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Working to Keep Hope Alive in Haiti’s Forgotten Frontiers

Nestled between Haiti’s turquoise Caribbean waters and the foothills of the northern mountains, is a large plot of land close to the town of Limonade. Here at the height of planting season a group of peasants is hard at work. Claudelle Sensmyr, 36, quietly sprinkles handfuls of seeds down row after row of prepped soil. "I just started farming a few months ago," she told me, brushing off her hands and looking up. "I’m from Port-au-Prince," she added shyly and then motioned to the other farmers, "Many of us are."

In the wake of the earthquake that left most of urban Haiti in shambles six months ago, more than 500,000 survivors fled cities like Port-au-Prince and Jacmel to rural areas like Limonade. While many international NGOs and donor countries descended upon the cities, the rural areas have been virtually ignored. This may be the case for the international community, but Haitian grassroots organizations, including many of Grassroots International’s partners have been active all over the country.
 
One of these partners, the Haitian Platform to Advocate Alternative Development (PAPDA) points to Limonade as one of their greatest success stories. Movements led by women and small-scale producers and farmers have sustained the community for years. And ever since the earthquake, they have helped absorb and find work for its survivors in the fields. Together they hope to rebuild a stronger Haiti, rooted in food sovereignty and agrarian reform—two fronts on which they have been increasingly successful.
 
Grassroots International has been supporting PAPDA in Limonade and across Haiti for years. When we asked them what they needed right after the emergency, the overwhelming answer was that they wanted to do the work that they had been doing for years, at greater levels, and as a model for decentralized rural development.
 
In the context of post-disaster relief, the focus on agriculture provided something more for victims who were displaced by the earthquake. It gave them a way to grieve together and relieve stress. "Since my only two children were killed in the earthquake and my husband and I fled here," Claudelle said, "farming has provided a distraction." Like the majority of the disaster’s survivors, especially those who lost family members, Claudelle suffers from PTSD where flashbacks and panic keeps her from sleeping. "It gives the victims courage to participate in activities like this that mean so much to them," affirmed Olga Marclein, a women’s leader that has been at the forefront of PAPDA’s work around Limonade for years.
 
Despite the fact that many of these efforts have yet to be recognized or taken seriously by much of the international community, they are what keep Haiti going six months on.
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