“Pipi krapo ogmante larivye”
“Frog pee makes the river rise”
As you hear in the snippets of bad news that reach our ears in Canada, our Haitian partners continue to face turmoil and terror inflicted by gangs, a failed government, food insecurity and increased burden on the average citizen and family. Why then, do we continue to invest in Haiti? How do our Haitian partners continue to hope? What are they able to accomplish during this time? And does it all really lead to lasting change? And what does FROG PEE have to do with all of this??
“PIPI KRAPO OGMANTE LARIVYE” “Frog pee makes the river rise.”
We share this Haitian proverb, and this real tale of hope from rural Haiti, as evidence that lasting change is taking place, under the strong leadership of our Haitian partners, with our support.
It can seem, contradictory, unrealistic or even inappropriate to share good news at the same time as we receive reports of murder, kidnapping, and disruption of trade in Haiti. But as we make room for these seemingly opposing narratives, a bigger picture emerges. Within a larger, deeper context, we see the families and communities who are achieving change – for the better.
Take a step with us, into the rural region of St. Marc, where more than 160 adults are working hard to complete literacy classes by the end of June, in 4 different villages. As the current school year winds down, we’re working with our partners to confirm plans for the 2023-2024 school year. We’re planning for an expansion – one new Level I Alpha Adult Literacy class in a village without prior access, plus continuation of the four-year program in the other four villages. That’s hard to do with the reality of budget due to increased costs of operating the program in Haiti, and reduced donations to Rayjon as Canadians tighten their belts amid fears of a recession.
Enter the frog pee.
Mr. Luckner, Director of the Alpha Adult Literacy Program, has been working for months to recruit donations from within the local communities. This week, he confirmed written agreements with five local donors who will contribute to the program in 2023-2024, helping to fund important aspects of the program not possible through Rayjon’s support alone. This includes special funds to support a beach day for participants – an annual retreat they all look forward to, especially during a time of so much stress and trauma—and funds to help provide training for new literacy instructors. The donations aren’t huge, but they matter. Mr. Luckner helps us understand that they are like the frog pee that makes the riverbank overflow with life-giving water.
We know that the Alpha Adult Literacy Program is changing lives, strengthening communities. We know their success will last. And we see the evidence of a community that believes in the program, and is ready to invest… alongside donations from Canada. To us, this is sustainable development. This is partnership. And this is hope.
Crismary, Dominican Republic
Crismary Gutierrez is a dynamic young woman with a passion for social justice and supporting those in need in her community. Crismary was born in Santiago into a large family. She was raised by her grandmother and studied business administration in post-secondary. She rose through the ranks in the business department of a Zona Franca (Free Trade Zone), then in the accounting department of a service business, until one day, as she sat in her cubicle, she realized that she could be putting her skills to use to support the people of the Dominican Republic, in a job setting that would bring her more joy.
Along with her partner Scott, they co-founded Puente Desarrollo Internacional. Puente means “bridge” in Spanish. Today Crismary is the country Director, wearing many hats for the organization. Her main role is to make sure that all of Puente’s initiatives come to fruition and also to empower residents to continue with those initiatives. Cris is known for the energy, enthusiasm, and knowledge she shares through “charlas”—workshops or “chats” with community members providing knowledge and skills in leadership, data collection, preventative health care, community collaboration, and more.
Now a flourishing organization that focuses on community data collection to drive locally directed projects, Puente is proving to be an excellent partner for Rayjon. Together we are supporting a variety of amazing community-led development initiatives–from home repair in marginalized neighbourhoods to water projects serving whole communities. [photo: the beautiful Constanza region, home to Puente and Crismary]
Young women like Crismary, with a personal history grounded in the Dominican Republic and the drive to use their skills to lift others to better lives, are the future of sustainable development. We are honoured to partner with such a talented and inspiring Dominican woman.
You can listen to Crismary’s voice in our recent podcast Tapestry 2030 Season 2: Dominican Driving the Vehicle of Change.
“What are the problems in our communities, and how can we resolve them?”
Darío, Dominican Republic
“They didn’t want to recognize me as a Dominican.”—Darío Masiy Bigamos
Darío lives by the idea that if there is something that he has been told he couldn’t do based on his heritage or class, he will prove them wrong.
Raised in the batey (sugar cane plantation) Las Pajas, about 15 km outside of the town of Consuelo, Dominican Republic. His parents, Rosa and Celuis, being both Haitian nationals, faced a number of barriers due to documentation problems, yet still worked hard to ensure opportunities for their children. After his parents separated at age 7, Darío joined his father in Barrio 41 where he had bought a piece of land and Darío could access education more easily through the scholarship program of the Compassion organization.
“Currently, I dedicate myself to social work, As a child I always received a lot and work to be able to help as well as they helped me. My dream is to have my own residential electrical service company, this is a way to help my parents but I would also help with my knowledge to reduce deaths due to bad electrical installations.”
When he finished high school his intention was to enter the military academy. However, just as many children of Haitian descent in the DR routinely are, he was denied entry due to lack of citizenship documentation. It didn’t matter that he had a Dominican birth certificate, the government at that time had changed citizenship laws, removing citizenship from thousands and he was not guaranteed the rights of a citizen. “They didn’t want to recognize me as a Dominican.”
