Like most people, I am horrified by the loss of life and suffering in Haiti and touched by the outpouring of kindness and generosity it’s triggered. Wanting to make a donation, I looked for a credible organization with history in the country and strong ties to the Haitian community it serves. I didn’t have to look far to find The Martha’s Vineyard Fish Farm for Haiti Project, established by friends and neighbors of mine in 1998. That’s the subject of In Haiti’s Hands, a remarkable documentary short by Vineyard filmmaker, Jeremy Mayhew we present this week at Media Voices. A dream-like portrait of the poor in Haiti, filmed in 2005, In Haiti’s Hands tells the story of a grassroots aquaculture project based on this philosophy: “Give a person a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a person to fish and feed him for a lifetime.”
The fish farm, located in Lilavois outside the capital city, consists of two and a half acres of land that have been developed into five ponds where tilapia, a delicious white fish, is raised to produce food and income for poor families. The project is overseen by an order of Haitian teaching nuns, The Daughters of Mary Queen Immaculate, who also operate primary, secondary and training schools in ten locations in the southern half of Haiti along with a medical dispensary.
The project sustained losses last week. Several beloved staff members were killed and ten children at one of the training schools died when their living quarters collapsed. Others remain missing. Damage to the school near Port- Au-Prince was extensive and what remains standing is unsafe. The Sisters are now living in tents. Fortunately, school was not in session when the earthquake happened and so the 1000 girls who attend daily were not in the building when the earthquake struck. The fish farm in Lilavois is intact and will be able to continue to contribute much needed food to the community. Unlike relief supplies, this food won’t need to be flown into the airport for distribution, nor will it run out.
I’ve listened to, read or watched a small mountain of news about Haiti and somewhere in the blur I heard a reference to thousands of organizations that had projects small and large in the country when the earthquake changed everything. For me, I like the idea of supporting these small projects, especially if you know that they are well managed and run by people who are dedicated to what they do. This is the case with the Fish Farm Project. I’ve known the director, Margaret Penicaud, for years. I know her to be a devoted volunteer and tireless in her efforts. I know that there is virtually no overhead taken out of donations and their work has made a real difference for families and children in Haiti, a place where the life expectancy prior to last week was 47 years, where 76% of children under five are underweight and suffer from malnutrition and only 46% of the population has access to clean water. So while the natural impulse is to look to the large aid organizations to help in the near term with a disaster of this magnitude, I am suggesting you have a look in your own backyard for groups to support. You may be, as I was, pleasantly surprised to see what your neighbors are already doing.
I should mention that the Fish Farm project has spawned other sustainable efforts: the construction of school and living quarters, a new well, a poultry operation, establishment of vegetable gardens and the creation of PeaceQuilts, a women’s cooperative that produces gorgeous art quilts along with employment in a country where unemployment is at 70%.
Finally, this week at Media Voices, we continue our ongoing examination of children working in domestic labor. We welcome a new and soon to be regular contributor to MVC, Armand Pereira, who offers a two part examination of this pervasive and abusive form of child labor from his new home base in Rio De Janeiro.
I first met Armand at a conference on child labor in Belo Horizonte, Brazil’s third largest city, in 2004. At that time, he was Director of the International Labour Organization’s Washington office and we were both on the program as speakers. Some of my comments that day were critical of the ILO. Instead of bridling at my criticism, Armand got even by working with me in the years ahead and collaborating in the development of Media Voices, always lending his thoughtful support. I came to see that many of the progressive programs I had documented in my film work in Brazil in 2003 were either started or overseen by Armand when he served as ILO Director in Brazil from 1998 to 2005. So we enthusiastically welcome Armand and feel certain you will learn, as I have, a good deal from this man who has spent his career with the ILO working to help children and working people get a fair shake.