Posts Tagged ‘Haiti earthquake’

Timberland Haiti and President Clinton: Remembering and Rebuilding

Timberland’s vice president of supply chain, Gareth Brooks, shared the following update with the Timberland community today.  2 years after the Haiti earthquake, our commitment to helping that nation rebuild continues.

On Wednesday, just one day before the 2nd anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti, I had the honor of hosting former President Bill Clinton at our new factory there.  He came, along with staff from The Clinton Foundation, to raise awareness for the continued need for economic development in Haiti – and today, January 12, he’ll attend memorial services for the victims.

Former President Clinton at Timberland's factory in Haiti

Two years later, the country is still devastated by the effect of the earthquake and governmental efforts to rebuild are progressing slowly.  Timberland has opened a factory in Haiti not only because it makes good commercial sense, but also because it supports our commitment to community.  We’re making products that require specific skills to create, and we’re providing the extensive training required to do so; Haiti doesn’t have a heritage of shoemaking, but our dedicated Haitian staff have demonstrated a willingness to learn.

Handstitchers at work

Since the factory opened in June, we have recruited and trained nearly 150 employees to make handsewn uppers.  Our expansion within the facility continues, and next spring we plan to open our first cut-to-box manufacturing line which will produce our first “Made In Haiti” classic handsewns.

Handstitched upper, made in Haiti

In addition to creating jobs and training people to fill them, Timberland also has a significant agro-forestry program in Haiti that combines tree planting and farmer education in a way that is  community-managed, self-financed and replicable.   Three hundred local farmers volunteer to operate the tree nurseries that supply trees for food, fuel and building material.  And, the program is designed to develop each nursery to be self-sustaining after 3 years.  Our program has already resulted in almost 2 million trees planted in Haiti; in one of the most deforested nations in the world, the importance of trees can’t be underestimated.

I was proud to join our team in Haiti yesterday, as they shared with President Clinton this amazing facility and the progress we’re making in both manufacturing great products and engaging in the local community.

Serving Communities in More Ways Than One

Last week I received an email from Hugh Locke, the president of Yéle Haiti, one of Timberland’s two partners in the Yéle Vert tree nursery projects we’re supporting in Haiti. The subject line of the email was, “Yéle Vert and Cholera Response.”  I was a little apprehensive about opening it. The last time Hugh sent me a note about Yéle Vert and cholera was this past November and it was to inform me that a Yéle Vert farmer, who was also one of the program’s most ardent supporters, had died of from complications caused by cholera.

The November news, while devastating to me and many others, prompted Hugh to work with Timote Georges, our Yéle Vert project leader from Trees for the Future, and with health professionals from Partners in Health to immediately put into action a cholera prevention training program for our Yéle Vert farmers.  Within a week of receiving the training all six of the Yéle Vert nurseries began to serve as community focal points for cholera prevention.

Thanks to our passionate partners, there was good to come from such a sorrowful event. And when I finally opened Hugh’s email last week, he proved that the quick and solid course of action by Timberland’s valued partners to prevent another cholera-related death in the farming communities served by Yéle Vert was in fact an act of human greatness…

Dear Margaret:

Just back from Haiti and catching up… more to follow, but wanted to share the story below as it involves our Yéle Vert team…

Yéle Haiti’s contribution to stemming the spread of cholera has saved many lives, but you don’t often get a chance to put a face to those who have been helped. That is, until now. The face in question is that of Florvil Sony, a 15-year-old boy who lives with his parents and two brothers in the small farming community of Morancy, about 45 minutes from the outskirts of Gonaives. He recently contracted cholera. As his symptoms quickly became critical, his parents were frightened that the rest of the family could be infected if they tried to care for him. Not knowing what to do or who to turn to for help, they abandoned Florvil to die.

