By FIAMMETTA CAPPELLINI.
In 2010, the earthquake took us by surprise and we were terribly shocked. Six years later, almost seven, Hurricane Matthew hits Haiti and it’s a tragedy foretold. For days we had been following the formation of the storm online.
For days we studied its trajectory and waited. What were we waiting for? Were we hoping that it wouldn’t affect us? No, we were waiting for a miracle, we were hoping that the hurricane would dissipate, that in spite of the catastrophic predictions the system would disappear and the sun would shine again. Because when you live on an island, in the middle of the sea and a hurricane decides to cross your way, where do you go? How do you hide? Nowhere. You can only hope for a miracle.
But the miracle never happened. The sky became darker, the clouds bigger and bigger, until it became a gray wall. The wind, the rain, became stronger and stronger, and we didn’t know where we were anymore.
Palm trees were bending and then sometimes flying away, gone with the wind. The rain started tapping loudly on the rooftops. It seems you are in the middle of the ocean when a hurricane hits so violently. This hurricane was cruel. It was powerful, the most powerful in the last decade, and it was slow, pausing for a long period of time, and leaving behind destruction and desolation.
Then finally, it was gone, leaving behind a silent land. Now, in Haiti, especially in the South department, there is only silence. Those who have never heard the silence immediately after a disaster cannot understand. It’s a silence that represents death, destruction. It’s a terrible silence.
Water is everywhere, and it’s hard to differentiate the fields from the streets. There are no more houses, no more cultivated land. There is only water, everywhere. They say that overnight we had more than half a meter of rain. Before the hurricane we could see fruit trees, houses, schools and churches… Now we can only see water, and mud.
As soon as the wind stopped blowing wildly, AVSI’s staff gathered, but a few were missing and we could only hope that they were busy trying to rebuild their own houses, that nothing more serious happened to them.
Those who did come to work, drove fast with their Jeeps. First, they looked for our colleagues, and then for the children that AVSI helps in Haiti through our Distant Support Program. Those are our most vulnerable children.
Many roads are closed, if not most of them. We cannot even think of reaching the most distant communities, so we began with the closest one, because we had to begin somewhere.
We visit one house at a time. The Jeeps struggle with the mud and sometimes we need one car to tow another. And sometimes that’s not even enough. At the end of the day, we were speechless; shaking our heads. Nothing left.
We visited dozen of families and they all lost their homes. The government evaluates that 95% of the homes disappeared, dragged away by the hurricane, but trying to put in numbers on what happened is a useless exercise. We can summarize the situation in a word: catastrophe. One of our staff members showed me some pictures. She points to a black puddle and tells me: “In this area there was a house”. “Which area?” “There, where now we can only see a black puddle”. The whole life of a family left in a puddle.
There are 60,000 homeless, only in the South department; and we have schools, bridges, and roads to rebuild. Start from scratch. Again. “Why? Why Haiti, again?” We ask ourselves, especially the young ones. The older ones spread their arms, smile and don’t say a word.
The women stare at you for a second and quickly go back to their tasks, preparing a soup with who knows what, with a pot found who knows where, in the mud right outside the shelter. “The children need to eat,” they tell you. And then they look at you with a long hardened look that only a Haitian mother with a brood of children can give you. We understand. Tomorrow, we will come back with our truck, full of rice. Then, we will think about everything else. One step at a time.
Anton Barbu, responsible for AVSI’s activities in Syria, talks about the children of Damascus in this interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera: “Every day, I leave my house at around 7:30 to go to AVSI’s office in Damascus. It’s a ten-minute walk. On my way, I encounter at least 30 children sleeping on the sidewalk.”
How is the current situation in Syria?
I have recently spoken with a father who lives in #Aleppo. He described heartbreaking scenes: children wondering around the rubble because their families have either left town or can no longer take care of them. But also in Damascus the situation has deteriorated. Every time I stop at a traffic light, I’m “surrounded” by many children trying to sell whatever they have, most of the time stacks of tissues.
Is there a future for Syrian children?
In Europe we say that children are the future. In Syria, they are the present, in the sense that at least 2 million children are currently living a daily drama in areas difficult to reach.
Do you think in Damascus a child suffer less than in Aleppo?
If we really want to say that, I guess we can. At least in Damascus, children have a sidewalk to sleep on. In Aleppo, not even that.
On September 6, AVSI finalized a three-year project funded by the European Union in the Republic of the Congo. The project’s main goal was to train and facilitate the inclusion of young adults with disabilities in the labor market through the creation of cooperatives.
“Now I know who I am, a hairdresser. I’m self-sufficient and financially independent”. Elayne is 26 years old; she is deaf and lives in Pointe-Noire, the second largest city in the Republic of the Congo and the main commercial center of the country. In Pointe-Noire, 500 kilometers away from the capital Brazzaville, more than 7,000 young adults with disabilities live among a total population of 800,000 people. Most of them are completely excluded from the labor market and depend on friends and family support. This was Elayne’s life three years ago. She was then accepted in a project funded by the European Union and implemented by AVSI, whose main goal was to integrate young adults like her into the workforce through the creation of cooperatives.
After three years of taking professional courses, Elayne, with 177 other young adults with disabilities, is finally independent. She and her colleagues learned new skills and are now able to work in recently created cooperatives. This amazing outcome is a result of their strong determination and their integration in the project funded by the European Union to improve the social and economical conditions of people with disabilities in the region.
During the three-year project, these 177 young adults learned how to be tailors, carpenters, upholsterers, hairdressers as well as bakers and blacksmiths. AVSI followed them through their journey to become economical independent: from learning new skills to how to manage their recently created cooperatives, which represent the core of the project.
