First Impressions: Haiti Field Visit
Written by Plant With Purpose on May 24, 2016 in General, Haiti
Have you ever wondered what visiting Plant With Purpose’s field programs would be like? What would you discover seeing the programs in action? Valerie Foulkes (pictured above in purple) joined our team in February as Plant With Purpose’s Houston Representative. After a few months of diving into our mission and learning her position, Valerie set out for her first visit to the field. Having recently returned from Haiti, Valerie shares her perspective following her first trip with Plant With Purpose.
1. Share a little about your trip to Haiti.
This trip was an abbreviated version of a Vision Trip with the intention to share Plant With Purpose’s work with a few U.S. pastors including Travis Hall, Eric Parks, and Dave Neuhausel (pictured above). After landing in Port-au-Prince, we joined our Country Director Guy Paraison and drove to our final destination of Bainet. During the drive, Guy pointed out different communities where Plant With Purpose is working, including Mayote where we saw this great example of “before and after” hillside restoration.
In the community of Laplen, we visited a Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) whose name translates to “hope for the future.” When the meeting concluded, we introduced ourselves (my Canadian high school French came in handy!) and were able to ask questions. We were curious as to how they have used loans. When asked if they used the money for education, the entire group raised their hands. One member’s passbook showed how her savings increased in the second cycle from the first, which shows increased confidence in the process.
Yves and Luciane Exameau are married and both hold leadership positions in the VSLA, which met on their farm. Yves gave us a tour and it was clear how the VSLA has contributed to his farm’s success together with sustainable agriculture training. Yves used a loan from the group to buy rabbits, which he breeds and then sells the offspring or gives them as gifts to group members. He then showed us a rather sickly papaya tree commenting that this was how all his trees looked before partnering with Plant With Purpose. Now his papaya trees are thriving producing the largest papayas any of us had ever seen! These results were achieved through newly applied techniques taught by Plant With Purpose including using fertilizer from the rabbits. Before we left, Yves gave a papaya to Guy as a gift to thank him for their partnership.
2. You are a seasoned international traveler. How did this trip compare to other trips you have taken?
Ten years ago I did a volunteer trip to Ecuador with a Canadian organization. We stayed with host families in a small fishing town and helped construct a new school. While it was certainly a life-changing experience and organization’s intent is to develop global citizens, I now understand that short-term, labor focused mission trips can advance unhelpful power dynamics.
I loved that my purpose on this Vision Trip was to observe, listen, and learn so I can do the “mission” part upon returning home. I was not there to teach anyone (what do I know about farming?) but to build relationships and encourage these families that are lifting themselves out of poverty.
3. Share your impression of Plant With Purpose Haiti? How is Plant With Purpose received in the local community?
I was incredibly impressed with Plant With Purpose Haiti staff—the team had put together a thoughtful and flexible itinerary. Every program participant was a genuine “ambassador” for the partnership and able to clearly show us how their lives had improved through incorporating farming techniques taught by Plant With Purpose and participating in Plant With Purpose’s VSLA groups. The staff is deeply connected to the communities but stayed on the fringe during the VSLA meetings. The meetings were run entirely by the members who only occasional asked questions for guidance. Since Plant With Purpose teaches, trains, and facilitates rather than giving handouts, there is minimal reliance on our staff which leads to transformational and sustainable change in the communities.
I have new appreciation for the very difficult roads our staff constantly traverse between remote communities and also the amount of time it takes for Guy to visit these communities from Port-au-Prince. He is very patient but his passion for this work is deep rooted – we drove by the farm he was raised on as child, way at the top of a steep hillside. He knows personally the challenges facing families trying to make a living off degraded land and a future for their children.
Our group joined a VSLA meeting at a church in Benwa. In all Plant With Purpose’s programs, women make up the majority of VSLA members. I loved seeing Joana Sanon (wearing pink in the photo) who at 22 years old is taking a leadership position in her VSLA (and the church!).
This particular group has more than $700 USD in equity! Following the formal VSLA meeting, we heard from group members. Bertrand Jr. said, “VSLA shows us how we can solve our own problems.” Gada shared, “VSLA means a very sure source of loans at any time, to serve any purpose.” Pastor Roland said, “Everywhere there is VSLA, there is change.” Again, several members emphasized the positive impact on sending their children to school.
Lucen Peterson (pictured left) is pursuing his education. That week, the director of the school he wants to attend called and said had to be in Port-au-Prince the following next Monday for exams. Because of the VSLA, he can afford the journey.
After the VSLA meeting concluded, a church service began where Pastor Roland incorporated the Church, Community, and Change curriculum that Plant With Purpose provides. By working together, the church members have improved problems in their community like fixing the terrible road. I saw the church being a powerful agent in community development.
5. What was the most meaningful part of the trip?
I loved starting our day in Bainet by joining the staff with morning devotions. It was wonderful worshiping together and to feel so connected as a team given that our roles within Plant With Purpose are so different—in scope and geographically!
6. Share an interaction with a partnering farmer was most meaningful?
One of our final stops was Jean-Claude’s farm. He was told that we did not know how to graft and would like to learn. Jean-Claude was an excellent teacher and showed us step-by-step how to do graft which substantially decrease the amount of time for a tree to produce fruit (grafted mango trees produce fruit in two years instead of taking six years!). Jean-Claude told us he used to rely on others to graft for him but shared, “Today, I am a technician thanks to Plant With Purpose.” His partnership with Plant With Purpose has truly empowered him and I loved that he could then teach his skills to us visitors (whereas often on traditional labor-focused mission trips, this dynamic is reversed).
We also met a citrus farmer named Nervein Batichon. Given that he already has five citrus farms, we asked him what success looks like to him. He said, “It’s not a success if I don’t share with my neighbors.” He emphasized the importance of sharing the knowledge he gains from Plant With Purpose with his neighbors. He plants trees to try to show visitors that Haiti is beautiful which I didn’t need any convincing.
7. What three tips would you give for someone planning visit Haiti with Plant With Purpose?
1) Learn some of the local language before you go. Practice phrases like how to greet someone, introduce yourself, and say thank you.
2) Set aside distractions. Put your cell phone away. Focus on being in the moment and observing all you can about the community you are in.
3) Engage with the locals. Ask staff and partnering families questions to build relationships and to be able to share their stories upon returning home. This also provides the opportunity to pray specifically for them.