Sunday, December 23, 2012

Making It Happen in the mountains of Verettes

December 6th through the 13th, while I was in Papay, Hinche doing paper work, Herve Delisma and Lucien Joseph headed to Verettes in the Artibonite Valley to continue to provide hands-on help with designing and implementing yard gardens in the homes of the seven local technicians and their seven associates, whom we began training in late September.

The first local technician they worked with on this trip was Elcenou. Elcenou lives seven very difficult kilometers (about 4 miles) up at the top of a mountain in a community called Decomb. The coordinates for Elcenou's house are:  18.99178º N and 72.52789º W.  Here are some pictures from that work. Photos by Herve Delisma, all right reserved.

Please also check out the photos from Herve and Gultho's work in Léogâne. The link is here: Mapping Yard Gardens in Léogâne

Elcenous (El say nu) Louicius (right in purple shorts) working with Lucien Joseph (left in white shirt), Givenson Laurent (left in bright green shirt) and Alex Louis Paul (behind Lucien) to build his third vegetable tire bench. Behind in the photo are bananas and other crops planted in Elcenous's yard.

Lucien checking out Elcenous's original vegetable benches. Ten tires are planted with seeds of a variety of vegetables and covered with banana leaves to help maintain the moisture while the seeds sprout.

To get his tires up to his house, Elcenous has to manage a very difficult route. If he uses motorized transportation, he will need to pay a motorcycle to carry the tires up the mountain on a trip that takes between three and four hours, one-way. If he uses a mule, donkey or horse, he will travel a route that is even more difficult, but shorter.
This is part of the route that all of the folks in Decombe take to get anything up or down the mountain. In this case, the group is taking someone from the community down the mountain for medical treatment. The person couldn't walk, so family and neighbors organized to carry them down on the stretcher you see here.

Besides the challenge of transportation, Elcenous and his neighbors face the daunting task of going for water. This is the stream bed of a small spring that is the only consistent source of water for a large number of people in the surrounding communities.
On our first trip to Decomb back in May 2012, community members told us that the spring has folks collecting water almost twenty-four hours a day.

Women and young women laboriously collecting "clean" water from a hole dug in the sand by the spring, to help filter out the worst of the muck.
Elcenous (right) helping a neighbor build his own vegetable tire bench. Despite the exceptional challenges of living in Decomb, Elcenous is determined to put into practice some of the ideas he has learned in the Yard Garden program that has begun in three farmer organizations in Verettes--ODEPE, OGAD and MRPST. And now, only a few weeks after he began the process in his own yard, Elcenous is already beginning to work with family, friends and neighbors. The community group that Elcenous leads has collected funds to purchase thirty old tires (at about $1.25 a shot). Now they are searching for ways to get those tires up the mountain to Decomb.

In the United States, we often imagine that people with limited resources have nothing to offer the people around them. We believe, I think, that folks like these must be so mired in their own despair, that they could never even imagine lending a hand to someone in the same situation. Elcenous is one example of a local farmer living in extremely limiting circumstances who nevertheless has a vision for not just his family, but all of the families with whom he and his family live. And he has the strength to begin making that vision a reality.

Pray with me for the work of people such as Elcenous, who with clear visions, strong bodies and strong wills are sowing the seeds of their own resurrection.

Amen and Amen

Friday, December 21, 2012

Effects of Hurricane Sandy

Taking some time to look at some other blogs, including my friend Robert Morikawa, and I wanted to share the link to his observations about the effects of hurricane Sandy in Haiti. Insidious would be one good word to describe what both Bob and I are seeing. Please check it out:
NOTE: you need to slide your mouse arrow to the link in order to see it: This is one effect I have not been able to figure out how to change.

The link is here: Effects of Sandy

Also, please check out the blog on our mapping work in the yard gardens. Here is that link: Mapping Yard Gardens in Léogâne

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Damages from Sandy in Léogâne and Verettes

Dear Friend,

The first part of November, I had the opportunity to spend five days in Lèogâne with the folks of ODEPOL(Organization for the Development of Orange-Pâque of Léogâne) and four days in Verettes, wth the folks of ODEPE (Organization for Development and Protection of the Environment) and MRPST (Movement of Farmer's without Land) just a couple of weeks after Sandy passed through.

