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Our Blog: Haiti
January 28, 2013
Repairing water systems in Haiti
by Matt van Geest 
 
On the road out to Phaeton, a small village in Northeastern Haiti where Vibrant Village has been supporting a nutrition program for three years, my three-year-old son Niko asked me to tell him a story.
 
It was a long and bumpy drive and I knew I needed to keep him occupied. I was excited to take him on this trip since there were no formal meetings, just a group of community members getting together to move some big water tanks. So, I began to tell him a story about a group of villagers getting together to move water tanks and how a little Canadian boy helped them out! He was thrilled.
 
 
The story was really about what I was hoping for the day – a clear and demonstrable show of community support and engagement in the first phase of this water project we were beginning together. I've come to expect that community organizing and mobilization is one of the hardest parts of my work, and deep down, I was worried that the day was going to be a flop.
 
It wasn't, and just as my son was thrilled with the story, so I was thrilled with how the future story of Phaeton is being re-written. There were 25 guys helping move the three massive water tanks. It took a lot of hard work and we were working under the hot sun and in the middle of bunches of thorny bushes. But we persisted and got it done . . . well, THEY persisted and got it done, all with the smiling encouragement of a three-year-old boy and his proud dad.
 

 

January 14, 2013
Haiti, first impressions of northern villages
by Matt van Geest
 
Driving into Phaeton for the first time, I had the sense that this place was different.
 
I’ve been all over Haiti over the past eight years, to small seaside towns and big urban centers, crowded slums and mountain villages – but this isolated place was different. A beautiful, towering row of neem trees dominates the wide entrance to the village with a row of houses on one side, a school, child care center, clinic and Catholic church on the other.
 
 
At one time, the thousands of hectares of scrub land that surround Phaeton and its sister village, Paulette, were the site of a sisal plantation, one of the biggest in the world. At the height of WWII, when sisal production peaked, the sisal company in Phaeton was Haiti’s largest employer and biggest source of tax revenue. Today, however, the story is much different. The company is long gone with a lonely smoke stack as the only visible reminder of what this place once was. The 3000 people that live here get by, barely, by raising some cattle, fishing, on charcoal production and small-scale commerce.  
 
The Vibrant Village Foundation has been funding a feeding program, run by our partner, Mercy and Sharing, for the last few years. We’re looking at ways of improving this program but we’re also thinking long-term. We’ve started a process of community meetings, in both Phaeton and Paulette, to listen and learn, to understand the hopes and dreams of this community to see how we can walk alongside them into the future.
 
Water is the biggest challenge here. A deep well provides some water to the community but all the hand pumps scattered throughout the area are too salty to drink. There is not enough water to do anything but the basics. We’re hoping that we can find ways to improve water supply to reduce health problems but also spur some economic activity, especially through small-scale gardening.  Beyond that, we’ll wait for the community assessment process to be completed before we make any decisions for the future. Our commitment here is for the long-term and I’m excited about the possibilities.
August 10, 2012
Letter from girl at John Branchizio School

My name is Nerestil Kadencheese. I was born on August 12, 2003 at Tabarre. I still live in Tabarre not too far from the John Branchizio School. My house is in sheet metal and it does not belong to my family. I fight every day with my mom and dad to make sure that they stay in that house. The reason why is because that house is 5 minutes away from the John Branchizio School, and with all the advantages I have with John Branchizio and Mercy & Sharing, I would not want to move from that house never in my life.

It’s been already 4 years since I go to John Branchizio School. My biggest dream is to become a nurse, therefore, I would like Mercy & Sharing to add until 12th grade so I can finish my high school education there. If I did not have their support, it would have cost 100,000 gourdes to pay for my school year, and a school that has a lowest level of education than John Branchizio School. I don’t want people to believe that I am always focus on food but I want you to know that the warm plate that I get from school everyday, it is a must, it is the food that give me the strength to study for my class. I cannot explain to someone that did not experience hunger what it is like to not have food. I wait for that plate every day because I know that after eating I will be able to achieve everything that I want. In order to achieve my goal I also study very hard and my homework are always done in time that is why I have an average of 8.75 out of 10.

Mercy & Sharing is a big part of my life. With them I can also go to summer school. I love summer school. Instead of staying home during the summer doing nothing and not even have a warm plate to eat some days, I enjoy going to learn more. There, they keep you busy and you learn new things every day. Even with my young age when I get home I can share with my brothers and very often teach new things to my parents. My father has no job, my mother is the one working to make some money and take care of everything in the house. I help my mom a lot with some little chores in the house: I do the dishes and I clean the house. I could also cook but my parents think that I am too young to use the fire for the charcoal. We do not have electricity at home so I have to study before the sun goes down or early in the morning. I love my school thanks to Mercy & Sharing, I am sure I will be one day able to achieve my goal to become a nurse. Even with their economical problems my parents are supporting me a lot in my study. They always tell me that I am the one they are counting on for the future to take care of the family.

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