Cultivating Haitian Hope


Beyond her displacement camps and their many obstacles, Haiti is taking some baby-steps towards her anticipated recovery. The long-awaited plans, gradually surfacing, offer a real glance into the paths that will lead the country away from its tumultuous past. While these steps may seem too insignificant for some news organizations to notice, Haitians whose lives depend on the successful implementation of these plans applaud the initiatives. 

Haiti Hope Project (HHP) is one such plan that brought together a coalition of businesses, government, and civil society partners to develop a sustainable mango industry in the country. Towards the end of March 2010, The Coca-Cola Company (CCC) and TechnoServe –a nonprofit organization– announced the project after a meeting held earlier in the month with Jean-Max Bellerive, the Prime Minister of Haiti. Many feel that Bellerive’s enthusiastic seal of approval of the Project hinted at new beginnings in Haitian politics and, perhaps, confirmed the government’s engagement and commitment to the development of Haiti’s economic infrastructure

 In their joint press release, the companies indicated that TechnoServe would implement the Project on the ground: a plan that would create new economic opportunities for 25,000 Haitian mango farmers and their families. The NGO has established a strong record of accomplishments in that field managing similar partnerships around the world, most notably, with banana, cashews, cocoa, and coffee.

In addition to Coca-Cola’s $3.5 million investment in HHP, INTER-AMERICAN DEVELOPMENT BANK (IDB) also pledged $3 million through its multilateral Investment Funds (MIF). “We are proud to join forces with The Coca-Cola Company in this endeavor, which we hope will become a model of how the private sector can play a critical role in Haiti’s recovery. We call on other corporations to follow their example, helping the Haitian people build a more prosperous future,” said Luis Alberto Moreno, IDB’s president and CEO.

Recently, HHP gained more momentum when it announced more partners that pledged financial support. Acting through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and in coordination with the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC), the US Government publicly announced an initial investment of $1 million. Talking about the potential success of the HHP, Kenneth Merten –US ambassador to Haiti declared– it is “Empowering the people of Haiti and embracing their entrepreneurial spirit, while working in alignment with the Government of Haiti’s priorities, will be critical in helping Haiti build back better.”

Furthermore, the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund (CBHF) also announced a contribution of $500,000 to support the formation and financing of mango producer groups, nurseries, and collection centers to help farmers. Total investment in HHP has reached $8 million.

Largely under the radar however, is HHP’s insistence on an improved participation of women in the labor force during its implementation phase; a beginning many hope will create a new paradigm for the inherent gender-based inequities prevalent in Haiti’s business communities.

A world away, on the educational front, a 20-year plan to reinvent Haiti’s education system

finally emerged. Critics of the Haitian government have argued, perhaps justifiably, “Talk and promises have been exceedingly more abundant than visible improvements.” However, the ambitious plan presented by the government and its foreign partners would provide free or nearly free education from kindergarten through the 12 grade.

Exposing pre-quake conditions, the Miami Herald revealed the disturbing realities of Haiti’s broken education system. Out of 800 babies born every day, a lucky seven eventually makes it into a university. Ninety percent of the schools are private and have little to no government oversight.

However, this long-term plan included a $4.3 billion expenditure over a two-year period during which a new $15 million, 320-bed teaching hospital would be constructed in Mirebalais, a town in central Haiti.  The government would also build 625 new primary schools are   triple the number of publicly financed schools. It would also retrain 90 percent of the country’s teaching force — 50,000 people — to teach the new curriculum, and it would train 2,500 new teachers a year, many through a program patterned on Teach for America.

Like the HHP, the education plan is not a shortsighted initiative. The expertise of Paul Vallas, successful school reformist in both Chicago and post-Katrina New Orleans, brought a fresh perspective to Haiti’s educational system. 

Vallas reasoned, “If you subsidize schools that are of higher quality, that are using the national curriculum, that have certified teachers that have higher quality instruction and that are either waiving their tuition or charging affordable tuition costs, that is where those parents will gravitate.” Many observers agreed that such a comprehensive approach could plant some seeds of intellect and hope in the promising future of the nation while generating a range of options for Haitians.

Rapadoo,

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