Friday, July 5, 2013

Making Gardens In Lebrun, Haiti

Lebrun, Haiti

This is a summary of a trip by myself, representing Global Coalition for Peace and Cristiana Cruz of Global Foundation for Democracy and Development to the village of Lebrun in Haiti.


Lebrun has a population of approximately 5100 people. It sits in the mountains southwest of the capital city of Port Au Prince. Lebrun was affected by the earthquake of 2010 but not nearly as severely as Port Au Prince. The hurricanes that hit Haiti every hurricane season have more influence on Lebrun's standard of living when they destroy the banana trees and other fruit trees that provide the only local source of revenue in this Haitian village.

In some respects Lebrun is better off than many Haitian villages. Although there is no electricity or source of power other than wood, they do have a supply of fresh water that runs out of the mountains into a catchment system installed in the middle of the village several decades ago with funds from the Inter-American Development Bank and several international NGOs. But for the hundreds of families dispersed throughout this mountainous region, it can be a two-hour walk to fill their water jugs and two hours back up the mountain carrying the heavy jugs.

                                              Only Source of Fresh Water in Lebrun

We were invited to bring Global Coalition for Peace's gardening program to Lebrun by an organization called HavServe, founded and directed by Carline Brice. Carline was born and raised in Lebrun until the age of fifteen, when she moved to the US. She has been working on a volunteer basis to improve the condition of her fellow countrymen and women for twenty years. But after the earthquake hit the ineffectiveness of most of the humanitarian work being done in Haiti
became painfully obvious.  Carline began an initiative to recruit volunteers to develop a program that would address the most serious problems in Lebrun and neighboring villages.

The HavServe volunteers have done wonders in the three years since the birth of this NGO. It is estimated that there are 1200 school age children in Lebrun. When HavServe started its work only a handful were attending the one faith-based primary school in the village. Now there are 800 children enrolled in five primary schools and an ongoing teacher-training program to provide the area with qualified teachers.

An Open-Air Schoolhouse

HavServe has initiated a microcredit program for the women's group in Lebrun, with training in small business development; and the first round of microloans has been distributed. Soccer coaches were brought in from the city to train men in the village to coach the children and Lebrun now has a soccer team that practices at 6:00am every morning and competes with soccer teams in other villages. A summer camp program is being initiated this summer with local teachers and volunteers providing a variety of healthy and enjoyable activities for the children. A community leader program has also been established. And the gardening program is flourishing.

Two years ago my friend Francia Rabago, one of the most dedicated HavServe volunteers, asked to be trained in GCFP's Sattwic Peace Garden program so she could bring it to Lebrun. Francia and the gardening program were enthusiastically received but, as has been our experience in other locations, most of the people harvested their vegetables and then waited for someone to come with more seeds so they could plant again. The purpose of our trip to Lebrun was to reinforce the gardening project and present the seed conservation program that we have been developing so that the people can
harvest and plant their own seeds.

Attendance at the Seed Saving Workshop

Despite all that the HavServe volunteers have been able to accomplish in just a few short years, there is so much more that needs to be done in Lebrun and the neighboring villages. I would like to tell the story of Stanley, a bright and beautiful child whom we met in Lebrun. Stanley's story will give the reader an idea of life in Haiti.

Stanley's Story

Stanley is thirteen years old but he is small for his age and looks younger. He lived with his father and mother until the age of eight. I heard Stanley's story from Carline and was moved to share it with my community but I wanted to make sure that it would be okay with Stanley and also that I got the details straight. Carline asked Stanley if it would be okay for me to interview him and write his story. Stanley agreed and, with Carline acting as interpretor, we heard a not atypical story of childhood in Haiti. Here is Stanley's story in his own words.

My mother was pregnant. She had complications. She was carrying the baby and became sick – losing weight, swollen legs, spent several months in bed. She died in childbirth. The baby died too. I had older brothers but they left the village and went to Port Au Prince a long time ago. Since the earthquake I don't know if they're alive.

My father was a load carrier. He would carry heavy loads to the market for the salesladies. He charged $6 Haitian a trip. [This is equivalent to less than $1 US] There was another load carrier in the village [a competitor] who charged more. They argued and the other carrier stabbed him in the stomach. He became very sick and couldn't walk for a long time so he tried to get to the doctor in the next town, but he died when he got there.

I was eight years old, all alone. My older brother came from Port Au Prince. He took me to the city and brought me to a family to work for them. The women I worked for had her own children. When all the other children were sleeping she would wake me up to start the trip to fetch water so they had water in the morning. I had to fetch water, do dishes, polish the floor, clean the house. On Sundays I had to get up at 1:00 o'clock to carry the things that she sold to the market. When she didn't like the way I worked she would beat me with an electric cord. [At this point Stanley started to cry silently, just staring straight ahead with tears running out of his huge brown eyes. Carline and I were crying as well. I got him a glass of water and asked him if he wanted to stop but he chose to continue.]

