Friday, July 24, 2009

Too busy for you, Blogspot

In spite of lots of interesting blog fodder and goings-on (weekend trips, termites, cargo-bike building, student riots and the UN's shady response, insane work weeks, Fet Sodo, finding a real Thai restaurant in Port!, motorcycle mishaps, the 2-day seminar on food sovereignty for POHDH and partners that Josh and I organized, our visit to a hydroponic lettuce farm and encounter with this man: see here here and here, lots of promising and not-so-promising news updates for Haiti, etc) we have (obviously) not been inspired to blog lately. Maybe it's the sweltering July heat and the fact that we leave in a week to spend some time with our families in North Carolina, or maybe we just have better things to do (for examples, see list above).

For now, we will take the lazy bloggers' out and let photos, links to friends' blogs and news articles do our blogging for us.

Food Sovereignty Seminar:

...playing a game to simulate how food systems work

Jocelyne Colas, Executive Secretary of the National Bishops' Justice and Peace Commission

Camille Chalmers, Director of PAPDA: the Haitian Platform to Advocate Alternative Development

Panel Discussion with representatives from the PFNSA (National Platform for Food Security), CNSA (the government's food security coordination institution ) and PAPDA

Ben and Bryan cut up a mountain bike and a TV stand to build a long-tail cargo bike:

Hydroponics in Haiti:

Alexis stands on a roof to watch a lightning storm:


Monday, July 20, 2009

What do I do

You may have noticed a new list of links in the sidebar on the left called "Advocacy links." I put these up for anyone who is interested in delving into the world of MCC policy advocacy (particularly with regards to the effect that policies in the US and Canada have on Haiti and other countries in the global south). Also, this is a great segway into explaining what my new job is about.

As of this month, I am no longer working at the Plate-forme des Organisations Haitiennes des Droits Humains (POHDH) as a seconded capacity-builder/translator/consultant/grant writer/human rights researcher. My new job as "Policy Analyst/Advocacy Worker/Educator" (okay, so this job title could actually use some revision, too) is lot easier to explain and flexible enough that I'll be able to travel with Ben when he's working in the countryside (for that, can I get woot woot?!).

As MCC Haiti's Policy Analyst, I'll mostly be looking at the affect of various governmental and corporate policies on Haiti and proposing possible responses from MCC's advocacy offices (D.C., NYC, Ottowa and Bogotà), our constituents in the US and Canada, as well as projects and partner organizations here in Haiti. And I quote, "MCC has overarching goals of building capacity and empowering the disenfranchised, but often we find that even if a program or project is carried out to perfection, its full potential will not be realized because of existing policies and economic and political structures. The situation is made more complex by the possibility that some sectors of the MCC constituency in Canada and the United States may be benefiting from these same policies.

As such, the policy analyst and educator will seek to engage MCC partners and constituents in a dialogue and learning process on how to identify and establish a plan to address the root causes of problems facing Haiti today." (from my job description)

The kinds of issues that I'll be looking at include food security/sovereignty, trade policies, how governmental aid money gets spent (that would be CIDA for Canada, USAID for the States), foreign military intervention, immigration, deportation, etc. The goal of the international advocacy part of my job will be to inform constituents of how their own lifestyles and government policies directly impact the lives of Haitians, then to mobilize them to influence policy change. The national advocacy part will have me and a Haitian coworker working with MCC's partner organizations here on education and campaigns to engage the church and the public on social justice issues.

As with most MCC jobs, it's all about encouraging structural change that is just, loving and that honors the rights of all of our brothers and sisters worldwide. That is something I truly believe in and am thrilled to continue being a part of.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A lesson from KPL

I hope our blog coverage of KPL isn't getting old. Their work is just so relevant to Haiti's economic situation (and I'll be working fairly closely with them in my new job). I wanted to share this article, written through a participant on an MCC Haiti learning tour on food security that took place in March. This article does an excellent job of connecting the work that KPL does here with the local food movements in the US and Canada and the global impact of our daily choices, while also acknowledging how much we can learn from countries like Haiti.

Kore Pwodiksyon Lokal
is connecting all of the dots in Haiti
A commentary on behalf of the National Farmers Union Ontario
By Grant Robertson

There are a growing number of people in Canada that recognize the importance of local food – and that’s a good thing. However, sometimes those, including farmers, who support local food production often do not connect the dots to the wider economy. They support the buying of local food but then do not give any thought to the wider costs to themselves of buying clothing, for instance, made in some sweatshop half a world away.

