Five Years Later

Today marks the anniversary of the Haiti earthquake. For five years we have stood shoulder to shoulder with our brothers and sisters in Haiti, working together to help rebuild their lives, their communities, and their spirits.

On our recent trip to Haiti, our partners wanted to thank you for all you've done this year in support of human rights and to celebrate our successes!

Stories of Hope 2014: Nancy Vilce and Marie Obethe Moise

This story of Nancy Vilce and Marie Obethe Moise, from the Association for the Promotion of Integral Family Healthcare, is presented as part of UUSC's Guest at Your Table program.

A year after the earthquake in Haiti, UUSC highlighted the innovative art therapy program offered by the Association for the Promotion of Integral Family Healthcare (APROSIFA) in Port-au-Prince. We shared the story of Patrick Lafontant, a youth who had grown into a leader through his experience with the arts program. Today, under the leadership of Nancy Vilce and Marie Obethe Moise, APROSIFA continues cultivating health and community with renewed energy and direction!

Nancy and Marie have been with APROFISA throughout most of its more than 20-year history. Marie began working there APROSIFA on May 10, 1993, when the clinic first opened. “We love what we do,” she says. “We spend most of our time here. APROSIFA not only helps me but also helps my family and friends.” The clinic serves the neighborhood of Carrefour Feuilles and offers a range of services, from family planning to treatment for malnutrition.

A new APROSIFA initiative is the Art Oasis Café, a community restaurant that serves nutritious and affordable meals to economically disadvantaged city residents during the weekdays and also caters a brunch for the local community of nongovernmental organization workers on weekends. Proceeds from the restaurant support the art therapy and other programs of APROFISA. Marie is especially excited about the restaurant because, in her words, “(1) our employees can order great food without leaving the building, (2) the ambiance at the restaurant feels welcoming, and (3) we are the best restaurant in Carrefour Feuilles!”  

APROSIFA knows that having the ability to access safe food — even grow it yourself — nourishes the spirit as well as the body. As part of restaurant operations, Nancy and Marie have committed to buying produce from local families taking part in an urban garden project that UUSC has been piloting with the Bright Educators of Delmas, a youth-driven grassroots organization working to increase access to healthy food in Port-au-Prince. This collaboration will help families earn income from their extra produce. Under Nancy and Marie’s direction, APROSIFA is using land behind their clinic to grow organic food for the restaurant, too.

APROSIFA also collaborates with Chefs for Kids, a U.S.-based international coalition of chefs who donate their time to educate about malnutrition and hunger. These chefs visit the Art Oasis Café twice a month and bring with them media attention that builds awareness of this unique program in Port-au-Prince. They even help the Art Oasis Café chefs develop and share recipes. When asked about her favorite meal at the restaurant, Marie said, “Poisson gwo sel [traditional Haitian fish dish], shish-ka-bob, fries and fried plantains, pancakes, tortillas — I guess everything!”

People are coming together each day at the colorful tables of the Art Oasis Café — and the work of human rights is being carried forward as they share food. Please join us as you gather around your own table and symbolically include Nancy and Marie as your guests by sharing their story while you share your own stories.

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House Passes Haiti Act

Today the U.S. House of Representatives has passed the Assessing Progress in Act! This bill, which was also passed by the Senate and is expected to be signed into law soon, not only bolsters oversight of and accountability for U.S. aid to Haiti but also increases awareness of the needs of vulnerable populations.

This success is due in no small part to your continued commitment to ensuring that the people of Haiti can lead sustainable recovery efforts. Thank you. I would also like to acknowledge Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) for her unwavering leadership. In addition, this success would not be possible without the bipartisan support fostered by Representatives Engels (D-NY), Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), and Royce (R-CA) as well as Senators Corker (R-TN), Menendez (D-NJ), and Nelson (D-FL). Join me in thanking them today.

UUSC has been advocating for the passage of this bill for several years, and your support has been critical. In recent months, with our allies in the Haiti Advocacy Working Group, we redoubled our outreach efforts to congressional leadership. With your help, we led social media and grassroots advocacy campaigns, mobilized 22 nongovernmental organizations to sign a letter of support, and highlighted the issue in a Huffington Post piece by UUSC President and CEO Bill Schulz.

It worked! Thank you — and please join me in sharing this thanks with Representatives Engels, Lee, Ros-Lehtinen, and Royce as well as Senators Corker, Menendez, and Nelson.

Village, Community, Movement

Reflections on the Haiti Eco-Villages

When I tell people I’ve been to Haiti, their voices often shift to a register of sadness and pity. They say, “Oh, it’s so sad, the situation there.” They say, “Is there really any good that can be done?” This always disorients me. I know the people of Haiti face huge challenges, but overwhelmingly my experience of the country and its people is one of hope, of strength, of transformation.

