Posts Tagged ‘Yele Haiti’

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.

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.

“They’re Gonna Feed Themselves”

“They’re gonna feed themselves.  They’re gonna be a proud, independent nation.”

Timberland President & CEO Jeff Swartz

To create real and sustainable community impact, you’ve got to involve community in the process.  Our second Yele Vert video highlights the critical role local residents play in the success of the Haiti reforestation program — from sifting soil and planting seeds to cultivating the trees that will provide long-term environmental and economic support.

To learn more about Timberland’s Yele Vert program — and to contribute to our reforestation effort in Haiti — visit www.Facebook/Timberland and start your own virtual forest.

Trees for Haiti

“Pouring money on top of dry land isn’t reforesting.  Reforesting is, you’ve got to come out in the dirt.  You’ve got to talk to people.  This is your home, this is our passion … how do we put those things together?”

Timberland President & CEO Jeff Swartz

We’ve just announced a commitment to plant five million trees in five years to help create sustainable solutions in Haiti and China — two areas plagued by the disastrous effects of deforestation.

To help illustrate the need for — and impact of — those five million trees, we’ve produced a series of videos about our Haiti tree planting project, Yele Vert.  Episode 1 appears below … and you can watch the entire series of videos on our YouTube channel.

Inspired to help?  Visit www.Facebook.com/Timberland and start growing your own virtual forest.  The more virtual trees planted, the more real trees we’ll put in the ground in Haiti.

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 »

Headed Back to Haiti

Early next week, Timberland President and CEO Jeff Swartz will return to Haiti for the second time since January’s earthquake. Jeff will travel with a powerful team of individuals representing a variety of industries and specialties, united in their desire to contribute to supporting Haiti and its people – both today, and looking into the future.

Among those joining Jeff next week:

Bill Shore, founder of Share Our Strength
Cat Cora, founder of Chefs for Humanity
Stephanie Dodson, co-founder and director of Strategic Grant Partners
Former Nebraska Governor and Senator Bob Kerrey
Winifred Danke, executive director of the Prosthetic Outreach Foundation

Hunger, prosthetics and economic development are three very different but very real needs that have emerged in Haiti in the wake of the earthquake, and the team traveling to Haiti next week will work to assess those needs and help create actionable, sustainable solutions to each. Specifically, they’ll be meeting with NGOs and Haitian government officials providing prosthetics and rehabilitation for injured Haitians, visit schools with the World Food Program and hospitals where Partners in Health are working, and see first hand the progress being made through agricultural initiatives being implemented by our partner Yele Haiti and Chefs for Humanity.

Stay tuned for an update from Jeff next week after his return; until then, please join us in thanking this group for their commitment to creating a positive impact for Haiti and its people.

A Time for Regrowing

A full month has passed since the major earthquake that rocked Haiti and devastated its people.  In its wake, much of the world has shifted its focus to the need for aid and relief for Haiti’s survivors.  The need for basic necessities – food, water, secure shelter – remains critical.

Equally critical is a vision for Haiti’s future … and as part of that vision, a sharp focus on the country’s environmental state.  Haiti suffers one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world, thanks in large part to the need for energy (Haitians cut and burn trees in “raw” form or turn the wood into charcoal).  Wood accounts for more than 70 percent of all fuel consumed in the island nation … but with fewer than 100,000 acres of forest remaining, Haiti’s deforestation problem is poised to become yet another crisis for the country.

Satellite image depicting the border between Haiti (left)
and the Dominican Republic (right), 2002.

Deforestation is a serious problem anywhere – but particularly alarming when you consider the effects in a region that has in recent years suffered several natural disasters.  Without trees creating any sort of a natural barrier or holding soil in place, flooding, mudslides and landslides become severe threats, impacting everything from infrastructure to agriculture.

While we’re currently supporting relief efforts underway in Haiti , we haven’t lost sight or passion for the reforestation project we’re undertaking with our partner Yele Haiti.  In fact, the current state of affairs reaffirms our commitment to helping rebuild the country, one tree at a time.

Stay tuned for more details of our reforestation projects, in Haiti as well as other regions of the world

Bearing Witness to Haiti

The following is an email sent by Timberland President and CEO Jeff Swartz to Timberland employees worldwide, chronicling his recent trip to Haiti.  We’re sharing it here on Earthkeepers because we believe it stands up to its name — “bearing witness” — as a powerful account of destruction and survival in Haiti … and provides perspective for the important work that lies ahead as the nation rebuilds.

Team Timberland,

So, what’s so hard about this note, which I have intended to write for a week?  Last week, I visited Haiti, in the company of Bill Shore , the founder and executive director of Share Our Strength, and a Timberland Board member, and chair of the Board’s Corporate Social Responsibility Committee, and in the company of Wyclef Jean , a 12 time Grammy award winner, a Haitian musician and activist, Timberland’s partner in an effort to plant trees and reforest Haiti, as part of our global Earthkeeper efforts.  The visit was in response to the earthquake that struck Haiti 3 weeks ago; our visit was an attempt to focus Timberland’s Earthkeeper resources temporarily on disaster relief.  The trip was emotional and powerful; I left Saturday night and was back in the office Tuesday.

