Haiti Pilgrimage Delegation
January 17 – 21, 2012
Two years after the earthquake which devastated the world’s first Black Republic, the Haiti Support Project (HSP) led a diverse delegation of thirty-eight(38) business, faith, labor, civil rights/human rights leaders, journalists and educators to Haiti to assess the status of the recovery and reconstruction; establish constructive channels of communication and working relations with the Government of President Michel Joseph Martelly; and review the progress of projects sponsored or supported by HSP. Many of the participants were first time visitors to Haiti. Some described it as a “life changing” experience. We were particularly honored to have distinguished educator and leader Queen Mother Dr. Adelaide Sanford be part of the delegation. Everywhere we went, Queen Mother Sanford was immediately embraced by the Haitian people as she spoke to children, teachers and community leaders.
We were received for a briefing at the U.S. Embassy by Ambassador Kenneth Merten – who expressed cautious optimism about the state of the recovery/reconstruction. He noted that there was a sense of momentum with the election of a new President who is very people oriented and appears to be popular with the people. Agricultural/rural development, education and business investment are among the top priorities for President Martelly. Ambassador Merten acknowledged that the pace of the recovery has been slow and uneven but pointed to specific areas of progress. With the assistance of funds from the U.S. government, 50% of the rubble has been removed and significant efforts are being made in the areas of agriculture, housing, health and justice/rule of law. Approximately 1 million people have left the tent cities and returned to stable housing in their old neighborhoods or resettled to temporary or permanent shelter. Some have also returned to conditions in neighborhoods that were unsuitable prior to the earthquake. Approximately 500,000 displaced persons are still in tent camps two years after the earthquake. Ambassador Merten cited a major industrial park in the north near Cap Haitien as a sign of economic progress. The businesses which are slated to locate in the industrial park will eventually employ upwards of 20,000 workers and serve as a major stimulant to the economy of the region.
The Delegation was warmly welcomed in CapHaitien by Yvon Alteon, Delegate of the North representing the Government of President Martelly, former Delegate George Prophete, and Diedonne Etienne Luma, Director of Tourism for the North. They praised HSP for sticking to the vision of promoting cultural/historic tourism to bring African Americans to Haiti to visit the Citadel and other historic sites as part of the Model City Initiative. Diansnic Joseph of the Local Development Committee of Milot was also present for the welcome. During the orientation Lionel Pressior, with Destination Haiti Foundation, HSP’s principal partner on the ground, discussed aspects of the Model City Initiative, including potential investment opportunities. He also provided an overview of the Oasis Institute for children orphaned by the earthquake.
The Delegation received a very moving reception by the Local Committee of Milot, former Mayor Rosny Lubin and school children, who had received schools supplies and scholarships from HSP. The Pilgrimage to the magnificent Citadel was more challenging than usual because of a light rain mist. The Participants were not deterred. They were utterly impressed and inspired by this great monument to freedom/self-determination build by the Haitian people at the direction of King Henri Christophe to deter foreign aggression/occupation after the revolution! The first sapling trees grown as part of a green house reforestation project funded by HSP were available for purchase in the staging area for the horses. The concept is for tourists visiting the Citadel to purchase a sapling for $10.00 US and plant it in the National Park. The project also provides jobs for young people in the community. During the visit to Milot Lionel Pressoir also introduced the first female entrepreneur to receive a loan from the business development fund established by HSP and took the delegation to the restaurant being constructed in partnership with families in Milot. The restaurant will seat 100 patrons when completed and represents the first effort to put in place the kinds of facilities needed to make Milot a desirable tourist destination. After an exhausting but exhilarating visit to Milot, the Delegation spent a relaxing outing at the Comier Plage Hotel, experiencing another side of Haiti — its beautiful beaches.
The Delegation was treated to another side of Haiti as we traveled from Port Au Prince over a newly completed road through various towns and the country side to Hinche in the Central Plateau — for an afternoon visit with the Peasant Movement of Papay, under the leadership of Chavannes Jean Baptiste. At the education and training center of MPP, the Participants were shown an amazing series of innovative, sustainable agriculture and water security technologies designed to enable farmers to utilize small plots of land to feed their families and raise a surplus that can be exported to market! Atty. Faya Rose Sanders, who works closely with Black farmers in the U.S., called Chavannes the “George Washington Carver of Haiti.” HSP presented MPP with a contribution of $1,000 in support of the SEEDS Program which assists farmers to utilize Haitian seeds as opposed to the genetically engineered varieties marketed by multinational corporations like Monsanto. Chavannes Jean Baptist indicated that he is impressed with President Martelly’s emphasis on agricultural/rural development but is eager to see whether there will be a meaningful allocation of resources in the national budget.
