Thoughts from Haiti

Thoughts from Haiti

Hey there, sorry for the long hiatus from blogging! It’s a crazy time of the school year, as you might guess. Over break, I was fortunate enough to travel to Haiti with an F&ES class. It was an incredible experience and I wanted to share some of my thoughts with you all. I wrote this thought journal on March 12, about halfway through our 10-day trip. I hope you enjoy! Please let me know in the comments section if you have any questions about the trip or our work there. I’ll be posting more about that trip soon.

What comes to mind when you think of Haiti? Disaster, degradation, and dystopia, as the title of Michael Dove’s class suggests? The earthquake? Hunger? Poverty? What about culture? Music? Community? The latter is more of what I’ve noticed living in the small village town of Deschapelles in Haiti’s Artibonite Valley. Our class, Sustainable Development in a Post-Disaster Context, is spending six nights at Kay Ayiti (Haiti House) within walking distance of Hopital Albert Schweitzer (HAS). We’re made up of three teams: agroforestry, chronic disease, and WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene). Each team has the amazing opportunity to work, teach, and most importantly, learn, from our partners at HAS.

I have the great pleasure of working with HTRIP, the Haiti Timber Re-Introduction Project, and Melissa, the wonderful woman who heads the program.

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Rather than give you a play-by-play of our whole itinerary, I thought I’d share some of my favorite stories. The agroforestry group brought several forest measurement tools, including a densiometer, canopy scope, soil testing kit, and digital pH-meter. We worked with Melissa and the nine technicians employed by HTRIP to introduce these new measurements into HTRIP’s research program.

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Coming from an education background, I’m really enjoying teaching the technicians. They come each day, ready to learn and practice these new skills. And of course, I have to give incredible props to Melissa, who translates each one of our lessons into Kreyol, the technicians’ questions into English, and then the back and forth that ensues.

One of the funniest parts was watching the friendly completion of trying to learn “faster and better” than their coworkers. After explaining how to use the canopy scope to measure canopy cover, the tool passed from one technician to the other in rapid succession as they explained to one another that the 20 cm string had to be held directly above their head, at a distance measuring 20 cm from their eye. The general sense of joviality and camaraderie made the teaching experience that much more wonderful.

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It’s clear that they all have a great love for their work. On Thursday, our professor, Gordon Geballe, joined our group for soil testing. While we were waiting for the solutions to be prepped, he asked the technicians what their favorite part about working with HTRIP was. The first technician jumped in with a funny quip of “It’s my job, I’m paid to love it!” We all had a good laugh about that. Then, the only female technician of the nine spoke. Her favorite part of the job is getting to teach. She and the others each monitor six communities and the HTRIP plots that lie within them. They travel to the various communities to lead education programs about various topics, including soil conservation, shade crops, and beekeeping. This particular technician loved the ability to share knowledge with the communities that plan to initiate these new practices. That resonated strongly with me.

There are many more stories to be told, but for now, our group is headed to the neighboring town of Verettes. This time, we’ll be learning from the technicians! HTRIP obtained a grant to cultivate and plant passionfruit and yams, two crops that they’ll be growing underneath the trees in the various HTRIP plots. Rather than lose the use of all of that shaded land, they plan to experiment with various shade crops to focus on maximizing land use. The technicians are going to teach our group about Minisett yam preparation, the method they use for (what is it actually used for? Simply planting yams or something more specific?).

I’ll come back with more stories (and pictures), I’m sure! Until then, mesi anpil pou li! (Thank you for reading!)