Over the past five years, Haiti has faced major multidimensional crises. Insecurity, internal and external migration, food and gas shortages and political assassination have combined to produce nearly unprecedented social and economic turmoil. Nevertheless, in the midst of these ongoing crises, Haitians continue to work to create better lives for our country and ourselves.
We are privileged to work with communities in Artibonite and Departments in the North. These are rural, agricultural communities generally outside the view of journalists and the large international aid groups that operate in Haiti. While many foreign aid groups have distributed needed goods that have saved lived in these communities, an unintended side effect of this aid is the distortion of local labor and food markets—adding to the long-term challenges in these areas.
We work for a grassroots organization called World Neighbors, whose mission is to help communities lift themselves out of poverty. We do this through a comprehensive/holistic approach that begins with helping a community formulate a vision for their own development that relies on the mobilization of its own local assets. The process then moves to intensive training on techniques for sustainable agriculture and animal husbandry, community and reproductive health, water management, and disaster risk management to build resilience to climate change and other external shocks. Communities learn to monitor and evaluate results and apply lessons learned to improve their programs.
At the very center of these programs are savings and credit groups. Individual members contribute small monthly sums. When a group amasses enough capital, it loans funds to members at low interest. Loans are invested in agricultural tools, animal pens, fishponds and other low-cost materials to increase output and productivity. Profits from surplus sales are used to pay back loans. Savings and credit groups, combined with health and other initiatives, have enabled families and villages to become fully self-sufficient and independent of external aid.
Our years of involvement helping communities build on what already works has created relationships of trust. Local leaders see the results of their work and this sense of ownership encourages them to continue progressing even when we cannot facilitate trainings and other activities in person.
We hope that one day, democracy takes deep root and Haitians can enjoy the stability and predictability taken for granted elsewhere. Only then will economic growth and development lift Haiti from poverty and enable our citizens to remain at home to seek better lives. For all its challenges, Haitians have endured. The incredible resilience of the communities with which we work holds lessons for everyone.
We are committed to staying in the country we love.
Angeline Tirogene and Gislet Ceneus work for Word Neighbors, a 71-year old international development organization founded and based in Oklahoma City.