What’s next for Haiti?

nmunoeun063kbmv5lq6bPresident Michel Martelly took office in 2011 after a seriously flawed election process made worse by the lingering earthquake crisis. His term has been marked largely by a series of failures to follow through on elections. Last year, the terms of most representatives of parliament expired, and no local or municipal elections had been held to determine their replacements. This drew international attention, and Martelly promised to hold elections during 2015 for new representatives and his replacement. The first round of those elections was held in October 2015, but those elections were marred by irregularities, ultimately resulting in the opposition candidate refusing to participate in the second round of elections which was delayed, delayed and finally cancelled last week.

Now, Martelly is legally obligated to step down on February 7th and no replacement has been elected. Hope of legitimately electing a replacement in the next week is absurd, but alternate solutions are faint. This past weekend, representatives from the Organization of American States were in Haiti to review possible options for moving forward. One viable option would be to create an interim government to hold power and organize elections. However, three members of the nine member electoral council have just resigned, making even the possibility of a vote on the options proposed by the OAS a challenge.

Meanwhile, communities are continuing to struggle with caring for their basic needs in this poorest country in the hemisphere. As we have highlighted in previous blog posts, foreign NGOs and business interests in Haiti are having an undue influence in the country as they struggle to establish a legitimate democracy. The role of these outside players is a real concern, particularly as they have brought Haiti from a self-sufficient nation to one that is dependent on foreign aid. The events of the next couple days and weeks will have a big impact on Haiti’s future and we will be watching to see what’s next.

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Growing for the Future

 
Goat Summit - milking demonstration

Goat Summit – milking demonstration

In the fall of 2014 we had two important conferences which spearheaded activities for 2015.  Both followed the same participatory model. First was the goat summit:  on the first day we had 12-15 staff and leaders who planned out four stations covering goat food, goat parks, goat wellness, and milking goats. On the next two days about 40 people participated and rotated among the four stations and drew up action plans.

 
The second conference was on the heath of the soil and included A) adding carbon and compost from SOIL (made from human waste), double digging, cultivating worms for their castings, along with other soil conservation techniques.
 
Participants in a training at the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center

Participants in a training at the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center

During the first half of 2015, there have been trainings for the four Caritas technicians on an average once a week at Grepin and there have been numerous formations “in Place”  out in the countryside where people live. There are at least 10 groups of ten families who after training received a female goat.  There is one improved male goat for each group of families.  This model of dispersed training allows us to have a much wider impact and reach many families who would not be able to travel to Grepin.  The same is true about the soil conservation which was the Caritas campaign.  More than 150 people have benefited directly and another 100 indirectly.

The other movement which has happened is that the parish Caritas agricultural program has moved from the small room in the rectory to the Fr. Jean Marie Vincent Formation center.  The technicians receive weekly formation and participate in workshops with the agronomists out in the country side.
 
Students receiving training in the nursery

Students receiving training in the nursery

On May 1, 2015 over five hundred students from Jean XXIII primary and high school participated in a training session on reforestation at the Center and on Tet Mon – the Jean Marie Vincent Forest. The training of students is some of the most important work we do. The children enjoy working in the nursery, planting trees and caring for the seedlings. This knowledge will have long lasting benefits for their communities.

 
srpatThank you to Sister Pat Dillon, RJM for this informative report on the work in Haiti! You are all doing amazing work there!

 

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Democracy and Development

As international attention was focused on Haiti Monday – the fifth anniversary of the earthquake – another milestone was reached. The terms of one third of Senators expired on Monday at midnight, along with all 99 seats in the House of Deputies. An additional one third of Senator’s terms expired in 2012. Late Sunday evening President Michel Martelly announced a deal to organize elections – three years overdue already – by the end of this year. However, the main opposition party was not included in that agreement. Whether those elections will actually be organized remains to be seen, with the threat of President Martelly ruling by decree, a hard pill to swallow for Haitians who have endured dictators in the past.

