Beyond Lingering Problems in Haiti, Progress and Vision Spark Hope

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Sustainable Haiti Conference, April 4-6, Miami Convention Center to Feature Sustainable Haiti Coalition

“The context of our vision combined with a practical roadmap for action remains the focal point of our work. We call it ‘The 100 Year Resilient Rebuilding of Haiti on behalf of the well being of the Haitian people.’”

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In the face of cholera outbreaks, political turmoil and faltering development efforts in Haiti, can individuals in America impact the long-term prospects for Haitians? Tamara Apollon, president of Mon Pays Mon Cuisine (i.e. My Country, My Cuisine) (Piscataway, NJ), told a United Nations commission on the status of women on February 22 that more help is needed.

She for one is doing her part. In the past several years, Apollon has traveled to Cuba and Spain, and is also meeting with companies in the U.S., to open new markets for novel Haitian-based products such as mango juice, squash puree and dried fruits. The products support a community cooperative of 300 women fruit growers in Lascoabas, about 90 minutes from Port au Prince. Apollon can generate demand for the products, but further investment is needed to buy generators, processing and storage equipment to bring the cooperative to its full potential, she says.

Women play a vital role in the economic life of Haitian families. “While creating a source of income in the cooperative movement, we must also provide more education to girls and women. We can teach them to find pride and satisfaction in growing their own basic vegetables and tubers that they will learn to preserve for periods of scarcity,” Apollon told the session.                                

She is not alone in her quest. Apollon’s food company is one of a growing group receiving guidance, inspiration and support from the Sustainable Haiti Coalition (http://www.sustainablehaiticoalition.org), part of the Center Leadership in Sustainability, a non-profit based in Basking Ridge, N.J. The Coalition will be featured at the second annual Sustainable Haiti Conference in Miami, April 3-6.        

The organization wants to transform Haiti through vision, leadership and collective action. “We want to look a century out at what Haiti might become — a model of ecological restoration, cultural integrity, and shared prosperity — and then work back to the decisions that need to happen now to create that future,” says Coalition co-founder Jonathan Cloud.

Haitians are known for resilience in the face of hardship. Hurricanes and political turmoil have dogged Haiti for decades. Yet more than a year after the January 2010 earthquake, progress has been slow and jagged. Only a fraction of the more than $10 billion in aid pledged by the world’s governments in the months after the disaster has materialized. Apollon reports that food production has been hammered by events, and an estimated one-third Port au Prince is considered “food insecure.” Rice is 38 percent higher than a year ago, and malnutrition is a growing concern this spring.

Tent cities remain the only shelter for hundreds of thousands, and cholera is an ever-present threat. Many buildings in Port au Prince still lie in rubble and debris litters streets. In some outlying area, thugs demand tolls for passage. Elections last November that might have cleared the way for progress, ended in confusion, and new elections are yet to be scheduled.

The Sustainable Haiti Coalition (http://www.sustainablehaiticoalition.org) looks beyond these challenges to a future built on caring actions from those around the globe and sustainable enterprise in Haiti -- from community based projects to solar power. “The context of our vision combined with a practical roadmap for action remains the focal point of our work. We call it ‘The 100 Year Resilient Rebuilding of Haiti’ on behalf of the well being of the Haitian people,’” says coalition co-founder Douglas Cohen.    

The Coalition is brokering a suite of sustainable solutions to support the betterment of daily life, education for a positive future and sustainable economic development. It connects sustainable businesses inside and outside Haiti to leadership training, management, funding and other resources. It accomplishes goals through a network of volunteers and other organizations that include: Farleigh Dickinson University, Transition Youth International, the Garnet Group, the Soros Foundation, Grass Roots United, and Haiti Partner, another featured presenter at the Haiti Conference.                                

Among the Coalition’s many initiatives:

Eco-& Volun-Tourism. Haiti is one of the best mountain-biking destinations in the world. With support from the International Mountain Biking Association, Travelcology and sponsors, the Coalition wants to revitalize trails and support local tour companies and related businesses. The idea is to target tourists who would invest some vacation time in community development.

Providing Appropriate Technology to Community-Based Projects. The Coalition invested $100 to design a low-cost vegetable oil press using a standard car jack (patent pending). Local farm cooperatives in Haiti can use this “small idea” to generate much needed cooking oil -- and local income as volume grows.

Apparel for Life. This Montreal-based “green” clothing brand wants to meet burgeoning demand by siting a new plant in Haiti. The Coalition is seeking funding and local government assistance in community planning and basic services to support such development.

Solar Power. The Coalition is working to help Atlantis Energy Systems (Poughkeepsie, NY) to bring a fabrication facility online in Haiti to produce rugged PV/thermal hybrid systems, that can generate both electricity and hot water, which can make buildings totally self-sustaining. The project would generate new jobs and new sources of renewable energy, while supporting broader development of community services such as health care, playgrounds and parks, youth mentoring and educational opportunities.

How can individuals help? The Coalition is building a national partner network and is seeking additional funding and volunteers. To learn more or join, visit: http://www.sustainablehaiticoalition.org

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