Haiti Is Verdant
The international press diffuses a single narrative of Haiti - one of political instability, malnutrition, disease and devastation. "The poorest country in the Western hemisphere" - this is how Haiti is too often described, ignoring the many layers that comprise Haitian culture and customs and make Haiti one of the most fascinating yet least understood countries in the region.
In late May, four staff from MCC’s North American advocacy offices and the Colombia-based regional policy analyst visited Haiti for one week to engage with MCC Haiti partners with the goal of strengthening MCC’s Haiti advocacy work among its New York, Ottawa, Washington, Colombia and Port-au-Prince offices. During this time they got to encounter Haiti as it is, not as the sensationalist press so often describes it. What follows are trip participants' reflections that defy the stereotypes and offer a different perspective on Haiti, not a place of desperation but a land that is verdant, passionate, vibrant, and courageous.
Part 1. Haiti is Verdant
We squished our way along the muddy trail, carefully climbing over slippery rock and around prickly bushes. When we were able to find a smooth place to rest for a moment, we were caught speechless at the 360 degrees of beauty around us: the misty clouds hanging over the tips of the mountains; the steep yet neatly cultivated mountainsides; the lush greenery that met us at every turn. It was the complete opposite of what you expect when you hear of rampant deforestation in Haiti.
This is not to imply that deforestation is a minor problem or untrue. For centuries wood was seen as a cash crop in Haiti and it was ripe for the taking by the colonial French. It has also been harvested intensely to make charcoal for household use. Without a rigorous plan to replant trees that were cut down, natural regrowth has not kept pace with the demand.
In light of this history, MCC has invested in the Artibonite region of Haiti, often known as the country’s breadbasket. The work has focused on tree nursery projects, agro-forestry initiatives, and most importantly community organizing to create a culture of caring for the earth. It is not simply a project of handing out seeds and then tallying the number of trees planted each year. The program builds leadership in communities so they become responsible for taking care of the tree nursery, distributing seedlings and educating others about the diversity of plants needed for a healthy ecosystem. Some trees are hardwoods that can be used for charcoal as new trees are planted; others are fruit trees that will bring nutritional benefits to families along with potential income.
We visited a thriving tree nursery with more than 35,000 trees ready for distribution in a few short weeks. We saw innovate methods to keep hungry goats away from fruit seedlings. We climbed a small mountain and met a community with fields of vegetation and rich soil ready for new seeds. We found a Haitian countryside that will benefit from new growth, yet already thriving under the careful watch of people who take pride in the cycle of planting and harvest that sustains them.
Charissa Zehr is Legislative Associate for International Affairs at the MCC U.S. Washington Office.