Hope grows in Haiti step at a time

Earlier this spring I joined a team of 14 central Iowans from Ankeny Christian Church, First Christian Church of Des Moines and First Christian Church of Newton on a seven-day mission trip to Haiti. Our primary tasks were to assist a church in the Fontamara neighborhood of Port-au-Prince (Haiti’s capital city) with post-earthquake rebuilding efforts and to bring clothing and school supplies to children.

Prior to my trip I read extensively about the conditions in Haiti. No amount of reading or video watching could have prepared me for the country’s conditions.

Haiti was the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere prior to the January 2010 earthquake. The epicenter of the massive 7.0 magnitude earthquake was nine miles southwest of Port-au-Prince. An estimated 2 million people lived within the zone that received heavy to moderate structural damage.

Key Points

Devastated by a huge earthquake, the country of Haiti faces many challenges.

Many Haitians have a smile on their face and a look of determination in the eyes.

They are motivated to grow more food and make change happen in their country.

Prior to 2010 around 80% of Haitians lived under the poverty line and more than 50% were in extreme poverty. I have no doubt these numbers are much higher today. There is no denying the earthquake was a horrific setback for the country. But in my opinion, it did not break the spirit of the Haitian people.

People still have pride

The first thing that stood out during my visit was the amount of pride the Haitian people take in their personal appearance. A large majority of Haitians still live in tents. Tent clusters can be seen throughout Port-au-Prince, and new tent cities are developing on the outskirts of town in all directions.

These small tents, many of which are located on dirt hillsides, provide minimal shelter from the rain, wind and sun. However, nearly every Haitian I met, spoke with and saw on the street wore new-looking, clean clothes and took pride in their personal hygiene. Schoolchildren, dressed in the whitest and crispest uniforms, would stop and shine their shoes before entering school.

Even with all the challenges they face, I found that many Haitians have a smile on their face and a look of determination in their eyes. They are indeed motivated to make change happen in their country.

These small signs of hope convinced me that the Haitian recovery efforts of time, resources and money being put forth by the thousands, if not millions of people from the United States and around the world, are indeed doing good things.

For example, the grain-bin style home-building efforts by Sukup Manufacturing Co. and partners, such as the Iowa Food and Family Project and the Iowa Soybean Association, are helping meet probably the biggest need in Haiti. The sturdy homes can withstand strong winds and are nearly earthquake-proof. Hope is growing one house at a time.

While in Haiti we met a small mission team from the Kansas City area that has raised thousands to help establish chicken-growing operations with groups of families in Port-au-Prince. One day chickens purchased by this mission team will not only feed hundreds of Haitians, but also provide an income source for many families. An estimated 70% of Haitians depend on agriculture for their livelihood. Even so, Haiti has historically imported around 60% of its food. Hope is growing one chicken coop at a time.

We also met a team from Canada that has been to Haiti numerous times to work with local officials to help establish an extensive reforestation project. Sadly, only 1% of the natural forest in Haiti remains. As you look at the steep hill, all you see are bare rocks and a tree or green bush every once in a while. Hope is growing one tree at a time.

Even though my stay in Haiti was only seven days, the impact the country and its people had on me is everlasting. Anyone who visits Haiti will undoubtedly leave wishing they could have done more. The opportunities to help are endless. When I boarded the plane going back to the United States, it was comforting to know that each day more planes are arriving in Haiti with people from all over the world ready to roll up their sleeves to grow hope in their small way.

Leach is a regular contributor to Wallaces Farmer and lives in Ankeny.

Education holds key to recovery

Improving the Haitian education system may hold the key for the country’s future successes. A government program established since the January 2010 earthquake includes a five-year goal to begin offering public education to all Haitian children.

Today, Haiti has more than 15,000 primary schools, of which more than 90% are private and either managed by the local community, religious organizations or non-governmental organizations. Only two out of three Haitian children go to primary school and less than 30% of the country’s children reach sixth grade.

Also, less than 40% of the Haitian schools are accredited, and only 15% of the teachers have basic teaching qualifications such as a university degree. Improving the education system is indeed important as an estimated 35% of the nation’s nearly 10 million residents are younger than 15 years old.


CHICKEN COOP: About 70% of Haitians make their livelihood from agriculture. Still, the country imports 60% of its food. A mission team from the Kansas City area is helping families establish chicken-growing operations.


TREES CUT DOWN: Only 1% of the natural forest remains in Haiti. The vast mountainous areas throughout the island nation are barren with only an occasionally growing tree or bush.

This article published in the May, 2012 edition of WALLACES FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2012.