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Perseverance, Hope and School Gardens in Haiti

Throughout the fall, FBEN is hoping to spotlight farm-based education projects that are happening outside the United States. To submit a blog post for consideration, or to collaborate on writing, please contact Vera Simon-Nobes.

Step into a school garden in northeastern Haiti, and you’re greeted with beauty. “This is where nature talks to me,” Wedly Pierre Decéus, agronomist with Ayiti Konsè Vèt (Keep Haiti Green) says. “Sow a seed today, it [becomes] a little plant, and a couple of [weeks] after it gives fruit or vegetables to eat.”

A participant in AKV’s family garden program (“jaden lakou” in Haitian creole). The pilot experiment in Cahesse in the Northeast was a success and AKV expanded to other areas. Currently, this program is on pause due to lack of funding.

With his brother, Wedens Pierre Decéus, Wedly is part of a team of university-trained agronomists who work with AKV to share this appreciation for gardens with schools and families, coupling it with technical knowledge of soil health, organic pest management, and small-scale livestock raising. Since its founding in 2001, AKV has established 17 school gardens throughout northern Haiti, which offer participating children and families increased food security, economic opportunity, and improved living conditions.

Shelburne Farms and the Farm-Based Education Network first met the Pierre Decéus brothers and their colleagues in 2006 during a sustainable agriculture study tour through Vermont. They quickly found alignment with their commitment to sustainability and understanding the power of farm to school work. “During my first visit to Vermont, my life, my ideas, and my perception changed,” Wedly Pierre Decéus reflects. As a young agronomist, he had applied his theoretical knowledge to farming, but his work evolved as he visited farms practicing sustainable agriculture. “[From then on,] I prioritized sustainability in everything.”

Students at a school garden established in 2017, Plaine du Nord (Robillard). “The students greatly enjoy this activity, the locals also love this program,” Wedley Pierre Decéus wrote in their 2017 end of year report.

AKV’s model combines classroom lessons in health and nutrition with practical garden work. Similar to US-based farm to school programs, AKV’s educators, farmers, and participating schools understand the classroom and garden to be linked, a connection that’s essential to success. “A child who analyzes a problem in the garden, with the resources they have, can then put their problem-solving skills towards other projects,” June Levinsohn, nurse and founder of AKV from West Dummerston, Vermont said. “The students learn about nutrition in the classroom, the gardens feed families. A full belly means a working mind, which means potential to fix social ills.”

Students at Presbyteral School of Port-Margot prepared a display table containing fruits (cherries, mangoes, coconuts, pineapples, papayas), tubers (yams) for the national holiday, the feast of agriculture and labor, on May 1.

Assisting students to understand and act to change “social ills”, and using gardens to do so is familiar to many FBEN members. In the summer of 2016, AKV’s coordinating staff furthered their work in Education for Sustainability with another study tour to Vermont, and in 2019 they attended, Project Seasons for Young Learners at Shelburne Farms. Here, they explored the Big Ideas of Sustainability with peers from around the world, while sharing how their programs are building a more sustainable Haiti.

Wedly Pierre Decéus shares one such story.

“A boy whose father was teacher at the school garden, he takes some plant of cabbages in the nursery, transplant them at home, take care of them. Three months later, the cabbages was ready to be harvested. He harvested them and ask [his] mother to sell them in the local market. With this money, he purchased a chicken, and she produced eggs. The eggs hatched and gave little chicks. He sold the chicks fews months later to purchase a female goat. This is one of our success story.”

Renel Bruno and Wedley exchanging ideas and inspiration for developing more school- and garden-based education programs at our workshop "Project Seasons: Cultivating Joy & Wonder." in 2019. (photo: Steven Mease)

At its height, AKV developed and successfully managed programs in five areas: school gardens, home gardens, adult literacy classes, school garden internships for fourth and fifth-year university agronomy students, and livestock breeding of poultry, sheep, goats, and rabbits. However, like the water, nutrient, and insect life cycles that their students study, AKV has followed a cycle of growth, decline, and now revitalization. Today, facing a funding deficit, severe natural disasters, disease, and poverty, AKV staff find themselves working in conditions they describe as “almost inhuman”. They have temporarily suspended all programs with the exception of seven school gardens and adult literacy classes. Nonetheless, they are dedicated to rebuilding through “insistence, perseverance, and determination,” Wedly Pierre Decéus says.

During this turbulent time, we invite you to support AKV. If you’re able, please contribute in support of their work, and follow along as we share updates from the Pierre Decéus brothers and their perseverent efforts to build a sustainable Haiti.

Financial gifts between now and December 31, 2021 will be used to:

  • Purchase garden tools, books, and other supplies for the school gardens currently in operation;

  • Replace small livestock (sheep, goats, rabbits, poultry) lost to natural disasters;

  • Cover start-up costs so the school gardens which have been temporarily closed can reopen;

  • Fund transportation costs for university agronomy students to travel to school garden sites for internships;

  • Print learning materials for literacy classes and support monitor (instructor) salaries;

  • Support AKV staff salaries to cover essential living expenses like clean water;

Donations are processed and acknowledged by Shelburne Farms, the fiscal agent and US Community Partner of Ayiti KonsèVèt. Shelburne Farms is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

AKV would like to thank Paddy Wade and the Vanderbilt Family Foundation for their many years of program sponsorship support, along with other partners and donors including: Fred Bay and the Bay and Paul Foundations, Matthew and Mary Kelly and the Kelly Family Foundation, Proliteracy Worldwide, SEED Program International, and the Vermont Institute on the Caribbean (now Caribbean Acroecology Institute).

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