I took many pictures of the damage that Sandy had done in both Léogâne and Verettes. Unfortunately, I lost all of those photos. Thinking I had successfully transferred them to my computer I then erased them from the camera. When I returned to look on the computer for the photos, there were only three or four actually downloaded, none of which are related to hurricane damage, or even to our work. Heartbreaking to say the least.

Damage that I heard about and saw include almost total loss of several major crops, including pigeon pea, sweet potato, corn and sorghum. Essentially all of the staple foods that keep folks going during the three to six month dry season. I was skeptical about the loss of the sorghum, because it looked to me like the heads were still intact. A member of MRPST then showed me several of the heads and every single individual grainhead was empty.

Animals were also lost, as were many trees. In all of the yards where we worked, the fruit trees and bananas were wind-whipped and will certainly take time to recover. Some people lost fruit crops as the wind shook off all or most of the fruits. Some people lost homes, or had homes severely damages. Particularly in the mountains of Verettes, we saw houses with damaged roofs. In one large yard, the family had cleared out the debris of a house destroyed by the storm and were preparing to rebuild.

There was also loss of life. There were at least nine people washed away by the flooding in just one of the municipal sectors of Léogâne. When we passed by the dam on the Grand Rivière de Léogâne, on our way up into the mountains, Esterne, who was leading us, showed us where three bodies had been found. Farther up the river, a man we found cleaning up some trees that had been knocked down pointed his finger and said "That was my house and my fields of sweet potatoes and bananas." Where he was pointing is now part of the river bed. Several hundred yards of the river bank must have been washed away, his home and fields along with it

In Léogâne, there was also damage to the irrigation infrastructure. The dam where the bodies were found is now utterly filled with rocks and debris. The captured water that formerly  watered an extensive system of fields no longer flows. The canals are dry.

How will people in the rural countryside survive the next several months until they have a chance (with God's blessing) to grow more crops? How will people replace animals lost? How will they repair their roofs, let alone rebuild their homes? I have no answer, except to note that the people of Haiti are strong and they are resilient. But every setback in the rural area sends more people to the overcrowded urban centers. That is not a humane solution.

Yard gardens are far far far from being THE solution, but they are part of it. The way we are producing food requires relatively little inputs, including relatively little water. And the crops we focus on are highly nutritious and have a quick turn around. Some of the vegetables, such as amaranth and pak choy can be grown from seed to harvest in just over one month. We use moringa as a perennial vegetable that people can harvest almost continuously. We also focus on producing Haitian basket vine intensively. Hatian basket vine is an indigenous plant with very nutritious leaves. None of these crops can take the place of staples such as rice, sorghum, corn, bananas or root crops. But they can complete whatever staple foods the families do produce, turning them into complete meals with vitamins, minerals and proteins, rather than just carbohydrates. Families also are using the garden spaces to produce highly valuable crops such as hot peppers, that can increase income and help ease some of the difficult times.

None of this is enough, but it is something. And by God's grace, something will always trump nothing and eventually lead us to the next better, more fundamental solution. "Turning, turning we come down right."

In Christ,


Monday, December 3, 2012

Making It Happen: The yard garden program in Leogane

From the blog:

"My understanding of God's Kingdom, present and coming ever nearer, is about community. Working with MPP and now with farmer organizations in Léogâne and Verettes, I feel the power of working with communities, learning from their wisdom and practical experiences while also helping to contribute to making them stronger and more viable. I hope that you can sense some of what that means in the photos and the stories that I am sharing."

The first week of October, while I was helping lead a group of visitors from the Presbytery of the James (Presbytery of the James), Herve Delisma and Gultho Orne headed up the mountains of Léogâne to continue the work of helping ODEPOL (Organization for the Development of Orange-Pâque of Léogâne) develop their Yard Garden Program. Here are photos from their work. Photos by Herve Delisma, used by permission and Mark Hare. All rights reserved.

