As people at home and across the world continue to deal with our new COVID reality, it is easy to lose sight of how the current challenges only added to an already dire situation in places like rural Haiti. Even prepandemic, data from organizations like the Global Hunger Index (GHI) identified Haiti as one of the hungriest countries in the entire world. GHI uses indicators such as child wasting, child stunting, and child mortality to assess malnourishment and hunger severity. The already dismal situation in Haiti was further exacerbated by civil unrest and the economic crisis (inflation and devaluation of the Haitian currency) that has gripped Haiti for more than a year. Add COVID and you have a recipe for disaster, with millions of Haitians facing severe food insecurity.
On the SUNY Broome side, Health for Haiti had to cancel our 2020 and 2021 classes, resulting in a significant loss in momentum for our student-led projects and fundraising initiatives. However, thanks to the foundation we built with the community in Grande Saline over the past several years, projects including the Health for Haiti Community Garden/School Lunch Program continue to move forward in Grande Saline. This particular project links local farmers with students and their families so that they can work together to grow rice, corn, and vegetables for their school lunch.
No one could have guessed that we would have to deal with a global pandemic, but it is fortunate that instead of trying to continually raise donations to buy food for over one hundred students and staff – we instead worked with the community to help them grow their own food. While still difficult, this has turned out to be a more sustainable and empowering way of battling food insecurity for our friends in Grande Saline.
Despite a recent flood in Grande Saline and the economic instability that continues to grip the country, today the community is welcoming another successful rice harvest. We are taking this moment to recognize and celebrate all of the hard work that began in the garden months ago.
The process of growing rice begins by planting rice seeds in a small section of land. While the rice seedlings begin to grow, the farmers prepare the large fields. These fields were last used to grow corn and vegetables and must be completely reconfigured for rice. The land has to be divided into separate beds and each bed must have a wall of earth constructed around it. The rice grows in water, so surrounding each bed with walls of earth allows the beds to be flooded. Water for the rice is pumped from the river using a gas generator. Once the rice seedlings are established they are transplanted to the beds in the big field. The rice plants are tended, protected, and fertilized by local farmers and members of the community. After the harvest, the rice must be dried and processed before it is stored. Of course the final step is cooking the rice and providing it to school children and staff for lunch.
While this is certainly not the first successful harvest from the Community Garden, given all that has occurred in Haiti and at home this year – it feels especially significant. We would like to extend a very special thank you to everyone who supports the Health for Haiti Community Garden project as well as the other projects that continue in Grande Saline. As we in the United States approach a Thanksgiving holiday that will most likely be very different from those we have enjoyed in the past, this rice harvest is definitely something we can look to as both a blessing for today and a symbol of hope (and lunch!) for tomorrow.