Mercy Corps – Healing the Land, Healing the People

You are my brother and I am your brother, fellow man.
Whatever desire comes from your mouth, I will grant,
just as you will grant the desire that comes from my mouth.
– Inscription on clay tablet letter sent by King of Eble to King of Hamazi, late 3rd millennium BC

The town of Petit Bois is located in the upper reaches of a deforested valley, two and half miles long and a mile and a half wide. In the broader landscape, it’s but a wrinkle, part of a tangled mix of ridges and ravines – a small piece of the west-northwest trending mountains reaching from Port Au Prince to St. Marc.

Like most rural areas in Haiti, the 3,575 people of Petit Bois labor for survival as subsistence farmers.  Deforestation, dating back generations, has led to environmental damage: soil erosion, declining agricultural productivity, and degraded standards of living – a scenario all too common in the Haitian countryside.  Aid projects have come and gone to Petit Bois’ valley, yet inadequate funding, commitment, and lack of education about proper stewardship have doomed them all. Enter Mercy Corps.

Looking down the valley which holds the village of Peiti Bois, the extent of deforestation is evident as far as the eye can see.

Mercy Corps is a dedicated U.S. based relief organization with a track record of successful projects across the globe.  They work in the hardest, most needy areas around the world.  Their fundamental goals set the stage for long term development and prosperity, “to alleviate suffering, poverty and oppression by helping people build secure, productive and just communities.”

As part of their growing presence in Haiti, Mercy Corps is launching a pilot project designed to reinvigorate the environment and the people of Petit Bios.  Elizabeth Sipple, a program manager for Mercy Corps Haiti, speaks of the program as a renewable resources and alternative energy environmental plan, employing agro forestry to revitalize the people and the land.

“In a micro watershed (Petit Bois), this is a pilot model project for reforestation, soil conservation, and improved agriculture techniques that are all driven by economics – natural resource management that is economically driven.  Agro Forestry means you’re mixing agriculture with forestry. It’s more than just reforestation.  People still need to plant annual crops for food and they need the short term economic income that comes from annual crops. This program will improve the environment by mending degradation, and improving livelihoods of families day to day.”

The Mercy Corps prescription is clear; employment of holistic medicine for the land and the people – inclusive revitalization of an entire ecosystem where the human population is integral part of the equation.  Healing the land and people together will bring security and livelihood to Petit Bois, allowing them to thrive in the present and future generations.

After a long day of work school children return home, parents carry heavy loads of harvested food for their families, and farmers come back from a day of labor intensive digging – creating a terraced parcel of land to be ready for spring planting.

A vital component to the success of this program is incentivization – structuring it to distribute incentives which are inclusive of all members of the recipient population.  This democratic distribution of outcome and inclusion allows people to balance short and long term goals to ensure the longevity and success of the program.  Joam Jean Francois, a teacher in the community and a member of CODEP, a local grass roots organization partnering with Mercy Corps on this project, states:

“The people will put their personal needs aside and look at the shared vision of what this community needs. While we’re working together (Mercy Corps and CODEP) we’re able to respect each other’s principles and work as a collective in the short and long term. Part of my job is to do consciousness building, and communicate with all of the members of the community so that people really feel and know that this program is for everyone.”

The Mercy Corps model builds on the idea that successful projects need strong local partners with an association which is neither a top down nor bottom up strategy, but an inclusive group endeavor.  Robust relationships between Mercy Corps, local organizations, and target populations are critical. Together we are stronger.

The success of this program will translate into a better standard of living for the children of Petit Bois.  An abandoned tractor from a long past development project makes a fun play area for these local boys.  Thanks to the Mercy Corps program a new playground, in the form of a football (soccer) field, is in the final stages of completion.  Clearing and leveling a small piece of land along one of the valley ridges is all that’s needed.

Short and long term visions are employed concurrently to break the self-reinforcing cycle of poverty and environmental degradation.  Credit and agricultural components reduce the stress people feel day to day so as not to impede the longer term activities and investments needed in a reforestation project – a problem not addressed in past projects in the area.  Surplus food in the short term, and a sustainable forestry producing trees for lumber and fuel in the long term, will provide economic incentives which give the people of Petit Bois reason to be personally invested in the project.


Copyright 2012 Adam Bacher.  All rights reserved.  Absolutely NO usage without prior authorization.

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