Here Comes Trouble: Stories from My Life

"Outstanding…Moore Triumphs! Publishers Weekly

Mike & Friends Blog

Other Worlds

Other Worlds is an economic justice group that supports economic and social alternatives around the world.

February 24th, 2010 3:28 PM

Haiti: Country Hospitality

Yon sèl dwèt pa manje kalalou,” says Christroi Petit-homme, a member of a peasant farmer organization. You can’t eat gumbo with one finger. Peasant groups throughout rural Haiti form the fingers of the hand, reaching out with humanitarian aid for those left bereft after the earthquake.

U.S. Ambassador Ken Merten said at a February 12 State Department briefing, "In terms of humanitarian aid delivery, frankly, it's working really well, and I believe that this will be something that people will be able to look back on in the future as a model for how we've been able to sort ourselves out as donors on the ground and responding to an earthquake." Judging from hundreds of interviews, that impression is not shared by survivors of the earthquake. Most claim they have received no goods or services from the Haitian or U.S. governments, while only a few report having received donations of food and water from other sources such as the U.N. Homeless people greatly outnumber the supply of tents. Free medical care, now widely available through burgeoning community clinics, is the single accessible service.

Into the humanitarian vacuum have stepped everyday citizens, especially peasant organizations in areas now flooded with thousands of survivors. They are acting in a long national tradition of solidarity economy.

Some of the immigrants came to flee the dangerous and squalid refugee camps, while others spent one too many sleepless nights standing up during the rains which have arrived in Port-au-Prince. Some came to the countryside to return to their families, while others left the decimated capitol on the first bus they could find. The migration pattern is a sharp reversal of the decades-long rural-to-urban flight.

Christroi lives in the village community of Piatte in the Artibonite region, three bus rides and a motorcycle ride away from Port-au-Prince. He is part of the country-wide Tèt Kole Ti Peyizan Ayisyen (literally, Heads Together Little Haitian Peasants). In Piatte, four days after the earthquake, Tèt Kole, the local church, and the general population convened to decide their collective response to the crisis. Joseph Dor, another member of Tèt Kole, explains the strategies they adopted: taking people into their homes; bringing food to other homes which are housing internally displaced peoples; and bringing the fruits of their fields, like bananas and peas, to camps in Port-au-Prince.

Joseph has sent food to 13 people “in difficulty” in the city: bananas, coconuts, and breadfruit from his garden, plus water that he bought. He admits it has been hard because he is already supporting his wife and four children, but says, “It’s my contribution.”

In one afternoon meeting of the local Tèt Kole group under a mango tree, 12 of the 42 members present said they were hosting displaced people. Isaac Simellon, for example, took in seven orphans after his brother died in the earthquake. This hospitality is no simple matter, since the hosts are themselves desperately poor. Thirty-one of the 42 said they don’t even have houses, since the structures - most of them made of woven sticks smeared with mud and topped with dried cane stalks or banana leaves – either completely collapsed in the 7.3 quake or are too badly damaged to inhabit. Fifteen said they have added to their household their children who had been going to school in Port-au-Prince, since all schools there except a very few private ones are now closed.

Sylvain Pierre, one of Tèt Kole’s national coordinators, says, “Solidarity is a principle of our group. When there were massacres [against Tèt Kole members] in Jean-Rabel and Piatte, when there were arrests, when there is work to be done, there is always solidarity. When we need political pressure, people give it. When we need food, people bring it. Some bring wood, some bring water. Those who have money, they give money. Those who only have a little change put it into a sack as a collection for other members.”

This approach to humanitarian aid takes on new dimensions in the Central Plateau, to which a careful census done in numerous rural communes suggests that 150,000 people have just relocated. The members of the local Peasant Movement of Papay (MPP) took up a collection of $519.60, and the organization’s directorate contributed another $128. With that, MPP took 60 refugees into their guest house, giving not only lodging but also shoes, clothes, and medical and dental care; three meals a day; Internet access; and entertainment such as movies and excursions. MPP has enrolled three of the children back into school. They even slaughtered two of their cows so they could bring meat to patients at the nearby Partners in Health hospital.

