For over five years SUNY Broome Health for Haiti has been fortunate to have built partnerships between Americans and Haitians that have changed all of our lives for the better. We have learned a lot from each other as we work side by side, join together to celebrate our successes, and do our best to rise above the inevitable challenges and set-backs we encounter.
As we deal with the disappointment of canceling another summer trip due to concerns about the safety of our US team and our partners in Haiti, we are taking time to reflect on the reality of this moment, and why it is more critical than ever that we continue the work we started years ago.
As our neighbors in Haiti face ongoing sociopolitical tensions, the grim truth of their deteriorating economic situation cannot be ignored. The United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) recently published a report stating that there has been a 23% depreciation of the Haitian national currency over the past six months, and that the ongoing civil unrest has paralyzed economic and social activities for a large part of the population.
What does this mean for the Haitian people? It means that the plummeting value of their currency has caused a dramatic increase in the cost of living, and that there are severe shortages in food and fuel and water. This situation has been exacerbated by lower than usual agricultural productivity caused by dry conditions.
OCHA reports that more than 2.6 million Haitians in rural areas (like Grande Saline) are food insecure and that all signs suggest that their situation is likely to worsen in the coming months. Partners in Health recently stated that 1 out of every 5 children in Haiti is starving. It is clearly Haiti’s most vulnerable citizens who are suffering the most. Although the situation is overwhelming, Health for Haiti strives to help families in Grande Saline reduce food insecurity by continuing to support the community gardens. These gardens enable the local people to grow some of their own food.
After a very successful cash crop of green peppers, the farmers have reworked the land and recently planted rice to grow seedlings. If all goes well, the rice will be used to help provide a school lunch to over 200 school children next fall. The gardens are a source of pride for families in Grande Saline and help to provide a small income for the farmers who manage them.
The fuel shortage and increased expense has also impacted families in Grande Saline. The Health for Haiti water filtration system that has provided clean, safe drinking water to the entire community of Grande Saline for over 4 years is run by gas generators. As fuel prices skyrocket and the entire country is dealing with gas shortages, it has been harder and harder to obtain gas to run the system. Recent events make it clear that our project to convert the system to solar power is more critical than ever. Working together with the community in Haiti and partners here in the United States, construction of the perimeter wall has been completed and excellent progress has been made on the pavilion that will hold the solar panels up to the sun and house the batteries and other necessary equipment.
Completion of this critical and timely project will mean that the community is no longer dependent on scarce and expensive fuel for clean water. They will have the ability to harness the abundant sunshine, which is freely available no matter what the economic system is in the rest of the country.
We are so grateful for all of the donations to this project. We hope that we will be successful in our final phase to raise the money to purchase the necessary solar panels, batteries, and inverters. All equipment will be purchased in Haiti, so a donation to this project not only helps to make clean drinking water more sustainable for the families in Grande Saline, it also supports the fragile economy in Haiti.
As we celebrate Independence Day here in our own country next week, it is a good time to remember that, as we see so clearly in Haiti, things many of us enjoy and maybe even take for granted in the United States of America might be out of reach for our global neighbors. A plate of food you can barely finish could be a day you can barely face because you know will not have enough to eat. A glass of water that is so refreshing on a hot day might be unavailable because there was not enough fuel to run the system that makes your water safe to drink. The booming July 4th fireworks that light up the night sky might be replaced by the threatening sounds of gun fire or rocks shattering glass windows.
There is nothing wrong with celebrating our freedom and all of the luxuries that come with it. Being an United States citizen is a privilege and should be appreciated. But at the same time our Independence Day is an opportunity to remember that despite physical and cultural borders that separate us, we are one human family and we all benefit when those of us who have resources to spare find ways to help to lift up those who are in need.
Health for Haiti remains committed to working with our past, present, and future students and community partners to make a positive difference for our neighbors in Haiti. We look forward to continuing to learn and grow together, and we know that our partnership will create a better tomorrow for all of us.