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Three months later, Haiti looks for homegrown solutions

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The mayors from Haiti's Central Plateau region gathered in a stuffy auditorium in the town of Pandiassou. Dressed in short-sleeved shirts and casual pants that marked their former careers as farmers, their frustration boiled over.

"Don't give us a sack of rice," shouted one frustrated, grey-haired man. "Give us a tractor."

The room was hot and crowded at midday. But, it was the only time the Haitian Secretary of State and a representative from the World Food Programme could come to discuss distributing long-term aid. Afterwards, the two would have to drive the 120 kilometres back to Port-au-Prince on the crumbling roadways for yet another meeting.

But, the NGO representative brought little reassurance to the mayors currently dealing with hundreds of thousands of internally-displaced persons who migrated to the region following the earthquake.

"We're with you, but you have to understand the whole budget of Haiti is about equivalent to that of the snow removal budget for the city of Montreal," said the Haitian official, apology written across his young face. "We are absolutely dependant on partnerships right now with foreign governments and NGOs."

There in that airless auditorium, the Secretary of State managed to articulate the continual struggle facing his nation. For years, Haiti has existed in an unhealthy cycle of dependency. Inexpensive food aid has been dumped into markets providing temporary relief to immediate hunger, while decimating the agricultural sector and creating a permanent state of poverty.

Exactly three months after the earthquake, donor nations have pledged $10 billion in long-term development aid - that's about $1,100 per person in the impoverished nation. By hearing the mayors' concerns, we can ensure the cycle comes to a close and together we create a vibrant and sustainable Haiti.

Breaking this cycle of dependency has long seemed a near impossible task. It's easy to feel despondent amongst the devastation in Port-au-Prince. But, the mayor's choice of meeting location in ther town of Pandiassou is no accident - this community already achieved the impossible.

Brother Franklin, the leader of this community, sat at the front, recognizable by his trademark blue golf shift and cross around his neck. When we met him years ago, he only let foreigners with school supplies give them out to kids who explained how well they were doing in school.

He said it taught them the pencil was a hand up, not a hand out.

Before the earthquake, he set about creating agricultural and irrigation projects to bring back fertile land and create sustainable income for families. Today, visitors describe it as a Shangri-la amidst Haiti's barren landscape with lakes and ponds that irrigate food crops, dozens of greenhouses that grow and dry mangos for sale and 15 school sites to educate and train the next generation.

This oasis, however, is not enough to sustain the refugees who have flocked to the Central Plateau. That's why Brother Franklin and the other mayors are calling for the same systems that helped develop Pandiassou in years prior.

It's the mayors' beliefs that these methods, developed in Haiti, will help their country flourish. It's through schools that we can empower young people the way Brother Franklin did with his system of pencil distribution. By setting up irrigation systems, reforesting the earth and establishing vocational farm training programs, Haiti can take on the characteristics of the fertile oasis at Pandiassou.

In the urban areas, a functioning port system and reliable source of electricity would help facilitate trade. At the very least, proper roads would move goods and provide the Secretary of State a less turbulent route to the meetings.

With the disaster still on everyone's minds, the mayors hope they can seize the opportunity to nation-build. To do so, their voices need to be heard, their methods acknowledged and development not turned into dependency.

 

Follow Craig and Marc Kielburger on Twitter: www.twitter.com/craigkielburger