Herve Delisma, also known as Tiga (Tee gu) headed up the mountain to the municipal sectors known as Pâque and Orange, between three and four hours walk.

Gultho Orne, walking up the mountain with Tiga. Gultho and Tiga know this route well by now, and even I could find my way up by myself by now.

Tiga and Gultho began their week of work with Lucsen Sommervil. Lucsen (left) is one of the farmers chosen by the leaders of ODEPOL to become a local technician.  Wilner (right) worked with Lucsen the third week of September, taking basic data about his yard and asking him to describe at least ten things he would like to achieve in his yard in the next twelve months.

Part of the registration process is developing a yard plan showing the types of production that Lucsen already has and indicating where he wants to make changes.. Lucsen actually had to have two plans, because he  is working on a second piece of land up a cliff from his house. The original design was done in pencil, then my niece, Leah Dobbelaer and I provided the colors when she visited us in the Dominican Republic with my sister Nancy this past week.

Green shapes indicate existing vegetation. Brown rectangles indicate existing structures. The blue arrows represent the slopes, or direction of runoff. Shorter arrows indicate steeper slopes (faster runoff) and longer arrows indicate longer, less steep slopes. Blue shapes indicate new structures and red indicates new components to the yard garden system. For example, to the left in this design, are three vegetable benches that Lucsen intends to build--blue parallel lines representing the benches with red circles representing the vegetable tires. Just below the tires you can see where Lucsen plans on establishing Malabar spinach, which he plans on acquiring from his associate, Bruno Sené who lives about an hour and a half away on the other side of the mountain top.

Normally we show where the sun rises and sets, but that is currently missing from this plan.

One important thing to understand about life in the mountains of Léogâne is that there are no flat spaces to build homes. Families have to create flat spaces. They do this by digging at the sides of the hills, packing the soil they loosen until they have a relatively firm base upon which to build. In this picture, you can see the bare earth behind the house, which is where the family took the soil to build the space where their house sits. In Lucsen's yard plan, you can see the same cliff represented by the short blue lines behind the house.
 Lucsen with his first of three tire benches made and with the tires loaded with soil. It is important to remember that people working with us in the mountains have to carry the tires up the mountain to their yards, either on their backs or on the backs of horses, mules or donkeys.
Lucsen's second yard plan. The house ("Kay la") and kitchen ("Kizin nan") are directly down the cliff from this secondary area. In this area Lucsen plans on constructing vegetable beds (red rectangles to the left), planting moringa ("doliv" in Haitian Creol, red rectangle towards the top left) and building a structure for goats (blue rectangle on the right). Blue x's indicate the fence that Lucsen plans on building around the entire area. The light purple lines on the far right show the path leading around and down to the main yard.

The two green circles ("Pye Mawoba" and "Pye Twompèt") mark two large trees at the top edge of the area. The diameter of the green circles that mark existing vegetation gives an approximate indication of the shade a particular tree provides.

 Bruno Sené, Lucsen's associate from the other side of the mountain, and Gultho, lining out Lucsen's  vegetable beds (red triangles).

 Tiga (left) and Lucsen continuing the work preparing the vegetable beds.

 Lucsen (right) and his associate, Bruno, sharing a meal as they work together.

After spending a day with Lucsen, Tigan and Gultho moved on to Esterne Joseph's house. Here Esterne is on the right, working with his wife clearing the land where they will create their new space for vegetable production. Esterne is another of the seven local technicians that our new program is training.

This is Esterne's yard plan. The main production space is indicated by the red symbols, partially surrounded by blue circles indicating the living posts that Esterne plans on planting to form the protective fence around his vegetables. The area is backed (to the right) by a dense thicket of bamboo mixed with a number of fruit and lumber trees.

