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Haiti is Resilient

Haiti is Resilient

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 that make Haiti one of the most fascinating, yet least understood countries in the region.

In early November, a group of North Americans, including staff from MCC's North American offices, visited Haiti to engage with MCC Haiti partners and communities on a 1-week learning tour centered around the theme 'Soil to Table.' During this time, the group encountered Haiti as it is, not as the sensationalist press so often describes it. What follows are trip participants' reflections that challenge the stereotypes and offer a different perspective on Haiti.

Haiti is resilient. Really, what I mean by that is that Haitians knows how to degaje.

As a rookie visitor to Haiti, one quickly learns what degaje means.

Degaje is a Haitian Creole idiom, essentially meaning that we’ll figure it out. We’ll make it work, we’ll degaje.

As an American visitor, first impressions of Haiti can be shocking. After all, I didn’t really understand what not having basic infrastructure, like roads and a trash removal system, actually meant in day-to-day life. There are only 2 traffic lights in Port-au-Price, a city with a population of over 700,000 people. There is garbage piled up neatly on the sides of most city streets. This is what North Americans see in the news.

But the more I learned about Haiti, the more I came to see the resilient heart that is at the foundation of this culture and actually those piles of trash are, believe it or not, strategic. In attempt to create a garbage refuse system, the municipality promised to provide dumpsters and a system of pick-up. It never quite worked out, but we learned that often the piles of trash in Port-au-Price are where the promised dumpster should be sitting. Piles of trash demanding political action- smart!

For centuries, Haiti, both the land and its people, have been exploited in every possible way by colonization, white imperialism, international greed and policy, corruption, just to name a few. Yet, a nation was created out of the ashes of slave rebellion, even when most of the slaves couldn’t speak the same language. Instead, they created their own language. They degajed and they created Haitian Creole, a language of imperial resistance, that Haitians still speak today. 

Not only can you hear Haitians’ resilience, but you can see it.

When I visited Haiti with the MCC Learning Tour group in November, we had the opportunity to visit Desarmes, a rural town in the Artibonite Valley. If you want to see resilience, just go to Desarmes and look at the trees and meet the people who plant them.  

Because of the legacy of exploitation in Haiti, deforestation is a big concern. When the rains come (or Hurricane Matthew strikes) vulnerable communities become even more vulnerable without roots keeping the soil on the mountain tops. Without trees, lush tropical forests quickly erode into dessert-like landscapes. 

But in the Artibonite Valley, this is changing (and has changed), thanks to MCC's Agroforestry projects. Agroforestry is the practice of reforesting land in way so that farmers always have something to eat and something to sell, all the while helping to reinstate the natural habitat.

On this particular day on the MCC learning our, we hiked up Mon Sejour to see first-hand how Agroforestry works. A hike, I will add, that many Haitians do every single day, no matter the state of their shoes. 

The Agroforestry projects on Mon Sejour are beyond brilliant. There is a tree nursery that works to plant 50,000 trees each year. They have an earth day in June and last year they (with huge community participation) planted 50,000 trees in just one day. The complexity and ingenuity of growing different types of trees in between cycles of beans and corn and so many other crops is incredible.

All throughout the Haitian country side, mountain tops are bald. Even though this is also true of the Artibonite Valley, you can see that the forests are returning. Looking around Mon Sejour, you could literally see where MCC had been working, trees covered sections of the mountain where MCC works, and many of those trees were called, “MCC trees.”

The cool thing about MCC is that it supports community partners and leaders, which means that an important ingredient in these projects is the community buy-in and involvement. Since this reforestation project started on Mon Sejour, there have been "copy-cat" projects popping up around it as other farmers see the benefits of this type of work and work to replicate it on their own land. And positive signs of growth can be seen in the thriving forest, the water source on this mountain is getting stronger, and the birds have returned. I felt, in Haiti, a deep sense of taking care of the earth and of one another. 

“The country is not poor, but sometimes we’ve lacked vision," Paulisme Francklin, MCC Agroforestry technician, told us during our tour of the project. "But when we put our heads together and work together, there are amazing things we can do." MCC supports the work of Haitian resilience.

No matter what storm, policy, or misplaced good intention knocks Haiti down, Haiti, and Haitians always, always figure out a way to get back up. Degaje.

Anna Yoder is the Donor Relations Coordinator with MCC Central States. She lives and works in Kansas. 

Read more reflections by group members who participated in the learning tour to Haiti this fall:

Join our team!  MCC Haiti is currently recruiting for 3 positions:

  1. Advocacy & Communications Coordinator
  2. Disaster Response & Agricultural Monitoring/Evaluation Coordinator
  3. Supervisory Program Assistant & Exchange Coordinator
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