I touched down in Cap-Haitien yesterday morning. I was met by Gabrielle Vincent, Director and Founder of Sonje Ayiti, in a small yellow school bus. I could tell a lot about her spirit when we first met. She was born here and moved to the U.S. as a teenager. She and her husband built a good life for their family, but she decided to start Sonje Aytiti due to the need and a personal responsibility to her people.
I had no idea what that day would look like. I was pretty much open to anything. Gaby took us straight to work! We drove about 25 minutes outside of Cap-Haitien to the town of Limonade. Limonade is a town of about 45,000 people and is where the core of Sonje Ayiti’s work takes place.
There I saw one of the organizations many community development projects. A group of young men built 4 of the 30 planned incinerators for the municipality. Trash is a HUGE problem in Limonade, it’s lined up along the side of the streets, in the middle of the streets and scattered throughout the fields.
The local government provides little or no support for sanitation and many people simply throw trash on the streets. So instead of complaining and doing nothing, Sonje Ayiti and its volunteers are using meager resources to build incinerators to burn the trash and reduce volume.
Sonje Ayiti also runs a micro-lending program called “Koud-a-Koud.” Koud-a-Koud literally means “shoulder to shoulder,” but Sonje Ayiti takes the meaning to another level. With a 99% success rate, Koud-a-Koud lends sums of money (up to $500) to individuals or groups looking to start or support a small business. Since its inception 108 loans have been granted and only 1 has defaulted. 80% of the lenders are women and the types of businesses range from taxi to food services. The Koud-a-Koud office space is a two room building. Its primary administrative staff is a young woman who is about my age. She was shy at first, but I think she has a great potential for leadership. The program is very popular and could use more funding.
In almost any developing country you will find someone, somewhere teaching an English class. The class I attended was unlike ANY I’ve ever been in! Haiti is currently undergoing political change. Limonade is not exempt. For the past couple of days the class has hosted local mayoral candidates. The candidate comes to speak and answer questions. I have participated in many of these and this one was DEEP! There were about 6 students, the instructor, myself and Gaby in the room along with the candidate. The students and Gaby asked concrete questions about his plan to clean up Limonade. He had none. As a pastor of a 300 member church, it seems as if this man was doing little for the community. I could see I look of anxiety and divestment in his face. I think the class agitated him a bit, hopefully to at least think about acting.
This post is getting long, my bandwidth shorter and there is still so much to share. I think the next post will include my experience while visiting the local hospital. I still can not get the stench of sickness out of my mind. It will also cover my visit with a local womens group, The Association of Valiant Women of Limonade (RAFAVAL), working to build power for themselves. My mind is beginning to churn and ideas are forming. I think the women of RAFAVAL would do that to anyone who sits and talks with them. Visiting with them lifted my spirits and showed me once again just how complex Haiti is…as if I could ever forget.