Twenty of the Yéle Vert technicians and farmers in this same area were trained last November in cholera prevention and treatment by Partners in Health. As word spread of Florvil having contracted the disease and been abandoned to die, a Yéle Vert technician named Wilson Noel took action. He found Florvil, took him to one of the Yéle Vert nurseries and gave him the life saving combination of water, salt and sugar that he had learned about from Partners in Health.  Having stabilized Florvil, Noel then took him using the nursery’s motorcycle to a hospital in Gonaives. By last week Florvil had completely recovered and was back with his family and attending school as usual.

Sincerely,

Hugh

15-year-old Florvil Sony (middle), photographed last week with his two brothers, after recovering from cholera. His life was saved by the efforts of Yéle Vert technician Wilson Noel.

I guess it’s true what they say, “It takes a village to raise a child.” I am so proud of the amazing community-based leadership model that Yéle Vert represents.  Yes, we’re planting hundreds of thousands of trees annually. And we’re providing valuable agroforestry training and supplying seeds to farmers. But the success of the program lies not only in the tangible elements Timberland, Trees for the Future and Yéle Haiti have provided to the farmers and the six communities where the nurseries are located. Success lies also in the intangible ideal that, because of the success of the nurseries, the Yéle Vert farmers have naturally evolved to leaders because they are truly a trusted and valued part of their farming communities. Earthkeeping at its finest.

Haiti Needs Purpose, Not Pity

With the anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti upon us, I’ve seen a fair amount of predictable media coverage that recounts the devastating events of January 12, 2010, and an equal amount of coverage that focuses on the continuing plight of the Haitian people one year later.

I’m pretty ambivalent about the media coverage.  It’s not that I don’t think the situation in Haiti is worth remembering – I remember it all the time.  I was there 2 weeks after the earthquake struck last January and the sights and smells and sounds of the scared and the mourning, the sick and the dead, the endless, massive piles of rubble – those are things that stick in my mind.  I do remember.    My wish is that there could be a greater purpose to all the “anniversary” coverage of Haiti’s demise … that we could realize more than just remembrance and renewed sympathy, do more than shake our heads sadly and turn the page, or change the channel.

Sympathy has its place – compassion can be an incredibly powerful driving force.  But compassion in this case hasn’t proven effective.  For all the good that’s been done over the past year – longer, even, since we’re talking about a country that was plagued by economic and environmental hardships long before last year’s earthquake  — for all the support that’s come in to Haiti in the way of supplies and volunteers and money, it’s not enough.  Much of the aid, it’s been reported, isn’t even getting where it needs to be.  And even if every tent, every dollar, every box of food to date had been successfully directed and applied – relying on the good will and offerings of the rest of the world simply isn’t sustainable.

No, Haiti doesn’t need another telethon or more donations.  The best philanthropy efforts in the world haven’t and won’t solve for the more than 3,000 deaths to date due to cholera, or a more than 80% unemployment rate, or the fact that 1 million+ Haitians are living in makeshift shelters and unsafe, unsanitary tent cities.  As Nicholas Kristof aptly pointed out in his New York Times op-ed last week, Haiti’s people don’t need food and clothing, they need to be able to care for themselves and support their families.  They don’t need a handout, they need a ladder to climb.

There are pockets of progress to report on this front … Kristof cites Fonkoze, an organization which provides rural Haitians with economic support in the form of loans, education and training.  And Konbit, a program established by a team of MIT students, matches unemployed Haitians who might not otherwise have access to information about prospective job opportunities by way of an automated phone system.  Positive, meaningful programs like these do exist and are making a difference in Haiti … but a handful of organizations aren’t going to raise the country out of the mud and make it whole again.   It’s progress, but it’s still philanthropic progress.  I do truly and deeply appreciate philanthropy – but we can’t expect humanitarian giving to replace a sound and sustainable business model – which is what Haiti needs most of all.

