An Advocacy Learning Tour
Last week, MCC Haiti hosted its third Advocacy Learning Tour in recent history. What is an Advocacy Learning Tour? It is an opportunity for representatives from MCC's advocacy offices (in Ottawa, New York, Washington DC) and the regional policy analyst to deepen their knowledge of Haitian culture and the political landscape.
This year, participants enjoyed the beauty of Haiti's countryside and met with local experts on issues ranging from food sovereignty, migration crises at the border, reforestation, and Haiti's ongoing electoral process. Here is a photographic tour of our week:
We took a brief tour of downtown Port-au-Prince on our first afternoon together. This was a perfect treat after we had spent a few hours learning about Haitian history and recent social movements in Haiti from the educator Nixon Boumba. The streets of Haiti are popping with color, as evidenced by the public bus above, and the downtown plaza of Champ Mars boasts several statues and monuments to Haiti's heroes. The towering grey structure above was built by former President Aristide to commemorate Haiti's bicentennial in 2004. Interestingly, the torch on top of the monument was never lit.
A Saturday trip took us to Haiti’s nearest border crossing with the Dominican Republic, Malpasse, where we met with two civil society groups who are engaged in monitoring the ongoing migration crisis between the two countries. CODDEMIR (left and fourth from right) partnered with MCC to distribute material aid to a camp along the border. Pedro Cano (center) of Centro Bono monitors Dominican migration policy and educates migrants on their fundamental rights. Over lunch, our group learned how we can effectively advocate for Dominicans and Haitian migrants who are suffering from unjust immigration policies.
No learning tour is complete without paying a visit to MCC’s countryside office in Dezam, where we have partnered with local communities for thirty years to implement a multi-faceted reforestation program. Our group was greeted with songs and then led to the outskirts of Dezam where we witnessed the success of one of many MCC-supported tree nurseries. The tree saplings above are just a handful of 35,000 saplings at this one nursery site. This month, nursery committee members will distribute all 35,000 trees in one morning, so that community members can replant them in their own gardens, improving their family’s income and food security for the future.
Every cross-cultural experience comes with new flavors and aromas. One highlight of a learning tour is the immersion in Haitian cuisine. Over the week we sampled Haitian meatballs, fried chicken with carrots and string beans, fresh fish, Haiti's famous squash soup, and pikliz. Fresh lime, papaya, grapefruit, and mango juices greeted us at lunchtimes. Above is the typical dinner dish buillon made by Lucilia, the cook at our Dezam office. Made with dumplings, potatoes, boiled plantains, optional beef, bell peppers and spices, it's a great way to unwind and top off a fulfilling day.
On a misty morning we hiked to the farming community of Kabay, where MCC has worked with 160 farmers to distribute seeds and develop personal gardens, bringing much needed life to this drought-affected area. Sixty-seven farmers came together for their regular meeting and for peanut seed distribution. We spent part of our week discussing the USDA’s recent decision to ship 500 metric tons of peanuts to Haiti for school feeding programs. National and international groups have since expressed concern about this shipment undermining Haiti's local peanut market. Seeing firsthand how this news unsettled the farmers in Kabay, who rely on peanuts as one of their most valuable crops, gave us fresh ideas on how we could advocate further on behalf of Haitian farmers.
Advocacy Learning Tour participants will reflect more on their time in Haiti through the upcoming Haiti Is series.
Katharine is from San Diego, California and has served with MCC Haiti since July 2014 as Advocacy Coordinator and Policy Analyst. She studied History and Religious Studies at University of California, Davis, then International Development at Eastern University. You can follow her Instagram on life in Haiti @katharineoswald, Haiti advocacy news on Facebook, and her personal blog, Stories to Tell.