After a very informative visit to the Museum of the Heroes in downtown Port Au Prince near the National Palace, the Delegation was welcomed by the children and staff of the Oasis Institute Camp. The Oasis Camp, which currently is home to thirty-seven girls, is viewed by the organizers as the incubator for what will eventually be the Oasis Institute Academy for up to 650 girls and boys. The Academy will provide counseling, quality education and civic engagement training to equip the children to become the engaged citizens and leaders of the new Haiti. The children sang songs and expressed thanks to HSP for providing support. Participants from the delegation shared a wide variety of useful gifts to meet the day to day needs in the Camp. HSP also made an additional contribution of $5,000 in support of the Oasis Institute as a result of funds raised from the Give a Gift to Haiti for the Holidays Campaign. At the request of HSP, Radio Talk Show Host Joe Madison contributed $1,500 as well from the sale of “Black Eagle Coffee” over the holidays.
State of the Recovery
HSP has always used the plight of displaced persons, those forced to live in tent camps, as a major measure of the progress of the recovery/reconstruction. Based on that criteria, there has been modest but unsatisfactory progress in terms of relocating people to adequate temporary and permanent shelter. While an estimated 1 million people have left the camps, it does not appear that the majority of them have been placed in suitable temporary or permanent shelter. Instead, many have simply voted with their feet to leave undesirable conditions in the camps to fend for themselves. However, the increasing improvement in infrastructure, particularly major highways and the construction of industrial parks outside of Port Au Prince are hopeful signs. Creating jobs and economic opportunities outside of Port Au Prince might at least stem the tide of migration to a Capital City which can only be described as virtually unmanageable. The Martelly Government’s emphasis on agriculture/rural development, education and investment are also encouraging, provided these priorities are accompanied by concrete plans and resources to maximize the potential.
Status of HSP Projects/Initiatives
Working with Destination Haiti Foundation and the Local Development Committee, the Model City Initiative continues to show promise in terms of transforming Milot into a Mecca for cultural-historical tourism. The commitment to provide school supplies for thousands of children and scholarships to selected students is an excellent investment in the future.The Greenhouse Reforestation and Jobs Program has begun to produce saplings for planting in the National Park, and small entrepreneurs can also access the loan fund established by HSP. Moreover, the restaurant being constructed in partnership with families in the community is an important step towards creating an infrastructure of enterprises and services that will make Milot an attractive tourist destination. However, to achieve our ultimate goal much more must be done. The construction of the Wayne C. Thompson Empowerment and Visitors Center is still on hold for lack of sufficient resources. Equally important, there is still an urgent need to identify African American and Haitian American investors for key business projects if we are to “plant a Black footprint” on the economic development of what is destined to become one of the premier tourist destinations in Haiti – the Citadel and Sans Souci Palace.
Progress on the Oasis Institute Camp for children orphaned by the earthquake is stunning! In the past twelve months the children living in the Camp have moved from tents to solid shelters which they helped build on the grounds which include water and sanitation facilities, a conference/study area, a garden, the beginnings of an animal husbandry project and a lawn with real grass! The Camp exemplifies the commitment to treat children with tender love and care, to provide counseling and education albeit off site. In this crucial stage, the Oasis Institute Camp is the incubator for the Oasis Institute Academy which is envisioned as a model with the potential to positively impact Government policy toward orphans — keep the children in Haiti and provide counseling, quality education and civic engagement training so they can become contributors to the new Haiti.
Engagement with Government of President Michel Joseph Martelly
Though channels of communications were established with the Martelly Government through advisors, friends and allies, we were disappointed that meetings with the President, Prime Minister and Minister of Government did not materialize. However, we are confident that upon our return to Haiti our efforts to meet with the President and leading Ministers of the Government will be arranged. Given HSP’s consistent effort to mobilize African Americans to play a major role as the “vital third leg” in Haiti’s development, such meetings are warranted as an indicator of this Government’s desire to engage African Americans in the development of Haiti in a principled and respectful manner.
Policy and Advocacy
HSP will continue to advocate that the Obama administration and Congress adopt policies which incentivize agricultural production in Haiti in a manner similar to the HOPE measures that were adopted to provide incentives for manufacturing. Self-sufficient, sustainable agriculture and small agribusiness enterprises are crucial for the development of a new Haiti. Such a strategy and investment will offer encouragement to families that they can feed themselves and earn a decent income sending quality crops and commodities to market. This will serve to create poles of development in rural areas and deter further migration to Port Au Prince.
