A New Day Dawns Again

In 2007, our Executive Director, Betsy Wall, wrote an article called, “A New Day Dawns in Fon Batis.” The article was about a graduation ceremony for literacy students in Fon Batis, central Haiti. Back in 2007, those community members spent three years attending literacy classes five days per week. They made great sacrifices to learn to read and write, sometimes rising as early as 4am and walking up to an hour each day to their classes.

The day of their graduation was a joyous celebration. Cooperative leaders, community leaders, and visiting dignitaries all attended this very special ceremony. There was music, singing, dancing, and praise for those who had worked hard to make the graduation possible. There were presentations and skits demonstrating how literacy had changed their lives. The graduates were proud that they no longer had to sign an “X” for their name. “There is now light in our head,” they sang. “We are not afraid of the X.” 190 graduates received their certificates that day.

Fast forward to December 2013 in the south of Haiti. In Duchity, cooperative members are also getting ready for a literacy graduation ceremony. Many of the features of the ceremony are the same as the one in Fon Batis back in 2007. These students also spent three years walking to school each day, learning to read and write. There is singing, dancing, presentations, skits, and immense pride and joy on the part of the graduates. The only real difference is that this time, there are over 1,400 graduates. So many that they barely all fit inside the building where the ceremony is being held.

I was there on the day of the Duchity graduation in December and was able to watch each inspiring person receive their graduation certificate. Three years ago, they were not only illiterate; they were a farming community living on subsistence, with few plans and little hope for how to improve their lives and their future. But on the day of the graduation, I saw an entire community of confident, educated, entrepreneurial individuals. They have plans, they know how to work together, and they have hope that they can improve their own lives.

This project was funded in large part by private businesses and individuals in Canada, such as Premier Equipment. The cooperative members of Duchity have repeatedly expressed their deep gratitude and thanks to those in Canada who helped them reach this goal. It has truly changed the lives of thousands. A new day has dawned, but not just for Fon Batis, for all of Haiti.

By Valerie Busch, Research and Project Development, FIDA

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A Message from the Chair

It is exciting to share some of my thoughts and future aspirations for FIDA on the eve of celebrating 30 years of promoting agriculture production in Haiti. That history alone, of focusing exclusively on one vital sector in one single country, gives FIDA/pcH a unique standing amongst international aid agencies in developing the best possible aid strategies for the future.

To rely on history alone has little merit. There is so much more that can and should be done in Haiti to bring the reality of a sustainable lifestyle to each and every individual Haitian. At the same time, the experience of 30 years in rural Haiti, in the midst of so much faint hope, has given FIDA/pcH unmatched experience and knowledge of the potential and impact of the cooperative model for the country and sharing this mission with other development partners. The vision of FIDA/pcH to be a leader of the cooperative model and to empower rural peasants to develop their economic and social capacity has become a powerful reality.

This is why FIDA/pcH appeals to me. I have been involved in several cooperatives as an Ontario farmer during my lifetime. I believe the cooperative model represents the essential development stage to launch larger numbers of people into a sustainable future. During a recent trip to Haiti, I was overjoyed to see Haitian cooperative members conducting and participating in their first Annual General Meeting, making those all-important decisions that directly impact their future, all within the framework and principles of the international cooperative business model. I thought, how exciting would it be if the greater charitable community united in a commitment to only launch projects that allowed Haiti to determine its own present and future ability to survive and thrive?

FIDA/pcH is a rare organization in Haiti that is attracting like-minded partners and donors who share the participatory philosophy in bringing complementing resources and expertise to communities who invest in the agricultural development model. As the current chairman of FIDA, I am excited to work with our Haitian counterpart, pcH, to further the empowerment of thousands of rural cooperative members. As FIDA/pcH, we employ a dedicated and experienced Haitian staff who work tirelessly to deliver practical common-sense solutions, grounded in local ownership and management.

The belief that true sustainability must begin with local motivation and ownership is the foundation of FIDA/pcH’s commitment to provide resources to current and emerging cooperatives and to other partners. It is in FIDA’s ability to draw resources from Canada and the USA that enable pcH to implement its sustainable cooperative model to many more communities, empowering more Haitian women and men to be leaders in producing food for their country.

by Bill Falk, Chair, FIDA Canada

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Did you know? Haiti is one of the World’s Leading Vetiver Producers

What is vetiver? Vetiver is a type of fragrant grass that grows with long stems and long, thin, rigid leaves. Though it originated in Asia, it is widely cultivated in tropical regions all over the world.