One morning they sent me to do errands. I was on the street. I heard a bus driver calling “Miragoane.”I knew that this was a town near where I had lived. I had some pennies that I had picked up on the street and saved for a long time. So I got on the bus. The people on the bus said Miragoane was a long way for a boy my age to be going by myself so I told them what was going on. They felt very bad for me and they helped me to get to Miragoane. I took two buses. It cost $100 Haitian. When I got to Miragoane I walked to Lebrun. 

The lady sent people to find me. She told lies about me, that I had stolen things from her. I asked the people in the village to please fight for me if they tried to take me back. A man who my father had been guardian for took me in and I have lived with him since then. We live in his house with his mother, his wife and her children and other [extended] family members. [I asked Stanley what was the size of the house. He said it was much smaller than the room we were in, a room of about 10' by 14'.

Stanley had started school when his father was alive but had no schooling during the years that he lived in Port Au Prince. He left there without any of his meager possessions and returned to Lebrun with only the clothes he was wearing and no ID. He was put into first grade, is participating in the mentoring program that HavServe has initiated and has just completed second grade.

Last year a Haitian-American woman from Maryland and her two children came to volunteer in Lebrun with HavServe. The woman and her children fell in love with Stanley. It's not surprising, Stanley's smile would melt the heart of the most hardened criminal. Despite all the mistreatment that he suffered in Port Au Prince, he is a most willing worker, insisting on carrying our teaching materials, laptops and water bottles on our long, hot treks around the village. If I fell behind him on one of our hikes, he would stop and wait for me to get ahead of him. He jokes and fools around like any other kid but refused to stop helping us with our seed-sorting work (a boring and monotonous job) when we urged him to go rest or play. And he is intelligent and sensitive beyond his years. Carline asked him what he thought of the HavServe program. Here are his thoughtful responses:
Stanley (second from right) and Zachary(far right) accompanied us on every hike and insisted on carrying  our stuff

I feel this program is very good; the focus on education. I love the soccer program. I love the mentoring program. It's helping children like me.

I think the gardening program is the best program that HavServe has in the village because it can help a whole family to eat. People who got seed before, I see that they are able to eat, to give food to other people and to sell in the market. And the people who are getting seeds now are going to be able to produce food that will help them.

I feel that the work that is being done here is going to help a lot, a lot, a lot. I'm going to pray that even if the work is hard, the volunteers at HavServe do not give up on us.

When I grow up I'm going to be an engineer, to build a lot of schools so other children will have access to education. If we have more schools it will change a lot of things. I think it is good for children to go to school because the child will be able to think, will have more knowledge so that they don't steal and they can think how to get the country out of poverty.

I think Haiti is poor because we don't have peace among ourselves. “Together We Are Strong” is the motto of our country but it doesn't exist. People work for themselves.”

Carline then asked Stanley, “What else is needed that you can see?”

Basic English for the teachers. [No kidding, this was his first response.]

Summer camp is a good idea so the children have something to do and won't become vagabonds. They will always have something to do. They will learn things they don't know. I wish they could finish the National School [the National School is the only government school in Lebrun. It has been under construction for more than a year and work on it has completely stopped.].

I know it will be difficult but if we can have computers for the children...

Finally, if we can get a meal program in the schools, that would make me very happy.”

Stanley's story and his responses to Carline's questions point out many of the problems in Lebrun, and no doubt in many other villages of Haiti. There is absolutely no health care so when Stanley's mother became sick during her pregnancy there was no help for her, nor for his father when he was mortally wounded. There is absolutely no law enforcement agency in the village so the man who stabbed him suffered no consequences.

The house where Stanley lives is grossly over-crowded and offers little protection from the elements. It is in a remote area of the village which means that Stanley has to walk two hours both to and from school every day. And the children are hungry. When Stanley expressed the desire for a meal in the schools, it is because that would most likely be the only filling meal that many of the children would get on a daily basis. While the central part of the village has a wealth of fruit and coconut trees, the areas on the tops of the mountains suffer from deforestation and erosion. And, as stated, during the hurricane season many of the fruit trees are destroyed.

A Typical Lebrun House

Lebrun has no industry so the women walk the long, hard trip to Miragoane where they purchase used clothes, processed foods, American rice, and other items to sell in their village and other villages in the area. These loads are usually carried on their heads, unless they are fortunate enough to have the means to hire someone to do the carrying for them as Stanley's father did.

Women Typically Carry Loads on Their Heads

There is little help from the government for Lebrun or other villages like it. Carline has campaigned for government assistance and has attained promises and a few start-up efforts but almost no results. Although a birth certificate is required for a child to be registered in school, most of the children did not even have one. Carline collected their names and ages, went to the government office in Port Au Prince and demanded that birth certificates be issued.   But all too often the only way that the population can get assistance is through violent actions.

One day while we were in Lebrun Carline and one of the volunteers went to the airport in Port Au Prince to pick up another volunteer. They were driven there by our faithful driver Pouchon, whose driving style over the mountain roads inspired the nickname of Indiana Jones. About forty minutes into this 3-1/2 hour drive they were stopped by an eighteen wheeler parked sideways across the road. One eighteen wheeler blocked the road in each direction. Pouchon knew the area well and pulled off onto a side road, only to be greeted by armed men with bandanas over their faces. They took the keys from Pouchon and started searching the ladies' belongings, supposedly looking for guns. Pouchon told them not to take anything from the women and he would give them some money in exchange.

