Building an Agricultural Community: The Model Self-Sufficient Village in Haiti

05/18/2010 09:51 am 09:51:57 | Updated May 25, 2011

Many people are wondering what we can do, after we deal with the immediate crises caused by the horrific January earthquake, to make sure the people of Haiti can have a bright future. I'm the father of a young daughter, so I especially worry about the kids.

The children of Haiti have a right to dream. They have a right to dream of a future not where they live in shacks without clean water to drink or food to eat, but where they have the necessities of a healthy life, a future where they can learn to read and write and get an education. They have a right to dream of having a family and being able to provide for those families. I know I don't want to be sitting here five years from now asking, "Why aren't the children any better off now than before the quake?" So I asked myself right now, in 2010, what's next?

I think the answer is in building permanent communities that run themselves. You need to start with agriculture and establish a strong job base. You need to teach people the skills they need to do for themselves. Once you make them proud of themselves, and they're given a chance and they see that the dream is real, they have something to work toward. It's like the philosopher and astronomer Galileo supposedly said: "You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him discover it within himself."

Yéle Haiti, the charitable organization I started five years ago, is looking to build a permanent agricultural community, and I'm really pumped about this. It's going to be a farming community for about 5,000 people near Croix-des-Bouquets. The idea is to introduce simple and sustainable techniques for improved farming, education, health and other services that begin to spark changes at the community level in other parts of the country.

And check this out: The government of Haiti is going to be our partner in this project, and so are my professional Haitian brothers and sisters from around the world, who will give back to their native country by lending us their expertise. My hope is that this agricultural community will introduce simple ideas that can be easily duplicated, and that it will launch a national agroforestry movement. In doing that, we'll be creating permanent, self-sufficient, strong communities that will benefit the entire country for many, many years.

Keeping in mind this idea of sustainability and self-sufficiency, I am also really excited about our plans for a large kitchen initiative to be based at Yéle headquarters in La Plaine that will be modeled on a program we have run for several years in Cité Soleil called Yéle Cuisine. The concept here is to create jobs for local women and train them to improve the quality of the food they prepare and increase the output of meals to 15,000 a day to help feed the children at schools and orphanages in the area. Now, that's really going to help people, right? Additionally, this program will focus on teaching women the business skills necessary to bring in more money for the food they sell at the marketplace every day. This program will help the Haitian people stand up on their own two feet and help rebuild the structure of Haiti organically. We hope to start construction on the facilities to house this ambitious program by June.

So, you see, even though we've been shipping containers full of cans of food and ration kits to feed the starving -- and I want to again thank everyone who has helped us get that food to them -- with this massive kitchen, our plan is to not only feed the hungry but also teach skills and provide permanent jobs that will help lead Haiti to a brighter future.

Here are some words of wisdom. (Bear with me while I quote a long-dead American president, but what he says is still true a century later.) I read somewhere that Woodrow Wilson once said: "We grow great by dreams ... Some of us let these great dreams die, but others nourish and protect them; nurse them through bad days till they bring them to the sunshine and light which comes always to those who sincerely hope that their dreams will come true."

I won't stand still until the dream for a brighter future for Haiti becomes a reality. We don't have any time to waste.