At the end of July, I traveled to Haiti to spend a couple of weeks visiting projects with Heifer Haiti staff. In the coming weeks, I will be sharing some of those experiences via the blog.
Anthonio Louis Fritznel has been blind since the age of 12. The doctor told Anthonio that he had glaucoma, but he wasn't treated for it. Juliene, Anthonio's wife, lost her sight when she was struck in the head with a rock that flew from the tire of a truck driving past on a nearby the road. The couple has six children, whose ages range from 12 to 22. One of the children is also blind after suffering from an unknown illness.
Despite these personal tragedies and the challenges they present, Anthonio persevered. And he wanted to help his community, La Sucrerie Henry (in St. Louis du Sud along Haiti's southern coast), persevere as well.
"I began to see many problems (in the community), but I knew my eyes weren't good," said Anthonio. "So I formed a group to help me work in the community."
That group, formed in 1990, is the Organization for the Future of Youth (the Haitian Creole acronym is OAJSH). Anthonio is the president. Eventually, OAJSH joined a group of local organizations called the Collective for Sustainable Development and Environmental Protection (COSDERSLS).
In 2010, Heifer Haiti began working with COSDERSLS to provide organization members with rabbits through the From the Ground Up project, and Anthonio and OAJSH were among those who received the animals.
As in all Heifer projects, recipients receive training on how to care for and manage the animals. In his family, Anthonio attends all the trainings and imparts the knowledge to his children, who then apply learned techniques related to health, hygiene, nutrition, habitat, etc.
Obviously, one of the great benefits of raising rabbits is that they reproduce quickly, around 8-10 kits (babies) every 28 days. In the St. Louis du Sud area, that will boost a family's income by about $50 a month. For context, families involved in agriculture in the area earn around $65 a month. So the addition of rabbits could nearly double a family's income in St. Louis du Sud, which helps to alleviate some of the issues Anthonio saw when he founded OAJSH.
"The economic support (from the rabbits) is very quick in this project," he said, "and it helps solve problems like paying for school (fees, for children and youth)."
Although Anthonio's family isn't, some families are also consuming the rabbits to improve their nutrition. And, from what I heard from those who are consuming the rabbits, they taste great.
On July 31, I had the opportunity to participate in a Passing on the Gift ceremony with Anthonio, OAJSH, other COSDERSLS members and Heifer Haiti staff in La Sucrerie Henry. Laughs and smiles came easy as representatives from Heifer and COSDERSLS addressed the group about the successes and challenges of the projects as well as the importance of Passing on the Gift. The president of COSDERSLS noted that no one present received any money for transportation, so everyone present must have a strong desire to be a part of the event. He concluded by saying, "I hope that everyone who receives a rabbit today (through POG) will do the same for someone else."
After all of the opening remarks were made and prayers were said, 11 participants took turns giving a box of four rabbits to another COSDERSLS member. Each donor gave a short speech and expressed well wishes to the recipient before officially passing on the rabbits.
For me, it was a great privilege to join this group in their Passing on the Gift celebration, and it was only the first of many opportunities I would have to meet extraordinary individuals and families during my short time in Haiti.