HSP is eager to meet with the Government of President Martelly to propose the establishment of an African American Advisory Committee for Development as an expression of the value and priority of African Americans as the “third leg” in Haiti’s development.
Dr. Ron Daniels has asked Rev. Joseph Evans, Senior Pastor, Mt. Carmel Baptist Church, Washington, D.C; Andrew Morrison, President/CEO, Small Business Camp, New York; Rev. Dennis Dillon, Senior Pastor, Brooklyn Christian Center, New York; Edward Harris, Award Winning Filmmaker, New York, and Atty. Derrick Humphries, Legal Counsel, Institute of the Black World 21st, Washington, D.C. to serve on a Task Force to explore the feasibility of creating a Haiti Investment Fund. The primary purpose of the Fund is to mobilize resources to invest in business/economic ventures in Haiti, with a priority on opportunities associated with the Model City Initiative in Milot. Hulbert James, Convener, IBW Haiti Support Project Board Working Group, Miami, Fl, will Chair the Task Force.
Valerie Roman-Ramsay, Grande Lodge, Prince Hall Shriners Foundation, New York and John Fields, Chairman, Board of Trustees, New York State Grande Lodge Prince Hall Masons have pledged ongoing support for the implementation of the short and long term vision of the Oasis Institute. It is anticipated that the plans and timetable for the implementation of the concept from the Oasis Camp to the Oasis Academy will be provided in order to monitor benchmarks on the progress of this ambitious project. HSP has adopted the Oasis Institute as its major humanitarian development project.
Donald Coleman, President/CEO, Global Hue Marketing/Communications, Detroit &New York, has pledged to identify a group of potential contributors and investors for a return visit to Haiti in the near future to explore support for the Oasis Institute Camp and Academy and business/economic opportunities associated with the Model City Initiative. It is expected that plans for Oasis Institute and proposed businesses in Milot will be made available.
Veronica Kirton-Johnson, Educator, New York City Department of Education, New York and member of St. Paul Community Baptist Church, will recommend that funds raised by the Congregation be pledged toward support of the Oasis Institute and other HSP Initiatives. Dr. Daniels has also asked Ms. Johnson to play a leading role in creating an HSP Support Network in the Greater New York/New Jersey area to mobilize human and material resources to enhance the development of HSP projects in Haiti.
Tamika Mallory, Executive Director, National Action Network, New York, has pledged to provide events planning support for future HSP Pilgrimage Delegations and administrative assistance for the HSP Support Network as it evolves.
HSP will facilitate connecting Rulsca Barthelus, Social Worker, New York City Department of Education; Dr. Paulett Kenwood, Educator, New York City Department of Education; Collette Marshall, Educator, New York City Department of Education; and Veronica Kirton-Johnson, Educator, New York City Department of Education with the Peasant Movement of Papay to arrange for a summer education and cultural learning experience for New York area students at the MPP Education Center.
Dr. Daniels is requesting that Andrew Morrison consult with Donald Coleman to discuss ways of enhancing marketing of HSP and its projects/initiatives to Black America to increase the engagement of organizations and individuals who may be sympathetic to the cause. For example, HSP is exploring the marketing of Haitian specialty coffee, e.g., Citadel Coffee to the public as a means of raising funds to support its projects/initiatives.
After Mandolyn Ludlum, AKA Mystic, Hip Hop Caucus, Los Angeles, reports back to the Hip Hop Caucus, HSP hopes the organization will agree to mobilize human and material support for the Model City Initiative and the Oasis Institute.
Atty. Faya Rose Sanders, Founder, Voting Rights Museum, Selma, AL and Emily Moore, Educator, New York made individual pledges of support for the work of HSP and its projects/initiatives.
The Institute of the Black World 21st Century will be focusing on mobilizing/organizing for State of the Black World Conference III, November 16-20, in Washington, D.C. Therefore, HSP will not organize a Pilgrimage Delegation in the next 12 months. However, there will be a Special Session on Haiti at the State of the Black World Conference, and if there is sufficient interest, HSP will revive the Pilgrimage of Hope Humanitarian Cruise concept to attract 2,300 friends of Haiti for an extraordinary journey to the First Black Republic in 2013.
Based on the visit to Milot and Pilgrimage to the Citadel and Sans Souci Palace, the Haiti Support Project is pleased to Commission first time Participants Ambassadors of Hope for Haiti; Second time Participants Community-Builders for Haiti; and, third time Participants Nation-Builders for Haiti!