"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.