Think about it: what if Haiti could present a compelling ROI to potential “investors” and demonstrate a meaningful return for their contribution there?  It would be a stretch — we’re talking about a country with a crippled infrastructure, corrupt government, widespread disease … and that’s just the headline.  Think about the challenges of doing business in Haiti when everything from their sanitation system to their roadways to their power supply is unreliable or in some places, nonexistent.  But changing the way we think about Haiti – regarding it not as the focus of philanthropy but as the source of potential opportunity – is the most compelling and promising way I can see to break the vicious cycle that’s got the country in dismal paralysis.  Haiti needs the resources and opportunities businesses could bring to bear in order to start solving for its widespread instability … but that instability is precisely what’s keeping many businesses from going there.

Note that I said “many businesses,” and not “all.”  There are many brands that have had manufacturing operations in Haiti for years, successfully … although like the nonprofit sector, it’s going to take more than the current roster to create any sort of discernible impact.  And starting this year, there will be one more name on the roster: we’re in the process of establishing a Timberland manufacturing facility there. The factory is being built in a trade zone located in Oanaminthe, a town that sits on the eastern border of Haiti adjacent to the Dominican Republic.  Oanaminthe is about 200 miles from Port au Prince, where the earthquake struck last January — but like Port au Prince, and most every other region of the country, it is an area of critical, persistent need.  The unemployment rate there mirrors the rest of the country, the living conditions are dismal and the local community is desperate for a ladder to climb.  With any luck, our factory will be open and operating by early summer … and while we’re starting small – 30 or 40 jobs to start – we’re hoping to grow to a point where we’ll need a workforce of 300 – 400 employees in the next few years.

Importantly, opening a factory in Haiti has some clear advantages for Timberland.  It will help us build our manufacturing capacity in a region that’s closer to our major markets; the abundant, motivated workforce is pretty attractive, too.  If the goal is to expand our manufacturing capacity in a manner and a location that makes economic and logistical sense, Haiti looks pretty good.

And as a company that’s committed to creating positive social and environmental impact at the same time we’re earning a buck, Haiti makes sense, too.  For nearly 2 years now, we’ve had a program in Haiti called Yele Vert which is all about reforestation and sustainable agriculture.  A little over a year ago we broke ground on the first Yele Vert nursery, with a vision of training local farmers to grow and cultivate trees, which would be sold (an economic boost for farmers and their community) or used to reforest the local hillsides.  While the earthquake took us (along with much of the rest of the world) temporarily off-track, it never took us off course.  A year later there are 6 Yele Vert community nurseries up and running at full capacity, with nearly 300,000 nursery-grown trees already planted by local farmers, and more than 100,000 slated to be planted in the next few months.

Since we’re already making social and environmental investments in Haiti, it makes sense – and is in our own best interest, if we want to see the Yele Vert vision become a blossoming reality – to invest our business there, too.  And with the establishment of a Timberland factory in Haiti, we’re completing the equation and living up to our own business model, which prescribes that commerce and justice should coexist and be mutually supportive.  I believe in our model of commerce and justice completely … and I’m as anxious as anyone to see it succeed in a country that is sorely lacking both.

Haiti probably doesn’t present as many compelling opportunities for other businesses as it does for Timberland, and I get that.  It’s a unique combination of right-place-right-time factors that have convinced us to make the leap and give it a try.  But the mentality that brought us to this point – regarding Haiti not as a repository for charitable giving and donations, but as a country that might in fact have something to offer us in the way of bottom-line business benefit – that’s the kind of shift in thinking I believe could be more valuable than check-writing and more profitable than a fundraiser.

Is going into business in Haiti a smart business decision?  That remains to be seen.  It certainly isn’t without substantial risks … but life, and business, is full of risks.  I for one choose not to dwell on “what if” and focus instead on what might be … more trees, more jobs, more stability for Haiti; a stronger, healthier relationship between an historically downtrodden country and the businesses and organizations that engage with it.

Crazy CEO fantasy?  Could be.  But as long as the fantasy is better than realty, I’ll be working toward it.

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.

