Improving livelihoods in Haiti's countryside

Oxfam's Coco McCabe visited the town of Anse-a-Veau in rural Haiti. Our projects support livelihoods in the Haitian countryside – strengthening rural development is key for rebuilding the country.

A few short months ago, anyone in Anse-a-Veau who wanted packaged goods – vegetable oil, batteries, spaghetti – had to ford the Grand Rivier de Nippes and make their way out of this town in southern Haiti. But now, perched on the edge of the square, a small shop has opened, offering locals some of the hard-to-get basics.

It's supported by PADELAN, or the Project to Assist Local Development and Agroforestry in Nippes, a collaboration between Oxfam and the Ministry of Agriculture that uses money from the Canadian International Development Agency to fund projects identified as priorities by local development committees.

And in Anse-a-Veau, this store was one of those priorities – desperately needed.

Several doors down, Mayor Telisme Dutelien sits behind his desk in a small office in the town hall. On a mid-May morning, the room is dim and sweltering. No lights shine and no fan churns: the community's generator, which provided electricity, stopped working the month before, explains Dutelien. It's just one of the problems that has plagued Anse-a-Veau in recent years, ever since its population began to drop in the 1980s, dragging the community's commercial vitality with it.

The decline of Anse-a-Veau is symptomatic of what has happened across Haiti as Port-au-Prince, the capital and hub of opportunity, sucked people from the countryside for jobs, for schools, for a better life – or the promise of one. But in January, disaster struck there: an earthquake leveled great swaths of the city, killing 230,000 people and shaking the nation to its core. That calamity brought into sharp focus the drawbacks of centering so much of a country's lifeblood in one sprawling place.

Now, the call for decentralization, long a national goal, is again sounding loud and clear. As international donors promise enormous financial resources to help Haiti rebuild, what are the steps it needs to take to answer that call? Some ideas can be found in the initiatives Oxfam had launched before the quake-programs based on the needs of communities, as voiced by the people who live in them.

They are small, but steady steps and the store in Anse-a-veau is one of them. Open since December 2009, it operates six days a week, its shelves of canned milk and crackers, matches and razor blades plugging the household needs local growers can't fill themselves.

Read more

Oxfam report: Haiti: A Chance for Change – recommendations to rebuild Haiti with equity and opportunity

Map of Oxfam's response in Haiti

More about Oxfam's Haiti response