Welcome back again, I know, two updates in two days, unheard of before. I knew that I wanted to create a post updating all of you about how I spent the first week of the month, but also knew that I'd said the next update would be dedicated to a history of Lake Péligre. So, my word kept and promise fulfilled, I'm now at liberty to share my experiences visiting two other villages in the neighboring Artibonite département. As I mentioned in my last post, the Artibonite River flows across all of Hispaniola (Artibonito in Spanish, as it is known crossing the border into the Dominican Republic) and is the namesake of the département. First, I'll tell you about the day I spent in the town of LaChapelle and after about the remote mountain village of Perodin.
The second week of July I was put in contact with Dottie Kelley, local to the Charleston area (where my family also lives) back in South Carolina. I was invited by her to journey together to LaChapelle at the beginning of August so that I might see some five hundred acres of land allocated for farming adjacent to the river. The problem I was told was that despite being situated in close proximity to the river, water was scarce in different parts of the land. I agreed happily to come view the site and we made the necessary arrangements. As July flew by I began to prepare the trip to LaChapelle. Upon arrival at the site, I was amazed at the vastness of the land. I, of course, knew that five hundred acres was a sizeable amount of land, but I tell you truly it is entirely different to hear and know something and to see and walk the same thing. I was delighted to learn two things this day regarding the land: the first was that at an unspecified time (nobody in the area remembered exactly when) following the January 2010 Earthquake, an organization from Canada constructed an irrigation system that is sourced by a tributary of the Artibonite and that it services much of the farmland. The second was that the irrigation system in fact services much of the land with the exception of a section closest to the river that was slightly more elevated. Leading me and my traveling companions who traveled from South Carolina with Dottie (Greg, a retired US Army officer and Steve, a practitioner of internal medicine,) was Fernand. An incredible young man from LaChapelle I had the pleasure of meeting who happens to serve as the head of an organization of young men in the LaChapelle area dedicated to improving life in the community; he graciously volunteered to serve as our guide when other pressing matters drew away my planned company, including LaChapelle's mayor. As Fernand, Greg, Steve, and I made our way down slope from the road to the farmland we decided on an itinerary for seeing the site, however as often happens, we needed to amend our plans when we met some local farmers to whom Fernand, explaining that I was an engineer come to see what could be done to help with the water shortage, asked if we'd be willing to walk them while they showed us where needed the most help. I'd realized two things quickly as we began to walk with the farmers: the first was that while the irrigation of the small tributary was a good and helpful thing, it was insufficient for the entirety of the area. The second was that many of the attempted additions to the irrigation system by the farmers weren't working because the land they needed to supply was more elevated than their source. As we made our way to the river I remember them asking Fernand after conferring with me for a moment what I was thinking. With Fernand's assistance, I described what I noticed as the principal problems and what I was thinking could help and we had a brief conversation that went something like this:
Fernand: "So I should say the reason they don't have water because the water is lower than the land?
Me: "That's part of it yes, we need to help it flow uphill."
Fernand: "But water doesn't flow uphill, how will we do that?"
Me: "It doesn't without help, and engineers somewhat specialize in helping nature do things it doesn't normally."
Admittedly, this amused me because the problem here was the exact same problem Cangé had and I felt confident we'd be able to develop a solution for LaChapelle as well. We were discussing this as we drew near to the river itself. I remember being in awe at the sight of it as I'd not so many times before been so close to a major river. I'd wondered at first if flood irrigation might serve the farmland, but upon arrival at the river bank, I realized the problem immediately. The very spot where we were standing was between twenty and thirty above the water level. Now having seen everything for myself, I turned to see Fernand waiting with the farmers to hear what I would say next. I was pleased to be able to tell them that I thought we (CEDC) would be able to come up with a solution that could help them. After translating, I was thanked by the farmers and, replying in Creole, I told them that we would do what we could for them.
