Last week marked the fifth anniversary of the 2010 Haiti earthquake that killed more than 230,000 people and initially displaced 1.5 million others. The event led Heifer to re-evaluate the way we work in Haiti, and that approach remains in place today. Heifer Haiti Country Director Hervil Cherubin reflects on those changes as well as the events of 5 years ago below.
Where were you when the earthquake hit? What was your initial reaction?
When the earthquake hit Haiti, I was in my office at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock getting reading to teach an economic development class at the Institute of Government’s MPA program. (Note: Hervil began working for Heifer International shortly after January 2010). I saw the breaking news and was shocked but did not realize the magnitude of the situation until after my class. I became active the days following with various groups in channeling help to the country and informing others about what was going on after the earthquake. It has been 5 years since the earthquake happened, and my journey to help Haitians rebuild their lives and their country continue.
How did the earthquake change Heifer Haiti’s approach?
The 2010 earthquake provided Heifer Haiti with the opportunity to help the most vulnerable people in Haiti, particularly small farmers in rural areas, in a comprehensive way. Right after the earthquake, Heifer Haiti conducted a thorough evaluation that provided strategic guidelines for our work. Our work shifted from providing resources to individuals to a more structural approach that will continuously generate positive collective impact and sustainable economic development in communities. Through this approach, we work closely with the Haitian government, other international NGOs and local grassroots organizations in order to actively participate in the reconstruction of the country.
What changes have you seen in the farmers we work with in the last five years? What kind of progress has been made?
The farmers we have been working with since the earthquake, and particularly with the REACH program, have realized the importance of taking advantage of the trainings as well as using good practices in animal production and agriculture. They are more successful as farmers as well and no longer consider agriculture just a social activity.
They understand that our role as an organization is secondary—that they are the real agents of change in their own development. We have made much progress in the sense that they are more ready than before to lead and develop their communities. As an example, we have a farmer (breeding center owner) who has made around US$9,000 from selling goats in the past year.
What challenges still need to be addressed?
Although we have made a lot of progress with our work, many challenges remain. The country is still fragile politically and socially. The economic situation has not improved to the level everyone expected. This continues to put a lot of stress on the development work being done. We need to work closer to our beneficiaries and for a longer period of time, until they can really fend for themselves independently despite the country’s fragile situation. This requires more resources, which are more limited these days.