As we enter further into 2021 in the midst of the ongoing global pandemic, Vista Hermosa Foundation partners continue to share inspiring stories of community resilience. While each partner responded differently, in every instance the crisis served as a trial for the holistic community-led development practiced long before March 2020. Where staff could not reach communities due to shelter-in-place orders, local leaders rose to meet the needs and respond to the difficulties of this unprecedented year.
In rural areas of Haiti’s southern Camp Perrin district, community nurses traveled to villages to spread information about COVID-19, debunk myths, and distribute hygiene and sanitation supplies. Small businesses made masks and peanut butter for nutritional supplements. Teachers conducted bi-weekly home visits with students, bringing them school materials and explaining lessons.
These approaches were organized through Communities Organizing for Haitian Development (COFHED), founded by Madeleine and Nicaise Avignon. The success of these measures during this difficult period of Haitian history (which has seen political and economic crises in addition to the pandemic) can’t be attributed to savvy crisis response alone. COFHED started working in the village of Lougou in 2003, responding to residents’ request for “community-led initiatives that would address the spiritual, economic, social, and environmental factors affecting their lives.” The young people leading the local COVID-19 task force today — the engineers, nurses, educators, agricultural technicians, pastors, and accountants — were children in the Lougou Education Program years ago. These young people have a heart for their communities and the capacity to act. Their belief in themselves translates to an expression of love in their communities that creates resiliency before catastrophe strikes.
Madeleine lights up when she talks about her students — Field Catalyst Trainees enrolled in COFHED’s Train the Trainer Community Engagement Program. The program puts forth a new model for citizenship in rural Haiti, one based in the caring relationships of community, trust, and everyday support. Madeleine’s passion is a desire for discipleship, and says that the need for change, engagement, and community empowerment cannot rest solely, or end, with her. One of the young women in the program, Enante (below) describes her experience:
“The training awakens in me a sense of citizenship… I have a different set of lenses to see what we have as assets, what does not work in my community. I have dreams and visions… dreams to change the statistics that make us fragile citizens, dreams for transformational change.”
Field Catalysts are seeds in rural areas that COFHED may not be able to reach, flowering as communities come together with excitement and confidence that they can make their collective vision happen, believing they have a calling and something to contribute.