Monday, April 12, 2010

A Haitian success story

The entire world is trying to figure out how to break Haiti's cycle of dependence. Sure the food aid from the international community provides temporary relief from hunger, but it has also weakened Haiti's agriculture. Now after the earthquake, more and more food aid will be poured into the country.

One town in Haiti provides an agricultural success story. Pandiassou is a fertile oasis with plenty of irrigating ponds, and abundant farm fields and greenhouses. The leaders of the town do not want bags of rice they want tractors instead.

In their latest column for the Toronto Star Marc and Craig Kielburger of Save the Children tell us more about this agricultural success story. The piece begins describing a meeting between local mayors and representatives of international aid organizations.

Brother Franklin, the leader of this community, sat at the front, recognizable by his trademark blue golf shift and cross around his neck. When we met him years ago, he only let foreigners with school supplies give them out to kids who explained how well they were doing in school.

He said it taught them the pencil was a hand up, not a hand out.

Before the earthquake, he set about creating agricultural and irrigation projects to bring back fertile land and create sustainable income for families. Today, visitors describe it as a Shangri-la amidst Haiti’s barren landscape, with lakes and ponds that irrigate food crops, dozens of greenhouses that grow and dry mangos for sale and 15 school sites to educate and train the next generation.

This oasis, however, is not enough to sustain the refugees who have flocked to the Central Plateau. That’s why Brother Franklin and the other mayors are calling for the same systems that helped develop Pandiassou in years prior.

It’s the mayors’ belief that these methods, developed in Haiti, will help their country flourish. It’s through schools that we can empower young people the way Brother Franklin did with his system of pencil distribution. By setting up irrigation systems, reforesting the earth and establishing vocational farm training programs, Haiti can take on the characteristics of the fertile oasis at Pandiassou.

In the urban areas, a functioning port system and reliable source of electricity would help facilitate trade. At the very least, proper roads would move goods and provide the Secretary of State a less turbulent route to the meetings.

With the disaster still on everyone’s minds, the mayors hope they can seize the opportunity to nation-build. To do so, their voices need to be heard, their methods acknowledged and development not turned into dependency.

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