The rest of our time in Haiti was also filled with creating connections around food. We helped pass out food at 2 nutrition centers, walked the community delivering rice and beans that local Iowans purchased, went to a market, helped in the elementary school with English and math activities, and enjoyed time with the Haitian students and each other.
UCI (United Christians International), the organization we stayed and work with in Haiti, started several nutrition centers in the area to combat the severe childhood malnourishment seen in the population. Three times a week, meals delivered to each site. The area children come, sing songs, pray and are then handed a plate of rice, beans and vegetables or peanut butter sandwiches with fresh, clean water to be consumed on-site.
The joy and gratefulness on the children’s’ & parents’ faces touch the heart. They know what it really means to go to bed hungry, and these meals not only help that, but also help prevent stunting and increase their life potential.
Six years ago, a local farmer, Darwin-or better known in Haiti as Chop Chop, came to Haiti with his adult daughter on a church mission trip. He noticed the agriculture disparities between Iowa and Haiti and has worked to do something about it ever since. He contacted my husband, an Ag teacher at Hawkeye Community College at the time (he is now a dean overseeing the Ag department) and GALC has been going every year since to help give the Haitian Ag students at UCCC tools they need to increase food production.
This year, some of Chop Chop’s friends donated money to buy rice and beans for exceptionally needy families in the area. We had the privilege of delivering them. In doing so, we were able to tell the story of who actually purchased the food and here their stories in return. One family has a teenage son with rickets, a bone disease that will never allow him to physically look older than a 2-3 year old or walk. Another mother told us how her daughter is studying Ag at the university and has planted plantains and papaya in their yard to increase their own food production-putting what she’s learning into practice.
On Saturday, we travelled 7 miles through muddy roads to Pignon to go to the market. The photos we captured were few and far between. With no FDA or food regulations we witnessed food for sale lying on the ground, in extremely dirty containers, unrefrigerated raw meat and fish, street food, new clothes brought in from Port au Prince, other personal care products, medicine, live animals and much more. It was crowded and did not have the best odors, but it gave the students a taste of how local people shop and live-happy doing the best they can with what they have.
I noted how proud the vendors were of their products and did their best to keep items clean and show them off in the best light. I saw plantains, beets, carrots, onions, garlic, ginger, dried beans, freshly milled corn, cabbage, squash and more. I really liked talking with our interpreters about the kinds of vegetables and what they cost. We did not purchase anything as our gut microflora would not be able to tolerate the bacteria and such on the food there-especially the meat. We only ate what UCI provided and/or deemed safe for us to eat.
Sunday, we went to Sunday School and church-as that is a very big part of the culture. Everyone had the choice to go or not, but everyone is encouraged to go for the cultural experience. The message was one we could all relate to-trust in the Lord, He will provide. There is no need to worry about things that are out of our control. Instead, turn to God and His peace will permeate you. He will direct, inspire and guide as he provides all. We sat with the children and our interpreters translated for us.
That afternoon, we walked a few miles up the mountain to a cave that houses thousands of bats. The local children walk up there to collect the guano (droppings) to use for fertilizer on different crops people grow in their yards. While not ideal, the cave itself is very spacious. Since GALC has been working there, we have encouraged using manures from other animals so the children won’t have to maneuver the terrain.
Time with Elementary Students
Monday morning several of us worked with the Kindergarten and Preschool students using tangrams. They are patterns drawn on papers that they use colored plastic shaped to fill in. We also worked with them on patterns, colors and shapes. With the Kindergarteners we could teach a little English, but the Preschoolers were still learning their colors so we stuck to French. By the end of the morning most of the Iowans knew their basic colors in French. Another learning experience for all!
Monday afternoon, we had a ceremony for all those who participated in the problem solving workshop and who learned how to drive the tractor. Each person received a certificate and much applause. As you can see, we were all excited about the lessons we all learned. The GALC students felt so good when the Haitian students were teaching each other what they had learned. Much the same feeling Chop Chop, our team leader-Brad and I feel when our students master a concept well enough to teach it to others.
I can’t tell you how rewarding it is to be a part of and witness minds expanding and partnerships forming across cultures, languages and nations to combat hunger with healthy food choices. Working together we can bring Ag and Health together to build a healthier balance to our food system.