Anpil men, chay pa lou (“many hands make the load lighter”) is a common Haitian proverb emblematic of its people’s strong sense of community.
From earthquakes to floods and now COVID-19, Haiti has been severely tested over the past few decades. As the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti has struggled not only with natural disasters, but migration, political violence and governance challenges, and overall poor economic and social development indicators. Through it all, however, one thing remains constant—the resilience of the Haitian people. Locally-based organizations have repeatedly proven that they are the first responders most capable of identifying their members’ and communities’ needs, especially those in hard-to-reach areas. Using their knowledge, networks, and resources, these organizations have responded to crises in an immediate, organized, and culturally-appropriate manner.
2010 Earthquake: Providing the Seeds of Recovery
The 2010 earthquake had a devastating impact on the lives of many Haitians. While the international development community concentrated billions of dollars worth of aid in the capital, Port-au-Prince, rural Haitians received less attention. Farmers found themselves stretching already meager resources to care for displaced relatives as an estimated 500,000 urban Haitians sought refuge in rural areas.
Haiti: Five Years After the Earthquake from Inter-American Foundation on Vimeo.
The IAF took immediate action to support our local grantees, supplementing existing grants with emergency funds and redirecting prior funding. For example, prior to the earthquake, our grantee Mouvement Paysan 3ème Section Camp-Perrin (MP3K) had been providing training, seeds, and capital to farmers in Camp Perrin to help them boost production. We invested an additional $58,660 in MP3K to support community members displaced by the earthquake. With these funds, MP3K gave farmers yam seedlings and agricultural training to generate a reliable food supply and a source of income. In addition, the organization used our funding to distribute food to quake victims, and provide displaced children with partial scholarships to continue their primary education. In 2014, MP3K received a United Nations Development Program’s Equator Prize for raising community incomes by 200%.
2016 Hurricane: Promoting Sanitation and Resilience
Our past investments in Haiti paid off during and after Hurricane Matthew in 2016. Camp Perrin residents sheltered in a storm-resistant building that MP3K had built with IAF funds. In the hurricane’s aftermath, the organization activated the medium-term planning ability it had honed through years of working with us to help community members recover quickly. It obtained seeds to plant before the rainy season so as not to depend on humanitarian aid. It also repaired a purification system that supplied clean drinking water to 20,000 people and helped community members rebuild economically by introducing a higher-yielding yam variety to their gardens. By improving production, farmers could better feed their families and generate a source of income. This support further strengthened MP3K’s reputation in Southern Haiti as a leader in times of crisis. “MP3K has become a reference for other grassroots farmers’ organizations in the south,” in the words of Cine Institute. “It trains farmers from all over southern Haiti in agricultural techniques and sustainable development.” This strong track record of success has continued even after we completed our work with the organization in 2017.
2020 Pandemic: Spreading Information to Stop the Spread of COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has encountered fertile ground in Haiti. Like so many low-income people around the world, rural Haitians could not stay at home when the virus struck their country. They needed to find ways to keep working as safely as possible. However, a weak health system and mistrust between citizens and officials made it difficult for them to access reliable public health information. Before the official number of infected Haitians even reached double digits, our grantees had hit the airwaves to share reliable information about key social distancing and hygiene practices. They also set up handwashing facilities in public places. Capitalizing on its social network and the credibility it earned with communities over the years, MP3K mounted a prevention campaign, educating motorcycle taxi drivers and providing them with masks to prevent transmission. As the virus has spread, our grantees have stressed physical distancing while emphasizing solidarity with those who are infected: “No one should be an outcast; we are all in this together.”
Our grantee partners continue fighting to overcome the pandemic’s impacts, and we will stay right by their side as they move from pandemic response toward recovery. Lina Jérôme, a board member of our grantee Platfòm Inite Òganizasyon Dezam, sums up this commitment: “The IAF allows organizations to propose actions according to their communities’ reality.” Our approach to resilience is proving to be effective in strengthening grassroots organizations’ ability not only to weather future health threats, but also to bolster their capacity to plan, persevere, and prosper under any circumstance. When it comes to facing challenges, another Haitian proverb captures the spirit of our grantee partners’ resilience: Dye mon, gen mon (“beyond mountains are more mountains”); in other words, there are more challenges to come, but we stand ready to support our resilient grantee partners in facing them.