Because there is little government presence where FRB’s Haiti-Northwest program is working, local people understand the need to organize for the protection, development and growth of their communities. The twelve program communities have created cooperatives which address the varied needs and concerns of its members.
Training Co-ops provide training on many topics, among them appropriate agricultural techniques like intercropping as a way to take the best advantage of available land and ensure that, if one crop fails, the others might survive. More farmers are planting peanuts, congo beans (pigeon peas), and root crops like manioc (cassava) and sweet potato because of their excellent survival rates. Other trainings cover nutrition, environmental conservation, reforestation, animal husbandry, small business operations, marketing, literacy, and more.
Finances Co-op members save money together and take out low-interest loans for agricultural needs, for starting businesses, and for educating their children. Since the main source of income continues to be agriculture, the loans represent major support for farmers in growing enough food for their families, increasing revenue and building up a financial buffer. Seed banks and passing-on-the gift of small animals further strengthen families’ resiliency, and animals are seen as a “bank account” because they can be sold in case of emergencies.
Conflict resolution Co-ops also serve as a way to address specific problems and challenges in the community. When issues arise – conflict between spouses or neighbors, bandits in the area -- they are discussed at meetings. Members help each other in planting gardens, harvesting, loaning animals to carry water or materials when building a house, or contributing money or food for funerals or weddings.
Disaster management Co-ops educate themselves on disaster preparation and mitigation. Members learn to protect themselves against natural disasters like hurricanes by tightening tin roofs and tying them to columns, cutting tree branches that are a threat to the house, choosing a place to shelter in the community – church, school, a neighbor’s house –, and storing food, matches, and fuel. They are also working out ways to prevent losses to livestock during storms. As a participant of one training said, “We cannot prevent disasters, but we can take precautions.”
Co-op leaders identify positive changes in the behavior and attitudes of members. Generally speaking,there is more collaboration. People attend meetings and trainings regularly, fulfill their obligations, pay back loans, save money, and speak more respectfully to one another. Perhaps most importantly of all, their children are able to attend college or university, which residents see as the community’s hope for the future.
Foods Resource Bank’s Haiti-Northwest program is led by Church World Service and local partner SKDE. Haiti Northwest encompasses 12 communities, 4000 households and 20,000 individualsA community co-op meeting