Vetiver can be used for many things. Most significantly, the oil derived from the plant is used for perfumery, cosmetics, and aromatherapy. Over half of the world’s vetiver oil originates from Haiti, and 90% of Haiti’s vetiver oil is exported to Switzerland, France, and the United States, where it is primarily used in the manufacture of men’s perfumes. Vetiver oil lends an earthy-woody aroma to perfume. Vetiver’s usefulness doesn’t stop there. Due to the plant’s fibrous properties, it can also be used for handicrafts and rope production.

Vetiver is also widely used in agricultural production. Its root system is very strong, meaning the plant can help to stabilize the soil, withstand deep water flow, and protect against erosion. It is often planted on hillsides and near streams to combat the effects of erosion. It can also protect soil moisture under hot and dry conditions.

In addition to being a great plant for erosion control, it is also great for animal feed. Vetiver is able to survive heavy grazing and is a suitable feed for cattle, goats, sheep, and horses. It is also used for weed control in coffee and cocoa fields.

In Haiti, over 30,000 small-scale farmers cultivate vetiver for all these reasons and more!


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What Makes FIDA-pcH Unique?

What is required of us to be in solidarity with a country like Haiti while avoiding a model of dependency?

I have had a very long history with Haiti, first travelling there in the late sixties as a teenager with my father. He was consumed with the above question. It shaped a fascinating, year-long correspondence. Such questions are rarely asked in the development world, largely because it requires too much of us. It takes vision and guts to take this kind of high road. I credit my Dad for having both.

Back in the eighties, there wasn’t any money in “empowering people to be Masters of their own Destiny,” as my Dad was fond of saying. To many, I think he sounded like a kook. There were times I thought the same thing of him. However, I adored him. I became afflicted with the same vision.

Just about any vision worth its salt requires a foundation of principles and values; such that are less about physical structures and activities and more about affirming our humanity, leading us toward productive and peaceful communities through respectful relationships. As common-sense as this sounds, it is a tough thing to fund because a donor cannot as easily visualize the transformation of human lives. It also repositions the role of the donor and places the beneficiaries at the heart of their own development process. This becomes a different kind of “feel good” benefit that many people often can’t get their head around.

 So, what does such an approach look like? How have we understood what it takes to effectively work in a country such as Haiti? Aside from knowing that we can save ourselves about ten years by putting Haitians on the front line (we have no foreigners on staff) and believing there is solid expertise and commitment already in country (not all Haitians are poor and illiterate), we take an investment-based approach that focuses on what people have and what they can do. This is the foundation to fostering mutually respectful and productive relationships. Here are the top ten points:

  1. We are responsive as opposed to interventionist. We only work with communities upon personal (and written) invitation.
  2. We undertake a very thorough assessment process to determine the resources, needs, capacity, motivation, etc. of the community. Following this, we typically prepare a three-year plan based on the findings.
  3. We are strict adherents and practitioners of participatory methodology, which is the foundation of owner-based development.
  4. Every partnership with a community involves a written commitment to participate in a (cooperative) business model and identified business activity and list of potential members.
  5. We abide by the Seven International Principles of Cooperative that must be upheld in honouring the stated conditions of the partnership.
  6. Members must be invested shareholders, with the value of each share being determined by the membership of each cooperative.
  7. They must be participating members as well as financially invested and must reside in the vicinity of the cooperative.
  8. They must host an Annual General Meeting and all positions of each committee must be selected through a transparent electoral process.
  9. Once the commitment is established with a community, we provide a bank of resources in the areas of business enterprise (cooperative), economic activity (agriculture related) and member capacity (which is centered on a three-year adult literacy program). As cooperatives evolve and their needs become more sophisticated, so do our services, such as credit loans, audit services, financing irrigation systems, seed storage silos, housing assistance, cholera/health training, interim relief (due to drought/disaster), and so on.
  10. All cooperatives operate as autonomous, self managed enterprises, which, as they evolve, begin to serve as the leadership and resource centers of the community.

