Haitian Organization Led by RMCUCC Member
By Matt Kaiser
Special to the Rocky Mountain Conference,
United Church of Christ News
Haitian children huddle around Karen Ashmore as she speaks to them in Haitian Creole and shows them the digital photograph she just snapped of their smiling faces. Ashmore will take these children's pictures and the stories of their Haitian communities back to UCC congregations in the U.S. who helped support them.
Ashmore, a member of United Church of Broomfield, is the Executive Director of the Lambi Fund of Haiti, a non-profit organization that provides financial resources, training, and technical assistance to peasant-led community organizations that promote the social and economic empowerment of the Haitian people.
A passion for Haiti came to Ashmore when she and her husband, Scott Ross, a life-long UCC member adopted two sisters from the Western Hemisphere's poorest country.
"When we adopted our first daughter in 2001 my husband and I were overwhelmed by the intense poverty in Haiti and wanted to do something to help families become sustainable,â€ She said. â€œIt is a worn out clichÃ© but we very much believe in the quote 'Give a man a fish and he has a meal for a day. Teach a man to fish and he has food for a lifetime.' We researched different groups working in Haiti and the Lambi Fund of Haiti was head and shoulders above the rest.
"We became donors. A year or so later I did some consulting for the organization. Then a year after that the executive director resigned. Since I have a strong non-profit background, I applied for the job and have been the Executive Director since 2004."
Lambi Fund takes a "bottom up" approach in its development work in Haiti, listening to the needs of Haitian peasant organizations and supporting peasant-led solutions through training and funding. Since its inception in 1994 Lambi Fund has impacted over a million Haitians and partnered on 150 peasant led projects ranging from pig and goat breeding enterprises to micro credit cooperatives to organic community farms.
The UCC has been integral in supporting the Lambi Fund's work in Haiti. In 2004 Ashmore held a poverty meal and presentation for Compassion Sunday at her home congregation, United Church of Broomfield.
"Karen made a typical Haitian meal of rice and beans and served it to the church members and then made a presentation on Lambi Fund," said Broomfield Pastor Greg Garland. "As a result our congregation's ongoing relationship with the Lambi Fund began as members took up a collection for Lambi Fund. After that it was adopted as the international project of the Mission Committee and the kids in the Sunday School classes put coins in the Pennies for Pigs piggy bank. Typically they raise enough money to buy two pigs."
Pigs are like savings accounts for Haitian families. They can sell a fattened pig at the market and use the proceeds to send children to school and provide for the family, who often live on less than a dollar a day. Lambi Fund recently supplied 23 pigs to a community organization near the village of Kasis. The sows have already given birth to 25 piglets and an additional 14 pigs are pregnant. It does not take much to start a self-sustaining enterprise in Haiti.
Members of the group running the pig enterprise expressed praise for Lambi Fund when Ashmore visited Haiti recently.
"Pigs allow us to live—we can take care of kids and all of our needs," said one member.
Deforestation has also been a major problem in Haiti and Ashmore has been successful in developing a collaboration with the Greenbelt Movement, led by Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai. The two struck up a friendship at an sentimental meeting in New York and have been a planning a partnership for the past two years.
In the fall, Greenbelt workers will go to Haiti and visit the small reforestation projects that Lambi Fund supports.
"Then we will sit down and think about ways we can structure a big nationwide rollout in Haiti," said Ashmore. "We will be able to draw on their thirty years of training and expertise.
We plan to plant one million trees in Haiti, which should go along way to making an impact on global warming."
In addition to Colorado churches, several UCC churches in NJ, FL, and PA are participating in projects to support the Lambi Fund.
It would be hard to exaggerate the impact these churches are having on families living in rural Haiti. Something as simple as a pig can have far reaching effects -- from providing more protein in children's diets to funds for health care or tuition. More importantly, it allows the dignity and self-determination that comes from being self-sufficient.
There is good news to report from Haiti thanks to Lambi Fund's efforts to empower the Haitian people with the help of UCC. Through the Lambi Fund, UCC is having an impact in Haiti, and as Pastor Garland says, "The efforts of the Lambi Fund to improve the lives of the people of Haiti give all of us in our congregation the hope that we all can be part of a solution."
If your church or Sunday School class is interested in partnering with Ashmore and the Lambi Fund, contact Ashmore or call her at 303-465-5053.