One of our core operating principles is that we purchase what we can in the country of Haiti. The reason is simple – it builds the capacity of Haiti to grow its economic stability. Supplies for our schools are bought in country. To the extent that we are able, the medications we buy are purchased locally, and, to a large extent, they are purchased through the Wesleyan Hospital to help build their capacity to provide for the people of La Gonave. All materials for our Adult Literacy program are printed by a local printer in Anse-a-Galet. You get the picture. We are trying hard to be good partners with our Haitian counterparts.
Comes the Lunch Program. We began about 3 years ago, on a small scale, providing lunches for a few schools who were partnered with churches in the US who had the ability to fund lunches. We were committed to buying local food and hiring local women to prepare the food. It was expensive and the costs were hard to track because of the food insecurity in Haiti and the fluctuation of the currency. Lunches were running between $.50 and $.75 a child. The schools enrolled in the program have 180 to 200 children each, on average $2100 a month for each site that was enrolled in the program. Decidedly unsustainable. We have 10 schools to consider, 1700 children to feed daily.
We began to hear from the principals, whose schools were not in the program, that their children were not learning due to overwhelming hunger. The students could not concentrate, they were missing school, and they were just not learning, as reflected on their tests. For all the obvious reasons, as they had less food at home, the costs to provide lunches would be highest. We tried feeding 3 days a week to stretch the food, and therefore the money.
With all due respect to the lives our Haitian parents and the difficult choices they make each and every day with regards to their children, none of us had ever been in a position to feed children one day and let them be hungry the next, while the majority of our school children were not being fed at all. You see, our goal all along had been to add schools until all children were being fed. In reality we were not even able to consistently feed the “chosen” children.
Enter Stop Hunger Now. We began a dialog with SHN about our 1700 students and the problems with the crippling hunger they were living with each day. Their product is paid for by the churches that package it for shipment. The costs to us would be shipping it to Haiti and then getting it to the island. Each shipment has 260,000 meals in it and we would need 2 shipments a year to feed our students and teachers lunch. The costs per meal would drop to $.12 a meal. At that cost we could feed all of our 1700 students, teachers, auxiliary workers and have a sustainable program.
Just after our first shipment we met with the SHN coordinators and learned that they were implementing an agricultural program for all participating communities whereby they would support local agriculture with trainings while addressing issues of food insecurity.
For us it was an easy decision. It was the essence of not letting the perfect stand in the way of the good. How could we ask our children to go hungry because of our principles?
So, we find ourselves in a less than perfect situation. We hope that over time the food security in Haiti will improve. We are, in fact, working to that end, both with SHN and in our own agriculture program. Our children are happy, well fed, and they are learning. Our most recent school scores at the close of school in July showed vast improvements. When children are fed they can learn.
We continue to buy supplemental food on the local market as we are able. When vegetables are plentiful (not this summer, there was a drought) we purchase them. We buy local seasoning and Vitamin C drinks to be severed with our rice packets. We dream of buying local rice once again, but that day does not appear to be anywhere on the horizon given the political climate, the inflation of the currency and the lingering drought.
While we have heard complaints about our decision to bring in food, none of those have come from Haitians. Our teachers, students, parents and principals are thrilled with the program. It has made jobs for local women and has fed many in the communities that are hardest hit with hunger.
We lovingly say that “Haiti is complicated.” It is not for those who cannot bend and learn. We pray daily that we are led to what is right and good for the people and that we are good stewards of God’s gifts. We may look back at this and see ways we could have done better, but for now we are trying to best use what we have for God’s work.
For the Partnership