Monday, July 12, 2010

Haiti 6 Months Later: "Haiti is on its knees, but not down yet"

Today marks 6 months since the devastating earthquake in Haiti. Although there is still much to be done, the communities Plant With Purpose works with have made significant progress by planting trees, constructing soil conservation barriers, and providing incomes to support their families through our “Cash for Work” program.

Below is a firsthand account about the situation in Haiti from Plant With Purpose Technical Director Bob Morikawa who spent a total of six weeks in Haiti over a four month period after the earthquake and is returning next week to continue to work with our local Haitian staff to continue their relief and development efforts.

“It has now been six months to the day since the earthquake in Haiti which triggered one of the worst humanitarian disasters in recent history and also one of the largest relief responses ever seen. I myself arrived in Haiti on January 24th, crossing overland through the border between the Dominican Republic and Haiti since the Port au Prince airport was closed to commercial flights at the time. I found a country devastated as we have all come to know through the extensive coverage on the news and in social media. I also found many people hard at work, throwing all their energy into the immense task of bringing relief and shelter to the hundreds of thousands affected by the quake. I was very encouraged to find, first of all that none of our local staff were lost (one of our technicians tragically lost his wife and child), and second that our local staff were hard at work as well, organizing work teams to clear debris from the local feeder road, and making initial efforts to distribute water and supplies. Over the days and months to come, we and many other organizations were able to rapidly scale up our efforts, to meet the needs of many victims. The scale of the need was mind boggling, and although even our small organization was able to provide seeds, food, tools and employment to thousands, it never seemed like enough. Fortunately, we have come through a successful cropping season which has stabilized the food security situation somewhat, and thanks to the efforts of many NGO's at least temporary shelter has been provided for many. There are still thousands who find themselves essentially homeless, or in very vulnerable quarters and we can only hope for a mild hurricane season which would buy us all more time to improve recovery efforts.

Speaking from our own experience in the communities where we directly work, we found that the initial quake created an extremely fluid situation where many people from urban areas fled to rural zones (where we work) to take shelter with their relatives. This put an immense burden on already poor rural families and boosted family size from 6 or 7 members up to 10 or 12 members. Meals per day dropped to just one or less in many cases. Now, according to surveys we have conducted, many of those additional family members have returned to the city, and most families are eating 2 or more meals per day. This is still not back to pre-quake levels, but at least the trend is in the right direction. Now our efforts as an organization, and those of many organizations are shifting focus from immediate relief and instead we are putting our efforts into helping families make the transition to a more stable situation where food supply is secure, and income is reliable. In rural areas, this will involve such interventions as tree planting and soil conservation to stabilize farm fields, and income generating projects such as poultry and goat production. We will also continue--as we did before the earthquake--to work with community groups to help strengthen local leadership, and improve a community's ability to mobilize savings, and deal with their own economic issues. In fact we found that this was a distinct advantage for us because those relationships and the leadership built up prior to January 12th enabled both our organization and communities to respond more rapidly and with greater order and precision than would have been possible otherwise.

Take a moment to consider the resilience of Nelta Fils-Aime, who was displaced from Port-au-Prince where she worked and lived with her 5 siblings. She has since returned to the countryside with her siblings to live with her father. She is not a member of Plant With Purpose’s programs but her father is. Through the soil conservation work provided by Plant With Purpose she has been able to contribute to her household. She has no plans to return to Port-au-Prince for now but says she is grateful for the opportunity to make some money for her family. Everyone refers to her as very courageous, because the work she does, she does with only one hand. She is uncertain of what will happen next, but says she would like to start her little business and stay in the countryside.

The work is far from over. Haiti was one of the poorest countries in the world even before January 12th, and I had always thought that people were living on the edge. It turns out that now that 'edge' has been moved to a place I simply would never have imagined. It is surely a testament to the resilience of the people of Haiti, and as a locally popular song inspired by these events says "Haiti is on its knees, but not down yet."

~~~~~

Since the earthquake, Plant With Purpose has provided 125 tons of food to 15,000 Haitians, distributed nearly 80,000 pounds of bean seed to over 2,000 families, and employed over 2,000 farmers through our “Cash for Work” program. Additionally, farmers have constructed over 260 miles of soil conservation barriers and planted over 170,000 trees. The “Cash for Work” programs are allowing people like Nelta to stabilize and contribute income to support their families.

Plant With Purpose has raised nearly $1 million to support all of our Haiti relief efforts, and part of that support has been provided by partner companies of 1% for the Planet, a non-profit that blogged about our work in Haiti last February (click here to read that blog.) 1% for the Planet has blogged about our work in Haiti again today, which you can read here: http://onepercentfortheplanet.org/blog/

Plant With Purpose has responded to the immediate and interim needs in Haiti where we have built long-standing relationships over the last 13 years. Please consider partnering with us as we continue our long-term recovery efforts in Haiti. To make a donation, you can visit our website, www.plantwithpurpose.org. You can also subscribe to our blog to receive updates on our work in Haiti at www.plantwithpurpose.blogspot.com.

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