The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee advances human rights through grassroots collaborations.
Surviving and Thriving
January 24, 2013
Successful models for sustainable recovery in Haiti
Originally published in the Winter/Spring 2013 issue of Rights Now
Since Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, UUSC has partnered with the Papaye Peasant Movement (MPP) in the Central Plateau on pilot projects to support survivors, create sustainable rural livelihoods, and foster people’s control over their own food. Beyond initial relief work, UUSC has made a long-term commitment in Haiti, redefining recovery to include social justice. As part of these efforts, UUSC has championed two innovative MPP models: the eco-village and tire gardens. These models are bearing fruit — and vegetables, as the case may be — and UUSC is helping transform them from testing ground into template.
The concept of the eco-village
The first MPP eco-village — built with financial and on-the-ground support from UUSC — is home to 10 families that survived the earthquake in Port-au-Prince and fled to the countryside. Delivrance Jean-Baptiste, her husband, and their four children moved into a new home there in December 2011. In addition to a roof over their heads, they have land to farm — a way to make a sustainable living, something that’s hard to come by outside of (and often even in) Port-au-Prince. MPP provides them with training in organic farming methods. A year after families started tending the land, Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, MPP’s founder and leader (and no relation to Delivrance), observed: “Many of the families in the eco-village had never done agriculture. But now they do it so well — and they like it!”
More than a village — a vision
Chavannes would be the first to tell you, though, that this is about more than one eco-village and 10 families — it’s about a vision of a prosperous and self-reliant rural Haiti. After seeing the eco-village’s initial success, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, the emergency and refugee program of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A., began working with MPP to fund an additional four villages; villages two and three are under way, and UUSC is raising funds for a sixth village. This adds up to a community of 60 families — enough to create and sustain a school and rural clinic.
Wendy Flick, manager of UUSC’s Haiti program, will soon begin presenting the model to the Haitian government and various international nongovernmental organizations in hopes of getting it adopted and replicated on a broader scale in Haiti.
One of the most compelling features of the eco-village is the tire gardens — personal vegetable gardens in recycled tire planters alongside each house. The planters retain rainwater and are far more productive than traditional gardens. Just five tire gardens can feed a family of four for a year. Each family at the eco-village has at least 20, which means they can sell surplus produce — peppers, spinach, carrots, and more — at the nearby market.
Flick spoke to Delivrance after her first tire-garden harvest. “She was so excited,” Flick recalled. “She had just been to the market with her mature peppers the week before and had sold $60 U.S. worth of peppers — in Haitian terms, that is a fortune. She was beside herself.” With that income, Delivrance can afford school fees for her children and doctor’s visits. “Thanks to the things that we plant and harvest, it helps us make it through,” she says.
From the country to the city
Tire gardens are now being piloted in Port-au-Prince, where UUSC is working with a group of youth and young adults called the Bright Educators of Delmas (known as GEAD, its Haitian acronym). As Guerna Salomon, a member of the GEAD executive committee, explains, “The purpose of the project is to enable people in Port-au-Prince to eat from their own gardens and to know how the food was cultivated.”
GEAD members learned the technique from MPP, and months later Salomon gestures to the flourishing tire gardens beside her, overlooking the city with rebar and reconstruction in view. “Here it is, what we learned,” she says. “We didn’t want to keep it to ourselves; we came here, and we shared it with everybody else.” More than 48 families in Port-au-Prince are now cultivating these gardens. As neighbors see the results, more and more people want to join the movement.
Hope and success
Word about these models is spreading because they work. Delivrance and her family have now been in their home for more than a year. Their tire gardens are thriving, and they are growing additional crops on the land next to their homes. They are part of a robust rural community, and they are looking toward the future. Delivrance’s husband, Elanese Jerome, says it well: “We’ll never lose hope. As long as we have life, we’ll continue to grow.”