12 Months and 475,000 Trees Later: There is, in Fact, Hope in Haiti

As we near the end of 2010 we face the plethora of impending “year in review” news stories and there’s no doubt that the January 12 earthquake, the October cholera outbreak and November failed presidential elections in Haiti will be focal points of those reports. As they should be. But my fear is that those reports will be frosted with the negative aspects of the condition of Haiti as a developing country in a world of hurt that is hopeless and full of hopelessness. I pray my fear isn’t realized because there exist many examples of progress and hope and success in helping to build back Haiti and those need to be shared and reported. And, while January 12 is a month away and that date in and of itself will spawn many earthquake anniversary stories, there’s no reason to wait until then to share the story of Yéle Vert, an incredible success story in the making in Gonaives, Haiti.

This week marks the one-year anniversary of the launch of the Yéle Vert project in Gonaives, Haiti. Yéle Vert is collaboration between Timberland, the Yéle Haiti Foundation and Trees for the Future. There are six nurseries that make up Yéle Vert in Gonaives – one central nursery on the outskirts of the city and five smaller nurseries in nearby farming communities. At the central nursery there is a training center that has recently been completed – and in this simple building, farmers gather to discuss the ongoing operation of the Yéle Vert program and receive training to improve their techniques so that they can, in turn, increase crop yields.

Farmers taking part in the Yéle Vert program gather in the newly completed Training Center.

In December 2009, Timberland, Yéle Haiti and Trees for the Future started to break ground on the first of the six nurseries in Gonaives with the goal of having all of the nurseries up and running at full capacity by May 2010. One month after beginning work on the first nursery, the earthquake hit and we were immediately faced with some very difficult decisions. Do we cancel plans to build out Yéle Vert in Gonaives and focus solely on earthquake recovery? Do we move Yéle Vert from Gonaives, an area that wasn’t immediately impacted by the actual quake but an area in need of support nonetheless, to an area closer to Port au Prince in an effort to support a long term recovery effort there? Or, do we carry on as planned with Yéle Vert and also do as much as we can to support earthquake relief and recovery?

Within a week of the quake striking we had made the decision with Yéle Haiti and Trees for the Future to carry on with our work in Gonaives because the work there, we knew, was far too important to walk away from or delay. Also, we figured if we could build a successful model in Gonaives, we could expand Yéle Vert to other areas throughout Haiti. To stay in Gonaives meant we could likely build success and derive key learnings much faster than if we established the program in an area hit hard by the quake.

Haiti’s status as the more environmentally degraded and poorest country in the Western Hemisphere has been widely documented. Less than 2% of the country’s original forests remain due to a long history of unsustainable land-use practices and a continuing dependence on trees for fuel wood and charcoal for cooking and heating.

Just as well documented is the reluctant and cautious nature of the Haitian people to accept help from NGOs and private sector companies. As we started to build the six nurseries, each in a different village, we learned straight away the importance of engaging the local farmers and other citizens in the villages in a dialogue about what is important to them when it comes to planting trees on and around their land.  Thanks to Timote George, a native of Gonaives and the Yéle Vert project manager and country manager for Trees for the Future, the message of Yéle Vert was delivered to the local farming community in a very diplomatic and engaging manner. While skepticism among the locals was evident, they were willing to give Yéle Vert a try by volunteering to help run the local nurseries. In return they would receive agroforestry training, non genetically-modified seeds for their crops, and trees planted on their lands that would help increase crop yield by restoring essential nutrients to the soil and helping to bring back natural habitats for insects, birds and other animals crucial to productive agriculture.

Yéle Vert administration building nearing completion,
with Trees for the Future’s Timote George on the right.

In May 2010, within four months of breaking ground on the first three nurseries, the farmers were planting seedlings from the nurseries in to their land and on adjacent deforested hillsides. In June and July, more than 100,000 trees were planted and the final three nurseries were constructed.

Trees at the Yéle Vert central nursery ready to be transplanted by farmers to their fields.

Looking back is important … but a true retrospect needs to acknowledge the good that’s been achieved, along with all the hardships and challenges Haiti and its people have suffered.  Stay tuned for a follow-up post on the current state of the Yéle Vert project, how our farmers are coping with the widespread cholera outbreak, and what our vision is for this program and partnership in the future.

