There’s a saying in Haiti, “An empty bag cannot stand,” which I interpret to mean that a person can’t support himself if his or her needs aren’t met. I heard this from Father Lex, the administrator of a primary and technical school in Cap-Haïtien, as he spoke before a congregated mass of students in matching uniforms. As part of a school feeding program through the International Food Relief Partnership with Salesian Missions, each student receives meals provided by Rise Against Hunger. Although Father Lex was speaking on the importance of school meals, it begged a larger question: Can a bag fill itself?
I recently returned from fieldwork in Haiti, where I had the pleasure of visiting each of our partners in the country. The purpose of this trip was not only to understand and see their work and impact firsthand, but to find new ways to collaborate and improve food security.
Hopestart International, a partner located in Jérémie, demonstrated notable entrepreneurship. During each visit, we asked our partners, “How do you cook and prepare the meals?” Firewood and charcoal are two of the most prevalent sources of cooking fuel in Haiti, both of which contribute to environmental degradation and climate change, and expose women and small children in particular to smoke and harmful toxins. Yet Hopestart utilizes large, efficient, electric stoves where meals are cooked en masse before distribution. In addition to Rise Against Hunger meals, the organization adds eggs and chicken, which are produced and raised onsite, to increase the protein content often lacking in Haitian diets.
Hopestart also produces its own electricity with solar panels. When the eye of Hurricane Matthew, a Category 5 storm, passed directly over Jérémie in 2016, Hopestart removed the solar panels attached to the organization’s children’s home to avoid losing them to the relentless winds. The solar panels are now bolted to a concrete roof for disaster risk reduction. The organization has ambitions to produce more of its own food by planting drought-resistant crops that could thrive through extended dry periods that are common in the area.
Through our partner Cross International, Rise Against Hunger meals support organizations like Fondation Pour Les Enfants D’Haiti (FEH) and La Maison Arc-en-Ciel (MAEC) that target the most vulnerable. FEH provides a home and much-needed services such as physical and occupational therapy to differently abled individuals often abandoned and referred by local hospitals.
MAEC has a history of specializing in programs meant to support HIV-infected or affected individuals, like caregiver training and community mobilization and sensitization. The organization operates an orphanage where HIV-infected and affected children receive specialized care. As they get older, these children gain the necessary skills to support themselves through apprenticeships. They also have the opportunity to learn beekeeping and how to raise and carve chickens, which are then sold in the local market to support MAEC’s programs. It’s through income-generating activities such as these that MAEC hopes to become more self-sufficient.
Our final question during each visit was, “Do you see a future where you no longer need meals from Rise Against Hunger, and what does it look like?” The point of this question wasn’t to put an expiration date on our partnership, but to initiate a step towards sustainability. Every humanitarian will tell you, ‘We’re here to work ourselves out of a job.” We weren’t asking how long they would need meals, rather, we wanted to understand their definition of success. We were asking for their leadership.
There’s another saying in Haiti, “Dèyè mòn, gen mòn,” which is Haitian Creole for, “Behind mountains, there are mountains.” It means the truth of a matter lies beyond the surface. The solution to world hunger will not come from Rise Against Hunger alone. In this case, Haitians know best what Haiti needs. Sustainable solutions are contextualized solutions. These are made viable by the input and involvement by the people affected. Rise Against Hunger launched our Siloe Agricultural Development Initiative in Haiti, but the project was born from and is driven by the vision of the community it aims to serve.
You can help support programs like these and more by donating or hosting a Meal Packaging Event. If you’re a recurring volunteer or plan to host an event in the future, every time you package a meal, remember: An empty bag cannot stand.