Haiti: Occasional Musings – 12 , Solidarity House Update
It’s been a hectic three weeks with lots of visitors, an earthquake scare that shook Petion-Ville, and a trip to a mountain village to meet potential barefoot solar warriors who will return on Tuesday. There have been various illnesses including me loosing my voice and after two months my back went into crisis on Wednesday but now seems to be ok. On the same day someone had an Okada accident that fortunately only resulted in a damaged toe.
Its been raining mostly at night but there’s a sense that the rains are on their way and with that the possibility of floods. For those living in camps, floods or not, the rains bring pools of stagnant water, mosquitoes, mud, streams of running water between and in the tents.
Two criticisms of aid and charitable support to countries in the global south, are the problem of inappropriate technologies being introduced without local consultation or participation. The other is sustainability of projects. During this extended stay I’ve come across a number of these development nightmares. For example the compost / eco toilet sounds like a brilliant idea for a country like Haiti where there are no sanitation structures. Whilst in many cases they are appropriate such as private homes and emergency situations, they are not always the best solution. First of all unlike ‘Haitian’ toilets which can easily be cleaned with water and disinfectant and which work with a underground cesspit emptied every 10 years or so, compost toilets need daily care of emptying and separating urine from poo. Then there is the collection of the poo which is placed into drums for collection. For an institution like a school with 700 children or a mountain village with poor access, the compost toilet becomes an additional burden and the end result is it doesn’t get used.
Another idea that was suggested to me was using ‘bricks’ made of twigs, leaves and newspaper instead of charcoal. A great idea except when you consider the time it takes to collect the material for the briquettes and make them. For example SOPUDEP school cooks rice and beans every morning for nearly 700 children, and for many it is their only meal. The cooking process starts at midnight with the soaking of the beans by one of the women who has to sleep at the school. The other 4 cooks arrive at 5am to begin the actual cooking. The food is ready around 10.30 and takes a couple of hours from start to finish after which they need another two hours for the clean up. By the time the women finish it is near to 3pm. It is therefore totally unrealistic to expect them in addition to everything else, to begin to search for twigs etc and make brickettes which unlike charcoal have to be constantly monitored. It is possible of course to employ someone to make the briquettes but where does the money come from to pay them? These are just two examples but there are many more, especially water based solutions, that are not appropriate or turn out to be white elephants sitting in an overgrown field. The lesson is work with the people who are going to use the technologies and they will tell you whether they are appropriate or not. People have enough work to do plus the time it takes to get to and from work without having extra work being dumped on them because you have a great idea on how to produce this or that. And if you still want to implement your idea make sure you have the funds or the project is sustainable to pay for workers – people cannot afford to work for nothing.
With these factors in mind, I would ask readers to support the Camp Acra enterprise and training project which is sustainable through the enterprise programme. They need two specialist machines to enable them to cut the shoe soles themselves rather than outsource the process which cuts into their profits. They will need some additional funding at some point for an inverter and battery but they can and have been working without these. And of course if the $3,000 target is not met this will undermine their plans for the future.
Camp Acra & Adoquin - The Chanjem Leson committee and camp residents are an amazing group of people who have spent the past three years building a community out of the informal post-earthquake settlement camp. They have created a support network for the protection of women, care of cholera victims, built schools and an enterprise workshop. They need now solidarity support to help them move forward with their enterprise activities. For more information and to support the Indiegogo Building Back Fundraiser see here. All funds go directly to the camp with complete transparency.
Facsdis Haiti - A LGBT organization which also works with sexworkers and people living with HIV/AIDS in Port-au-Prince. Due to my lost voice I wasnt able to attend their IWD event but managed an initial cafe meeting with two members. They expressed isolation and the need to connect with family from Africa, the Caribbean and the Diaspora. I will be meeting with a larger group next week to talk about some of the challenges they face in Haiti and from me, an overview of whats happening across the continent. Its a beginning and hopefully this will lead to them making new allies and friends.
Growing Haiti [Haiti Micro Gardens] - is a South-South collaboration which focuses on strengthening Haitian women and families via sustainable micro gardening initiatives. With the support of friends and family, Mark Jacobs- a Guyanese farmer, writer, and educator has been working with Haitian people growing vegetables and other sustainable agriculture related initiatives. One of the main focus is income generation from selling excess produce. The second is training in sustainable urban [micro] gardening including working with children in schools and neighborhoods.
Barefoot Solar Engineers – Two weeks ago, along with Rea Dol, Flaurantin Anise and Paul Christian, I visited Fon Batis, one of the two villages [Archaie] that will benefit from the Barefoot Solar Engineers projec. Four women [two from each of the villages] are attending a six months training at the Barefoot College in India after which they will then train and assemble solar panels for households in their respective villages. They return on Tuesday so more next week on their experience and on the project as it develops. The project is partly funded by the HLLN/Ezili Network.
African Literature - thanks to a donation of some Kindle Readers and Amazon we can now go ahead with the classes starting next week though I’m still trying to decide where to start so any feedback would be welcome.
English lessons - after a two week downtime between the Los Altos visit and my lost voice, classes are back on track with a solid group of 7, the majority of whom decided to place a temporary ban on all drifters and chatterers. They are not happy of course but it’s out of my hands but I hope they will return when the next session starts at the end of April.
FASA [Fam SOPUDEP an Aksyon (Women of SOPUDEP in Action) is not just about micro-credit. Its about progress, enterprise, social responsibility, organizing and most importantly it is rooted solidly in community solidarity. The next step is FASA Mamba – watch this space for more on this new venture.