Sunday, February 20, 2011

Millions of trees

"Without wood there is no life."

Desarmes, Haiti (February 18, 2011)

After 300 years of colonization, Haiti gained recognition of its sovereignty in 1804. But the price was high - the equivalent of $21 billion U.S. today - in reparations to France. It took over 100 years for Haiti to pay off that debt.

A large part of the debt was paid off by shipping timber to France. In 1492 when Columbus invaded Haiti, more than 75% of the land was covered by forests. In 1947 when the debt was finally paid, trees stood on only 25% of Haiti. Poor rural farmers have felled more trees to produce wood charcoal. Today, less than 2% of Haiti remains forested.

Mennonite Central Committee's program in the rural community of Desarmes centers on reforestation and education about the environment in primary schools. There are now 22 community tree nurseries producing 450,000 trees each year.

In the schools, children learn about composting, planting and protecting trees and about the wildlife around them.

One day in Desarmes we treked through the hills to a tree nursery to meet with the community association who oversees it. The association leader told us about the seedlings they produce to plant new forests and to provide trees for small subsistence farmers.

Without wood, there is no life, this community leader told us. Trees provide food, fuel, construction materials and more.

Over several decades now, MCC has helped to plant more than 7 million trees in this region of Haiti.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Still dreaming . . .

I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams... (Joel 2:28)

Port-au-Prince, Haiti (February 16, 2011)

Pere Simone is an 81-year-old Celesian priest in Port-au-Prince. He's been helping children on the street for as long as he's been a priest, over 50 years. From three locations, he runs a school for 120 young boys and girls, ages 10-13.

Pere just goes to the markets and invites children to come to the school. He asks them to give up their knives and other weapons first. He wants them to get an education even though he knows some of them will learn to read just enough so that they can read license plates to deliver drugs.

But he's taught three of Haiti's presidents, too, though he says "they all forgot me."

Pere's school, Timkatec, is one of Mennonite Central Committee's partners in Haiti. When I was in the school, I saw evidence of MCC's canned meat, comforters and school kits. After the earthquake a year ago, Pere received additional help from MCC to help keep the school open.

After 50 years, Pere is still dreaming. He'd like to open up a camp where kids, rich and poor, can come together to play and to learn to know one another without fighting and to see what life can be like.

Pere says we all need to have faith in God and depend on ourselves as well. We can't just pray all day, he says, we need to call on ourselves as well as God. That's what he tell's the children, he says.

The teachers need to learn our way of educating, too, Pere says. Even when the children are just playing, teachers need to listen to each one, because its not just a group of children they are teaching, but each student is important.

At 81, Pere is stil working with street children and dreaming about how he can make their lives better. He's dreaming, depending on God and depending on himself to help make it happen.