To gather a better understanding of the current situation, it is important to review the most recent election in Haiti, which took place in late 2010, with a second round early in 2011. Those elections were marked by chaos with ultimately less than a quarter of eligible voters casting a vote and widespread accusations of fraud. Martelly became President through this process and has failed to organize elections over the last four years of his presidency. As the country continues to rebuild following the earthquake, this political instability is hindering progress.

The public outcry over this situation has been steadily building for several months, as attempts to organize elections have failed time and again. International response to this situation has been tepid at best – the US Ambassador issued a “strongly worded” statement encouraging the government to organize elections and there is little international attention around an upcoming visit by the UN Security Council focused on finalizing elections.

Meanwhile, the Quixote Center’s partners in Gros Morne are continuing to work training farmers and local communities without the benefit of local government infrastructure. At the start of the last school year, the national government abruptly changed its policy of providing lunch to all school children to only supplying lunch for those children in government schools. This left parochial and private school in the lurch, despite the fact that they educate over half of Haitian children, and has already had significant impact on the children attending these schools. Without a functioning Ministry of Education, our partners are stuck in how to address this issue on a broad scale. We will be working to assist our partners in addressing this issue and encourage our supporters to bring attention to the political situation in Haiti.

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The politics of change

The current political crisis in Haiti is not making big news here in the US, with only brief updates being offered of significant events such as the resignation last Sunday of the Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe. Citizens have been protesting for months over the government’s failure to organize elections, now three years overdue. Many Senator’s terms are expiring in January, leaving the government without a valid parliament, and President Michel Martelly to rule by decree.

On Sunday, protests erupted, and UN “Peacekeepers” fired on protesters, leaving at least one dead. Several observers have pointed to the similarities between the militarization of police in Haiti and here in the US. What is clear is that the citizens of Haiti are demanding more of their government. The failure to organize free and fair elections is violation of their human rights.

The international community has begun to pressure the Haitian government to follow the recommendations of a recent commission and hold elections quickly. Failure to do so will only damage prospects for Haitian self-determination and encourage further international intervention, which has never been a positive experience for the country.

We stand with our allies and partners in Haiti who are working to improve their country on a daily basis.

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Cultivation in the Mountains of Haiti

During the past fifteen years, Marcel Garcon has emerged as a champion for the sustainability ethic in Gros-Morne, Haiti. Year after year he demonstrates his commitment to restoring ecological balance to the region which has been his life-long home. Whenever I travel with him he is greeted by a near-continuous stream of friends among the rural peasant population. All of them know him as a collaborator, as one who has inspired them to continue working this depleted land with the dream of restoring its productivity.

Marcel is an example of why the Quixote Center has been remarkably successful in organizing programs of collaborative development. Our projects in Nicaragua and Haiti are not designed in our Maryland office. They are the result of a deep partnership process, a series of exchanges and critiques that flow both north and south. To achieve that kind of relationship, the Quixote Center commits to long-term partnerships and consciously de-centralizes decision making. The results speak for themselves.

Marcel Garcon now heads a peasant movement that is 12,000 members strong. Those members are some of the most active and effective reforestation advocates, and plant most of the 60,000 trees produced at our Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center each year. During the past three years, the Movement has embarked on a series of new endeavors to restore the ecological balance in and around Gros-Morne. Community nurseries dispersed throughout the countryside now produce an additional 20,000 trees annually. The Movement is experimenting with collective farming of plots to produce high quality food for nearby families while providing a training ground for practical agricultural techniques.

In a country too often maligned or forgotten, Marcel Garcon and the Peasant Movement of Gros-Morne represent an effective alternative. We will continue to walk with them, and to present their success as a source of hope.

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Gran Plenn Nursery: Project Update

Last summer we began a partnership with the Green Schools Network in northern Haiti. The organizers of the network have worked with school administrators and teachers to develop innovative ways for students to learn and practice ecological restoration throughout their education. We asked for your help and support to build a permanent nursery at the school in Gran Plenn as our first project together. As always, the Quixote Center network responded, and now I am happy to report back that the project has been completed and the new nursery is in operation!  
Grading and collecting compost and fertile soil

Grading and collecting compost and fertile soil

The nursery has an embedded irrigation system.

