Friday, October 7, 2016

Hungry for Self-sustainability

How Haiti is Uniting to Build a Healthier, Independent Nation
By: Emily McIntyre
Produced and Edited By: Sam Campbell
Food Distribution in Haiti. Photo via FMSC/Flickr
When a 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince in 2010, the population was pushed deeper into its battle with extreme poverty. Thousands of people died, families were separated and the country’s free market economy plunged. Nonprofit organizations, charities and relief efforts flooded into Haiti for support, and though six years have passed since the earthquake, the country is still picking up the pieces.
Before the Children’s Nutrition Program of Haiti (CNP)/Kore Timoun (which means caring for children) was established in 1998, the acute malnutrition rate was an alarming 24 percent for the region of Léogâne, located in the Ouest Department of Haiti. 
Today, that rate has dropped to approximately less than 3 percent, said Taryn Silver the country program director of CNP. Focusing on the Léogâne area, CNP depends on female leaders called monitrices to teach the local communities how to be self-sustainable via Women’s Groups and Health Committees. Silver explains that monitrices play an especially instrumental role in treating women who are malnourished, pregnant or lactating. 
“They’ll talk about, like, ‘OK you basically need to eat an extra bowl of rice, or basically eating a little bit extra’ to get those extra calories while they’re pregnant,” Silver said.
Exclusive breastfeeding is also an issue in some communities as well, because not all mothers are well-nourished enough to do so.
“It’s not like they’re supplementing with formula or anything. They’re using food, or baby powders, and just regular powdered milk,” Silver said. “So what our monitrices will tell the women is ‘If you’re buying milk for your baby, no, you drink that milk. Use that extra money to buy extra food for yourself, especially while you’re breastfeeding.’”
In March 2014, CNP also started promoting the growth of Moringa trees, which have nutrient-dense leaves. Monitrices show mothers how they can incorporate them into their diet, such as adding them in soup.
Malnutrition affects Haitian children to the point where often times their hunger distracts them from learning at school. In Ouanaminthe, located in the Nord-Est Department of Haiti, is Institution Univers, one of the top ten ranked schools in the country. The Coalition of Children in Need Association founder Hugues Bastien started a farm to operate in tandem with the school’s lunch program.
The local crops grown there include sweet potatoes, mangoes, coconuts, cashews and limes, and they are harvested to feed more than 2,300 students ranging from preschool to high school.
A worker tends to his organic farm. Photo via uusc4all/Flickr.
“They were seeing not only kids who were malnourished, but even just because they were so hungry, they couldn’t learn. They couldn’t concentrate in class, and they didn’t have the energy to do what they needed to do,” said COCINA Communications Director Anna Lile.
COCINA also funds and supports Univers Medical Center in Ouanaminthe, which has become one of the biggest health clinics in the area. 
Aside from the wreckage following the tragedy, Haiti has suffered from massive deforestation within the past two decades. Part of the reason for this is producing and relying on charcoal for fuel, which requires cutting down trees Deforestation has also forced farmers to abandon or give up agriculture, because not enough profit is being collected from their crops.
“With deforestation, there’s more malnutrition and… there’s often no rain because there are often droughts,” said CNP Program Manager Rose Elene Veillard.* “Locals grow gardens, and the gardens can’t produce anything."
When it comes to a balanced diet, the best recommendation for Haitians with limited access to a variety of foods is to choose the right foods based on what is available. Cost has been a major setback when it comes to shopping for meals at the markets or grocery stores in Haiti.
“They’ve almost created this generation of ‘We live off of aid.’ The people don’t want that. They want to be a strong, proud country.”
Silver explaied that Haiti is frustrated with the food shipments that constantly pour in from other countries. “It puts a lot of people out of business,” she said. “When you go to the market in Haiti to buy rice, you can buy a bag of American or Taiwanese rice for maybe half the cost of Haitian rice.”
Cassandra Jean François, a member of SOHASAN (Solidarité Haitienne de Sécurité Alimentaire et Nutritionnelle) stressed that a major challenge with external aid is that there are no laws for food regulation in Haiti.
“But everyone needs access to food,” she said.*
Tania Bernard, Accounting Manager and official of Haitian Ministry of National Education and Professional Training (le Ministère de l’Éducation Nationale et de la Formation Professionnelle, or MENFP) agrees; she thinks that instead of the U.S. and other countries shipping metric tons of food as a form of aid, they should lend assistance in helping to reform the nation’s economy.
“So the help we need in Haiti by precisely related to this issue of food insecurity is first domestic production,” Bernard said. “I think the development of our country must first go through projects…  agricultural reform projects, projects that are taking shape in the rural section, with farmers and with communities in order to arrive at large-scale development of our national economy.”
Lost in the whirlwind of governmental reform, the Haitian population can only hope to make steps toward becoming a more sustainable nation once their new political leaders take office.
“They want to have hope for their future. They know that their country is broken, and they want to be able to take care of themselves,” Lile said. “They’ve almost created this generation of ‘We live off of aid.’ The people don’t want that. They want to be a strong, proud country.”

*Some quotes translated by the author.

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