Dieunel Prince teaches students how to use a word processing program
Haiti is struggling to provide a solid education for its citizens

Haiti: How irrigation brings harvests and education

Laventure Benad is eager to see a small irrigation system completed in the hills of Colora in central Haiti. The father of seven children, he can afford to send only four of them to school now. But with irrigation – and the opportunity it will provide for three harvests a year instead of just one – Benad hopes he will have not only more food for his family, but enough income to pay for additional schooling.

Atendieu Charles digs a trench for an irrigation project in Colora.

Atendieu Charles digs a trench for an irrigation project in Colora. Photo: Ami Vitale/Oxfam America.

Financial independence

"We'd like to go forward," he says as a pair of young men behind him hammer at a heap of rocks, cracking them into gravel to help build the irrigation system. Channeled into a pipe, water from the mountain stream flowing by them will find its way into more than 60 acres of fields below where it will help 150 farmers.

With the help of Proyecto Binacional Artibonito, an Oxfam-supported project known as PROBINA, the irrigation could eventually bring them a measure of financial independence, say farmers. They expect that within three years they will be doing well enough to be able to buy their own seeds and fertilizer.

Tackling technology

For Markens Louidort, a 26-year-old student in Liancourt in the Artibonite Valley, education holds the key to a better future, he says. He has enrolled in a computer-training program offered by APPEL, or Association des Parents and des Professeurs d'Ecole de Liancourt, an Oxfam partner that provides post-secondary vocational training.

"The world is going on with technology and it's important for someone to learn computers," says Louidort. In a country with unemployment as high as 70 percent, Louidort is hoping this new, hard-won skill will help him land a job.

Three days a week, for four hours each day, he settles in behind a computer in the stifling APPEL classroom. A series of batteries from Oxfam, recharged with the help of a generator at a nearby radio station, provide the electricity for the computers. Every seat is taken. This is the most popular class APPEL offers and some students share computers. A mood of deep concentration hangs over them.

At the head of the classroom, teacher Dieunel Prince talks the students through the next step of a program that will allow them to format certificates. Later, he explains privately that one of the biggest challenges he faces in working with these students is the fact that so many of them never had the opportunity to learn how to type – a handicap for those hoping to dive quickly into this new field.

Education is fundamental

That gap in learning is an indication of the struggles Haiti has had with providing a solid education for its citizens – about a quarter of the districts have no schools and 38 percent of Haitians over the age of 15 are illiterate. Education is one of the fundamental services rural regions will need to offer if decentralization is ever to become a reality for Haiti.

Michelle Lisette Casimir, mayor of Saint Michel in Artibonite, knows that well. Many of the families in the area sent their children to Port-au-Prince for advanced schooling, and some of them died in the quake. What Casimir longs for Saint Michel to have is a professional school of its own.

"We can't talk about the future without being concerned about the youth – they way they are living," says Casimir, adding that education is her top development wish. "With education... we will keep them."

Story originally published by Oxfam America.

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