The nursery has an embedded irrigation system.

Construction of the canopy.

Construction of the canopy.

The nursery taking shape

The nursery taking shape

The nursery is operating!

The nursery is operational!

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On the Announcement of the Santa Maria’s Rediscovery

Earlier this week explorers announced that they had located the wreckage of Christopher Columbus’ flagship, the Santa Maria, off the northern coast of Haiti. For more than 500 years the ship has been sitting beneath the Caribbean Sea mostly ignored by researchers. It was only after retracing Columbus’ steps from his original encampment in Haiti that anyone realized the identity of the vessel. When I read about the Santa Maria, I began thinking about what Christopher Columbus found when he and his ships landed there in December of 1492. As someone committed to the Quixote Center’s Haiti Reborn program, my mind wandered to the vast native forests that once dominated the Haitian landscape, covering mountains and valleys alike. What a different place it must have been with those ancient organisms everywhere! Now, after hundreds of years of exploitation, the native forests are almost entirely gone. Wiped out in the name of commerce and fueled by European demand for high quality lumber, the island can no longer sustain the demand for wood charcoal used for cooking fuel. Cacti grow in the coastal areas now, and the inland regions have been stripped of the nutrient rich soil that small farmers rely on to feed themselves and their neighbors. Haiti cannot thrive without her farmers, and global climate change is only making their future more uncertain.
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Tending the Young Trees

For the past fifteen years, the Quixote Center has worked with the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center to replenish Haiti’s forests one seedling at a time. Each year the JMV nursery technicians produce and distribute more than 60,000 seedlings to families and organizations who wish to plant them. The seedlings provide shade, prevent erosion, and in many cases can provide food. All without straining the scarce resources of rural Haitians. The Center’s nursery is also the engine that drives our model forest on Tet Mon. The forest began on a rocky hillside, and has grown to cover the entire mountain and more. Recently, we realized that maps would be needed to navigate the forest. Success!

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Getting Lost in the Forest

In nearby Gran Plenn, a coalition of educators has found inspiration in the model forest on Tet Mon. They have come together to form the Green Schools Network. Their dream is a coalition of schools throughout the north that instill the values of environmental stewardship and preservation in students. They plan to do this by developing their own tree nurseries and model forests connected to each school. We began a partnership with them last year to do just that.

greenschoolswell

A Green Schools Irrigation Well

This year we began a new partnership with Project Lorax in Fond Verrettes, near the border with the Dominican Republic. Just south of town is one of Haiti’s last remaining old growth forests. The forest is made up primarily of Pino Criollo, a spindly and unique pine tree native to the island. I had the opportunity to tour the pine forest with Rodrigue, the founder and director of Project Lorax. Rodrigue’s dream is to spread the pine throughout Haiti once again. This spring our technicians at the JMV Center are experimenting with seedlings carried north from Fond Verrettes. We are hopeful they can grow in Gros Morne.

pineforest

Pino Criollo!

There is no going back to what was when the Santa Maria ran aground off the north coast, but new trees and forests are the cornerstone of a restored ecology in Haiti. With the proper support and care, a few seedlings on a barren hillside can grow into a community forest that serves as both an example and inspiration.

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Food Aid Reform: Cargo Preference