Christianne Adrien, a street vendor, and her husband Ilson, a farmer, are among many MPP members who have taken in guests. In their case, the guests are 18 members of the extended family, bringing the number of those in the household to 27. “If it were for money, we would never have done it,” Christianne says. “We did it because we wanted them to have a life. If God saved the life of some people from a catastrophe of that size, it’s so that we can protect the life of others. People have to live; you have to receive them.

“It’s been a big knife thrust for us to find food for them all. But since we’re peasants, what we have we share so they can live, too. At first we bought a little sack of rice and three cans of beans. I milled ten cans of corn that we had grown. Each morning Ilson went to the fields and came back with bananas and vegetables. There came a day when I realized I couldn’t go on. All my funds were depleted and the interest payments on my micro-loan were at risk. The MPP office gave me some money so I could buy more food.”

But MPP’s resources are quickly running out, too. MPP director Chavannes Jean-Baptiste says, “We haven’t gotten any financial support for this. We’re happy to help now, but what’s going to happen in six months? It would be good if the people we’re helping could start supporting themselves through agricultural production, if the state would turn over some land to them. Otherwise we’re going to be sucked dry.”

The cost to peasant farmers will soon be even higher, and will be borne by the whole nation, because the humanitarian aid providers have been forced to repurpose the seeds they saved for the March planting season – the main season of the year - to feed their guests. In the absence of seeds to plant, peasant associations are warning of an impending food crisis worse than the one which is already gripping Haiti.

Besides hunger, another risk is a nation that remains dependent on hand-outs of food aid, thus further undermining agricultural production and food sovereignty. Chavannes says, “While we accept that food aid is useful now because there’s no other option for all these people, it can be fatal to agriculture. We say that parallel to food aid, there has to be an effort to help peasants plant.”

To date, none of the peasant organizations interviewed has gotten support for their disaster response. Christianne Adrien, the woman providing hospitality to 18 internally displaced people, says, “If there are good Samaritans out there with resources or contacts, they might want to think of these people, especially in terms of food and health care and schools for children who lost their schools.”

Here are some ways to respond to Christianne’s call.

* A grouping of U.S. organizations is raising funds to purchase seeds to replace the peasant groups’ seed stocks. To make an on-line donation, go to, or send tax-exempt checks made out to Agricultural Missions, to 475 Riverside Drive, Room 725, New York, NY, 10115. Mark ‘Haiti Recovery’ in the memo line.

* The Lambi Fund of Haiti is funding forty peasant associations in rural areas to help them care for the influx of family and others moving in from Port-au-Prince, and to reinforce their production. You can donate on-line at

Despite the tragic cause of the migration and the associated risks, the exodus from the city where people lived precariously in squalid, overcrowded conditions and worked in the sweatshop sector or informal economy offers opportunities for Haiti’s future. Peasant groups are now organizing to try to rebuild Haiti in more sustainable, livable, and environmental ways, based on an expanded agricultural sector and on food sovereignty. Stay tuned for more information.


You must log in to comment.

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Log in | Register

If you have a moment today, I hope you can read the obituary for my father Francis (Frank) Moore, who died this past Saturday at the age of 92: Francis...

Apr 22nd
6:33 PM
Read More

My father, Francis (Frank) Moore, passed away this morning a few months shy if his 93rd birthday. He was a great dad I am blessed to have had him in my life. I...

Apr 20th
2:58 AM
Read More

Time to put the cuffs on Chris Christie -- not for the bridge scandal, but for this: Chris Christie's $300m pension proposal broke state anti-corruption...

Apr 18th
7:31 PM
Read More

George W. Bush Debuts New Paintings Of Dogs, Friends, Ghost Of Iraqi Child That Follows Him... President Bush has a new hobby -- painting! --...

Apr 17th
7:28 PM
Read More

Big new story from David Sirota and Pando on top Christie adviser and appearance of corruption at New Jersey's pension fund: REVEALED: Gov....

Apr 17th
12:41 PM
Read More

FBI Uncovers Al-Qaeda Plot To Just Sit Back And Enjoy Collapse Of United States WASHINGTON—The FBI announced today that it has uncovered a...

Apr 15th
3:28 PM
Read More

Revealed: Rahm Emanuel's top donor bought stock in Marriott just before it was awarded huge contract As schools are closed and pensions cut,...

