Hope in Haiti: Fighting for Humanity

At first, I thought I was fighting to save rubber trees, then I thought I was fighting to save the Amazon rainforest. Now I realize I am fighting for humanity.

- Chico Mendes, Brazilian Environmentalist

This quote describes the transition in meaning of the Yéle Vert project Timberland is supporting in Gonaives, Haiti. At first we thought we were fighting to save Haiti’s rapidly declining tree population, then we thought we were fighting to save the region’s eroded farmlands and deforested hillsides. Now we realize we’re fighting for humanity.

12 months ago we set out to build nurseries so we could plant trees by the millions annually. Fast forward to today: a year after breaking ground on the first Yéle Vert community nursery, the five community nurseries and the larger central nursery are up and running at full capacity. Over the last month and a half, approximately 280,000 of the trees grown by farmers since July in the six nurseries have been transplanted by those same farmers to their land and various community-owned properties. Approximately 95,000 trees remain in the nurseries and will be transplanted over the next two months depending on rain and weather conditions – all under the very able direction of Timote George of Trees for the Future. When those trees are planted, Yéle Vert will have put approximately 475,000 trees in Haiti’s soil in its first year – despite the January earthquake, the October cholera outbreak and the November failed elections. And that’s not all. The farmers have already seen an increase in their crop yields as a result of their putting into practice the agroforestry training provided by the Yéle Vert program.

Timote George, project manager of Yéle Vert, standing next to a 4-month old Moringa Oleifera tree at the central Yéle Vert nursery. A red arrow has been added to show the top of the tree. The large-leafed bush on either side is Jatropha, which is used as a hedge to protect crops as well as for biofuel.

Next steps for Yéle Vert include the completion of an administration building at the central nursery by the end of December. The building will serve as Yéle Vert’s administrative HQ as well as provide storage for tools, seeds and supplies. Also, the environmental education component of Yéle Vert got underway recently. A local teacher is meeting regularly with children from the villages where the Yéle Vert nurseries are situated to give them environmental education lessons.  Eventually a full environmental education curriculum and accompanying text book (written in Creole, making it the first of its kind) will be introduced to each participating Yéle Vert community.

Rosie Despignes, who has begun to implement the environmental education component of Yele Vert, showing some of the curriculum material she has been preparing.

The progress of Yéle Vert has not been without challenges. In November one of the farmers, a regular Yéle Vert participant, died of cholera and several other people succumbed to the disease in Gonaives in recent weeks. This is when the aspect of humanity, although ever-present, shone through at its brightest. Hugh Locke and Samuel Darquin of Yéle Haiti joined Trees for the Future’s Timote George in conducting a cholera prevention training session with the Yéle Vert farmers.  Timote will be receiving additional prevention training from Partners in Health and Yéle Haiti has sent a shipment of bars of soap so that all six of the nurseries will begin to serve as community focal points for cholera prevention.

What is interesting is that this leadership role for the Yéle Vert nurseries is happening naturally because they are already a trusted and valued part of these farming communities.  Also, within the next few weeks the Yéle Haiti foundation will be building one compost toilet in each of the six Yéle Vert nurseries as a result of a request from the farmers. The farmers want to see how such toilets work so that they can install them at their own farms as a cholera prevention step. Currently most farmers’ homes are without even an outdoor toilet, which can lead to the spread of cholera.

From trees to training and text books, from soil and seeds to composting toilets, Yéle Vert has become an integral part of the lives of farmers and their families in six villages around Gonaives, Haiti. Yes, it takes a village to raise a child. And it takes a village to plant a tree as well. But it also takes support from private sector companies like Timberland and from committed non-profit NGOs like the Yéle Haiti Foundation and Trees for the Future to build and fulfill a vision of sustainable living rooted (pun intended) in environmental and agricultural education, stewardship and action to create a successful model for economic, social and environmental livelihood. That’s what Yéle Vert is. And that’s something to be celebrated – especially if you imagine the day where every village in Haiti has a Yéle Vert program with multiple nurseries that grow millions of trees annually. That’s hope for Haiti – and it’s real and it’s within reach.

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