DAY 3: A LONG AND DIFFICULT JOURNEY
On the map our destination was approximately 45 miles—but it took nearly 8 hours to traverse the roads in this country where infrastructure barely merits the name. It was a long and difficult journey, punctuated by massive potholes, to the Artibonite Valley, Haiti's most fertile region. The air was filled with dust as cars kicked up the dirt roads, and mopeds let out puffs of exhaust. The roads were lined with small lottery booths and vendors with overflowing baskets perched on their heads. The urban squalor of Port-au-Prince— shantytowns crammed into narrow alleys— slowly transformed itself to a palpable rural misery. Women covered with soot sat on the roadside and sold coal made from the few trees left in Haiti. Deforestation, we had been told, was accelerated by the simple need of fuel for survival or a small income.
At every stop sign, children ran up to the car selling food in brown paper bags made right on the streets by their mothers. Their reddish hair and thin limbs showed the telltale sign of malnutrition.
We continued and then turned off the road approaching the women's project in Mapou Rollin, for which the Lambi Fund had provided training as well as equipment for a grain mill.
As we entered the large concrete room that housed the mill, women of every age were waiting in their colorful dresses, chatting with each other before their meeting began. The project leader entered the room, calling the meeting to order. The women opened with a word of thanks and broke out in lively song and dance. They were singing a song about organizing that spoke of the importance for women to stand on their own. They skipped, laughed, clapped, and stomped their feet in a chorus that told the world they were indeed a thriving community.
"When were organized, we can accomplish anything we want. Women have responsibility for the families. We work in the field. We go to the market to sell our goods. We care for all of the children. But we often have no voice. Lambi helps give us a voice," declared Vyolène, the organization's vivacious leader.
They had formed a community of women who cared for each other, and for each others families. Though many were old and tired, worn by their country's problems, the sparks in their eyes were as vital as their organization. They were excited about their work and hopeful for their future. The grain they mill locally provided a source of income that allowed them to spend more time with their families, rather than walking many kilometers to the next closest mill. However, the immediate benefits of the project, like many funded by Lambi, extended much further, causing a ripple effect upon the entire community. Since people from nearby villages needed to pay a small fee to use the mill, the project was self-sustainable. The mill income allowed the women to save money for other projects or to pay for repairs as they were needed.
"Now that we are the providers, the men cant exploit us. Now they must respect us," added Vyolène.
The women have also used their extra income to build a shelter and buy chickens for a new venture. Completely self-funded, this new business will lead to even larger profits for the organization, helping pay for the education and health care of their children.
"Our next project," Vyolène said with a slight grin, "is birth control. We want birth control." Vyolène then walked off, proudly holding her head high—for herself, and for all the women of Haiti.
"When we're organized, we can accomplish anything we want...lambi helps give us a voice."