This post was written by Heifer Vice President of Philanthropy Cathy Sanders.
I recently spent five days in Haiti at an Invest in Haiti Conference organized by the Clinton Foundation and the InterAmerican Development Bank. More than 900 people from 35 countries attended along with Heifer Haiti Country Director Hervil Cherubin and myself. Hervil is a Haitian who returned to his country after the 2010 earthquake to be a part of the solution.
Private businesses hoping to move Haiti forward while also making a profit were there en masse. The opportunity for business in Haiti is very strong. It was an interesting few days where we made contacts for future partnerships with the Haiti government, private sector and other non-governmental organizations. We talked and talked about Heifer's commitment to Haiti, announced at the Clinton Global Initiative in October ($15 million over five years). Heifer has been in Haiti since 1999 and continues to operate ongoing projects.
We were fortunate to meet with the Minister of Agriculture to engage him in our plan. He liked the concept of the breeding centers for goats and cows that we are planning to build in the north and in the south. I was also fortunate to see a project that ended last year and saw how the addition of cows and an irrigation canal system really improved this community's life and livelihoods. They are now selling milk in the town, all their children are going to school, and the irrigation system allows them to appropriately water their crops of okra, plantains and beans. This infrastructure enables the community to grow enough to sell extra produce for money. I asked them if they believed the Heifer project helped them have a sustainable life, and the answer was a resounding Yes! I then asked them what elsed they needed. The answer: More cows!
The community we visited was beautiful with a view of the mountains many would pay millions to have. People all have cell phones, but there's no electricity in the village. I don't think they care about electricity because when I asked if they had it, the project director shrugged his shoulders and said no. The kids were eating sugar cane out of the field, and the men cracked open a coconut and let us drink the water straight from it. Then we ate the meat of the coconut–delicious! They were obviously a happy group of people.
My observations about Haiti are that it is a beautiful country that has been ravaged by natural disaster, with a stunning population. This is not a war zone, but rather a society that was already in trouble, then the earthquake and hurricane took out a lot of the infrastructure. But, they are a functioning society (okay, not like we think of in the U.S.). This is a country ready for business! They are a hard-working and industrious people. There are many in poverty. Many are living in tent cities in Port au Prince, and many others live in cinderblock houses. The living conditions are atrocious, and it extends into the country as well. Heifer hopes that by providing a livestock supply chain with a good income potential, more young adults will be enticed to go back to the country to live, thus making their lives and that of their families better and relieving pressure on the already strained city (which has a population of two million).
There are many Haitian-Americans living in New York, Boston, Miami and across the United States. I ask and challenge all Americans to help Heifer make an impact in Haiti. Hervil told me as he dropped me off at the airport, that now I know what we are fighting for. Having seen it for myself, I can tell you that these are deserving, hard-working, spirited people who need assistance getting started. Heifer will be here to help. We need you to help, too! Please go to our website, www.heifer.org to see how you can help, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.