After taking Tuesday (1/08/2017) to see the farmland in LaChapelle, Greg, Steve, and I traveled with Smith to the village of Perodin early Wednesday morning. Smith, like Fernand, is dedicated to inspiring positive change for the betterment of Haiti. Perodin is located in the Chaines des Cahos mountain range which stretches from the coast in the west to the central plateau. As we made the hike to Perodin, Smith told me that Perodin is only one of several villages where he works and due to his degree in forestry, he has also developed plans for the different villages to replant the mountainsides vastly depleted of trees and other wild foliage. At Perodin, there is a small medical clinic where we volunteered the next two days. Word spread across the villages on the nearby mountains that not only was a group of Americans coming to visit Perodin, but that one of them was a doctor and we'd be at the clinic in Perodin. Following breakfast Thursday morning we walked to the clinic and upon arrival saw a mass of people awaiting us. It seemed difficult to me to obtain an accurate count of how many people were actually packed together under the stretch of awning at the clinic, but Greg quickly estimated there were about sixty people. Thereafter, we made the acquaintance of the auxiliary nurses as well as head nurse, Fernande. Despite Steve being the only medical professional, we quickly devised a system for seeing patients in which: Steve would see patients, I and the auxiliary nurses would record relevant patient information and diagnoses, Fernande, Greg, and another man who works regularly at the clinic would distribute prescriptions for ailments that could be treated with what was available at the clinic. Over the course of two long days, we saw one hundred and sixty-three people at the clinic. Many of them were suffering from arthritis and cataracts, products of hard labor and daily mountain climbing coupled with constant exposure to the bright and constant Caribbean sun. It was pleasantly noteworthy that despite these common issues and a small number of more serious conditions, the community was in overall good health. I remember Aaron telling me once (a former intern himself with the conversation regarding advice on the operating in Haiti) that I should always watchful for opportunities to new projects and community development. That in mind, when Smith mentioned that after dinner on Thursday night he was attending a meeting with leaders from the village I asked if I might accompany him. It was an honor to be accepted with great hospitality and warmth by the village elders which I tried to reciprocate by introducing myself, why I'm in Haiti, and that I'd like to hear their concerns and discuss how I and CEDC might be able to help in Creole. As is often the case when I meet new people and they learn I speak Creole, I was greeted once more with even more warmth and welcomed not only as a visitor, but as someone dedicated to building relationships and change. They had many concerns and I thought of each as important. In an attempt to better understand how their minds were tending, I asked Smith if he would ask for me "if they could choose one thing that could be fixed overnight, what it would be?" After he finished asking my question, there was a great deal of murmuring for a minute, and then what seemed to me like consensus. They provided the following analogy: "Alex, they said imagine you are preparing a meal and you've gathered the three rocks upon which you need to set your pot. They say their priorities are like the three rocks being the road to the village, public health, and reforestation." I needed a moment to process this after Smith finished explaining, not because I hadn't understood the analogy (meals prepared outside in a pot situated amount three rocks was not only a common sight but something I'd enjoyed a number of times already,) but because I found myself insufficiently prepared for the concision of their well-thought out answer. Briefly discussing the specifics of that thereafter, we concluded the meeting. It is my hope that we'll be in a position to advise and aid Perodin in the future.
So, this was a very long update, but I wanted to ensure that I share important and a plentiful amount of details to everybody taking the time to read these. It was my distinct pleasure to become acquainted with Fernand and Smith. They're both men with vision, and who are truly dedicated to the idea of Haiti's improvement coming from its people, and not from any extraordinary amount of external assistance. This is incredibly important because while help from generous and kind people should not be undervalued, solutions provided by external sources (foreign governments and NGO's, for example) implemented without involving the community ubiquitously fail. It was also a respite for me to meet Dottie, Greg, and Steve as well. Often, it is easy for large organizations with the purest of intentions toward helping people in need to become burdened by bureaucracy and other ailments which render their efforts ineffective. For my skill with language, I find it difficult to express sufficiently in writing the importance of people like Dottie, Greg, and Steve who choose an area to support and invest in the community there; people who truly understand how critical it is to immerse yourself in a community and understand it in order to understand how to effectively help. If you've made it to the end here, it's time for the best part of these posts, where I stop talking and I share pictures of everything I just described.
|Here, is one of several pools in the irrigation system constructed by the Canadians. from what I could see, their primary purpose is to send water in multiple directions (in this case, two.)|
|This picture was taken by Greg as we walked through the fields. The farmers plant many different things in accordance with the season including, but not at all limited to beans, cane, mango, rice, papaya and much more.|