What follows is an annual update from The G.R.O.W. Project Executive Director Meike Schleiff with news of the progress made on GROW project developments in Cap Haitien and Soufriere, Haiti. The G.R.O.W. Project came into being following the 2010 earthquake which devastated the Caribbean island. GROW stands for Greenbrier Residents for Outreach to the World.
I was able to visit GROW Haiti’s team in Cap Haitien a few weeks ago, and I was pleasantly surprised by the progress, new directions, and continued enthusiasm for making a difference in communities that greeted me after being away for nearly a year and a half.
Since the January 2010 earthquake, Haiti has seen a slow recovery that has been fraught with political scandal, lack of coordination, inefficiency, power struggles on numerous levels, and, of course, the cholera outbreak. On my recent visit, however, I was encouraged to see signs of greater stability, longer-term planning, and rebuilding and improvement to infrastructure. In Cap Haitien, there has been a major demolition of areas near the waterfront to make way for new hotels, as well as a new bridge being built to connect the airport and the downtown directly. There is still a long way to go and still limited capacity for Haitian entrepreneurs and businesses to be the beneficiaries of contracts for this work. However, it seems like a step forward, and everyone, even those who have been relocated to make way for many of these efforts, are seeing it as a positive direction for Haiti.
The GROW team members in Haiti have put significant energy into keeping GROW work going. The official registration process of GROW Haiti has been completed so they can manage funds, administrative duties, and pursue their own partnerships and priorities.
Additionally, they are focusing on developing their own businesses, and completing their own educational goals. Two team members have started new businesses during the past two years through loans with GROW. One is a graphic design, printing, and consulting business, and the other provides technical assistance to farmers to improve their water and soil management and access appropriate technology such as small tillers, water pumps, and storage for crops. Both businesses want to fund GROW Haiti projects using their business profits in the near future.
At the clinic at Soufriere, two existing building have been completed. They are used on an ongoing basis by the governmental community health workers (Agent Sante) who provide health education and surveillance for diseases like cholera. The government wants to add a maternity ward, but this is a long-term goal that is still in the planning phases.
The water system at Soufriere, maintained by the community with some supervision and mentoring by the GROW team, is going well. GROW team members are designing and implementing two other systems in other villages in northern Haiti with the same design as Soufriere’s system.
The school site in Bonnay Dugal is continues to thrive. The staff is pursuing grant opportunities within Haiti that would help them improve their infrastructure and ensure that they are providing a high quality education to the students.
On the most recent GROW volunteer team trip to Haiti in the summer of 2013, we met a talented paper mache artist in Cite Soleil, one of the slums in Port au Prince. We were able to facilitate connecting him with Plants, Etc., a store in downtown Lewisburg, that was interested in selling his artwork. Since then, two shipments are artwork have arrived in Lewisburg – check it out if you are downtown! I hope that we can continue to foster this partnership, and eventually grow to include other artists as well.
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Schleiff states as far as her current activities are concerned, she is continuing with her doctoral program in Public Health at Johns Hopkins University, anticipating completion by mid 2016.
Over the summer this year, she spent two months in Kampala, Uganda working at Makerere University, and also a couple of days in meetings in Nairobi, Kenya. Schleiff says being able to experience a bit of Africa was “amazing as so much of Haitian culture and heritage stems from there!” She also traveled to Cape Town, South Africa with Health Systems Global. She hopes that by August 2015, she will be teaching a course she developed for undergraduates at Johns Hopkins on “Health Equity and Disparities.”
Schleiff writes, “I am dedicated to continuing to foster and build GROW relations in Haiti and also to thinking about where GROW may be have a role more locally in West Virginia or elsewhere.”
In closing, she states she is writing a book about her experiences working abroad and in West Virginia with groups of peers and mentors, which she hopes “…can awaken,embolden, and support other young people-particularly from the developed world – to get out, explore, and think beyond their own comforts and ambitions.”