Haiti is one of the most impoverished places on this planet. Haitians have endured several centuries of domination and exploitation by one nation or another – with its giant neighbour to the north, the USA only being the most recent. Haiti’s once lush forests now only represent some 2% of original. This loss of tree coverage has contributed to desertification destroying fertile farm land contributing to deadly mudslides in the aftermath of being hit by a number of hurricanes and tropical storms. In 2008 there was civil unrest caused by the high price of food (most of it imported).

You might think that Haitians have little to teach us about food production or economic recovery. And to be honest, I was probably in that camp until I was given the chance to see a documentary about Kore Pwodiksyon Lokal. This Buy Local Haiti organization has recognized that Haitians are best served as a people by buying the products of their nation’s farmers, but also clothing producers and others. Bev Slater, long time NFU and food security activist puts it this way- “Haitian farmers recognize that producing and buying local food and local goods protects the environment and improves their economy. KLP, the local production non-government agency has recognized that it is the urban people that need to hear the message that they must buy local produce and locally manufactured goods if they want to help Haiti recover from an environmental disaster.”

KLP produced a number of television commercials aimed at non-farming communities. You can view these creative ads online at They do a good job of linking personal well-being, economic health, and community strength as ways to combat the devastation caused by globalization, poverty and weather disasters.

Those of us in the developed world have a long and rather undistinguished record of presuming to tell those in the global south how they should think, act and determine what is important to them. Far too often we tell them what crops and products they should grow even though they may not meet local needs. What they do though is create massive profits for transnational corporations. Yet in countries like Haiti local farmers and others are working together because they recognize the long term answers are to be found at home. Haiti is not alone in this as many countries around the world are showing those of us in more ‘developed’ countries the way.

The truth is that many of the problems facing farmers in Haiti and around the world are the same as the ones facing Canadian farmers, and many of the answers can be found in the same place. We have much to learn from groups like KLP – it is time we started listening.

You can find out more about Kore Pwodiksyon Lokal at

Grant Robertson is the senior elected official with the National Farmers Union-Ontario. As Ontario Coordinator Robertson is also a National Board Member of the NFU. Grant and his family farm near Paisley, Ontario. The author can be contacted at

-Lexi posting from Ben's account

Monday, July 13, 2009

Time for a Vacation?

As a kid, did you ever read that book "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day"? Today it seems fitting that the name Alexander so closely resembles Alexis.

Here's a recap of my day:

8:00: I kiss Ben good-bye in Desarmes (me, heading back to Port after having gone to see him for the weekend; he, heading back to the Central Plateau for another 80-hour work week). I forget to give Ben the money I got from the bank for him, leaving him with the equivalent of $6 for the week.

8:00 - 10:30: Josh and I drive to Port-au-Prince without incident

10:30 - 1-ish: I work at the MCC office, have lunch and buy a phone card on my way home (oh, and find out that we may not actually be able to afford to have the 53-person MCC retreat that's supposed to take place in a week at Club Indigo. I am on the planning committee.)

1:15: I am at home, looking frantically for my house keys and hoping for a shower so that I can change out of my flip-flops and the sundress I've worn all weekend, but am also late to meet with someone at POHDH... I give up the search for the keys, put my bags from the weekend back in the MCC truck that I'm using and head to the office.

(all day): Text messaging on my new phone (bought two weeks ago to replace my old phone, which stopped working for no reason) is not working. (Note for non-Haiti residents: text messaging is really the only affordable way to communicate in Haiti, especially when your husband is working out of town)

2:30-ish: I burn up my phone card vicariously looking for my keys (Garly: in the truck we drove back to Port, Sharon: the MCC office in Desarmes, Ben: his bag in Sodo)

I stay late at the office trying to make a dent in the work I put off during the weekend.

5:10 The clutch burns out on the truck I'm driving while I'm going up the big hill on Route Canape Vert. A couple guys help me push it to the side of the road.

5:10-6:00: It's a good thing I'm used to being stared at because it's rush hour. Matt drives by on his way home from work and stops to keep me company.

6:05: Josh comes to save the day. We transfer my bags to Matt's truck and Matt takes me to the gym, where I have a pilates class to teach at 6:15. Josh waits with the truck for Garly.

6:20: I am pulling shorts on under my dress while I begin teaching my 30-min class.

