November 2013
Youth Matters

Haitian Children Schooled in Sustainable Agriculture

Volunteers Lend Helping Hand with Teaching Rabbitry

  A group photo of all the kids from the home with Robert Spencer.

In August 2013, I spent one week in Haiti working with a faith-based group and children’s home outside of Port Au Prince. Healing Hands International, the sponsoring group, has been in the process of introducing sustainable food production in the form of vegetables and is now introducing rabbit production to Sonlight Children’s Home, a homeless children’s facility in Santo - a community located on the outskirts of the nation’s capital city. The purpose of my visit was to educate Roberta Edwards Aduate, the Home’s owner/manager, and the children living in the Home on the fundamentals of rabbit production, and to establish a small rabbitry.

Healing Hands International is a faith-based group based out of Nashville that conducts relief and mission work in Haiti. Their mission is to improve the lives of everyone regardless of religion, gender, age or race. Their goal is to empower people to sustain a better quality of life for families and communities, by equipping them with the tools necessary to improve all aspects of their lives. They engage volunteers by providing opportunities to share their time, talent and resources with those in need.

The people who made it happen (from left) are Robert Spencer, Anderson Pierre, Harry Hames and Gerard Michael Joseph (Papy).  

My working relationship with HHI was initiated in March of 2013 when Harry Hames, director of Haiti operations with HHI, contacted me and explained their intent to introduce rabbits and inquired about my willingness to volunteer my services. HHI was well aware of the outreach work I had conducted in Haiti and felt I could play a valuable role. I agreed to help with the project by providing guidelines regarding the design of a simple, pole-barn shelter. HHI sent a group of people down in April to establish a concrete pad and shelter. Next, I shared designs for 12 rabbit cages and in June HHI sent a crew down to construct cages. During the last week in August, it was my turn to visit the home for educational and facilitation purposes.

Through colleagues in Haiti, I had prearranged for assistance with training and to acquire rabbits. Prior to the trip, while still in the U.S., Gerard Michael Joseph (Papy) and Anderson Pierre in Haiti were contacted to arrange for HHI to acquire 10 female rabbits and two male rabbits from producers in nearby Siebert. They also agreed to help with one day of training Aduate and the young adults from the Home. The sales benefited local producers in nearby Siebert that I had worked with in the past during collaboration with the Farmer to Farmer Program. Once the day-long educational component had been completed and the rabbits were in place, responsibilities were established.

The children are responsible for day-to-day care, upkeep and recordkeeping of the animals. They are also responsible for cleaning in and around cages with the intent of saving rabbit manure and vegetative waste to be composted for enhancing the soil in the home’s vegetable garden. Aduate will oversee the operation and provide guidance to the children.

She has been housing 20-25 children at her sprawling home for 17 years. The ages range from newborn to older teenagers, and they have been abandoned or are in need of a stable home. She houses, clothes, feeds, provides healthcare and educates them. If they want to go on to college, she tries to accommodate or find sponsors. Aduate is originally from the U.S. and had a very successful career in the banking industry, then came to Haiti on a two week mission trip and has remained there ever since.

Left to right, tying bundles of forages for rabbits. Kids busy naming rabbits. Even the very young are interested in the animals.

Outside of her home and with the sponsorship of HHI, she also feeds 150 locally malnourished children one to two meals a day with the help of at least one assistant and some of the older children from the Home. Currently, the primary sources of protein for all children - approximately 175 - are vegetables, rice and beans, and pasta with very little meat. The good news is the children receive adequate nutrition, the bad news is the children are very healthy so when she shows pictures of them people question the need for financial sponsorship.

On adjoining property, Aduate manages a small sewing operation sponsored by HHI that employs 6-10 women in a community offering no other job opportunities. These women make about $6 a day, slightly above minimum wage. They are eventually entitled to keep the sewing machines, and share the profits from sales of purses and children’s school uniforms they make. Most schools require children to wear uniforms so sales are almost guaranteed.

During the weeklong visit in Haiti, Hames was there to drive and showed me other facilities HHI had established and actively supports. There are several churches, children’s homes, schools, medical centers, etc. On a monthly basis, Hames and HHI take a purpose-based group down to address various needs including health care, nutrition, construction, dentistry, etc. As a result of my week in Haiti working with HHI and Sonlight Children’s Home, the following activities were accomplished:

Delivery of over $100 worth of assorted vegetable seed and a dozen sports caps donated by Scivally Grain of Taft, Tenn.

Seed will be utilized to maintain a year-round vegetable garden that will feed the 25 children at the home and 150 local children who receive one to two meals per day courtesy of the Home and HHI.

  Group photo following training.

Purchase of 10 female rabbits and two male rabbits for breeding stock. Purchase price for the female rabbits in Haitian currency was 700 gourde or gouds each, and male rabbits was 500 gouds each; 43 gouds = $1. The does can be expected to produce two to three litters per year with six to eight kits per litter. Some will be kept for breeding replacement while most will be processed or sold for meat.

Taking several Extension publications (relevant to rabbits) to be used as supporting documents for educating the facility’s manager and the children regarding rabbit management and husbandry; those were left with the various groups he worked with.

Training and educational materials provided for 20 young people and two adults at Sonlight Children’s Home.

Approximately 170 children will soon have another source of quality protein on a weekly basis.

This was my 12th trip to Haiti in the past 6 years. While this was unique to the others, given my work with youth this time, it was every bit as rewarding knowing my help ensured 20-plus young people learned new skills and responsibilities, and 170-plus children will have an additional source of protein.

Robert Spencer is an Urban Regional Extension Specialist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.