Solidarity Visit to Haiti: 15 December 2011

Monday, December 19 2011

villageOn 15 December 2011, the Haiti solidarity visitors travelled about two and a half hours north of Port-au-Prince to the small settlement of Papaye in the Central Plateau, near the town of Hinche. Much of the trip was on a narrow and winding paved road through the mountains, but many kilometres also involved gravelled, rutted dirt roads badly eroded and at times invisible because of the dust in the air. The shoulders of the narrow roads were inhabited by women, men and children, often barefoot, who offered a few items for sale, carried produce, or came and went from school or on other errands.

The President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton, and CCCB Vice President, Archbishop Paul-André Durocher of Gatineau visited the Papaye Peasants Movement (Mouvement paysan de Papaye or MPP). It dates from a pastoral mission founded there in 1970 by Belgian missionaries, which three years later became a local catechetical centre with a community garden. Shortly after, it was influenced by the work of Jesuits among Haiti’s peasants or subsistent farmers. By the mid 1970s, 30 groups of subsistent farmers were established. Today, the MPP involves 4,184 groups, including 1,200 groups of women and 700 of youth. Each group has 15 members and begins with three months of personal and group reflection in order to set the basis for group and community interaction.

The MPP is one of the oldest projects assisted by the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace which has been involved with it for more than 30 years. This agricultural project is part of the overall CCODP strategy in Haiti: promoting community development, food autonomy, popular education and the equal participation of women and men. Since the earthquake two years ago, Development and Peace has invested more than $2.5 million in MPP.

virginiaToday, the MPP is the home of a national formation centre for agricultural leadership, equipped to receive up to 200 students and visitors at a time. Its focus is on sustainable, ecological agriculture, based on three major aspects: seed conservation, the propagation of local plant species, and water conservation. A minimum of 100,000 trees a year are distributed among local subsistent farmers, with 25 trees per family, who also learn how to care for and benefit better from their plants, as well as gaining skills in community development, economic sustainability and ecological farming. Water conservation is assisted by the recycling of old tires which become seed plots. Development and Peace has also funded the equipment for drilling 15 wells to date, since water is at a major shortage in Haiti for about six months every year during the dry season. In addition, Development and Peace has provided funding to MPP for developing its communications capacity.

A professor in agriculture from the University of California at Davis, who was visiting at the same time as the Canadian solidarity mission, called the MPP project an “island of hope.” This is a model of sustainable agricultural development, Professor Steve Temple said. He explained how this is a key moment for Haiti, with many foreign governments and development agencies looking for macro-solutions, but failing to respect the capacities and involvement of the local population.

The Canadian visitors then travelled to a model ecological village which is another MPP project. Homes have been constructed for 10 families who had to leave Port-au-Prince after the earthquake because they could no longer find shelter in the city. Each new home has its own garden plot, as well as access to a communal garden. The houses will soon have electricity from solar panels. Development and Peace has provided funding to ensure the village will be autonomous for its food needs.

Welcoming Archbishop Smith and Archbishop Durocher, the villagers spoke of their new hope and happiness, already evident in their faces. Despite the distance from our families and friends in Port-au-Prince, they said, we have no regrets.  We are here because life is now so much better. Another added, “We can breathe better here.”

At the end of the day, the Canadian delegation visited the Most Reverend Pierre-Simon Saint-Hillien, C.S.S., Bishop of Hinche. “I am so happy that Development and Peace is here and helps us,” he said. “Our people have so much need to be accompanied in agriculture.”  Bishop Saint-Hillien has his own hopes that one day his diocese will also have a model farm.

In his blog later, CCCB President Archbishop Smith wrote, “I met a woman with nothing, who only recently began to benefit from the accompaniment and help of this movement. She is learning the art of setting up a garden which will provide her and her children with the necessary food and extra that she can sell at the market. Another woman who, with her husband and eight children has been helped by MPP for about 15 years, has actually been able to send her first three children to university.”

Archbishop Durocher, in a French-language interview with Vatican Radio, described how the day exemplified the hope described in the Advent Scripture readings for Advent. “This has been such a moving experience,” the CCCB Vice President added.

Archbishop Smith and Archbishop Durocher are accompanied on their solidarity visit to Haiti by Development and Peace Executive Director Mr. Michael Casey, its Latin America and Caribbean Programs Officer Mr. Normand Comte, and its communications officer Mr. François Gloutnay, as well as CCCB Assistant General Secretary Mr. Bede Hubbard.

By Bede Hubbard
Assistant General Secretary
Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops