Post Hurricane Matthew Report – October 2016 to February 2018

Hurricane Matthew hit southern Haiti on October 3, 2016, coinciding with a visit there and passing right over the heads of Administrative Director Mandy Thody, volunteer Robin Bolton and the 4000 villagers in western Ile a Vache. A Category 5 hurricane, it destroyed much of the housing, all of the crops and fruit trees, and many fields and small businesses. It was fortuitous that Mandy was on the ground there, able to help immediately, and amazingly our modern chicken houses survived, along with half the chickens! Mandy even became the ground coordinator for the air drop of food by another charitable organization. Funds, generously donated, were used for tools, roofing tin, cement, provision of meals and basic foodstuffs for 4 months, seed for farmers, medical care, water purification and more. Robin’s swimming program to teach the children of the La Hatte school to swim and to prevent loss of life at sea among the islanders was unfortunately curtailed but a swimming program has since been established. School opened again after only one week and was the first on Ile a Vache to re-open!

Mandy started 2017 with a bang, flying into Les Cayes (near Ile a Vache) in January by private plane (thanks to the remarkable Fiona Horne) with 350 chicks of a new breed of layer-hen, 3 large rabbits, and much other aid, plus expertise in the form of our agronomy advisor Dr. Stuart Weiss, who performed miracles in a few days, inspiring many people to useful action! The children of our school at La Hatte benefit enormously from the better diet we now produce, with eggs and chicken in quantity, also extended to the elderly, sick, pregnant women and victims of the hurricane and subsequently to our IMECT school on the mainland. 2016/2017 was our first year with the La Hatte school under the personal charge of Phelix Joseph, our president-in Haiti, as principal, the first since we started intensive teacher training the previous summer, and our first year of eighth grade. The results in July 2017 were excellent, an enormous improvement to 78% passing grades! Better food and better teachers and organization are finally paying off.

Our IMECT school nearer Port au Prince had a good year scholastically with their first year of 7th grade completed and the usual excellent marks. Sadly we lost several older members of the community including Boss Roland, the builder of the school and father of the principal, Yolande Caristyl; as well as a young teacher, Ketliane, who died very suddenly. The school lunch program was bravely supported by a group of Michigan churches and the friends of Mike and Shelly Scripps, no small undertaking! Mandy made 2 more trips with volunteers before hurricane season, including a second visit by Stuart Weiss to expand our farms.

Almost exactly a year on from Matthew, in September 2017, Haiti was largely spared by hurricanes Irma and Maria - not so the Virgin Islands. Irma hit the BVI incredibly hard and not only has, but will, affect our fundraising and visibility in Virgin Gorda and Tortola for a long time. The resort at Leverick Bay, where founder Michael Gardner regularly entertained, was destroyed and is not scheduled to open until mid-2018, and his boat was badly damaged, on her side in the boatyard. Maria also devastated St. Croix, where Mandy and all of GSF’s admin and day to day communications are based, passing right over the western edge where she lives. Luckily her house was intact amid a forest of fallen trees. But life goes on… (In January 2018 Mandy commented: "We are very grateful for the support of our friends, some access to wifi, the possibility of power in the foreseeable future, and we have not gone hungry or cold! In a sense we have had a chance to experience what daily life is like for most Haitians.) Mandy has the doubtful distinction of having been within 40 miles of  the centers of 3 Category 5 hurricanes in just less than one year!

The schools started again in September 2017 and this year we have a 9th (and final) grade at La Hatte School, and 8th grade at IMECT, in accordance with government dictates. Our agriculture program continues much expanded, with quite a few employees and a much better diet taking hold in the district. Rabbit breeding is starting to succeed as we share our surplus young rabbits with farmers nearby, teaching them to raise another source of protein. Fruit trees and moringa are being widely established, along with a greater variety of vegetables. The 350 chicks from January began to lay in May and produce 1800+ eggs a week for the school and local distribution. The GSF "Buy an egg" campaign will commence soon and we would very much appreciate your support for this program. The observable level of malnutrition in our villages in June was effectively zero, a huge achievement after a very major hurricane - and there are far fewer skin and parasitic diseases, unexplained illnesses etc. This will translate into better concentration and results for all the school children, and better health and intelligence of the intake over the next few years, due to improved nutrition in children under 5.

Funding for the school at La Hatte has been very generously guaranteed by our usual donors for 2017-18 in spite of the terrible situation in the BVI where they are based! However we are very much in need of funding for our mainland school, IMECT, even though the lunch program is covered again by the great kindness and hard work of the Scripps family of MI.

Many other programs continue - with high school and trade school scholarships running very well. It was an unfortunate year for university education, with the Haitian political situation meaning we had some students fail, and some depart to Chile and other countries to work or study as the opportunity arose.

Sanitation and infrastructure projects continue too, in particular we are very proud of the work to stabilize the lake hastily dug by the government without any research three years ago, we have saved a large area of land from degradation, and kept many farmers from going under, as well as protecting the road and improving health concerns. Mandy returned to Haiti in February 2018 to assess progress and continue development in all areas.

If you can help with support for IMECT school’s 19 staff salaries for the 280 children, or with any other program that interests you, we beg you to consider our solid reputation and transparency, as little by little we help transform the small communities we aid.