Monday, 01 March 2010

Looking Forward in Haiti

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Following the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti in early January, CTI began to receive calls from relief organizations looking for manually operated equipment to process the food aid pouring into the country. Many organizations distributing food did not have access to electricity or gas, so there was great demand for hand-powered devices that could process flour and peanut butter. In response to this demand, generous donors paid for grinders and travel expenses, allowing CTI to send a volunteer to Haiti to distribute grinders and train the end users.

Upon arrival in Cap Haitien, CTI Americas Committee Vice Chair, Sam Usem, quickly realized that the desperate situation in the country extends far beyond the Port au Prince region. An estimated half-million people have fled Haiti’s capital in a little over a month. In Cap Haitian, on the north coast of Haiti, refugees have been pouring in looking for food, water, and relief from the destruction.

There is famous expression in Haiti, “Dèyè mon gen mon”, which roughly translates to, “beyond the mountains, there are mountains”. This expression has several meanings, and is often used to express the seemingly endless challenges the country has faced. Even before the earthquake, 80% of Haitians lived in poverty, and  88% of the rural population lived in poverty. However, Sam met with countless determined individuals who demonstrated that, despite their desperate circumstances, Haitians have never given up on working towards a better future.

While in Haiti, Sam had the opportunity to meet with RAFAVAL, a women’s group located in the town of Limonade. With the help of the Haitian development nonprofit, Sonje Ayiti, the women’s co-op had started a business making chocolate for hot cocoa. When presented with CTI’s Ewing Grinder, the women were thrilled that they will no longer have to travel to pay someone to grind their cocoa, saving them time and money.

“RAFAVAL will be making Hot Cocoa to distribute at makeshift shelters in Limonade and will use this new tool to make more Hot Cocoa to sell locally. This is not relief, but development and empowerment. Thanks to Compatible Technology International.” – Gabrielle, Country Director for Sonje Ayiti

Sam met with several other co-op groups throughout Haiti. While many people he encountered expressed reservations about believing more talk about “saving” Haiti, they still shared the hope that, this time, sustainable development will be more than a promise.

As refugees flee Port au Prince and settle in rural areas, there is an opportunity for an investment in Haiti’s long neglected countryside. Two-thirds of Haitians work in agriculture, yet the country imports between 57 and 80% of its food, and much of the population is subsisting on the edge of starvation. Haiti’s agriculture sector will be an essential component for building the country’s future.

CTI’s approach is very well suited to help revitalize agriculture in Haiti. CTI technologies are ideal for small-holder farmers and are adaptable to most food crops grown in Haiti. CTI is currently working on developing projects that will contribute to the sustainable rebuilding of Haiti.

In Haiti, the famous proverb, “Beyond the mountains, there are mountains,” is also used to express the idea that there are endless opportunities and infinite possibilities. In the months and years to come, Compatible Technology International will be working to provide opportunities to for Haitians to feed and support themselves. At CTI, we believe that there is a brighter future ahead for Haiti and we will hope you join us as we help Haitians build it.

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