Beginning in Moreau

Written on June 19, 2017

Just a few days ago I was in the middle of mountains, crossing a river barefoot with all my possessions on my back. As I sit now in a lounge chair at the airport gate, it’s hard to believe.

For the past week, I was in rural Haiti rolling out the Vetiver Solutions pilot program ─ truly one of the most unique experiences of my life. It’s not that the premise was new or special; I’ve traveled to the Caribbean before, I’ve traveled to third world countries before, and I’ve even traveled to third world countries for agricultural development programs before. What made this experience so special was where this project was starting: the beginning.

How often do we have the chance to start something truly from the beginning? We took a two hour motorcycle ride through the mountains over rubble, rocks, and rivers to even reach our starting point. This is undeveloped territory; there are no cars, no shops, not even electricity in our home base of Moreau. We are running a three month pilot with just the supplies in our bags.

It’s as scary as it is exciting.

Even though we are just two Americans running a pilot in Haiti, we are not alone. We are working closely with a non-profit called Mijaba, and its founder Jeff. With his help, we really hit the ground running. On our first full day in Moreau, we met with roughly 50 farmers from the nearby communities. “Nearby” here is used in the traditional Haitian way: loosely. I would only truly understand the journey many of these farmers made a few days later when I took it myself, but some of these farmers and invested community members walked for hours under the hot sun to meet with us.

We told them our story, gave a spinning demonstration, and showed them samples of vetiver fibers (which we had many of thanks to the help of the local children who had suddenly found fiber extraction very exciting). It was really empowering to hear the farmers discuss our project, and how engaged everyone was in the discussion. We had brought some sample flax fibers to demonstrate thread spinning, and a person asked where the fiber was from. We all looked down at the bag, labeled in the corner with a “Made in Belgium” sticker. The farmer then looked us in the eye and asked, as if it was the most important part of the whole project, “Will our vetiver say ‘Made in Haiti’?”

This country has a lot of pride. These rural communities are proud of their country, proud of the hard work it takes to survive in such a difficult environment and the fact that they have prevailed. They are proud of the work they do, proud of what they produce. Watching them slowly take ownership of this project, and take pride in a potential Haitian vetiver thread made me proud too.

Jeff took the fibers and some of our sample yarn at the end of the meeting. He held the fibers up in the air, pulling them apart easily in his hands. “Individually, we are weak.” He took the yarn, made of the very same fibers but twisted together, yanking hard on the ends. “But together, we are strong.”

This is where we are beginning. Alone, two Americans would struggle to get a project off the ground in Haiti. But together, with the help and support of this community, we are making progress. It’s amazing – we ran our first trial with the assistance of some locals, and we already have isolated fibers. It’s an exciting start.

But this is only just the beginning.