This post was provided by one of our newest Tree Angels for Haiti volunteers, Renie Penna-Couttenye, who made her first visit to Haiti this fall. She shares a fresh perspective of her experience and what she learned from the activities during the trip. Her reflections provide a reminder of how important the TAFH volunteers are in meeting the objectives of the organization’s mission.
I went to Haiti for the first time with the Tree Angels for Haiti (TAFH) this September. The Tree Angels is a non-profit organization started by Sandra Romulus to help reforest Haiti’s devastated lands. In addition to bettering the environment, the Tree Angels also aim to support and better the community.
On this last trip we worked a lot on the Morel botanical garden. This is a garden for the people, created by the people. The garden will serve as a nursery to support the reforestation project but it is also a place that the community can enjoy for its beauty and as a source of pride. It gives people a sense of purpose and provides education and skills that they can transfer to their own lives. Working in the garden was a time where the community — young, old, and teenagers– was united for a common purpose. People learned skills from each other, not only in regards to agriculture but also lessons in cooperation, respect and how to care for the environment (like not littering).
In the Tree Angel meetings it was clear through passionate debates that people take pride in being part of the group. In these meetings you could identify natural leaders and watch as they stretched and practiced their skills. It became clear that there is always room for those who want more responsibility to have an influence. Being part of Tree Angels allows members a place to learn and grow and be a part of something that can have a lasting impact on their community and country.
Tree Angels carry some weight. When you go to Leogane everyone seems to know about the Tree Angels. And, little by little, through various meetings with environmental counsels of Haiti perhaps the reputation will spread nationwide. It is inspiring to know that in the six years that Tree Angels have been visiting Haiti there are entire mountain sides that are once again covered in trees. Those are Tree Angel trees.
Another way Tree Angels better the community is by supporting and pairing with other local ventures. On this last trip we met a young man named Makens who has started a sign language school for hearing and deaf children in the area. He recognized the need for more people to know sign language to make life more accessible to the deaf people in the area. Just imagine trying to receive medical care if no one you know can interpret for you. We were able to provide some school supplies for these students and they have also become involved in the garden. As with the rest of the community, this organization may give these students a chance to feel part of something bigger than themselves and to interact with others. And perhaps even encourage others to want to learn sign language.
As part of the TAFH mission, we also provided backpacks and hygiene supplies to several other rural schools in the region. Our outreach included a school in a monastery, where the nuns help some of the neediest people in the area. By supporting the nuns we hope they will be able to reach more people.
With every trip Tree Angels is able to extend their influence even more. On this trip we came across a new business, Arris Desrosiers & Co., where backpacks are made from the plastic water packets that are littered all over Haiti. Haiti has the worst trash problem I have ever seen– even more than I could imagine. With no infrastructure to pick up and dispose of trash and littering being an unconscious norm, the trash piles up with nowhere to go. Fortunately, these inspired entrepreneurs have figured out a way to help the environment and create useful products for the people. If nothing else, we hope to at least help promote them and spread the word about their work. And who knows… we may find a way to partner with them in the future.
What makes Tree Angels so special is how it looks at the big picture. Deforestation is a symptom of larger problems in the community. Deforestation happened because of lack of education and foresight of the consequences, littering continues to happen for the same reason. Tree Angels understand that in order to make change you have to start with the people, the culture, the values and the education. Tree Angels recognize this, so aside from planting trees they know that they need to support the people, teach the people, inspire the people and involve the people. A group of five or six people (or even 20) it is difficult to accomplish much. But when you make efforts to create cultural changes, the community can start working together to better itself. It is in this way that Tree Angels is able to improve the whole eco-system, because they come with seeds of change.
For more details on how you may offer support for Haitian communities, please contact a TAFH volunteer.