How trees in Haiti trees became partners in educating, protecting and feeding the children.
Here at AST we want to reforest and rewild the world. However, in some areas of the world such as Haiti one has to start with agroforestry. But why, when rewilding is so important, focus on agroforestry?
There has to be a dose of realism when it comes to tree planting and addressing the reasons why they were felled in the first place is of prime importance. Fruit trees address food security problems and they are planted and distributed through the farmer cooperatives of Haiti. They are also distributed through the International Child Care Schools.
Feed the Children
The ICCM has been working in Haiti since 1966. Haiti is their largest country of operation, with nearly 5,000 children supported by individual sponsors and thousands of others benefiting from their school lunch program and high school scholarships. The Haitian team runs 53 elementary schools and six high schools, spread throughout the country – serving over 20,000 students total.
The Haiti Food Fund is a major program of ICCM in Haiti. If you were to ask a child, “What’s your favourite subject in school?” They will probably answer, “Lunch!”
Poverty and Food Security
For many children in Haiti, lunch is a primary motivator to attend school. Sometimes it’s their only meal of the day. Contributions to the Haiti Food Fund provide school lunches for 20,000 children at their schools. This need is urgent year-round and some schools offer lunch programs even during school breaks so that the children don’t go hungry.
59% of the population of Haiti live in poverty. On top of this, a further 25% live in extreme poverty. To give you an idea of how extreme the problem is there are many people who have moved into the cemeteries because there is no where else for them to shelter with families sharing the tombs of the dead.
For this reason, food security is a prime concern. After years of deforestation the consequences for the local ecology have been disastrous. These include, but are not limited to crop failure, flooding, soil erosion and water table depletion.
How Poverty Causes Deforestation in Haiti
The primary reason for this cycle of devastation is poverty and because of poverty now just 2% of Haiti’s original forest survives. This is because the main use for the wood is charcoal production for cooking. The poor simply do not have the option of other alternatives. So, the cycle continues as more trees are cut down, the land suffers even more and farmers become ever poorer. The proportion of children below the age of 15 in 2010 was 36.2%, so children account for a significant proportion of the population.
You can see from this why agroforestry is so important and by being partners in tree planting the ICCM not only educate children on the crisis of deforestation in their country, they provide hands on opportunities to make a difference by planting trees and caring for them. The aim is to plant tens of thousands of fruit trees and other trees too in school yards and at the homes of the children. This gives food security, dignity and independence to their families and communities.
Some of the native fruit trees that grow in the Caribbean include:
Starfruit(Averrhoa carambola) Wood sorrel family
Guava(Psidium guajava) Myrtle family
Mango(Mangifera indica) Cashew family
Papaya(Carica papaya) Papaya family
Sweetsop(Annona squamosa) Custard apple family
Genip(Melicoccus bijugatus) Soapberry family
Sapodilla(Manilkara zapota) Sapote family
The Friendship of Children and Trees
When the children see all this first hand it changes their relationship to trees and ecology. This of course has an effect on the rest of their community as well. Meanwhile all the communities are shown more efficient wood burning methods as well as funds being raised to gift them solar powered stoves.
For a child who relies on their school for a nourishing meal you can well imagine the impact that fruit trees can bring. Imagine a tree a child has nurtured a tree from a seedling, caring for it on a daily basis, witnessing it blossom, seeing the fruits ripen ready to pick and eat.
When you cannot guarantee where your next meal is coming from, the ability to reach up, pick a fruit and then eat it is perhaps one of the most profound and empowering things we can gift a child.
You can easily see how the trees become a partner in educating, protecting and feeding the children of Haiti and in return they learn to love all trees and respect nature.
I am very glad that Ancient and Sacred Trees is funding this friendship between children and trees. By doing so we are very gladly helping to empower the very poorest communities in Haiti, while helping to protect children and foster respect for trees and nature.