So, what’s so hard about a brief note that describes the heroism of the many doctors we saw, the heartbreak of the destruction we saw, the inspiration I felt with Bill and Wyclef, and the indignation I felt at the world’s well intended but inept efforts to cope with this disaster?

Maybe it is the scale of the disaster, in the context of a country already ravaged by history.   Maybe it is the raw, emotional experience of being amidst death and destruction, and in the presence of the dying.  Maybe it is the feeling  of futility, the ultimate experience of the City Year “Starfish” story , that  waited for me at each stop we made in Haiti—yes, we made a difference here,  but wow, we did not even scratch the surface of the pain and agony here…

For all these reasons and more, I have not done my job by you; I have not been able to bear witness to you from Haiti. So, below, I have tried to right that wrong.  Call this note, “bearing witness”–but “bear with me” also works–it is a very long note. Long for the reasons I cite above, and long because it is hard even now for me to say simply why a bootmaker flew to Hell and how the experience of that Hell affirmed my belief in the mission of commerce and justice. So, here goes.

Read the rest of this entry »

Imagining a New Way Forward

Last week , Billy Shore provided a poignant account of his trip to Haiti with Timberland CEO Jeff Swartz and Earthkeeper Wyclef Jean , among others.  Below, Jeff Swartz shares his own thoughts on the devastation in Haiti, how it redefined Timberland’s partnership with our partner Yéle Haiti … and how innovation is built from crisis.

Please note this is excerpted from a piece which appears on Fast Company today.  Please click here to read the entire entry, and our thanks to the Fast Company team for sharing.

After the earthquake

We reached out, and Wyclef moved from celebrity entertainer to Haitian leader—from rapping out lyrics, to rapping out directions.  He told us from the ground, aid is pouring in, and stalling at the airport. Not a question of good instincts, good intentions, pure hearts—but the issue is not about intention, it’s about execution.  Get the food, get the water, get the medical supplies to the people—period.  And Wyclef was hard but clear: we are a for-profit company, with superb logistic competences, and with a factory for over 20 years in Santiago, in the Dominican Republic— just 100 miles from Port au Prince. He told us to urgently mobilize the trucks, open the warehouse, and get material flowing. Yéle will get the food packed—Timberland has to get it delivered.  And then Yéle will do its magic—mobilizing young Haitians, in neighborhoods like Bel Air and Cité Soleil, to distribute food to the hungry, hope to the powerful souls living in the open after the quake.  Do what you do well—do what a great bootmaker does—work your logistics network, and partner with the right entrepreneurial partner, and together—we can deliver good.

And so we did—we mobilized our logistics team in the DR, and went to work.  And while we are not Federal Express or UPS—we grunted and we got shipments moving over land.

And then Wyclef said—get on the plane and come here, and see the model for building a new Haiti.  A model that is one part the private sector, one part the authentic and effective NGO, and nine parts the spirit of free Haiti.  See Timberland plus Yéle plus the young of Haiti work in a specific, focused way to be part of creating a new Haiti.

So I went. They say journeys are more about who you travel with, and less about the itinerary. On this voyage, I had the company and counsel of heroes —like Bill Shore (the founder and CEO of Share Our Strength, Timberland board member and teacher of mine), and a team from Partners in Health who needed a ride to this island in desperate need of medical miracles. We made our way to Port au Prince. And in the searing humidity, we served 8,000 hot meals that Yéle had found a way to cook.  We served from the back of a truck, in Cité Soleil. We sweated, and cried, and we saw the outlines of a way forward.  One part private sector competence and passion, one part on-the-ground entrepreneurial NGO brilliance, and 9 parts Haitian strength and dignity and grace and energy.  And when we wheeled out of Cité Soleil, while my heart will never be the same, neither will my head.

Spending two days in post-earthquake Haiti does not make me akin to its survivors — but it was time enough for me to develop a new understanding of crisis and devastation and reaffirmed for me, a third-generation entrepreneur, that out of crisis flows innovation.  Before the earthquake, I was the CEO of a for-profit company with strength to share and a passion for commerce and justice.  Planting trees in Haiti felt like, looked like, the right thing to do.  It still is.  Only now, post-quake, I’m a CEO with strength and passion who has witnessed both frustration and amazingly, hope in both a ravaged land and its survivors.  Tomorrow we’ll plant trees … today we’re growing a logistical network from Santiago to Cité Soleil.  Tomorrow we’ll revisit our marketing plans — today we’re leveraging our strategy skills to figure out how to get more food into the hands of the hungry.  Trees, yes, community building, yes — a solid vision for the future is as critical to Haiti’s survival as anything right now.  But before the re-growth, a nation needs to heal, and before it can heal, it needs help.

Jeff Swartz
President & CEO, Timberland