Hope for Haiti responds to Haiti’s devastating earthquake

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Hope for Haiti, a charity operating along Haiti’s southwestern peninsula, recently delivered 7,000 backpacks and school supplies to students who have been affected by the Aug. 14 earthquake, which killed more than 2,200 people and destroyed or damaged more than 137,000 homes.

Skyler Badenoch had just arrived in Haiti’s southern peninsula after the devastating 7.2-magnitude earthquake in August when he received a call from a friend whose family had their house come crashing down when the ground shook in the hilltop village of Toirac.

“He was crying,” Badenoch said, recalling the conversation in which his friend recounted the devastation, along with the death of 20 villagers who were attending a funeral inside a church on Aug. 14 when the earthquake struck and the structure collapsed. Two days later, a tropical storm plowed through. Despite all that, not much aid had arrived, the friend told Badenoch.

Badenoch, who heads Hope for Haiti, a non-profit in southwest Haiti, was already thinking about the failed response in the Marceline community and the lessons from 2016’s Hurricane Matthew, which devastated the same communities struck by the most recent quake. After visiting Toirac, Badenoch decided to focus his small organization’s efforts in a different direction.

“Between that community in Toirac and some other friends that we have in Marceline, who lost their family members and were having a funeral that Sunday, we decided we were going to buy food for those two communities just to help provide a little support,” said Badenoch, the nonprofit’s chief executive officer.

But as he watched bags of rice with an American flag emblazoned on them get loaded onto a truck, Badenoch thought they could do better.

Buying locally from Haitian farmers

“I’m looking at it and I’m like, ‘We’re not buying Haitian rice.’ We’re buying rice imported from the United States…. It’s great we’re supporting this local vendor but I felt like we could take it a step further and really go directly to the source,” he said.

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As needs remain high in southern Haiti two months after the Aug. 14 earthquake, Hope for Haiti, which runs education and healthcare programs in the South, is buying locally grown rice, beans and peanut butter to help victims and the local economy. Courtesy of Hope for Haiti

That source was the region’s farmers, many of whom had lost everything except for their farms.

The quake killed more than 2,200, destroyed or damaged more than 137,000 homes and affected some 800,000 people in four regional departments of Haiti. According to Haiti’s Office of Civil Protection, which responds to emergencies, as of Sept. 20, there were an estimated 38,777 displaced individuals across the three most affected departments — Grand’Anse, Nippes and South.

As needs remain high in southern Haiti two months after the earthquake, Hope for Haiti, which has been operating in southern Haiti for over 32 years to support education, healthcare programs, access to clean water and economic opportunity, is trying to help local farmers and support the local economy as part of its earthquake response and recovery.

“We bought tons and tons of local rice from farmers in Torbeck, and that rice went directly to our partners at the Rotary [Club],” he said.

Since August, Hope for Haiti has purchased more than 5 tons of locally produced food to distribute to 700 families. Among the purchases: 35,240 pounds of locally grown rice; 21,148 pounds of beans and 4,200 pounds of cassava bread to go along with 2,400 jars of locally made peanut butter from another part of the country to help out farmers and the local economy.

While the peanut butter and cassava bead has ended up being part of school meals for the few schools that have reopened — 900 schools were either damaged or destroyed, and UNICEF estimates that more than 230,000 children are at risk of dropping out in the Southern region if classrooms remain closed — the rice is being included in humanitarian kits that Hope for Haiti distributes to communities and partners like the Rotary Club and a Haitian ice cream company.

“Our partners at the Rotary then used it to do food kits, and distributed it out to schools that they support,” Badenoch said.

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Hope for Haiti, which runs education and healthcare programs in the south, is buying locally grown rice, beans and peanut butter to help victims and the local economy. Courtesy of Hope for Haiti

While the idea may have been born out of that Sunday visit, Badenoch said it was also a lesson learned from previous disasters in Haiti and a desire to do more than just hand out food.

“It came from learning and studying international development and reflecting on what happened during the 2010 earthquake, and being part of Hurricane Matthew response and just learning over many years that we just want to try to do things better and differently,” Badenoch said. “We’re not always buying locally grown stuff but we’re making it a point to do our best when possible to purchase locally.”

Hunger crisis in Haiti is growing

In a report last month, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations said the Aug. 14 earthquake damaged agriculture and is driving up hunger in Haiti, which was already facing a hunger crisis before the quake.

“On top of a succession of disasters and crises, this latest double whammy has left people’s ability to produce and to access food for their families and communities in tatters,” said the FAO representative in Haiti, Jose Luis Fernandez, referring to Tropical Storm Grace that hit the peninsula two days after the quake.

According to FAO, some 60% of rural Haitians rely on agriculture for their livelihoods. It’s a reality that is visible throughout the southwest where large plantations dot the terrain, and farmers have been struggling to survive.

They have not just been affected by the natural disaster, but the armed gang violence at the southern entrance of Port-au-Prince that connects the capital to all of the quake-ravaged regions. The violence in communities like Martissant, which has already forced the displacement of more than 16,000 since June, has made it near impossible for farmers to get their produce to market and for aid trucks to get through.

“Even though it’s really hard to do the work, it’s still possible and that’s what we’ve got to focus on,” Badenoch said. “We just purchased 7,000 backpacks from Maison Henri Deschamps, the local school supply company in Port-au-Prince, and we transported every one of them safely to Les Cayes. And we’re beginning distribution out to our school network.”

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Hope for Haiti recently delivered 7,000 backpacks and school supplies to students who have been affected by the Aug. 14 earthquake. Courtesy of Hope for Haiti

So far, the charity has spent more than $135,000 just on food purchases, which also includes canned fish, oil and chocolate. It has also received 46,583 pounds of donated food, including almost 1,400 pounds of eggs and truckloads of vegetables.

In addition to the food kits, the charity has provided more than 10,800 medical consultations since the earthquake, Badenoch said, and is continuing with its campaign with Maison Deschamps to provide backpacks.

Anonymous backpack donation from NBA player

“Our first donation came in anonymously from an NBA basketball player to cover the first 1,000 backpacks,” he said.

And while the devastation has broadened its work, the charity recently said that it’s continuing to execute its short- and long-term plan. It recently issued an appeal for more than $5 million to help Haitian families recover. The ongoing response, which includes providing tarps and other assistance, mirrors what the organization already does, Badenoch said, except that it’s “scaled up for disaster relief.”

“We were never in this for a month or, you know, six weeks,” he added. “We’re not thinking about what does it mean to wind down; we’re thinking about sustaining what our efforts are and what we can do to help the schools, the healthcare centers, the families in the impacted areas.”

How to help

To contact Hope for Haiti or to help, go to www.hopeforhaiti.com

This story was originally published October 22, 2021 6:00 AM.

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Jacqueline Charles has reported on Haiti and the English-speaking Caribbean for the Miami Herald for over a decade. A Pulitzer Prize finalist for her coverage of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, she was awarded a 2018 Maria Moors Cabot Prize — the most prestigious award for coverage of the Americas.