Konbit Peyizan: The Path to Independence
For 36 years, the Haitian staff of MCC’s office in the town of Desarmes have walked for miles every day, up mountains and through rivers, to work in some of Haiti’s most remote and vulnerable communities. In 2019, they’re starting out on a new road. This November, MCC celebrated the Desarmes team’s forthcoming independence from MCC as they launch a new, Haitian-led organization, Konbit Peyizan pou Ranfosman Kapasite Lokal (Agricultural Collective for the Reinforcement of Local Capacity)—Konbit Peyizan for short.
Konbit Peyizan will continue the work that MCC has been doing in the Artibonite department (similar to a province or state) since 1982, organizing community groups and training smallholder farmers in sustainable agriculture and forestry techniques so they can increase the productivity of their land and provide for their families.
“MCC has focused on the most vulnerable people in the most remote places,” says Jean-Remy Azor, program coordinator of MCC’s Desarmes office and future executive director of Konbit Peyizan. “Konbit Peyizan has the same mission. We want to go as far as possible to the places where people are the most disadvantaged.”
36 years of work
Azor laughs as he recalls that he’s spent two-thirds of his life with MCC. Born and raised in Desarmes, he started working for MCC in his early twenties, as one of MCC’s first employees in Desarmes. During his time with MCC, he’s gotten married, raised a daughter, and overseen MCC’s work in Desarmes as its expanded from reforestation into peacebuilding, education, public health and nutrition.
The difference these projects have made in this area since 1982 is visible in the thickly forested hillsides and lush kitchen gardens in the communities where MCC has been working. Since 2014, almost two million trees have been distributed to tree nurseries and families in the area served by MCC in Desarmes. Rates of school attendance—an indicator of overall economic prosperity—in communities where MCC works have been steadily increasing; in one community the percentage of children attending primary school has risen from 20% in 2015 to 80% in 2018.
But reaching this point hasn’t always been easy. During a reflection the evening before the independence celebration, Azor recalled how, during periods of political chaos in the late 1980s and early 1990s, MCC’s work in Desarmes ground almost to a halt as a result of threats and even violence against MCC staff and projects.
Of course, there have been other, less dramatic, challenges to the creation of Konbit Peyizan. The independence process has been long: the idea was originally floated over a decade ago, as MCC’s development model shifted from direct implementation of projects by MCC staff to accompaniment of local partner organizations. At the time, members of the Desarmes staff team were hesitant to leave behind the security and sustainability of work with an international organization.
The road to independence
When country representatives Paul and Rebecca Shetler Fast arrived in Haiti in 2016, they recognized that the Desarmes team had all the core skills necessary to run as a fully functioning, independent organization.
“We recognized that the MCC Desarmes team had the experience, capacity and drive to work as a local organization, Konbit Peyizan,” says Rebecca Shetler Fast. “It has been our honor to walk with them through their journey to independence. We look forward to working with Konbit Peyizan as close partners and collaborators in the future. After 60 years of work in Haiti, MCC’s legacy lies in our partners.”
Today, with five months until official independence, the team’s initial misgivings have turned into confidence, especially after they took on several new projects simultaneously after Hurricane Matthew, in addition to their regular programs, all of which have been remarkably successful. For example, it’s thanks to hygiene and sanitation projects implemented by the Desarmes team that the entire commune of Verrettes, where Desarmes is located, is now free from cholera—no small feat in a commune that has been at the heart Haiti’s cholera epidemic since it began in 2010.
“The process of reflection and working together [towards independence] has been really beautiful,” said Michelet Elisamar, agroforestry coordinator for Konbit Peyizan, who has worked for MCC for 18 years. “Even if some of us are still a little unsure, we know we’re not alone.”
Elisamar is right—they’re not alone. MCC has been working for the last three years to prepare the Desarmes team for independence. Through this deliberative process the new organization has created an advisory board comprised of current and former MCC staff, members of local government, and local community leaders, and worked with an independent consultant to put in place the legal and financial processes to create the foundation for a strong and healthy new organization in Haiti.
At the same time, the Konbit Peyizan team has been busy reassuring community members and project participants that the formation of the new organization doesn’t mean reforestation and agriculture work in the Desarmes area is coming to an end.
“On the contrary!” Azor tells those who are worried. “We’re simply taking on more responsibility.”
Hope for the future
MCC will continue to work with Konbit Peyizan as a local partner organization, helping them to continue to develop additional funders, seconding MCC staff to assist in capacity building in areas like finance, planning, monitoring evaluations, donor relations and communications. In its first years of independence, the new organization will be supported by a multiyear grant from Canadian Foodgrains Bank.
While Konbit Peyizan won’t officially be independent from MCC until April 1st, 2019, the new organization was launched at a celebration in Desarmes on November 14th. Speeches and prayers from local and international MCC staff, including the Regional Directors for Central America and Haiti, the Director of International Programming, and the Global Disaster Response Coordinator, as well as local dignitaries, government leaders and representatives of community organizations from throughout the area, were followed by a locally prepared lunch at Ecole Professionelle de Desarmes, a vocational school supported by MCC after the 2010 earthquake.
Beginning in April 2019, Konbit Peyizan will expand their successful development model (consisting of trainings, community organizing, reforestation, and agroforestry) into three new communities, the remotest they’ve ever worked in, while helping the communities they already work in transition to self-sufficiency. It’s a significant undertaking, one that they believe is possible because of the strong relationships they’ve built in those communities over the course of their work with MCC, as well as MCC’s continued support.
“The base of our work is training and organization,” says Elisamar. “When we think about the people we train, we know it’s those people that will become the change in their communities.”
Over the course of 2018, MCC has been celebrating 60 years of work in Haiti, with a focus on highlighting the deep roots and long-term inmpact of the Desarmes team. Since 1982, the MCC Desarmes team has responded to disasters, organized communities, improved the livelihoods of some of the most vulnerable people in Haiti, and persisted in this work despite at times very difficult conditions. As MCC commemorates 60 years of work in Haiti with local partners and Haitian and international staff members, Konbit Peyizan represents MCC’s legacy for the future.
Celebrate with us: 60 Years of MCC in Haiti
1962: Responding to Disasters