6:45: Josh is at the gym to pick me up after class. It's just getting dark and we realize the headlight on the motorcycle doesn't work. Also, it turns out, there is not much gas in the bike.
Nevertheless, we make it back to MCC.

7:15: Ben calls to tell me he was bitten by a dog

7:16: I hesitate to go into Epi-Dor, afraid the whole place might spontaneously combust when I walk in. But, no fires, no-one holds the place up, my sandwich is good and doesn't give me food poisoning.

8:00: I give Josh a ride home and stop by Matt's, where I empty out my bags in search of my keys, to no avail. Have I already mentioned that Ben and I only have one key between us, that there is no spare hidden anywhere else and that I'm scared of our landlady?

10:00: I am now at Rebecca's, where I can sleep, borrow clothes to wear tomorrow and try to think of good things, like the 2-day seminar that I put together for POHDH last week that went off without very many hitches, and the fact that we leave for North Carolina in 3 weeks and how excited I am about my new job...

The Heroes of the Day were without a doubt:

Josh and Matt
Garly for towing the Nissan back to MCC
Rebecca for letting me stay over and making me tea
Ben for deciding to come home early this week in spite of having too much work to do so that I don't have to figure out how to get into our house by myself tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Friday, July 3, 2009

$1.2 billion in debt relief approved for Haiti

JENNIFER KAY – 2 days ago

MIAMI (AP) — Roughly two-thirds of Haiti's total debt was cancelled Tuesday when three organizations that provide financial assistance to poor countries announced they're forgiving $1.2 billion of what the Caribbean country owes.

The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund said their boards decided this week to end Haiti's separate obligations to the two organizations. The move also triggered previously announced debt relief from the Inter-American Development Bank.

As of April, Haiti's debt was more than $1.9 billion, according to the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research.

"The debt relief will help us invest in growth and poverty reduction programs," Haitian Finance Minister Daniel Dorsainvil said in a statement. "Haiti has demonstrated over the past four to five years that it can commit itself to a menu of reforms and respect this commitment."

The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund added Haiti in 2006 to a program that allows poor countries to reduce what they owe by demonstrating progress in financial stewardship.

Haiti met that program's targets by strengthening tax and customs administration, improving the management of public funds, improving spending on poverty reduction and auditing government accounts, World Bank officials said.

The Inter-American Development Bank had said in March 2007 that it would forgive $511 million of Haiti's debt if it completed that program.

Haiti also approved an HIV and AIDS prevention and treatment plan, improved immunization rates, started programs to train teachers and send 50,000 more children to school and improved its spending on education, officials said.

Officials with the organizations congratulated the Haitian government for meeting its debt cancellation targets in a global economic downturn, even after the country struggled with skyrocketing food and fuel prices and the lashing from four tropical storms that killed some 800 people and caused $1 billion in damage.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Story of Stuff

I'm sure none of this information is actually true... oh wait, there aren't any trees on this island!

Confession Time

June is *finally* over. This week, as we resume our less calculated and much easier plasticized life, we can buy things like dish soap and cleaner and yogurt and granola again. Oh, the relief! But, that's not to say that a month of attempting to forgo plastic hasn't made for some lasting change: we are more conscious of our choices than we used to be. Trying to avoid all things plastic, we've had to look for creative alternatives to some of our usual purchases and it turns out some of those make a lot of sense. And, I've had to get over my discomfort with insisting on no plastic. It's become kind of automatic. I just hope that the girls at Epi-Dor - where we buy bread and eat sandwiches several times a week - find it endearing rather than extremely annoying.

So here's the final count of the plastic we did end up purchasing in June, mostly inadvertantly but sometimes not (as previously stated, we weren't planning to go without drinking water all month... or, apparently, sour cream) :

9 or so culligan lids (to be honest, I stopped keeping track)
1 bottle of bleach
1 bottle of laundry detergent
1 plastic baggie
1 jar lid (peanuts)
1 baguette bag
1 bag of flour
The ends of Ben's new used shoelaces
2 packages of crackers
5 plastic bags
plastic container of cheese (in very misleading cardboard packaging)
1 plastic twistie-tie
1 straw
2 sets of plastic silverware
1 container of sour cream
plastic-wrapped green peppers
1 package of pita bread

Crazy, right? I'm asking myself how we managed to purchase that much plastic while we were intentionally trying NOT to. One of these days I hope to get around to a thoughtful analysis of the global effects of our plastic consumption (so, in case you're still trying to understand why we would take on this crazy experiment, check back soon).


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