Three years ago, fellow UUSC-UUA service-learning participants and I worked with the Papaye Peasant Movement (MPP) to lay the foundation of the first house of the first eco-village, a joint project of UUSC and MPP, in the country’s rural Central Plateau. When I returned this past May on a journey with the UU College of Social Justice, I was heartened by the progress and was fired up once again by the fierce commitment to justice of the social movement these villages are rooted in.

Physical progress

The most tangible signs of progress in the eco-villages are physical: sturdy homes, flourishing gardens, growing tree nurseries, solar power setups, community gathering spaces. Where there was once just a lone house foundation, there are now complete villages — MPP was nearing completion of the sixth eco-village in May as we helped sift sand, move rocks, and hand lumber to skilled roofers.

Each village is home to 10 families who have started new lives as small farmers after being displaced from Port-au-Prince by the 2010 earthquake. With six villages — two made possible by UUSC and the other four funded by the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance — in place, 60 families have shelter and the means to feed themselves and generate sustainable livelihoods.

One of the most exciting things about this project is that it establishes a successful holistic model that can be replicated throughout the countryside. And it’s a model that puts power squarely in the hands of the peasants — a word that MPP members have reclaimed for themselves as small rural farmers. As Philfrant St. Naré, manager of MPP’s community animators (MPP’s version of community organizers), told us, “We want peasants to have control over what they produce. We want to build a government that takes care of peasants and everyone else, too. We want to build a Haiti that is self-sufficient.”

Sovereignty and sustainability

Sovereignty and environmental sustainability are bedrock principles embedded in everything that MPP does — and it starts with food. “I can spend a week in the same clothes, but I can’t go a week without food,” says Paul Muler, the MPP agronomist and community animator who was our main host this past trip. That is why MPP is, at its core, a collection of farming cooperatives called gwoupman, all of which receive support and training from MPP agronomists. MPP’s approach is “agriculture that respects the earth, the air, and the people,” as Muler says, and they use organic, sustainable farming methods.

After the 2010 earthquake, along with the influx of international assistance came the advice and directives for recovery. When UUSC began working with MPP in 2010, it approached the grassroots group as an eye-to-eye partner. As St. Naré, who has worked with MPP for 25 years, said to us, “NGOs need to ask what we need and not tell us what we need. Instead of giving us food, help us produce our own food.” Aware of the importance of Haitians leading the recovery in ways that support their own vision, UUSC asked questions, listened to the answers, and helped MPP hone plans for how they would like to move forward and support families in the wake of the earthquake — and that’s how the first eco-village was born.

Community power

The eco-villages are about more than farming and food, though; they are about community connections and power, about social change, about justice. This was driven home to me over and over again as we spoke with MPP members. MPP traces the connections between the many forms of oppression experienced in Haiti.

“You can’t be free if the person next to you isn’t free,” Muler reminded us. MPP was founded more than 40 years ago — it now counts a nationwide membership of more than 60,000 — and has been living this concept out each step along the way. As they recognize the ways that a history of slavery, occupation, and international interference has disempowered their nation, they recognize the ways that ruling elites in Port-au-Prince have disenfranchised the peasants in the countryside.

Women’s equality

MPP also recognizes the ways that women have been oppressed, and empowering women is integral to the changes MPP is working to make reality. “To fight the exploitation that men and women experience, we must first fight men’s domination of women,” St. Naré told us. Article 13 of MPP’s bylaws prioritizes equality between men and women.

MPP’s commitment to gender equity shows up in so many ways: their zero-tolerance policy for domestic violence among their members, their prioritization of education for girls and adult literacy for women, and their understanding of the link between education and economic empowerment for a brighter future for girls and women. Women serve in a variety of MPP roles, from doctors to agronomists to the director of their cooperative bank.

Giselaine Saint Fleur, an animator and the coordinator of MPP’s 2,000 women’s gwoupman, shared: “My wish for all women is that we be able to take our destiny in our own hands.” The same could be said about MPP’s wish for all peasants, for all Haitians.

Power, strength, and resilience

So when people say to me, “Oh, it’s so sad, the situation there,” I say: “The challenges that Haiti faces are big and hard and sad — but to leave it at that ignores the strength of Haitians who are actively surviving, actively creating positive change, actively making progress.”

When people say to me, “Is there really any good that can be done?” I say: “Absolutely. There is so much good that already is being done — and is being led by the Haitian people. And we have an important role to play in supporting their vision and moving it forward.”

Then I continue: I tell them about MPP, about Muler, about St. Naré, about Saint Fleur. I tell them about Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, the founder of MPP. I tell them about the song, “Ann Makonnen Fos Nou” (“Let’s Intertwine Our Strengths Together”), that Muler taught us during this last trip. I tell them about the green peppers growing in container gardens and the fresh mangoes. I tell them about the soil I mixed according to the agronomist’s directions (three parts soil, two parts manure, one part sand) and poured into small bags to grow tree saplings; I handed them off to Cassandra, a resident of the second village who we worked alongside at the on-site tree nursery there. I tell them about power, strength, and resilience — of the people I met, of the communities I worked in, of the movement I witnessed.