I believe what makes this model work where others fail is our articulation and understanding of the myriad of psychosocial obstacles that are endemic to the country of Haiti. I have rarely read a proposal that acknowledges these and then prepares a plan to address them accordingly.

My father is a real gem; a great visionary. It is a noble legacy that I share along with thousands of peasant men and women in Haiti who, today, are proud enterprising farmers able to provide for their families and be transformational leaders in their communities.

by Betsy Wall, Executive Director, FIDA

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Education Overcomes Suspicion

Part of FIDA/pcH’s ongoing work with cooperatives includes providing education according to the evolving needs of farmers. Our poultry production project in Zoranger distributed a new chicken breed to farmers. However, farmers were having trouble selling their white chickens in the local market because community members believed that white chickens were more susceptible to the bird flu virus.

With a few community education meetings conducted by our staff, this suspicion was erased. The chickens are rapidly becoming known for their quality meat and flavour at a great price. This participating farmer in Zoranger is now able to support his family from his farming income.

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Why is Small-Scale Farming Important?

Why are small-scale farmers so important to ending poverty and hunger in Haiti? About three out of four workers in Haiti depend on agriculture to make a living. Almost half of them are women, who are responsible for marketing and storing crops, while men are responsible for planting, cultivating, and harvesting crops. For both men and women, working on a farm is not a guarantee of a decent income. In fact, Haiti’s small-scale farmers are often some of the most food insecure in the country. In order to help end hunger, we must make sure that poor farmers have access to the resources and knowledge they need to feed their families, improve their communities, and flourish.

Small-scale farmers from around the world came together in 2007 and vowed to work towards “A world where all peoples, nations, and states are able to determine their own food producing systems and policies that provide every one of us with good quality, adequate, affordable, healthy, and culturally appropriate food.” Together we can make changes to create a world where small-scale farmers in Haiti can achieve this goal, and everyone has enough to eat.

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Agroforestry Means Growing Together

Forests Without Borders discusses why they chose FIDA/pcH as a partner in agroforestry in Haiti.
Videography by Ross Velton.

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Building Community in Gressier

Haven Partnership discusses why they chose FIDA/pcH as a partner in community development in Haiti.
Videography by Ross Velton.

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Working Together = Tangible Change

World Accord discusses why they chose FIDA/pcH as a partner in smallholder agriculture in Haiti.
Videography by Ross Velton.

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Literacy: Achieving Self-Worth

Illiteracy Context in Haiti

Illiteracy is one of the greatest obstacles of the poor. Literacy is a basic right of all men and women. When one has access to this precious right, one is able to gain the necessary knowledge and competence to better function in society. Without this essential tool, a person remains marginalized and frustrated. Illiteracy constitutes a true obstacle to social and economic development. Where people do not have confidence in themselves, we cannot expect that they will have trust and confidence in others or that they will have the capacity to cooperate in order to build enterprise and generate income. Illiteracy then can be understood to be a condition that impedes human development. It is impossible to undertake sustainable development actions without placing priority on the problem of illiteracy.

When men and women learn to read, to write, and to use basic mathematics, they discover their own capacity for learning. This becomes a first step towards achieving self confidence. Confidence in self leads to confidence in others. This reciprocal and collective confidence is essential when undertaking sustainable development activities. In Haiti, the national illiteracy rate is estimated to be 56%. In rural areas where FIDA/pcH is present, this rate is between 70% and 80%. Literacy and adult training that includes dialogue and participation has become the centre of all FIDA/pcH programming as it is understood to be the most appropriate strategy for building a foundation for sustainable development.

It is essential for all training sessions to take into account the culture and experiences of the beneficiaries. Therefore, all training and any other form of communication must be undertaken in their native language. This demonstrates respect for each other and for each member within the development process. The actions and attitudes of those who are leading the development process must be an example of respect. When we offer respect, we become influential and more capable of alleviating frustration in favour of self confidence and confidence in others.

FIDA/pcH provides literacy training to adult members of agricultural cooperatives and farmer’s groups. These beneficiaries, between 18 and 55 years, are typically simple farmers living in rural communities in Haiti. Women usually constitute 52% to 56% of members. Women hold a special place in the social sector of Haiti, but they are otherwise marginalized in part because of illiteracy. We are motivated to conduct literacy training in order to correct a social injustice. Like the rest of the world, Haitians deserve the opportunity to become literate. Although this opportunity is emerging later in life, courses in adult education stimulate self awareness and self confidence in farmers, which allows them to improve their social and economic situation. We must give them the power to decide for themselves.

