10 years after the Haiti earthquake, fitful progress and frustrating setbacks

The challenges keep coming, but we can report a few wins, too. Here are our top three favorite success stories from from Haiti over the past decade.

A photograph of the author, Austin Bailey.

By Austin Bailey

January 9, 2020

A sign saying,
With their houses destroyed by the January 2010 earthquake, people lived in tents for months or years afterward.

In This Article

  • The decade following the deadly 2010 earthquake was a tough one for Haiti.
  • A destructive hurricane hit in 2016, and political upheaval since 2018 is spawning fuel shortages, school closings and violence.
  • Clean water, healthy goats and an in-demand perfume ingredient are helping Haitian farmers make a living.
  • Heifer International helped more than 24,000 families since the earthquake.

Ten years ago, on January 12, 2010, an earthquake epicentered near Port-Au-Prince killed nearly 300,000 Haitians and left more than 2 million homeless. Recovery was prolonged and marked by setbacks, including an outbreak of deadly cholera that dragged on for years. 

In the decade since, our neighbors to the south pushed on through a morass of challenges that kept them glued in the unfortunate position as the poorest country in the hemisphere.

There’s no sugarcoating it: the struggles in Haiti are significant and ongoing. And that’s exactly why Heifer International is there, working alongside farmers and small business owners to build resilience, financial security and optimism in the face of daunting challenges.

Despite steep obstacles, we’ve celebrated some wins in Haiti since 2010. Here are our three favorites.

Dug with bulldozers, Lake Verger supplies water and fish to the community of Cabaret.

An unlikely oasis

We knew going in that it was a longshot. Bulldozing a hole in the ground and waiting for enough rain to fall in a perpetually drought-plagued region to fill it up was a gamble. The brainchild of Heifer project participants guided and encouraged by Heifer Haiti country director Hervil Cherubin, Lake Verger is the reincarnation of a natural lake that once supplied fresh water and fish to the community of Cabaret. In recent decades, drought and extreme erosion during rainstorms filled the lakebed with soil and then dried it up completely. An audacious plan to re-dig the lake worked like a charm, with the heavy rainfall that came with Hurricane Matthew timed perfectly to fill it to the brim. Today, Lake Verger teems with enough fish to feed the whole neighborhood, injecting new life into what once seemed to be a dying community.

A farmer holds up vetiver roots, which are the source of valuable and aromatic oil.

Growing incomes with vetiver

In southern Haiti, Heifer farmers are putting down roots in the vetiver industry. You may not know what vetiver is, but you’ve almost certainly used products that contain it. Vetiver is an aromatic used in perfumes and teas, and 50 percent of the world’s supply comes from Haiti.

In 2016 Heifer International and a team of other NGOs partnered with International Flavors & Fragrances Inc. and Unilever on Vetiver Together, a project that will help vetiver farmers grow and sell their product while also improving their families’ nutrition and income and protecting the environment.

Because the vetiver oil harvested for fragrance is found in the plant’s roots, even farmers whose land was pummeled by Hurricane Matthew brought in a good harvest that year.

Goats offer a glimmer of hope

Political upheaval rocked Haiti over the past two years, with enormous economic repercussions. Gasoline prices skyrocketed, schools closed, hospitals lack supplies and electricity.

Progress is still being made, however, among the 6,000 families taking part in a Heifer project in collaboration with Haiti’s Ministry of Agriculture.

Livestock is a key component in Heifer projects the world over, and that holds true in Haiti, as well. In this project, families still struggling to recover from destruction wrought by Hurricane Matthew receive goats and training in their care.

The project has become a light in the lives of many people, Heifer Haiti communication officer Claire Pressoir reports.

In the immediate aftermath of the 2010 quake, Heifer donors pledged more than $1 million to help farming families recover and get back on track. Thank you! Since then, we’ve worked with more than 24,000 families who received animals, training and support.

Our work is ongoing as Haitians work through political upheaval, environmental degradation and lack of opportunities.

Help farming families in Haiti and around the world.

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