Our Blog: Water
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.