn off the news. But as much as I want to change (or deny) reality, we are there and we’ve been there. Plant With Purpose has been in Haiti for 13 years, partnering with farmers to improve their land, provide for their families, and transform their lives. We’ve planted over 300,000 trees, granted over 3,500 loans, and empowered thousands of individuals to build a better future for their children. And we’re not going anywhere.

Amidst pain and devastation, our Haitian staff is diving in to the relief efforts, facing reality, and serving and loving their neighbors to the best of their abilities—even if their neighbors quickly multiply as hundreds flee the ravaged capital of Port au Prince back into the rural villages where we work.

The pictures and stories coming from Haiti this week—including those below of a school that was toppled in Cherident where Plant With Purpose’s office used to be located—have been heartbreaking to say the least. Please know that Plant With Purpose is committed to creating lasting, meaningful change from the ground up in Haiti, and we aren’t going anywhere.

The back of the local high school in Cherident. Fortunately we received word that there weren't any children inside the school at the time of the quake. There were four teachers inside the high school, but they fled before the building before it collapsed.

The primary school in Cherident.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Vote for Plant With Purpose in Haiti

Now more than ever the people of Haiti need your support! Plant With Purpose has been chosen as a finalist in the Project 7 grand giveaway along with two other organizations. If we receive the most votes, Plant With Purpose will receive $15,000 to plant 15,000 trees and construct 15 miles of soil erosion barriers in Haiti. While our immediate focus in Haiti has certainly turned toward relief and recovery, our long term commitment to the restoration of Haitian land and transformation of lives has not changed. Ultimately, this award will allow us to replenish the soil, improve crop growth, and allow families to become self-sufficient and transform their lives.

Help us out!

Voting is quick and easy.

Step 1: Click here:

Step 2: Select the cause “Save the Earth”

Step 3: Vote for Plant With Purpose

Please share this with your friends! Use Facebook, Twitter, email, or word of mouth to get the word out. Every vote counts toward helping Plant With Purpose to continue to empower the poor and restore the environment. Voting closes January 31, so vote today! And thanks so much to all of you who have already voted! You rock!

Together, tree planting and soil conservation replenishes soil, improves crop yields, and allows families to become self-sufficient and transform their lives for generations to come.

How to Rebuild Haiti Stronger

Buried in the calamity of the Haitian earthquake is a speck of hope - the chance that the aid and attention flowing toward this troubled nation can help it address the systemic issues that have long beguiled it. TIME talked to Robert Maguire, director of the Haiti program at Trinity University in Washington, D.C., about how the poorest country in the western hemisphere can rebound from an unspeakable disaster.

In what ways does this tragedy present an opportunity to rebuild stronger? There's a potential silver lining in a deep, dark cloud. Investment in the development of rural Haitian economies has been lacking for the past three decades. This has spurred a tremendous, off-the-land migration to Port-au-Prince. An average of about 75,000 people per year have been arriving in Port-au-Prince from the countryside for 30 years. That's why the city has grown from 750,000 people in 1982 to more than 2 million today. You can't change tectonic plates, but you can change the dynamic that has people seeking a sliver of opportunity in a city that can't offer it to them. They stack up against each other, and you see the results.

(See exclusive TIME photos of the earthquake's aftermath.)

Already, hundreds of thousands of people are displaced. Right now, they're displaced within the city, but they are eventually going to be displaced throughout Haiti. People are trying to get out of the city to places they have a connection with elsewhere in the country. That's happening in a de facto way. One of things we might want to look at is trying to have it happen in a more structured way. This is where I think the silver lining may be. I've been advocating for a long time - and I've gotten traction with a number people in Haiti, and discussed it with President Clinton and Paul Farmer and people within the State Department - an idea like the approach of Roosevelt in the New Deal. [That is,] to create institutions that could not only employ people but also mobilize them to help rebuild the country and gain a stake in the process.

Could this disaster expedite those efforts? That's what I'm hoping. This provides us with the opportunity to decentralize. You have to provide structures and opportunities for people to do positive reconstruction work throughout the country.

Right now you have all these aid organizations and foreign governments pouring in money and time, but ultimately Haiti will recede a bit from the eyes of the world. The government obviously has to play a role in long-term, sustained rebuilding. There's no doubt about that. Given that the government has essentially collapsed, in the short term there will be a need for ownership to be shifted to people who have the resources and ability [to rebuild].

How incapacitated is the government right now? I think almost totally. Their physical infrastructure, which was weak to begin with, is pretty much gone. This is kind of an apocalyptic blow to this government. It was already what some people called a hollow government. It looked good on the outside, with some good, high-profile front people. But when you poked beneath, there weren't enough people with that expertise.

Was the issue corruption? It was kind of a demoralized institution. If you were in Haiti and wanted to get paid, you wouldn't work in the government. You'd work in an international organization that would pay you four or five times more, and they'd pay you regularly. So the people who stuck it out with the government were demoralized. One of the things both Clintons have been looking at is the need to have a state with capacity. Over the past couple of years, Haiti was talking a good game, and that was an improvement. They had come up with a national development strategy prior to this disaster, one that was endorsed by the international community. And the international community, over 2009, largely forgave Haiti's debt in recognition of who they are and what they were trying to do. But their capacity was weak at best. And now it's virtually gone.

Can the government play any role in some of the initiatives you've cited as critical to the country's reconstruction? Somehow, that government has to be reconstituted so that it has input into what the priorities are. It has to be an actor, to not just receive things, but identify the strategies. The President is without a place to stay; he seems to be in just as much shock as everyone else. It's not as though he could leave his palace, as Giuliani did on 9/11, and go make a heroic speech. He and his ministers, and the parliamentarians, lived this tragedy. Some of them died. They are truly, it seems to me, in shock. I think there's a limit to what we can expect from them now. But respecting them and not stepping over them is extremely important.

But how can an incapacitated government be a full partner working with the various governments and organizations providing aid? I don't think it's going to be a full partner tomorrow. It's going to be a nurturing process. We have to make sure that the government is brought along by people who treat it respectfully instead of saying, "Well, Haiti's on its knees, let's make it a trusteeship." Or, "Let's sit in Geneva and figure out what Haiti needs." That approach has gotten us nowhere over the past four or five decades, and it's not going to get us anywhere now. Making sure there are seats in the first meeting for the Haitian authorities - whoever they may be - is an important part of the process.

Are there examples of massive rebuilding efforts - in Aceh after the tsunami, or Sichuan province after the earthquake in 2008 - that we can emulate? When Bill Clinton took this job as special envoy to Haiti, he was basing a lot of his thinking of what he was able to accomplish in post-tsumani reconstruction. There were lessons, I'm sure, that were transferable a year ago, but now it's a parallel situation. It would be critical to have Bill Clinton be clear about what he accomplished in Indonesia. Are there reports on it? What can we learn that we can apply to Haiti?

In 1972, Managua, the capital of Nicaragua, was struck by a devastating earthquake. The old part of the city was reduced to rubble. I've never been to Managua, but what I understand is that decisions were made not to rebuild, but to use the earthquake as an opportunity to spread things out, to decentralize. There should be a series of lessons learned from that example.

What about reconstruction pitfalls to avoid, such as the missteps after Hurricane Katrina? The robust response Obama is leading should reassure the American people that if there is another Katrina - and we have no control over the natural event - there won't be a "Good for you, Brownie" type of reaction. This is an extremely serious response. This could be a confidence builder that the Obama Administration will gear up and will take these sorts of events seriously.