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Updated: Oct 29, 2019

I’m writing this update to remind us all of what we do and why we do it. No better way to do that than share with you our current activity in one poor farm community.

It is a little village far off the paved road, landmarked by a bright blue, wood plank two-room schoolhouse, packed with children in plaid shirts. Little mud and block houses with tin and palm thatched roofs dot the roadside nearby. Behind them a steep, treeless hillside runs up to a knife-edged ridge 500 feet above. Spread across it are small fields like puzzle pieces - some green with a new crop, some brown with exposed dirt, some black with char. They are little farms and they are the economic basis of life here. They are also the center of community life. Every day, families hike up to them to plant, hoe, and harvest depending on the season. Here babies are nurtured, meals prepared and eaten together. Children who go to school come at noon to do their part to help.

There is much to be admired in the fabric of this scene - the hum of families working together, the satisfaction of farming, the sheer beauty of the vistas. But it is a thin fabric and it is easily torn. There is a constant worry of not having enough to eat and a fear of what happens when something goes wrong — a crop fails, a child gets sick, a parent dies. Everybody knows these things up close and too often. With incomes of about $150 every six months, when crops are harvested, families have little resiliency to adversity.

This kind of poverty does not exist because of governmental corruption or personal failure. It’s way more structural than that. It evolved over generations with family after family after family simply doing what is necessary to survive and inadvertently destroying the economic foundation of their survival, which is the land. It is a destructive cycle of cause and effect, where poverty leads to environmental collapse, which leads to greater poverty. It’s a disaster happening in the midst of everyday life. Desperate families farm desperately, which degrades the land, which diminishes crop yields, which reduces income, which increases hunger and fear, which leads to desperate farming.

There’s no shortage of intellect in this community and people can understand the ramifications of deforestation and soil loss, but they simply cannot risk failure in an effort to change. They have to stick with the devil they know. When I pointed out to a farmer that his peanut crop was causing massive soil loss on his steep land, he said he had no choice — growing peanuts was how he paid for his kids to go to school and he knows how to grow them. The suggestion of an alternative crop was met with a “yes but” — a good idea but he did not have the money to change and he could not afford the risk that there would be no crop to sell in six months. Bottomline, having no money to shift to a new crop and no time to transition keeps rational people from making the changes they agree would be in their long-term interest. This is where JP has stepped in. It is giving people in this community enough ‘slack in the rope’ for them to change how they farm to improve their income and conserve their land.

JP is currently working with ten farm families (125-150 men, women, children, seniors) planting trees and changing crops and cultivation practices. Our Haitian agronomists work with each family to make a plan specific to their land, needs and preferences. It then helps launch their plan by providing trees, seeds, supplies, and supervision.

Two families are currently planting yams, another two are planting pineapple. JP provides the tubers and the pineapple plugs, which cost more than these families make in a year. In return each family will pass on planting stock to their neighbors in growing seasons to come. Six families are planting woodlots on their land and establishing contour conservation belts to prevent erosion. Several families are hatching a plan to produce guava juice after talking to us about the economic benefit of adding value to their crop before it goes to market.

All together, these activities are helping this very poor community break out of the cycle of poverty and environmental collapse, which has dragged it down for generations. We are convinced of the soundness of this method and the sustainability of its results. While nobody will be getting rich from these little farms that are so ubiquitous in Haiti, they can enable families to step out of poverty to live simply but with health, dignity and a sense of possibility.

While macro-economic factors like governmental corruption and currency exchange rates are beyond JP, it is well within our power to tangibly reduce poverty and improve the lives of real people in the countryside, where more than half of Haiti lives. That is what we are doing.

Thanks for your interest and support.

-Rob Fisher

In Haiti, the projected date for the new school year was September 9th. St Bartelemy School opened its doors on September 9th with a dedicating mass, placing the institution under the protection of God. At this Eucharist attended students, teachers, administrative staff and support, as well as parents and other personalities of the community.

During the first two weeks of September, we were the only school opened in the community. Another school joined us in the third week. We were able to keep our doors opened until last Tuesday, October 8th. We made the decision to close the school until further notice due to the political events that are occurring all over the country.

You must be aware through the media of the violence raging in the country. Violence of the streets, burglaries of houses and shops, blockades of roads, assassinations and so on.

We have met with the parents and they agreed to assist the children with their studies during these “forced holidays."

Currently, the situation is very dangerous. There is a political fight against the government and the position of the members of the opposition which creates some concern about the future of the country. The fact that the opponents refuse to negotiate with the government deepens the crisis and the most affected are the poor people who are deprived of everything, private and public institutions etc.

Except for those who are economically strong (the wealthy), the situation is critical for the rest of the population.

Esperance et Vie, despite the crisis, continues to assist the population in our community. We have done our best to distribute food to those we support regularly, despite the price of fuel that has increased 400% and is only available on the black market. To buy a gallon of gasoline on the black market, you need 1200 -1500 gdes. And it is not always accessible.  The regular price is 250 gdes. Public transportation is a real challenge and the price of food and basic products have quadrupled as well. 

We are asking you, our good friends, to lift our country in your prayers imploring with us the Almighty God who has given us Jesus Christ whose power alone can help us. Esperance et Vie also counts on your generosity to help us reach those who are really in need during this difficult moment. 

This comes with the assurance of my prayers.

Father JMB+

For over 10 years, Donna Henson has been making medical mission trips to Terrier Rouge alongside orthopedic doctors, nurses, and therapists. This gift of service is a part of who she is and how she conducts her life. Today, Donna is an active part of the Board of Bethlehem Ministry, helping to effect change in Haiti not just on the ground there but from right here in the States.

Here’s her story…

Donna Henson, left, with a young patient, Pere Bruno, and the child's mother on one of her many medical mission trips.

"Over 10 years and 7 visits to Haiti, I've seen a lot of changes in northeast Haiti, but the people are just as warm and welcoming. Better roads, a new airport, and electricity all the way to Terrier Rouge! Clinique Espérance et Vie now has a surgical suite, a pharmacy, and offers treatment and services every day.

Many years ago, on our first orthopedic surgery mission trip, we had to load all of the equipment and supplies onto a truck and take them to a small hospital in Fort Liberte. Only 1 operating room, we cleaned and scrubbed the walls and floors. The hospital had plastic over the windows, a portable air conditioner outside with PVC pipe for air flow, chickens roaming the courtyard, and problems with the autoclave that had us borrowing one from another clinic. Despite the challenges, we operated for 3 days and really made a difference in the lives of the people we served.

The next time we were there, we were able to use the new operating room at Clinique Espérance et Vie that had been converted from an exam room and storage area. Today, we can do surgery, give the patient time to recover, and send them home. Sometimes on the back of a motorcycle!

Each time we go, we see the change. Helping people that could not get advanced treatments or afford care or transportation to treatment. Every day the work continues at Espérance et Vie -  mother/baby care, hypertension, tropical disease testing and treatment, eye care for glaucoma and cataracts, and dental care. The Haitian staff of doctors and nurses and lab techs work hard to provide health care for the community and families.

Bethlehem Ministry continues to support and aid the people of Haiti and the medical clinic but the needs are ongoing and urgent. Please visit our website, for more information on how you can make a difference."

Donna Henson, LPN Athens Orthopedic Clinic

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