The men agreed to this and told Pouchon that he better get the women out of there, but they did not offer to return the car keys . At that time a man on a motorcycle “conveniently” appeared and offered to take the women into town (for a fee, of course) where they could catch a bus to Port Au Prince.

The reason for the blocked roadway was to demand that the government provide the area with the long-promised electricity that was sorely needed. However, as is always the case, a handful of opportunists were ready to take advantage of the situation at the expense of innocent people. Carline and Roshanda, the volunteer who was accompanying her, were shaken but unharmed and on our trip to Port Au Prince several days later, there were utility poles being installed along the road where they were stopped.

Water is another huge problem. Although there is an abundance of water in the center of the village, there is no system for distributing it to the homes. This is not such a big problem for those who live close to the water catchment site, but procuring water is a monumental chore for the people who live at a distance, especially those who live at the top of the mountains.

On our last day in Lebrun Pouchon led us up to the top of Lebrun Mountain so we could see firsthand how the people live, and talk with them about the problems they face on a daily basis. One family was living in two small shacks made of bamboo and the leaves of coconut trees. One shack served as a kitchen and the other as their bedroom, where a very sick elderly woman lay on what would probably be her deathbed. Right next to their humble abodes was a large cement house. I inquired as to who it belonged to and was told that it belongs to a foreigner who only comes there occasionally. All of the decent houses in the village have been built with foreign money, mostly from the US and Canada.

There was another elderly woman at that homesite, thin and small and slightly bent over but she had attended all the gardening workshops. How, I wondered, would she be able to maintain a garden during the dry season when water was at least a two hour hike away? .

On our final night in Lebrun, Carline suggested that we comprise a list of what else needs to be done there. We have also been working on an ongoing list of potential projects that could generate income in the community.

There are resources that could be used more effectively and/or turned into small but productive businesses and raise the lifestyle of the villagers :

  • fruits that could be made into jams and jellies or dried fruits
  • a lot of corn growing that could be ground into cornmeal if they had a mill; as it stands they are taking their corn into the city and paying to have it ground
  • there are large trees that could be made into furniture, cabinets or carved items.
  • there are a wide variety of therapeutic and fragrant plants that the native population has been using for ages. These could be turned into balms, essential oils and soaps, packaged and marketed
  • the coconut tree leaves can be woven into hats and baskets.
  • The beautiful spring water could be bottled and sold - by the people of Lebrun, not some foreign company
  • When they become proficient at harvesting seeds, they could also meet the great need for good seed in the area
  • there is an abundance of clay in the area that could be made into much-needed bricks for building permanent, study structures

The list could go on and on. One of the things the people of Lebrun have asked for is professional help to guide them in the area of business development.

There is a huge gap between the rich and the poor in Haiti. Port Au Prince is a shattered and destitute city, with street after street of rubble, garbage everywhere, little tent communities, vendors lining the street, trying to sell anything they can to earn enough money to stay alive, and no sewer system. There is no middle class in Haiti but many businessmen, foreign diplomats and wealthy citizens do business and reside in the nearby suburb of Port Au Prince called Petion-Ville. Gated and privately guarded mansions, protected with high walls topped with razor wire keep the encroaching poor from penetrating this affluent world.

As to what Lebrun needs right now, at the top of the list is a food program for the school children. They need a mill to grind the corn, a rainwater collection/irrigation system installed in the remote areas of the village and the schools where we have planted larger, community gardens. They desperately need school supplies, soccer equipment (used is fine), gardening tools, hygiene supplies and over-the-counter medications.

On our last day we distributed seeds to the families who had taken the garden training program. There were about seventy families. After we had handed out the seed, some of the villagers expressed their appreciation for the program. One man suggested that the next time we visit the village we let them know that we are coming well in advance, so they can spread the word to as many people as possible, not just in Lebrun but in the neighboring villages as well. 

On Our Last Day We Distributed Seeds to 70 Families

As for Stanley, the family in Maryland is waiting to take him into their home and family as soon as a passport can be attained and Stanley is anxiously awaiting the reunion. Unfortunately, like everything in Haiti, there is a mountain of red tape. Carline has been working on this for a year but I know she won't quit until it has been accomplished. 


Make Gardens Not War 

is an outcome of Global Coalition for Peace, the non-profit
 501 (c) (3) association that was created in response to the events of  September 11
th, 2001 and the aftermath of those events.  The main purpose of Global Coalition for Peace is to replace violence with respect, compassion and love.

My association with Victor “Vyasa” Landa and the Shanti Yoga School of Life ( has been the inspiration for the work of creating Sattwic Peace Gardens and the Women’s Self Reliance Program, two projects of Global Coalition for Peace.  Through this work we have come to believe that gardens can be the element that will bring peace to our planet.