Apr 9th
2:00 PM
Read More

I'll be at First Time Fest today in New York City at the screening of my first film, Roger & Me. Loews Village 7 at 12:30 pm. Come see it on the big...

Apr 5th
9:48 AM
Read More

Revealed: Rahm Emanuel cuts public pensions, diverts money to benefit campaign donors If you've read the financial news out of Chicago the last...

Apr 4th
2:19 PM
Read More

Please take a moment today to think of Casey Austin Sheehan, son of Cindy and Patrick, who was murdered by U.S. foreign policy in Sadr City, Baghdad ten years...

Apr 4th
2:00 PM
Read More

ICYMI - I've joined this "thunderclap" to support the Connecticut legislators who voted yes on last year's Act Concerning Gun Violence...

Apr 3rd
7:38 PM
Read More

I've joined this "thunderclap" to support the Connecticut legislators who voted yes on last year's Act Concerning Gun Violence Prevention...

Apr 2nd
8:27 PM
Read More

I am opposed to the death penalty, but to every rule there is usually an exception, and in this case I hope the criminals at General Motors will be arrested...

Apr 1st
3:55 PM
Read More

How Long Some in the US Will Survive Under New Health Law Donna Smith Those who must access care to live and can afford it are not...

Mar 31st
10:13 PM
Read More

Last night, The Good Wife on the East Coast started 40 minutes late due to the overrun of the NCAA basketball game. If you had your DVR set for the show, you...

Mar 24th
5:41 PM
Read More

Watching films today, looking for the ones I'm going to pick for my film festival this summer. I (and a whole bunch of others!) have this thing we put on...

Mar 23rd
4:48 PM
Read More

When the U.S. Health Care System Keeps Killing, Who Cares Enough to Fight? Donna Smith We have largely forgotten that people are at...

Mar 21st
5:56 PM
Read More

Tell the White House not to give up on Dr. Vivek Murthy's nomination as Surgeon General despite the ferocious opposition from the NRA: Don't give...

Mar 21st
5:38 PM
Read More

This criminal would never see a jail cell, nor would his cronies. In fact, they'd later be rewarded with re-election: Presidential Address on War with...

Mar 19th
9:40 PM
Read More

The crime of the century -- our invasion & slaughter in Iraq -- started 11 years ago tonite in this 7pm (ET) hour, March 19th, 2003: CNN Coverage of...

Mar 19th
9:08 PM
Read More

Washington’s Back-to-the-Future Military Policies in Africa Nick Turse Nick Turse is an award-winning journalist, historian,...

Mar 17th
4:59 PM
Read More

"I think democracy is the most revolutionary thing in the world." -- Tony Benn, 1925-2014 Tony Benn in 'Sicko'

Mar 14th
10:07 AM
Read More

RIP Tony Benn, one of the UK's greatest leaders: Tony Benn, veteran Labour politician, dies aged 88 Former cabinet minister died at...

Mar 14th
9:53 AM
Read More

Please read this important story from K. Ford K.: Am I the Face of the New American Middle Class? I began to feel I had slipped so low...

Mar 13th
2:24 PM
Read More

Yesterday Dianne Feinstein revealed that the CIA has been spying on the Senate Intelligence Committee. This is all about the report the committee has produced...

Mar 12th
6:48 PM
Read More

Health Care for All Colorado has brought Mercy Killers, a show written and performed by Michael Milligan about our murderous for-profit healthcare system, to...

Mar 10th
1:08 PM
Read More

Health Care Dramas that Sting and Why We Have to Watch Donna Smith The realities Milligan has written into the show cut deep into...

Mar 10th
1:02 PM
Read More

Did you know the Lehrer Newshour on PBS has been produced for 20 years by a company owned by conservative cable billionaire John Malone? Me neither. After...

Mar 7th
8:39 PM
Read More

Mr. Obama, if int’l law is so damn crucial . . . | The Russian intervention deserves criticism. But let’s be clear. The...

Mar 6th
1:21 PM
Read More

Subscribe to Mike's Blog RSS

Click here to suggest an article

Mike's Blog

See More Blogs

Vew the archives

View older articles