The United States is one of the world’s largest food aid providers, yet its practices are inefficient, in part because of the transportation restrictions. Currently, 50% of all aid given must be sent on U.S.-flagged ships, a rule known as Cargo Preference. The argument for this rule is to maintain a reserve of vessels for times of war, and to support the maritime industry. At the start of 2014 Congress passed some modest food aid reforms in what is known as the Food for Peace Act. These reforms included ways we could more quickly reach the hungry at a lower cost to U.S. taxpayers, such as purchasing local food in the target countries. The House passed the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2014 on April 1. Within the bill, Cargo Preference would increase from 50 to 75 percent, meaning the U.S. would have to send 3/4ths of its food aid on U.S.-flagged ships. This would cost an estimated $60 million to the Food for Peace Act, an amount that should be going to feed the hungry, not to transportation. In fact, it is calculated that because of this new rule, 1 million people will miss access to crucial food aid. Catholic Relief Services explains how food programs will be negatively impacted, here. It is understandable the U.S. Navy and maritime industries are priorities for members of Congress. However, food aid accounts for only 5 percent of government-purchased goods shipped each year – a very small volume. Additionally, 70 percent of the ships approved for Cargo Preference do not even meet military-use criteria. It is difficult to see any added benefit the new Cargo Preference would be providing. The House has already passed the bill, but there is still time to urge the Senate to vote against it. Please join the campaign to remind your representatives that increased Cargo Preferences would only hurt the hungry and hinder our food aid programs. The modest reforms we gained in January would be negated with the extra costs Cargo Preference demands, keeping our practices inefficient and limited.  
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Green Schools

So often in development we hear stories of one side throwing money at the other, who can only use it for a project that they never really wanted (or needed). Unlike this one-sided relationship, The Quixote Center’s entire mission is centered on equal relationship with our partners. Over the New Year we learned of a program that has been ongoing in the northwest of Haiti. About 8 years ago, community members founded a network of “Green Schools” – schools dedicated to reforestation. Each school must apply to be in the network, which now boasts over 60 schools. The requirements to be a Green School include teachers attending environmental training sessions, including reforestation within the curriculum, and allocating land for a forest that the students will help plant. Acknowledging that some peoples’ livelihoods depend on cutting down trees, the schools share parts of the forest with the community members. The community owns 30% while the school owns 70% – and those who need to can cut down trees from their portion. However, seeing the positive effects of these new forests and learning about reforestation as students spread their knowledge, many people who used to make charcoal now look for alternative sources of income – like selling the fruit that the new trees bear. Within the schools, each grade takes turns watering and weeding, or has its own section of the forest to tend. At the end of the year the grade that did the best work wins a prize. In the broader network, the schools with the most progress win prizes, like last year’s solar lights. The network has gotten so big and so successful that Haiti’s Ministry of Education has taken notice and wants in! Many schools within the network find the saplings for their forests at the Grepin Center’s tree nursery, one of the important projects you help fund with the Quixote Center. Consider making a donation today to help provide the resources for Haitian-led initiatives like these Green Schools. The Green Schools Network was an idea sparked and carried out by Haitians – and it is an ongoing success. Your donation will help provide our partners the resources they need to make their own quixotic dreams come true!
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Food Aid Reform: It’s On the Bus!

Last month both the House and Senate passed “The Omnibus” spending bill – a $1.1 trillion bill that funds every agency of the government. Among the 1,582 pages is what most consider to be a small victory for Food Aid Reform. The new bill allocated $35 million for purchasing food aid from local markets. The current practice of buying U.S. food from U.S. farms and shipping it to the beneficiaries is not only inefficient. It also hurts the countries and regions receiving the aid by undercutting market prices for locally grown food. The result is damaging to already fragile local food systems. Our subsidized food aid can destroy the ability of these recipient nations to feed themselves – the opposite of our intentions. Moreover, the natural disaster in the Philippines highlighted just how unnecessary and wasteful U.S. food aid policies are when it took over 100 days for the food to arrive to a place that already grows enough grain to feed its people. It is important to note that USAID’s entire food assistance budget is $1.8 billion; $35 million is only a small step in the right direction. Learn more about USAID’s budget for its food assistance program and the new FY2014 changes. For a summary on Food Aid Reform, here is a great fact sheet, as well as this short clip!
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Contact Us

  • Quixote Center
    7307 Baltimore Ave.
    Ste 214
    College Park, MD 20740
  • Office: 301-699-0042
    Email: info@quixote.org

Direction to office:

For driving: From Baltimore Ave (Route 1) towards University of Maryland, turn right onto Hartwick Rd. Turn immediate right in the office complex.

Look for building 7307. We are located on the 2nd floor.

For public transportation: We are located near the College Park metro station (green line)