David Casey – Volunteer Report – Duchity, Haiti – 2019
Trepidation was the watchword as I prepared for my 10th consecutive volunteer work-trip to Haiti this year. News reports described a country roiled with violence and turmoil. Four days before departure, two protesters were shot dead in the streets of Port-au-Prince. Another was killed the next day. Thousands of people marched, and blocked roads with burning tires and makeshift barricades. President Jovenal Moise had been implicated in a 3.7 billion dollar oil scandal and the calls for his resignation were growing in volume and vehemence. Not the best environment in which to bring my 26-year-old nephew, Daniel, or for wearing $13,000 in aid-cash “discretely” hidden under my clothes. (Report continues HERE)
VHP and the Duchity community is honored to host David Casey each June for 3 weeks. 2017 was his 6th year working alongside laborers and students helping to support the work of the construction/mason bosses building the vocational school. This year his efforts, combined with the generous funding from his family and friends, initiated the first phase of the community center space. As David says- it is the 'Power of Us'.
To quote from his 2017 winter appeal- "A year ago, my good friend Bob asked me, 'Why Haiti? Why not Appalachia?' It may be a question that's crossed your mind as well. My short answer: Medicaid, Social Security, Food Stamps, Welfare, ACA, Free Public Education, Medicare, Public Housing Agency, and FEMA. There is NO social safety net in Haiti. Americans have rightful complaints about our government, but until you spend time in a country where government aid is virtually non-existent, you don't realize how debilitating a natural disaster or a dysfunctional economy can be."
Read David's 2017 report:
Tom Tailer has been creating and spearheading several projects- collaborating with EVJDF and University of Vermont
Following Hurricane Matthew the HIDS project was launched. Using the HIDS (Humane Infrastructure Development System) cement panel design, ten domes (smaller version of the 20ft dome) have now been completed by staff and students of EVJDF. Strategically placed at 5 churches and homes of community leaders, they serve to showcase this structure as a means for evaluation of a continued program. After having many discussions in November, we are happy to report that these structures are highly valued in the community. The domes have a variety of day to day uses and will serve as safe shelter during any future natural disaster. We are currently researching how this program will move forward.
In March 2017 Tom traveled to Duchity with a group of UVM students. Several of them had been researching, designing and constructing a new Biosand filter utilizing the HIDS panels in Vermont. Their first prototype was successfully created on site at EVJDF. Plans are underway to determine the possibility for production at EVJDF which would greatly decrease transport costs, allow many more filters to be installed and provide jobs as well as skills practice for voc. students.
Prior to the March trip, Tom had worked in Vermont with several UVM students in the research and design of a zero water use septic system (KKP) that maximizes nutrient recovery and creates compost. During their trip in March they built the first KKP system at EVJDF. It uses the HIDS panel construction to form a raised bed. Over this bed sits an attractive, well ventilated and moveable outhouse frame. Human waste is covered daily with waste charcoal dust. When at capacity, the outhouse frame is transferred to the next raised bed, and a solar collector is placed over it; heating and dehydrating the waste to a safe level for planting non-root crop vegetables. After approx. one year the new compost will then be transferred to the garden. We are currently planning a winter 2018 trip to continue with monitoring and evaluation. Users at the school have given it high scores!
The microloan program in Desab was initiated in December 2016 modeled after the People Helping People organization's program in Nicaragua. Groups of four are selected and leader chosen who is tasked with ensuring the group's success. Continuation to another loan is dependent on repayment by all group members. Monthly meetings are held and open to the community for information and basic business/entrepreneurial education. Members also hold regular meetings for support, education and mentoring. Loans are interest-free. All repayments remain within the program.
Currently Fenel Jean coordinates, mentors and educates with the eventual goal to move towards a cooperative model. With additional funding this program will gradually expand, to a manageable number of groups, and to a maximum loan of $250.
The first group of women received $50 each. All four successfully repaid and received the next loan of $100. Another group of four women was chosen. Each received a $50 loan.
Two of the first four women now have a business selling food at the school and clinic, and two sell goods from their homes high in the mountains.
VHP has been so very fortunate to receive another grant from Sisters of Mercy which is, and has been, our primary source for funding what is truly a life saving program. Through the years we have also received several Rotary grants as well as individuals who have been committed to ensuring our continued efforts toward access to and clean water education.
2017 saw more than 50 new filters installed. Each filter provides an average of 10-20 people with clean water for drinking, cooking and bathing. The VHP technicians are also educators and provide continual follow-up to all recipients. The vocational school continues daily distribution and educational support for local families.
The school stood well against the 145 mph winds and 3 days of torrential rain, but many repairs were necessary. The complete devastation throughout the region made clear the community's need for safe shelter from natural disasters. A safe, secure cement roof replaced the metal over the main school building. The initial impetus and resources for then creating a second floor community space came with David Casey's 6th summer return with funding raised by his family and friends. Lane Tapley very generously donated the bulk of funds for finishing the space into a usable form,(i.e. needs finish work). Viola! Finally- a space large enough (3,600 sq. ft.) to host a variety of events from graduations, to meetings, educational seminars, wedding receptions and funerals etc.
The large 20 ft dome, completed just prior to the hurricane, using Tom Tailer's cement panel design stood without falter. Word has spread about this structure and several groups have come to learn about it. It now is used as the computer classroom/lab.
