Haitian Diaspora need to teach natives how to fish

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The following story is an example on what the Haitian Diaspora should be doing in helping their relatives back home. Sending money is good but better is to help them set up business (e.g., farming).

WEYERS CAVE, Va. - Tina Stelling never thought she would learn how to run a rabbit farm. But now, she's traveling to Haiti to teach women there how to start and run their own.

Stelling is a member of the Students in Free Enterprise team at Blue Ridge Community College, a nonprofit organization that challenges students worldwide to create economic opportunities through outreach.

"I was reading the encyclopedia on rabbit care, and studying breeding guides," Stelling said. "We had to learn the process ourselves and each develop our own specialization."

Hers, Stelling explained, is to be the "hands-on go-to girl. Out of everybody going, I'm the extra labor."

Stelling, another student and the faculty adviser for the SIFE team left Feb. 25 for La Gonave, a tiny island off the main island, to help set up rabbit farms and teach the process to women there.

Haiti, located on the western part of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, is one of the poorest countries in the world and the least developed in the Western Hemisphere, according to U.S. State Department background notes.

Rebecca Evans, the faculty adviser for the team, explained the push for the trip: The students wanted to have a "hands-on" experience.

The team will set up the rabbit farms from scratch, and help them continue through "microloans," small amounts of money given to help businesses start and grow in poorer nations, Evans said.

The smaller amounts of money go a long way, Evans explained.

"You can't give $1,000 to an entrepreneur here (in the United States) and have them start something," Evans said. "There, $250 starts a 10-sheep farm."

In return for the start, rabbit farmers then "pay it forward" when they reach 50 rabbits, she said.

"When the rabbits get to a certain population from breeding, they will give one-third to the next woman, one-third they can sell for income, and one-third will regenerate the farm again," Evans said.

Rabbits are "a delicacy to the affluent" on the island, Evans said. "They are not part of a poor person's daily diet, but there is a market for it."

They can also be made into jerky if not sold, and their manure and bones are used to enrich the soil.

The main island's agriculture department also will teach the women how to grow their own grasses to feed the rabbits.

"They have to learn to be self-sufficient," Evans said.

The students had to learn all the basics of beginning a rabbit farm to pass their lessons along.

"We hooked up with a rabbit farmer in the area, where we learned how to build rabbit cages from scratch that will hold through any hurricane," Evans said.

The students also researched rabbit medications, the type of foliage available on a tropical island, rabbit health and their habitats.

One major process, Stelling explained, was making videos that explain the process of cooperative farming, cage building, meat processing and other rabbit farm duties, to leave with the Haitian women.

In a painstaking process, another student who is going on the trip translated all the videos and directions into Haitian Creole, the language spoken on La Gonave.

If that weren't enough, the team faced difficult customs procedures in dealing with a developing government in Haiti, Evans said. But the students even learned from that.

The original trip was set for December, but was pushed back because of red tape.

"It's been a year and a half in the making," Evans said. "We've done all the arrangements, from getting typhoid and malaria treatments, even down to shipping cargo containers full of wire for rabbit cages."

But all the effort is worth it, according to Evans and Stelling, who both expect a rewarding experience.

"We are going to get to do this face to face. Not just hear about the statistics, but see the devastation and fix it," Stelling said. "I've never really been out of the country.

I'm excited about being immersed in the culture, building these bonds."

Greg Peters, March 7 2008, 5:36 PM

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Mr. Peters you are a man of vision. The Haitian Diaspora should certainly send their relatives back to cultivate the... read more >
Rubens F. Titus, 8-Mar-08 1:32 am


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