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Friday, January 29, 2010

Reclaiming Haiti's Environment

bare hills in HaitiToday I'll start with just a reminder or two about the decades of ecological devastation in Haiti. This is another picture from the airplane (see first one on Jan 23). Because there is just a small area with trees down there, you can see by contrast how bare the hills/mountains are. The highest mountain is just about 30 miles SE of Port-au-Prince, Pic la Selle. At 8,793 feet, it really is a mountain, and consider that the coast is, of course, at sea level, and you begin to get a feel for how quickly the land rises once you get away from the coast.

The hills are barren because, initially, they were stripped of their mahogany forests. However, now, they never have a chance to regrow anything, because as soon as any tree is large enough to be cut to make charcoal it is cut by one of the 9.8 million people who need to cook their meals.

river in Haiti

This is a long view of the river where the people were doing laundry (see Jan 26). This shows just how barren the banks of the river are. You can see some greenery trying to gain a foothold, but it just can't complete with the footfalls of the masses.

I don't mean to belittle the Haitian people, but there just isn't much motivation or knowledge available for people to change the way they live. When a family has lived in abject poverty for several generations, any societal memory of how to live differently is pretty much gone.

bean field in Haiti

However, if you recall, on Jan 26, I did talk about the small village of Frettas that was on a river, and was raising crops. I admire their industriousness, but have to wonder if the practice of tilling every available inch of ground was going to/ did lead to wearing out the poor soil. This is a field of beans.

In contrast, the next pictures were all taken at the Baptist Haiti Mission in the hills (4350 feet at Fermathe) above Port-au-Prince. This mission has been working there since 1943, and their motto is "Growing in service to the whole man." One of their long-term goals has been to teach people how to nurse the land back to health, and thus nurture themselves. This first began with teaching women to embroider items to sell to tourists, and has grown from there.

garden and greenhouses in Haiti

These greenhouses, and even flowers along the fence, are part of the project at BHM to teach people how to reclaim the land. It's a real example of the familiar but true axiom: "Give a man a fish and feed him for one day; teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime."

terraced fields in Haiti

Here is where many of those seedlings ended up. The hillsides are being terraced and planted with crops, and trees. Good farming practices to keep the soil healthy are being taught. I would hope that other organizations have been working to help people learn this too, but it was such a contrast with the rest of what we saw all week, that it was really refreshing!

pig in a pen in Haiti

The mission was also trying to reintroduce some farm animals for meat and teach people how to raise them. Here is a pig. There used to be many pigs in Haiti, but a cholera epidemic (1899 – 1923) wiped out every pig on the island.

It is a difficult task for an entire culture to change. I am hopeful that even though the thousands of students at all these different schools are only a drop in the bucket of Haiti's 5 million people under the age of 20, that some of them will be leaders for change to help the Haitians reclaim their country and their dignity.

OK, I could do three more posts. You tell me how much more you want to hear. I can do: 1. A small selection of trees and flowers, mostly from nicer areas of Port-au-Prince, 2. The reasons why I have had a lifelong interest in Haiti, 3. What I learned about myself through this trip (this would be scary to write, but it's no big secret).

See Poverty in Haiti - 1985
See Interacting with Haitians - 1985
See Tasks on the 1985 Haiti Trip
See A Trip to Haiti in 1985


Duxbury Ramblers said...

my vote is more :)

Duxbury Ramblers said...

forgot to add (senior moment) another good blog.

Secondary Roads said...

For my part, I'd like to read all three parts. Please.

betchai said...

thanks for sharing these info Sharkbytes, it is a sad reality indeed. I thought at first the mountains I was looking at desert badlands, but no. all three parts would be a good read.

Rick (Ratty) said...

I think in the end it is up to them to learn to help themselves. Hopefully they can do that. Everybody deserves a chance, and I hope they take it. Even a few people can make a huge difference.

Sharkbytes said...

Duxbury, Chuck and betchai- OK... you voted, you got it! I'll do all three of my remaining Haiti topics. Thanks for the feedback.

Ratty- Yes, you are so right. If just a few people will lead the way, they can make some real changes.

Anonymous said...

I also vote for all three parts. It will be wonderful to learn through your experiences.