Advent 3

I have survived hurricanes and I will defeat Covid-19

Mirlande’s garden is flourishing.  After Hurricane Matthew ripped through the west of Haiti in 2016, she had to start again from scratch.  Thanks to a local member of ACT Alliance Haiti, she got the seeds and tools she needed.  Like many Haitians, she is used to picking up the pieces after a natural disaster and starting again.  She knows that if she does not grow enough food her family will face hunger.  Her garden is a testament to her hard work and the importance of getting the right kind of help when she needed it most.

On the other side of the island, 12-year-old Diana gets up at 5 am to do her chores before she goes to school.  On market days, she often went down the hill to help her mother sell the vegetables they grow.  With drought and no easy source of water, the family lost most of their crops.  With the school closed because of Covid-19, she has even more to do.  She is very happy to go to the market to sell the straw baskets her parents make when there is not enough food.

“It’s the little money from crafts that feeds us,” says Diana shyly.

She takes her responsibilities as the oldest child very seriously.  If she does not work in the garden and help with household chores or sell the baskets, her family may run out of food – and there is no food bank in her community.  If they can get new seeds, they will be able to replant and try again.

She loves school and the opportunity to have a little time to play.  At school Diana learns maths and other skills she needs to better secure the family income.  She is in the sixth year of the primary school in Dophiné, 15 minutes’ walk across the river from her house.  Next year she will need to walk two hours each way to get to the High School in the city.

“Our whole life is a struggle. We will continue to fight; the rest is in the hands of God,” says Diana’s mother, Jocelyne.

In Dophiné, joy is in short supply.  With more help Diana’s family can buy new seeds to replace those lost to the drought and begin again – something they are used to doing in a country with unreliable government and prone to disaster.

Support the 2020 Christmas Appeal to give hungry families like Diana’s good food and the basics of a sustainable life.


Hurricanes, droughts, earthquakes and other disasters are a regular feature of Haitian life.  In October 2016 Hurricane Matthew the most powerful storm in 50 years left 1.4 million people in need of relief assistance according to the UN.  The hills were cleared of cover and now few or no trees are left to protect them from the effect of heavy rains and frequent mudslides.  The country has yet to recover from the 2010 earthquake that killed 230,000 people and further destabilised a fragile economy.

However, when disasters strike, people are largely on their own.  Aid agencies offering short term aid can leave people more vulnerable after such events.  They have sometimes created aid dependency among Haitians who have become used to waiting for a hand-out rather than improving their ability to feed themselves.  The importance of working with local groups who are actively crafting their own way to recovery cannot be overemphasised.  Without it, Haitians have been robbed of their resources many times since first winning independence in 1804.

The government has opened the country to free trade and overseas interests, which have for example undermined returns in much of the rice-growing region.

Small farmers are finding it harder to survive from the land and have no money for seeds or other inputs that might improve production levels.  Drought and Covid-19 are tightening food security across the country.  Families are forced to look for erratic work in the cities, living in volatile settlements or almost as indentured labourers in richer households.  Instead farmers need the opportunities to find ways to protect their families from hunger and the natural disasters that destroy their crops. The United Nations reports 24.2% of the population lives on less than US $1.90 a day, the measure of extreme poverty.  58.5% live below the poverty line, meaning the country needs radical support to reach UN Sustainable Development Goal One, to end poverty everywhere.


Founded in 1989, ICKL is a proudly Haitian organisation.  Staff have the skills and deep community knowledge to make sure the people can fend for themselves when no government assistance is available.  It encourages reflection and brings groups together for training and to develop shared analysis. In a country made dependent on outside aid, ICKL strengthens local Haitians to do what needs to be done and works with them to find alternative solutions to social and economic problems.  No matter whether natural disaster or political turmoil, it offers rural Haitians a hope that is their own.

The government provides no services in Dophiné. With support from CWS partner, ICKL, the community has begun rebuilding their earthquake-damaged school more than ten years after Haiti’s major earthquake.  It is one of four schools run by local peasant organisations for their children. The parents are proud of these schools, which they have built from scratch. They are absolutely committed to educating their children – so the next generation will do better.  When the government is a source of despair, these peasant families have found success in working together.

It takes a four-wheel drive car two hours to drive the 12km from Verrettes to Dophiné, in the Artibonite Valley, known for rice cultivation.

ICKL helps to finance the school by funding teacher salaries, repairs, books and supplies, and supports a pedagogical adviser to assist the teachers who have received no other training (only 15% have formal training).  In Haiti about 90% of schools are funded privately.

ICKL plays a facilitating role, bringing communities together to work out their common needs and finding ways forward.  Their work is driven by the communities themselves and includes:

  • Income generation
  • Education including payment for school teachers, classroom furniture and supplies, books for students, teacher training and securing an income to make school self-supporting
  • Disaster response including providing seeds, plants, animals and Covid-19 protection.
  • Advocacy for Haitians and on peasant issues, including community based social analysis and promotion of better government
  • Community education
  • Training for other Haitian groups through the annual popular university.

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Thanks to ICKL for Diana’s story and images.

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