It takes an eco-village
A dream for Haiti
God has dreams for those living in the tents, too.
by Jessica Reid, Haiti Response Team Communicator
For many families in Haiti, their dreams are coming to fruition in the hills of Papaye. The rural farming area is about two hours drive from the capital city of Port-au-Prince in northeastern Haiti. It is home to MPP, the Farmers’ Movement of Papaye, a group working to empower local farmers (see box) and longtime partner of the Presbyterian Hunger Program.
Following the 2010 earthquake, the rural area saw an influx of people. Thousands fled highly populated areas due to lack of food, housing, and other resources, such as clean water.
“Life in Port-au-Prince was terrible.” Estin Andral Pol Pauol, a farmer and resident at an MPP eco-village, said. “We came here and were helped. Then we returned to Port-au-Prince thinking I could find work, but things were still so difficult. We had no home.
“So my wife and children and I returned [to Papaye], hoping to stay and build a better life and a home for our family.”
Pol Pauol did build a better life, thanks to a unique project that is not only providing livelihood for families but also a sense of community.
MPP is working on a series of eco-villages—small, environmentally friendly farming communities. The villages are built by those who will live in them. Each one will have 10 to 15 homes, a community center, gardens, solar-powered water systems, compost toilets, and, eventually, solar-powered electricity in the homes.
Each eco-village is open to families displaced by the 2010 disaster, and family members are taught a new livelihood through farming. As better farming practices are learned by each person, the improved techniques are shared with neighbors so the community can thrive. The project is meant as a long-term solution to helping those who lost their homes and their jobs after the earthquake.
MPP plans to build five eco-villages, and the Haiti Response Team is funding four using donations to Presbyterian Disaster Assistance for Haiti earthquake relief. The first one was begun in June of 2011 and was nearly complete just nine months later when we visited in February 2012.
Lausore Manel Kookonaté was among the first people to begin building a home on the land MPP set aside for the eco-villages. Like Pol Pauol, he also moved to the area from Port-au-Prince.
“I tell others—my family and friends—in Port-au-Prince that the way MPP helps the people means we’ll live proud,” Kookonaté said. “They can finally feel that the future [holds] something good for their families.”
Each home is built in about a month’s time. That’s because all of the families who will live and work together in the eco-villages help build each other’s houses. The homes are also unique in that they are not the typical one-room wood homes you see being built for displaced families across Haiti. Instead, the homes are made of concrete or stone blocks and have three or four rooms.
The roofs are tin, a common practice in Haiti following the earthquake. That’s because the previously common concrete roofs proved so deadly during the quake. Plus, the tin roofs are easy to repair and allow cool air in and hot air out.
Outside, each family has a kitchen area away from the home to keep the heat out of the house. They also have chicken coops, gardens next to the home, and larger vegetable and spice gardens set away in refurbished tires. The vegetable gardens sit high to keep animals out, and the refurbished tires help keep moisture in the garden, improving their crops.
They grow a wide range of crops. Kookonaté was excited to show us how his vegetables and spices were doing. He was growing chives, habanero peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, and much more.
MPP provides agricultural education and consultation to help those living in the eco-villages improve their crops so they can not only feed their families and small community but have enough left over to sell and earn an income. In addition, MPP promotes sending all the children to school so the youth are educated.
“For the first time, I have dreams for my family,” Pol Pauol told us while showing us around his home. “I have three children and I’m able to care for them now and they can go to school. Before, our family didn’t have a chance. Now, I dream for them. I know and believe my children can be doctors or lawyers if they want to be.”
Pol Pauol has three daughters, aged 6 to 15. Kookonaté, who is his friend and neighbor, has five children, two boys and three girls, aged 2-and-a-half to 12. Kookonaté agreed with Pol Pauol and told us the eco-villages have proven to him that there is hope for his country.
“I think of the future now that I have a happy home and life,” Kookonaté said. “We will work hard for progress in the future. I want to pay for school for my children as they grow. Someday in the future, my kids, all Haiti’s children, will go to the universities. We must look after the children and help them change our country.”
Both men said they’ve talked with people they know in the cities who are still in desperate need of help. Plans for the four additional eco-villages have already been mapped out, and MPP has set aside the land for the communities. When asked about the plans for more eco-villages like theirs, both men were excited.
“They’ll [the new residents] be happy for the first time. It’s amazing how you begin to dream,” Pol Pauol said. “If God gives them a chance like he gave me, they’ll no longer have to live in tents, and I know that God has dreams for those living in the tents, too.”
”It’s almost like the land here is blessed,” Kookonaté added. “Someday it may grow into a big city and can become like Port-au-Prince too, but it will be so much better because it will be by the people and for the families of Haiti.”
Mouvman Peyizan Papay (MPP)
Founded in 1973, the Farmers’ Movement of Papaye (MPP) is Haiti’s largest grassroots organization and has proven successful in addressing the problems of food production, land protection, and viable agricultural cooperatives. MPP’s 37-year experience in food production and organizing farmers could be the basis for a viable solution to the crisis in Haiti.
MPP is a longtime partner of the Presbyterian Hunger Program. Mission Co-worker Mark Hare has been working with MPP since 2004, learning and teaching new ways to improve crop output in small tracts of land.