Editor’s Note: Heather Ridge, educator, Boulder Universal school in Boulder, Colorado, recently visited Haiti to work with St. Paul’s Episcopal School agriculture program, which is teaching sustainable harvesting techniques as an alternative to charcoal production. Here she shares how one school in Haiti is preparing its students for the future by addressing the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
by guest blogger Heather Ridge
There’s danger in a single story.
The one that gets told most often about Haiti contains words like “disaster,” “corruption,” or “poverty.” The accompanying pictures are often of destruction and disarray, the kind used to solicit charitable donations or justify this single story, which offers a very incomplete view of a country as complex as Haiti. There are many stories here, and while all those words may feature into the narrative, they are not the ones that came to mind during a recent visit to St. Paul’s Episcopal School.
Situated on the southern peninsula of Haiti, near the rural town of Petit Trou de Nippes, St. Paul’s Episcopal School offers classes from preschool to 9th grade for around 300 area students. In 2015, the school undertook the development of a new agricultural education program aimed at promoting food security by teaching students sustainable growing practices. Over the past several years, the program has provided both students and the community with a platform that also addresses several different areas within the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
SDG 2: Zero Hunger
Providing students with skills to grow food for themselves and their families is the main objective of the program, according to Raphael Fernandez-Salvador, the agronomist who teaches the program. Lack of infrastructure for capturing or redirecting water has proven challenging as climate change brings unpredictable rains and droughts. With many families growing only subsistence-level crops, weather, disease, or other unexpected impacts can create food shortages in this rural area, where land has been subdivided among families for generations. Teaching students about different methods for capturing runoff or growing crops with higher tolerances is one strategy the school employs in its own garden to demonstrate sustainable practices for food production.
SDG 4: Quality Education
Almost 90 percent of all schools in Haiti are private. Many are run through religious organizations, community groups, or NGOs, and the quality of instruction and curriculum varies. A more traditional approach of teacher-led instruction and student recitation is common, with few resources available to provide more hands-on or practical applications of learning.
With the development of the school garden, which includes areas for vegetables, fruit trees, goats, and composting, students have a chance to literally get their hands dirty testing out theories they’ve learned in the classroom. At a recent weekly afterschool Klib Jaden (Garden Club), students seeded tomatoes, planted peppers, harvested papaya and eggplant, and then sold their produce to local community members.
Students are also taking their new ideas home. After a recent lesson on tree stewardship, each child was given trees to plant in their own yard to care for over time. In a country where charcoal production has devastated forests, the value-added benefit of trees is something the program has focused on.
SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth
Policies that keep foreign agricultural imports cheap have not been kind to local producers, who can’t compete with prices or produce the volume needed. Additionally, hurricanes and earthquakes have interrupted agricultural initiatives in the area. One thing Agronome Raphael hopes to grow are partnerships within the agricultural community.
Pairing up with the local seed bank, Bank Agrikol, Raphael brings seedlings started in the school garden to the local market every Thursday. Here, he helps answer questions from local farmers and promotes new crops, like the fast-growing, adaptable Moringa tree. Working in partnership with local organizations and farmers, he hopes to grow new products and markets through different initiatives, like honey production. Working with farmers though the creation of a local association, Raphael’s aim is to share knowledge and generate ideas and data, which contribute to overall community growth.
SDG 14: Life Below Water
As an island nation with few options for waste management, too large of a percentage of plastic litter ends up in the ocean. Plastic bags, bottles, and wrappers are scattered in even the most rural areas, where the only option is to burn or bury trash.
One way the new agriculture program is hoping to address post-consumer waste is through the repurposing it into materials for the garden. Seedlings can be started in the disposable water bags and drink bottles that litter the school grounds, rather than the bags that are sold for this purpose. Each week, the schoolyard is cleaned of these materials for use in the production of new plants.
A New Story
At St. Paul’s Episcopal School, students are helping to create a new narrative for Haiti. Agronome Raphael sees the new agriculture program as a means of promoting sustainable practices at home and, in this way, throughout the community. Through their demonstration garden, agriculture festivals, and seedling distribution program, good things will continue to grow in this part of Haiti.
All photos taken by and used with permission of the author.
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