Also in 2017 a second floor added was added to the workshop building. Now an open air workshop below with classrooms above which are finished to a level of functionality,(i.e. needs finish work). Currently a local high school that was destroyed by the hurricane shares the use of these classrooms while they await funds for rebuilding.
"I awoke to the familiar sound of my tin roof under siege as another rainstorm sweeps through the mountains. Something is different though, the air is bristling with energy and as my senses slowly come to life, the bustling sound of activity draws me out. Stumbling, I emerge in the soft glow of an infant sun to see Francky, the schools principal, positively sparkling; standing by the concrete railing polishing his black leather shoes for what can only be the fifth time going on the shine radiating of them. Shielding my eyes from the glare I look up and see the mile wide smile and it hits me: Today is the day, the day of days, Duchity’s Vocation School is finally opening up its newly repaired doors for another batch of hope-full students. Well, technically the school's doors have been open for awhile now as its sturdy buildings serve in place for less sturdy ones, and some of the area's first graders, as well as high school students flood the compound with life.
First class of the year is a computer class and I manage to drag my trusty friend and invaluable translator, Philippe, to ambush a couple of students as they emerge from the classroom. We swoop down and separate Jean Jeounty (22) and Noël Isande (21) from the laughing herd and with my “at least he tried” level of Creole seek to hear the voice of the people. And from their genuine smiles I’m drawn to believe them. Both Jean and Noël speak particularly positive about the way the teacher conducted the lesson and simply hope the other lessons will follow suit. But why do these young mountain dwellers decide to enroll in the Vocational school in the first place and learn the mystical art of computers? Jean, straightforward in his shyness says that he hopes to ‘up his knowledge’. Short and to the point - a man after my own heart. Noël, bold and confident looks at her fellow classmate with a raised eyebrow; takes a step forward and unleashes a wonderful monologue ….. the essence of Noël's message , like her few worded companion, she is on a quest for knowledge, but also recognizes that the world is knocking on Haiti’s door and computer knowledge is paramount for life in a modern society. She also has friends who work in the information sector and who encourage her … several girls [who attended the Vocational School] now have jobs as we speak. Since they graduated only last October it is indeed something to be proud of.
Needless to say, both the staff and students are looking at the coming year with great expectations and with great hope for a bright future for both the school and for the nation and its next generation."
Dear VHP Supporters and Friends:
Here at Vermont Haiti Project it is not our practice to frequently ask for donations. We generally save our pleas for holidays, and special or serious occasions.
This is a serious occasion!
As you may know by now, Hurricane Matthew has slammed into Haiti, and this Caribbean nation is again struggling to recover from a natural disaster.
Many of our partner communities have been hit hard. VHP board president Kimball Butler reports on the situation in Duchity, where VHP’s largest program, the vocational school, is based:
“Despagne (VHP project manager) called at noon today to say he had a call from our colleagues in Duchity. They walked quite a way to find a signal to call. Their news was only of the village center- they had no news about the 20+ communities surrounding.
David Casey has been volunteering his time in Haiti for the past 7 years. He writes a yearly update letter (His “Volunteer Report” – can you tell he’s a teacher? :) ) for friends and family that support his work. An excerpt of that letter follows. It does a great job of giving a little insight into what is happening in Haiti and the impact that volunteers can have. Thanks David!
“I have now spent the better part of the last seven Junes doing volunteer work in Haiti, the last five in Duchity, a rural community in the western mountains. For those readers new to my efforts, families in Duchity live without electricity, running water, flush toilets, refrigeration, washing machines, public schools, a nearby hospital, personal vehicles, and they cook with charcoal on steel-rebar grills. The majority survive as subsistence farmers, and what we regard as normal employment opportunities are virtually non-existent. In 2009, The Vermont Haiti Project (VHP, a grassroots nonprofit) bought property, with local-born auto mechanic Despagne Felix, and broke ground on the Duchity Organization for Vocational Education (DOVE). The goal was to create a training school devoted to providing students with skills in income-producing trades like welding, carpentry, masonry, auto-mechanics, and agriculture.
Since joining the project in 2012, my focus has been two-fold: to raise funds for building materials and worker pay and to work (with little skill but mighty determination) side-by-side with local laborers. I regard both as powerful examples of direct aid, undiluted by bureaucracy. In the last five years, more than $34,000 has been generously contributed by over 120 American households (family, friends, and colleagues) in support of an altruistic commitment I refer to as the Power of Us. Every dollar of that money has been carefully budgeted and spent entirely on the project; not one dollar was used to defray any of my personal expenses…
My annual June arrival in Duchity is now greatly anticipated, not only because of the work opportunities that accompany me, but because my participation in the life of this community has become welcome in the same way a favorite uncle’s yearly visit is. There a comfortable comradery during work and after…
A life-changing school is nearing completion in the western mountains of Haiti. A community is benefiting from a direct infusion of cash that is earned, no ‘handed-out.’ Children see a potential future their parents could not. [ ] Again, this result comes from the Power of Us: a group of generous, caring people who band together, in the name of goodwill and the belief in a shared humanity, to make a difference, affect a positive change….”
To read more of David’s report including specific stories of workers in Haiti and how David’s trips have impacted them, stay tuned!