Report to Steering Committee of October 2018 trip to Haiti
By Gordon French
Claude Henry Pierre, Marty Maxwell and I travelled to The EcoVillages October 21-25. We bring news from meetings with Chavannes, Verona and Ramain, from an intense sewing project and from walking 5 of the 6 villages. All of our friends send you greetings and thanks for our support.
Top Story: The school has been nationalized, but it will not receive financial support soon. The Ministry of Education (MoE) officially transferred the certificate held by another school which had ceased to meet national standards. So, the MoE, which cannot keep up with it’s current commitments, does not have an additional school to support.
The new name will be The National School of the EcoVillages. Beginning this year, the school has adopted the official blue National School uniform, as you can see in the photo. This bring a new sense of pride to the kids who wear it.
Here are a few things we learned.
(1) The name on the certificate must be changed, but they were unclear about how that would work.
(2) There will be no financial benefit this school year.
(3) Ramain expects the first support to come next year in the form of books and food.
(4) The credentials for all of the teachers have been reviewed and approved by the MoE, qualifying them to be paid by MoE. Ramain says that it typically takes 2 years after these approvals for teachers to begin receiving pay from MoE. Verona said they may begin by paying some of the teachers, not all.
(5) The MoE is crippled by uncertainty about the government. Teachers across the country are on strike for failure to be paid.
(6) Chavannes expects the current government to fall soon, sparking a further national crisis and further dysfunction in the MoE.
To net this out, (1) it appears that the plan adopted by the Atlanta Partnership this summer to provide teacher salaries for 3 years is essential to keep the school afloat despite the nationalization; (2) prospects that the MoE will provide some financial support at the end of our 3-year commitment are greatly improved now that the school is nationalized. (3) Our income initiatives will put the school on more solid footing as a supplement to the unpredictability of MoE financing.
School’s Kitchen Garden has been vastly expanded as parents play a greater role. Parents have planted new fields near the school to increase their contributions to school lunches. As a result, kids still have 5 hot meals each day despite a 40% reduction in the food budget. That’s a saving of $6000 despite the large increase in enrollment. Ramain was complimentary of the parents’ effort. In addition, Verona reports that she meets with parents to discuss the school budgets and financial needs so they are more informed about and provide input into the operation of the school. I’m hopeful that greater parental understanding of the finances will encourage them to continue to contribute to the school’s success.
Construction of the new toilet and 8th classroom was completed and came in on budget.
Claude made contacts to improve year-long communication between Atlanta and Haiti. Claude collected contact info for Verona, Ramain and others to act as conduit for our group to speak by WhatsApp, which is free, or by phone. This will allow us to answer questions along the way and reduce the chances of misunderstandings, such as….
A 10th classroom is required. For years I have been saying that the national exam is taken after the 8th grade and that we need 9 classrooms for K-8. I misunderstood and apologize to all the people in Atlanta I have misled. I now understand that the exam happens after the 9th grade, that a fundamental school is K-9, meaning that there needs to be a 10th classroom. Our plan had been to complete the physical plant by building the 9th classroom next year, UUSC’s last year to contribute. At this time there is no provision foreseen in the next 3 years for the $26,000 required to build a 10th classroom.
The agricultural initiative to raise funds for the school looks promising after a series of adjustments. The initiative has evolved from its original conception based on lessons learned by Chavannes and MPP. (1) We were surprised to learn that instead of villages pursuing a single initiative, all 6 villages asked to do all 3 initiatives – goats, moringa and cassava. MPP deferred the building of a school fence and used $11,500 of the $16,000 budgeted funds to finance the additional planting and goats. The school fence will eventually get built as the loan from the school gets repaid.
(2) Claude and I inspected goat enclosures in 5 of the villages. Chavannes was unhappy with the first one built by the villagers, so he intervened and dictated that enclosures be chain link and the shelters sturdy. Each village has 15-21 goats.
(3) Claude and I walked 5 of the 6 cassava fields. Each village has 1-2 acres of mostly lush, prosperous cassava. They’re beautiful. The first cassava was harvested in October and converted into crackers, some of which we brought for you to taste.
(4) Claude and I walked 2 of the 6 moringa fields. They don’t seem as lush, but Chavannes believes that they will have an abundant crop at the end of the growing season when MPP will have the proper equipment to process it.
(5) MPP itself will buy most or all of the cassava and moringa that the villages produce, thus alleviating concern about finding buyers and getting good prices. When goats are ready for market, MPP technicians will supervise the sale to ensure top dollar.
(6) MPP will manage all the money, not the villagers. MPP will allocate funds to pay back loans (4 years), support the school (60% of proceeds) and compensate villagers (40%) per the original plan.
Claude and I were impressed with the villagers’ engagement and pride in what they are doing. After seeing first-hand, I am more optimistic of the future impact of this initiative because the scale is 3 to 4 times the size of the original concept, since each village has plowed and planted and built enclosures. MPP has intervened to ensure that the transactions and processes are sound and, as eye witnesses, we believe that it can deliver on its promise because the plants and goats are right there to be seen. I believe it has the potential to deliver significant support to the school’s finances after we depart – perhaps as much as $15,000-20,000 a year -- while resupplying the Credit Union with revolving funds. In the meantime, we will have to wait for the harvests before there will be financials to review.
Villages are more stable, more prosperous. Morale in the villages has improved. Verona reports that the constant flow of telephoned requests for MPP help and intervention that characterized the start-up years have gone away. Surely a positive contributor to morale is the arrival of rains and the lush gardens they have brought. The villages are full of food on the vine (and in the ground) everywhere you look, and they have even planted flowers whose blooms give the place a feel of home and beauty. Each village has electricity and nearby water, as both broken wells have been repaired. We saw/heard evidence of villagers getting jobs that suggest income is starting to flow through their own devices. I feel more optimistic about the prospects for the future of the whole EcoVillage experiment.
Sewing Co-op shows potential, but a functioning business model is unclear.
Marty did stellar work observing the skills of the people and probing the prospects for a successful business. She transported a suitcase full of fabric, notions and sewing tools, designed and made a sample tote bag, and developed instructions showing how to make them. She expected to work with 6 people on 6 machines, producing perhaps 12 bags, with lots of fabric left over to leave with them. Instead, she worked with 18 people using 5 machines (1 is broken). They made 49 bags and used all the fabric. We will sell these bags at the Alternative Gift Market on December 1. Marty accompanied villagers on prospecting calls on shops in Hinche. She will draft a report about the business prospects to guide a decision about if and how we might be involved going forward .