Literacy training programs are conducted each year in a three year program, with the participants divided into three levels. Level I includes those who have never attended any educational establishment. Level II includes those who have a rudimentary knowledge of reading, writing and mathematics. Level III includes those who have successfully completed Level I and Level II, or who already have the prerequisite knowledge. The length of each level is 9 months, 2 hours per day (10 hours per week). In Level I, sessions address basic knowledge in communication and mathematics. The other two levels apply the concepts learned in Level I to focus on a series of themes relating to social and economic transformation. All subjectsare discussed with the aim of achieving enhanced comprehension and knowledge. Specific sessions relating to health, protecting the environment, agriculture and cooperative development are discussed both theoretically and practically. This enables participants to connect their learning to their environment.

Strategy to Eliminate Literacy

The illiteracy elimination program is a dynamic training program that has several actors, including the literacy monitor. These individuals are chosen from the community and receive appropriate training that equips them to facilitate the training of their peers. The training of monitors is focused on a strategy that stresses the importance of dialogue. The monitor becomes a facilitator and the adult participant is the subject of their training. They are placed at the center of their training. The method is based on their own experiences as an adult. Dialogue steers them towards the discovery of new knowledge about objects, actions, causalities and events that are found in their own immediate environment. They have the opportunity to reflect, discuss and propose solutions based on their own experiences. This is why the training of monitors is extremely important.

The most important tool in the training process is the  Kreyol language; the language that all Haitians speak and understand. This is a point of demonstrating respect for the beneficiaries. One cannot assist another to learn effectively in a language they are not familiar with. Utilizing the Haitian language improves learning. The student understands automatically and learns more quickly.

The experience of life in a literacy centre, though it is short (2 hours per day) is an experience of living together. Psychologically, the influence of the group affects the individual. The participants begin to learn of their strengths and their weaknesses. They also learn to identify the worth of others. In fact, they seek to increase their value, taking direction from the monitor who is working as facilitator. This is why the proper training of monitors plays such a significant role in the operation of the literacy centres. Through the process of distributing tasks and responsibilities to various groups within the centres, there is a lesson in leadership and in serving others.

As well as being the facilitator in adult learning, the literacy monitor is the brain of the centre. Monitors are humble, patient, responsible, and respectful of others. They truly must (and do) embody all of these qualities. The success of the centre depends in large part on the monitor being a model for the learners, and on the learners having confidence in them. It is a great challenge and a major responsibility to be a literacy monitor.

It is natural to assume that each learner has a personal motivation for participating in the learning process. In literacy training for adults, there is also a collective motivation; all of the participants wish for the ability to identify and write their first and last names. Much of the frustration of an illiterate individual rests upon the ability to carry out the one simple act that most of the world can; that of signing a document. The day that a man or woman overcomes this obstacle, they begin to discover a miraculous feeling of personal possibility. It is a most important victory over a deeply embedded uncertainty.

Much change comes when a participant is able to write their name. Typically, the achiever will find any possible occasion to celebrate their victory. One of the occasions that simply cannot be resisted is writing their name for the pleasure of their spouses and children. In Haiti, when a signature is required and the individual cannot write, they make an “X” in place of their name. It is precisely through writing their name that much of their frustration disappears. This is also why, in the literacy centres, the first activities carried out by the monitor involve the first name of each participant. Firstly, they identify their names; then step by step, they begin to write their full names. For the observer, it is a most rewarding and moving experience.

At the end of the training process, it is important to evaluate knowledge gained and to note the achievements made. For learners, the greatest moment is the graduation. It is the ultimate celebration of their efforts and their sacrifice. This activity is also part of the learning process. It is easy to observe the positive dynamic of the group that is preparing for the graduation ceremony. Through initiatives and decisions taken in the group, one can easily identify the grass roots leaders. Their capacity and creativity is clearly evident.

Literacy is a mission wherein the goal is the transformation of the human person in order to bring about true socioeconomic transformation of communities. An integrated literacy program assures a strong foundation for all future development action.

by Pierre Richard Pierre, Country Coordinator, Haiti

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