Esterne also has several construction projects he marked on the map, including one new house (blue square with dashed lines behind the main house, "Kay Nèf") and changing the position of the main house, moving it forward ("Deplase Kay"). Esterne also wants to construct a chicken coop ("Kay Poul") and rebuild the kitchen ("Deplase Kizin"). Note the short blue arrows to the left of the house indicating the ten-fifteen foot cliff that was left where the family cut into the hillside to create their flat space.

"Solèy Leve" to the upper left shows where the sun was coming up when we did this design. "Soley Kouche" to the bottom right shows where the sung goes down. Besides helping to orient the plan, marking the approximate path of the sun helps people think about whether the things they want to plant will be getting enough sunlight, or too much, depending on the plant. Esterne's vegetable space should get plenty of sun.

Benito Mezilus (left) and Esterne, preparing the soil, sand and manure for making the mix that will go in Esterne's tires. Benito is Esterne's associate who lives a brisk twenty-five minute walk away, crossing two streams and one narrow mountain valley. Each of the seven local technicians has an associate who is receiving the same training and has the same responsibility of transforming their yards into models of excellent production.
Benito, mixing the soil for the tires. Behind Benito is the area of Esterne's yard dedicated to staple foods such as bananas, plantains and true yams (Dioscoreaceae), a vining plant that grows best when growing up some structure, such as the bamboo poles in this photo. These are not the sweet potato yams that we know in the states. See True Yams.

Most yards in the Leogane mountain communities already have a great deal of production. This new program is in many ways an experiment to see if we can take a really good thing and make it even better.
Esterne and Benito lining the bottoms of the tires with pieces of wood.
Tiga with Esterne's tires filled and ready to plant.
Benito and his nephew who lives with Benito and his mother.
Benito's yard plan. Tiga and Gultho did not have time to work with Benito on making this plan a reality. Again, the red indicates the new elements to be added, including one bench for vegetable tires in front of the house, a number of papay trees to be planted (to the far right) and a space for the production of moringa and other vegetables (to the left, as you first enter into the yard).

Benito already has an extensive area planted with bananas, plantains, palm trees (used for construction) and fruit trees. Looking at the path of the sun, you can see that where he plans to put the moringa and other vegetables, he may have problems with shading.

After three days up in the mountains, Tiga and Gultho headed down to spend a day or so working with folks in the low lands, in the community of Darbonne, to the southeast of Léogâne city. In Darbonne, they worked with a local technician named Presime, also the vice-president of ODEPOL. Presime's yard is very small, but he already has half a dozen tires positioned and producing.

Presime took Tiga and Gultho to work at the home of Julia, his associate, building the vegetable bench and mixing up the soil. Presime is also in charge of a yard garden project funded by Agricultural Missions (Agricultural Missions), involving, I believe, between fifteen and twenty women.

Julia, mixing up soil. Gultho, supervising.

Building the vegetable tire bench along one side of the house.

Vegetable tire bench built, tires prepared, Julia filling them.

Tiga helps finish filling the tires and then, they were ready for planting.

Walking and working in the mountains of Léogâne can be exhausting, but the warmth of the people who receive us keeps us going back and their dedication in putting into practice the ideas that we have shared with them rejuvenates us again and again.

My understanding of God's Kingdom, present and coming ever nearer, is about community. Working with MPP and now with farmer organizations in Léogâne and Verettes, I feel the power of working with communities, learning from their wisdom and practical experiences while also helping to contribute to making them stronger and more viable. I hope that you can sense some of what that means in the photos and the stories that I am sharing.

Western Blvd Presbyterian Church in Raleigh NC

A quick response to Kathy Johnson at Western Blvd Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, NC.

Hey Kathy,

Thanks for the note and the accolade. The pictures are beautiful because I have a beautiful family, of course.

As far as I know, I will not be in the States and I believe I will be in Haiti for at least the first part of the dates that you mention, June 29th-July 7th. From Tabarre, it should be no more than three hours to Hinche. Less if traffic is not bad in Port. Write me again as a comment, or visit the mission connections website PC (USA) Mission Connections



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