What an honor it was for us to get to deposit a swath of permaculture into the island La Gonave, Haiti. More specifically into the village of La Palma on the island of La Gonave, Haiti.
As I sit here and write this just a few days after our return from teaching a Permaculture Design Course to 50ish students, the smell of charcoal and accent of Creole still lingers in my mind. There is really so much to tell, it is cumbersome figuring where to begin – I think we can start with this 5 minute video below, to set the tone. We were having a lesson on ridiculously fast compost tea and then this happened:
The Haitians are amazing! They are the only civilization in history to successfully revolt against their oppressors, as slaves. That’s a pretty big deal and an honorable reason to understand Haitians are quite patriotic. Not only patriotic, but hungry for change, for permaculture. On the first day I asked a sincere question. Are you tired of aid organizations coming and spending millions of dollars and when they leave, nothing has changed and you are still left hungry and in poverty? The answer was a unanimous YES. The Haitian people are hungry and ready to make a change so they can take control of their resources.
It is nothing new for some organization to come in and teach a one or two week course in underdeveloped countries. If you do such a thing, do not be surprised if some of your students have taken other types of courses before. What brought me peace in what we were teaching (permaculture) was watching the interest of the students as well as the class size grow day after day. I felt that they quickly understood that this was not any normal aid sustainability approach, but some real “teach a man to fish” training.
We started early in the course with hands on work building a hot, 18 day compost. While being very hot in Haiti, the first day we turned the compost it steamed gorgeously to the surprise of us all. The ability to make compost in 18 days is extremely useful in a place that can get 6-8 months in a row of drought.
It is quite well known that the US car manufacturers have bought up all the alternative car manufacturer companies and/or patents. They purposely shelf the new, better, cars to prolong the sale of gasoline or diesel run vehicles. I believe the same concept may be happening in Haiti in terms of fuel. Currently Haiti’s poor, which is the vast majority of the country, uses charcoal as their main fuel source for cooking. Charcoal is made by cutting down a tree into burnable pieces of wood, then covering that wood with ash and soil, then chopping another tree into burnable pieces of wood to light the aforementioned pile of wood, ash, and soil. The end result is wood charcoal.
If you were not aware, Haiti is severely suffering from deforestation. The majority of trees present during the rainy season were nitrogen fixing pioneering trees. We introduced rocket stoves on day three of the permaculture design course. I figured at least some of the group would have heard of it. I was wrong. 100% of the Haitians attending had never heard of or seen a rocket stove. However, the charcoal industry is big business in Haiti. Maybe, just maybe there was some “keeping out” of the rocket stoves that are spread all throughout Central America to keep the charcoal business strong. The students are keenly aware that deforestation is a major problem in Haiti but as of then, did not know what they could do about it. We quickly built a rocket stove out of coral rock and cobb and talked in great lengths of how to create different types of forests for their systems and landscapes. In tandem, by lessening the amount of fuel used with a rocket stove and growing fuel forests (along with other types of forests for reforestation) with trees that quickly grow back by using techniques such as coppicing, made great pragmatic sense to solving deforestation to the students. We may have just birthed a new rocket stove industry in Haiti!
Rocket stove built by Jean Bernard Chignard, Ansly Pierre, and Greg Thackston out of local coral rock and cobb. The Haitians set about making them out of brick later. A lesson on how to create and where to place different types of forest for permaculture design and reforestation.
Along with reforestation and changing fuel sources, another major problem we attempted to address was the mismanagement of water. Haiti gets 54 inches of rain in two rainy seasons per year. And because of the deforestation the climate has freaked and can go up to 8 months at a time with hardly any rain. Being honest, Haiti is a real design challenge. There aren’t a lot of places to store that water without investing a bit of resources because of being a low coral, rocky, and porous island. When we moved into the patterns teaching part of the course we learned how where we once planted only 4 banana plants we could now plant 12 using a technique Bill Mollison came up with called the banana circle. If you are not sure what a banana circle is, follow this link for an explanation. We filled in the under story with fresh sweet potato cuttings. There is not major infrastructure in all of Haiti but it is especially lacking in the rural communities, so working with waste water is imperative. The banana circle not only grew food on a continual basis, it is aesthetically pleasing, and a central location for the family or couple of families near it to dump there waste/gray water for good use.
Freshly planted banana circle with 12 plants consuming 3 families gray/waste water from their kitchens and clothes washing
Malnutrition and anemia are prolific on the island. Before leaving to Haiti I was privileged to get to read The Wild Wisdom of Weeds and also reach out and get in touch with the author Katrina Blair. This book speaks of the 13 wild plants we call weeds that thrive alongside civilizations all around the globe. The plants are all what we would call super foods that are packed with nutrition and most of them annihilate anemia. We usually look them over or are busy trying to eradicate them. Katrina was so gracious to donate a large bag of these 13 seeds which were then divided up to the students to take home and plant. A big thank you Katrina!
We also emphasized the importance of Moringa. Not only for nutritional value as Moringa is also a super food tree, but as a pioneer in reforestation to add in abundance to their designs. We did this in such a way that helped clear the roads of debris. Specifically, using plastic bottles that are either burned, lay on the side of the road forever, or make their way to the sea. Here is a small snippet of Martin making a self wicking seed starter from trash. He and the class loved the opportunity to re-use rubbish!
Designing gardens and farms is nothing new to people who grow their own food. These students are no different. However, learning to maximize space and efficiency through water harvesting techniques such as sheet mulching and keyhole gardens were greatly desired. Take a look at this time lapse video below of a keyhole garden being put together.
Finished layout of 4 keyhole gardens with proper access to chicken and animal area as well as banana circle for cleaning up water
We spent a good amount of time learning many strategies and techniques of permaculture, as well as the curriculum and connecting components together. This day we were out on a 5 acre farm learning how to make an A frame out of sticks and vine and building a small 6 foot bottom swale by hand to harvest rainfall from the sky and valleys. This is a demonstration of a larger scale water retention, reforestation, and food growing system that most of the students can implement where they have soil and not rock.
Over 50 large variety of seed packets were given to the students and people of La Palma, La Gonave Haiti, and the rest were given to ASHOG for further for use in feeding orphans, sick, and poor that they support on the island. Over 20 buckets kits were given out to help aid in irrigation for dry time farming. ASHOG and their 15 gardeners who manage the food supply received all the tools that were purchased for the course.
I am so grateful that our first aid and orphanage project worked for the benefit of the people of La Gonave, Haiti. None of any of this would of been possible without the support from ALL THE DONORS of our fundraiser. For that THANK YOU SO MUCH!
I also would like to thank:
Chapin Living Waters
Jean Rony Toussaint and ASHOG
Jean Bernard Chingard – Could not of done it without you – THANK YOU!
The biggest take away for me was one morning waking up and seeing one of the neighbors, and his son, who was taking the course digging. I was not sure what he was up to. Upon further investigation when we asked him what he was doing, he said he was making “his” version of a banana circle to grow food, take care of his waste water, and to channel water in from his slope in the landscape. This melted my heart and eased my mind. As an educator there is hardly a better feeling than seeing what is being taught go into action immediately. Praise Jesus!
Nearing our end of the course, Haiti was coming up on elections. La Gonave was also electing a new mayor. Their plan is to invite us back for a few more courses over the next year or so so we can teach teachers. Thanks Haiti for such a lovely experience and allowing us to come to your beautiful land to make a meaningful deposit. With love, see you soon!
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