Turning Trash into Sustainable Treasure

There are plenty of media reports today about the lack of progress in Haiti … and it’s true that 6 months after the country was rocked by a devastating earthquake, there are still too many people suffering and too many critical needs that continue to be unmet.  But there are also many organizations working hard to help Haitians get back on solid ground and, importantly, prepare for the future.

Earthship Biotecture designs and builds self-sufficient houses that:

  • are constructed using natural and recycled materials (such as cans, bottles and tires),
  • heat and cool themselves naturally via solar and thermal dynamics,
  • collect their own power from the sun and wind,
  • harvest their own water from rain

“Earthships” have been built all over the world – and just a few weeks ago, a small team from Earthship Biotecture traveled to Haiti to start a project there.  What started as a reconnaissance mission turned into full-fledged construction, with the following Earthship built in just four days:

The entire building was constructed from garbage found within a mile of the build site; 40 Haitians from the nearby tent city helped to build the earthquake and hurricane-resistant structure, and learned the skills they’ll need to replicate the construction on their own.

The Earthship Biotecture team will return in October to integrate Earthship systems into the structure (water harvesting, solar / wind power, heating and cooling, etc.).

To learn more about the good work Earthship Biotecture is doing, both in Haiti and in other parts for the world, please visit their website.

A Textbook Example of Commerce and Justice

I walked off Bryant University’s commencement stage in May of 2009 with a diploma in hand, a wealth of fundamental marketing knowledge and an internship getting my feet wet in the boot business. Like every graduating senior, I thought I knew exactly what to expect from the “real world.” I’d read the textbooks (or at least the chapter summaries), listened closely to my professors and tried to soak up as much knowledge as I could. Excited to start my career, I hoped that my internship at Timberland would put those fundamentals to the test.

Once I got into the swing of it, working in corporate America wasn’t all that bad. My college education had given me a good start and for the most part, I found that this “real world” was fairly controlled. But in January of 2010, that sense of control seemed to vanish.

As a true millennial, I don’t read the newspaper, so I first heard about the earthquake in Haiti through social means, followed by a Google search. The boot makers I worked with were passionate about helping Haiti, and we had committed to reforestation projects there just months earlier. Word of the earthquake spread fast around Timberland headquarters and, naturally, rumors started swirling. But one outstanding question left me profoundly worried: did the Haitian artists that designed the artwork for our Yéle Haiti t-shirts perish during the disaster?

The “Five Musketeers” — FOSAJ artists that designed the artwork for Timberland’s Yéle Haiti t-shirts.

Read the rest of this entry »

Haiti Dispatch #3: First Steps

Below, the final installment of our Haiti Dispatches — a 3-part series documenting the recent journey to Haiti made by Timberland’s CEO Jeff Swartz and other leaders seeking to leverage their strength and create a positive impact.

Amidst continuing hunger and homelessness, the group did find signs of hope — examples of innovation, collaboration and indomitable human spirit that will help to take Haiti take its first steps forward into a more sustainable future.

Haiti Dispatch #2: Preparing for Rain

Video#2 of the Haiti Dispatches … a 3-part series chronicling the recent trip to Haiti taken by a delegation of leaders committed to helping the nation repair and rebuild.

Personal accounts of the trip, written by Timberland’s CEO Jeff Swartz and others, can be read on huffingtonpost.com.

Haiti Dispatch #1: A Persistent Need

In April 2010, a delegation of leaders traveled to Haiti to bear witness to the post-earthquake devastation and share their individual strengths with a country in need. What they found 3 months after the natural disaster was overwhelming hunger and homelessness, as well as devastation of both the land and its people.

The following video is the first in a 3-part series documenting this group’s journey. Stay tuned for additional videos … and visit Huffington Post’s Haiti Blog for additional commentary from Timberland CEO Jeff Swartz and others.