Darío’s process for citizenship documentation lasted three hard years. He worked in the construction sector to fund lawyers for his case and found community support where he could. However, by the time he finally had access to his documents, the age limit to enroll in his dream school had passed by one year. This was just a stumbling block for Darío. He set his sights forward and took technical training courses to become an electrician. With this new designation he landed a job with a local distillery, but didn’t stop there. He is now studying electrical engineering at the UfHec university.
Darío’s heart remains in the community and as a strong young leader he is the president of the neighborhood association of Barrio 41 as well as the overall association of all neighborhood associations of the municipality of Consuelo. He was instrumental in the recent municipal road expansion into Barrio 41 which provides drainage in the community reducing flooding and allowing a possible expansion that will provide running water to the homes, which he continues to advocate for. Darío’s leadership is creating lasting change in the community of Barrio 41.
Empowered Nurses, Expanded Care (Haiti)
Nurse Bénicie (2nd from left and not the same Bénicie whose story is below) has done amazing things in the village of Barbe, Haiti. When the Covid-19 pandemic first began she advocated for support for the small clinic and dispensary where she is the head nurse. They needed supplies and PPE to protect themselves. The cost of medicines was rising and care for pregnant women was especially dire. The clinic needed more space to receive and treat patients. And they had to find some way of educating their rural community about the coronavirus – and how to prevent it.
As a partner, Rayjon came alongside Bénicie and her team. We submitted a grant request to our friends at PWRDF, who fast-tracked the funding into motion. You may remember reading our earlier update about the outcomes of this specific project: newly constructed patient rooms, two new gynaecology exam tables, essential medications made available. And perhaps best of all, Nurse Bénicie and her team used a flatbed truck outfitted with loudspeakers to reach some of the most remote communities with reliable information about how to slow the spread of Covid-19.
Well guess what? The ripple effect continues. The collective impact of that early 2020 project goes on. As Bénicie’s leadership grew and the community saw the enhanced care and growth of their little clinic, other partners also saw the progress and valued their work even more. Bénicie kept advocating, and UNICEF agreed to donate a new solar system to provide a constant source of electricity to the clinic! With a little extra support from Rayjon (to cover the cost of hiring a local technician to install the panels), the clinic now has 24/7 power!
This little video gives a short tour of the new system and the Barbe clinic. 🙂 Wow!
Bénicie’s story is amazing. She is a 55 a year-old farmer and entrepreneur. She has one daughter, but has also adopted a foster child in need. Her husband lives in the Dominican Republic, and only occasionally sends money.
Bénicie graduated from Adult Literacy classes, and has been a part of the Microcredit Program since 2004. She is president of the women’s association in her rural village, which organizes training for female entrepreneurs in partnership with Rayjon. Following a training about business development, she got a loan start a business selling fried foods. She has had several business ventures, but this one is her most profitable. She says that the skills she acquired in the trainings have given her capacity to earn more. With her profits she has saved enough money to be able to rent land and also do agriculture. Today she is able to feed and care for her family independently.
Bénicie has become an advisor for the women’s association, and encourages other young women to use business to overcome difficult living conditions in Haiti. Along with some of her neighbours she participates in a “group of mutual solidarity,” pooling their money to support other adults in need to set up small businesses.
(Note: Bénicie also has a beautiful singing voice. You can hear her sing, “Women are Like Reeds,” an anthem about the strength and resilience of Haitian women below)
Celiana & Jhonny, Dominican Republic
Documentation is a huge barrier for families in the neighbourhood of Barrio 41, where Rayjon supports a preschool/nutrition centre and programs for women. Many of these families are of Haitian decent, though they have lived in the DR for generations. Their stories are difficult: they face daily discrimination and without proper documentation don’t have access to basic human rights like health care and education.
Rayjon is working in partnership with ASCALA, an organization headed by Brazilian nuns in Consuelo. ASCALA’s highly qualified legal team and have been working diligently to assist families from some of the most impoverished communities who struggle to gain the documents they need to legally live, work, and access vital services.
Celiana, who is the cook at the preschool in Barrio 41, and her brother Jhonny, are two of the more difficult cases being worked on. Celiana was widowed three years ago, leaving her to raise four children on her own. The small stipend she receives for cooking at the preschool is her only means of support. For Celiana to get her paperwork, her mother (Haitian) must first be assisted. This is especially important to Celiana because she does not have legal documentation for her four children. Her eldest is at the top of her class in high school, but won’t be able to apply to university without the paperwork. With each stage of paperwork costing between $200 and $300 USD, the dream of legal status would be impossible without the help provided through the pilot documentation project.
Celiana’s contributions to the preschool go beyond providing delicious and nutritious meals. You’ll also find her scooping up the nearest child with a scraped knee, runny nose, or need for some comfort. This is her neighbourhood and she watches out for all the little ones.
Jhonny is an active volunteer at the Centre, where his two young sons attend preschool. His identification was annulled when it was discovered that it contained false information. A Dominican friend of the family, trying to help, had agreed to declare that she was the mother when Jhonny was born, in the hopes that he could become a Dominican citizen. Now it will be very difficult for Jhonny to reapply for documentation, as his credibility is in question because of this false declaration. ASCALA is first trying to help his biolgoical mother get her documentation. It is not certain if Jhonny will eventually be successful, but we will do what we can to help! Blood tests will be required to confirm the true maternity. Additionally, if Celiana’s file is successful it may add some credibility to Jhonny’s case.
Jhonny has lots of talents, but his dream is to open his own bakery.