“Those who participated in the project were encouraged to work together in cooperatives, legally recognized by the Government in the Republic of Congo. This way it was easier to reintegrate these young adults in the workforce,” explained Caterina Cipriani, AVSI responsible in the Republic of the Congo.
AT THE CENTER OF ATTENTION WITH RIO OLYMPICS, COUNTRY EXPERIENCES ITS WORST ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL CRISIS
By FABRIZIO Pellicelli *
Photos by Gabriel Nacimento (top) and Antonello Veneri (slideshow)
In these days, when Brazil is at the center of international attention with the Rio Olympics, the country is experiencing the worst economic crisis, and political and institutional reforms of its democratic history. The striking contrast between the grandeur of the opening ceremony and the actual condition of the majority of Brazilians forces basic questions: how is it possible that these two realities continue to coexist? How is it possible that tens of millions of people still live in extreme poverty, with no water, food, education, hospitals, work? Is there a common understanding, either in Brazil or in the rest of the world, as to the reasons for this great disparity and social injustice?
On the opening day of Rio 2016, I happened to be in the Sertão, the semi-arid Brazilian outback, a very poor region north of Rio, which alone represents 9% of the Brazilian territory and is home to 11% of the entire population. I was there to start a development project on behalf of some local communities that AVSI Brazil intends to implement with a large Italian industrial group which has expanded its activities to that region. The project aims to contribute to the improvement of living conditions for hundreds of local families.
The Sertão is the clearest mirror of Brazilian inequality. In this region, unlike the area surrounding Rio which has been polished up for the big event, there are no roads without potholes. The local roads are largely unpaved and red Brazilian earth soils the white of the horses.
There has been no rain in the Sertão since January; a tragedy in a place where the local water depends mainly on rainfall. Though high quality underground water flows in abundance, the State, which has invested billions of Reals to extract of oil in the pre-salt region, is unable to build water wells for its population.
The positive international image of Brazil being broadcast in these day is surely helpful: an emerging country, thanks in part to Olympics. But this growth should generate new wealth to reinvest in development policies. The State has a duty to ensure access to basic services for people, to ensure a basic infrastructure and to attract private investment in a sustainable manner, which is also compatible with its land and culture.
Private businesses are vital players when seeking a better redistribution of wealth. In Brazil, corporate social responsibility models have reached very advanced stages. They are based on the concept of mutual gain for the private sector and for society as a whole, which is seen as a set of stakeholders in a given region.
These models call for the active involvement of the third (non-profit) sector, through partnerships that create wealth for the region, stimulate employment, promote access to new knowledge and technology, and form the basis of thoughtful cultural and environmental development the country.
The associations of the Brazilian non-profit sector can be effective in promoting sustainable development. They guarantee a stable presence in contexts where the State struggles, or is has no interest, to serve. Even in the poorest places in Brazil, there exist non-profit associations that arose in response to the practical needs of the people and the desire of people at all levels of society to be protagonists of their own development.
The faces and stories of the people of the Sertão may appear "unnecessary" in a society where a "culture gap" dominates, but they can teach us to rediscover the value of solidarity and the positivity of life, even in extreme conditions. The Olympics may represent a unique opportunity to reveal this other face of Brazil.
* Fabrizio Pellicelli is CEO of AVSI Brazil. AVSI has been present in Brazil since the
1980's and works in various fields of development, such as urban development, energy efficiency and education. The staff of AVSI, is composed of over 1,000 people and its programs reaches 2.6 million direct beneficiaries worldwide.
FORTIFIED FLOUR WAS SPECIFICALLY DESIGNED TO PREVENT DIETARY DEFICIENCY IN CHILDREN AGES 6 TO 24 MONTHS
Child malnutrition is a major problem in Haiti. 2.5 million people live in extreme poverty with 100,000 children under five years of age suffering from acute malnutrition and one in three children stunted, or irreversibly short for their age. In 2014, AVSI Foundation, in collaboration with AVSI Canada, and in partnership with World Food Programme, and the University of Notre Dame Haiti, decided to combat this major problem in Haiti through a project called “Locally Produced Fortified Infant Cereal in Rural Haiti: An Innovation to Support Commercialization, Social Entrepreneurship”.
Two years later, AVSI and its partners developed a sustainable, affordable and locally grown product called Mama+. This product, which meets WHO nutrition standards for complementary infant cereal, was specifically designed to prevent malnutrition in children aged from 6 to 24 months in Torbeck, a commune in the Les Cayes Arrondissement, in the Southern Department of Haiti. The goal was to reduce malnutrition in Torbeck by 1%. The project, so far, was able to lower it by 1.2%. Mama+ fills the gap in available nutritional foods that are affordable for the local community. In addition, it has proven to effectively prevent malnutrition for children under 2 years old, which is considered the critical window of opportunity for a lifetime of healthy nutritional outcomes.
“My son couldn’t eat anything,” remembers Katherine Sander, mother of one of the 6,900 children who have received periodical home visits thanks to the project. “When I began to buy Mama+, he finally began to eat.”
Mama+ provides a much needed food supplement to local children, but also empowers women in the community through economic initiative and education. Twelve local women serve as health educators and sales persons. Through a door-to-door sales model, entrepreneurial women in the community were trained to sell Mama+. Their role is also to monitor the nutrition status of children and spread key information about proper infant feeding and healthy living, like the benefits of a balanced diet, the importance of clean water and how to recognize when children are malnourished.
“The women who participated in this project were able to spread their knowledge as well as the qualities of Mama+ to other families and, by doing so, they were preventing malnutrition. They were also able to learn more about other complementary foods,” says Joseline Marhone Pierre, Director of Nutrition of the Ministry of Public Health of Haiti.
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